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Category Archives: case law

Magical sparkle powers – a sparkle too far?

Regular readers will know that when I read the phrase “The Court’s powers under the inherent jurisdiction are theoretically limitless” it makes me bristle, and hence my coining the name “magical sparkle powers” for the use of these, to remind ourselves that the Court is effectively inventing powers for itself out of thin air.

As is established law, Princess Kenny MAY use her magical sparkle powers to get the Black Friday Bundaroo

The problem I have with it is not that the Court have used the inherent jurisdiction as a way to solve a particularly thorny legal problem on an individual case, it is that this then gets used as an authority for “well, we could do THAT with our magical sparkle powers, so THIS is only a further stride along that path” and then THIS gets used as authority for taking another stride to THE OTHER. It is the stepping stone issue.

So a while back, the President ruled that the inherent jurisdiction could be extended to protect vulnerable adults, and then someone else ruled that his decision was authority for protecting adults with vulnerabilities, and then someone else ruled that THAT decision was authority for protecting adults who didn’t seem to have any vulnerabilities but whom the Court wanted to protect

And then we end up with this
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/65.html

Mahzar v Lord Chancellor 2017

Mr Mazar is a 26 year old man with muscular dystrophy. He has no mental health problems and he has capacity. Part of his physical illness is that he needs apparatus to breath through, and this apparatus needs to be suctioned four to five times every hour. Without this, he could be at risk of serious injury or death. Mr Mazar wanted to be in his own home for this procedure rather than be detained in hospital – he says that his family members have had training in the procedure. That may be contentious – I don’t know whether th

I don’t know the ins and outs of why Mr Mazar came to that conclusion, but we don’t NEED to know. If he is an adult, with capacity to make his own decisions and does not have a mental health disorder, he is entitled to say that he does not want to be admitted to hospital. That’s his right. He is entitled to say that even if all of the medical opinion is that this is dangerous and stupid. Even if it might lead to his death.

What actually happened was that the Trust applied to the High Court for permission under the inherent jurisdiction to not only treat him against his will, but for police officers to enter his home and remove him by force if necessary to take him to hospital.

2. The order complained of is as follows:

“(I) It is lawful for the police and any medical professionals, as are required, to enter [address] (the property) and use reasonable and proportionate force to do so.

(2) It is lawful for the police and any medical professionals, as are required, to remove Mr Aamir Mazhar from the property and to convey him to an ambulance.

(3) It is lawful for the ambulance service, together with any other medical professionals and police as are required, to convey Mr Aamir Mazhar to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.

(4) It is lawful until further order for Mr Aamir Mazhar to be deprived of his liberty at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham for the purposes of receiving care and treatment from his arrival on 22 April 2016 and then to be conveyed to the specialist respiratory centre at Guy’s Hospital, London until suitable care can be put in place for him at home, or to be transferred to an alternative specialist respiratory unit.

(5) The matter shall be listed for urgent hearing on the first available date after 25 April 2016 (upon application to the Clerk Rules (sic)).

(6) There be leave to serve this order without a Court seal until 16:00 on Monday 25th April 2016.”

It was an out of hours application, without any notice to Mr Mazhar or his family and they were therefore not present or represented at the hearing.

The pleaded consequence of the order made by Mostyn J is the forcible and what is described as the highly distressing removal of Mr Mazhar from his family home at 3 am on Saturday 23 April 2016 by two police officers and the ambulance service. Mr Mazhar was and is a young man who has the capacity to make decisions for himself. It is submitted on his behalf that there was no basis in law for the order to be made or for the actions taken in accordance with it.

7. Mr Mazhar seeks to argue that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be used to detain a person who is not of unsound mind for the purposes of article 5(1)(e) of the Convention and that a vulnerable person’s alleged incapacity as a result of duress or undue influence is not a basis to make orders in that jurisdiction that are other than facilitative of the person recovering, retaining or exercising his capacity. His removal and detention were accordingly unlawful and in breach of article 5. He also seeks to argue that his article 6 rights were engaged such that the absence of any challenge by the judge to his capacity and/or the evidence of the NHS Trust and the absence of any opportunity to challenge those matters himself or though his family or representatives before the order was executed was an unfair process. He says that his article 8 right to respect for family and private life was engaged and that the order was neither necessary nor in accordance with the law.

Mr Mazhar sought damages against the Trust, who settled out of Court. He also made a Human Rights Act claim against the Lord Chancellor for breach of article 5 (that he was unlawfully deprived of his liberty), article 8 (that his right to private and family life was breached) and article 6 (that such a fundamental decision was taken without any challenge to the application being made.

The Lord Chancellor concedes that Mr Mazhar was deprived of his liberty when he was removed from his home and taken to hospital and accepts that he was not a person of unsound mind within the meaning of article 5(1)(e) at the date of the order. He does not however accept that the broader proposition that the inherent jurisdiction is limited in the way suggested on behalf of Mr Mazhar and in particular that it can only be used to facilitate the re-establishment of autonomy. He argues that its use to detain and remove a person who has mental capacity to make decisions about his care (but who is a vulnerable adult) to a safe place such as a hospital is a well recognised jurisdiction which acts as a safety net to protect persons who fall outside the scope of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. He contends that use of the jurisdiction to detain is neither arbitrary nor unlawful because there are procedural safeguards ie it is a procedure prescribed by law, governed by Rules of Court, Practice Directions and Guidance. It is clearly established by case law which is sufficiently accessible and foreseeable with advice and the jurisdiction’s flexibility is reasoned and justified so that, for example, where detention is permitted there are rigorous safeguards that include regular review.

9. The Lord Chancellor does not accept that there were procedural failings such that the detention was unlawful within the meaning of article 5 of the Convention or unfair at common law. He avers that in any event the threshold of ‘gross and obvious irregularity’ is not met. The procedural protections for anyone deprived of their liberty are the lex specialis of article 5(4) and provide equivalent protection to article 6 which the Lord Chancellor submits is not engaged. Any breach of article 8, which is not admitted, is justified by being in accordance with the law, necessary and proportionate.

So who is right?

It is a really important point. As the High Court repeatedly says – the powers under the inherent jurisdiction are theoretically limitless – so on the face of it Mostyn J had the power to make that order, even though Mr Mazhar was of sound mind and had capacity to make his own decision.

Is that really right?

If the law is going to authorise police officers to come into your home and remove you by force and take you to hospital and detain you there while you have treatment that you have not consented to, that seems to me rather a big deal – particularly as there’s no clarity at all about what hurdles the Trust ought to have to meet to establish that – if Mr Mazhar lacked capacity there would be a statutory framework as to what the Court would need to consider and a mechanism for challenge.

So I was reading this case with great interest to see what was decided about whether or not the inherent jurisdiction really does give Mostyn J or other Judges the power to make such a dramatic order – without Mr Mazhar even being told about it in advance and having the opportunity to have his say.

The order was made on a specific evidential basis which was recorded in the recitals to the order. It is important to acknowledge that this prima facie evidential basis was the evidence, at that stage unchallenged because the application was made without notice, which the judge had available to him and which he decided was sufficient to lead to the order that he made. It is part of Mr Mazhar’s claim against the Lord Chancellor that the judge should not have accepted the evidence without an opportunity being given at that stage for challenge and, in any event, that it was insufficient in law to justify the order made. It is also important to acknowledge that some of the evidence provided to the judge was wrong and may have been untruthful. The difference between the recorded prima facie evidence and the agreed facts is stark. The claim against the NHS Trust which deals with those issues has been settled and it is not for this court to give judgment on the failings of the NHS Trust. Some of those failings are however apparent in the differences revealed between the recitals and the agreed facts. The implications are very worrying indeed.

Sadly, the Court doesn’t answer that at all. Instead we get reams of paragraphs about why the challenge to the order of the High Court can’t be by HRA claim or claim for vicarious liability on the part of the Lord Chancellor, and judicial immunity, and this is all absolutely right, but still very frustrating.

43. Lord Denning MR described the principle of judicial immunity in Sirros v Moore [1975] QB 118 at 132D:

“Ever since the year 1613, if not before, it has been accepted in our law that no action is maintainable against a judge for anything said or done by him in the excess of a jurisdiction which belongs to him. The words which he speaks are protected by an absolute privilege. The orders which he gives, and the sentences which he imposes, cannot be made the subject of civil proceedings against him. No matter that the judge was under some gross error or ignorance, or was actuated by envy, hatred or malice, and all uncharitableness, he is not liable to an action. The remedy of the party aggrieved is to appeal to the Court of Appeal or to apply for habeas corpus or a writ of error or certiorari, or take some such step to reverse his ruling. Of course, if the judge has accepted bribes or been in the least degree corrupt, or has perverted the course of justice, he can be punished in the criminal courts. That apart, however, a judge is not liable to an action in damages. The reason is not because the judge has any privilege to make mistakes or do wrong. It is so that he should be able to do his duty with complete independence and free from fear. It was well state by Lord Tenterden CJ in Garnett v Ferrand (1867) 6 B&C 611 625:

“This freedom from action or question at the suit of an individual is given by the law to the judges, not so much for their own sake as for the sake of the public, and for the advancement of justice, that being free from actions, they may be free in thought and independent in judgment, as all who are to administer justice ought to be”

All of this is particularly frustrating, because the Lord Chancellor had in June submitted a position statement to the effect that judicial immunity was not going to be relied upon as a defence, and then rescinded that and relied on it successfully

If Mr Mazhar wants to find out whether Mostyn J really did have the power to make that order under the inherent jurisdiction, his mechanism is an appeal of the order, not a HRA claim.

Conclusion:

78. The consequence is that I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in the HRA (taken together with either the CPR or the FPR) that provides a power in a court or tribunal to make a declaration against the Crown in respect of a judicial act. Furthermore, the HRA has not modified the constitutional principle of judicial immunity. Likewise, the Crown is not to be held to vicariously liable for the acts of the judiciary with the consequence that the claim for a declaration is not justiciable in the Courts of England and Wales. A claim for damages against the Crown is available to Mr Mazhar for the limited purpose of compensating him for an article 5(5) breach but the forum for such a claim where the judicial act is that of a judge of the High Court cannot be a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction. On the facts of this case, the only court that can consider a damages claim is the Court of Appeal.

79. If Mr Mazhar wants to pursue his challenge to the order of Mostyn J he must do so on appeal

Annoyingly, Mr Mazhar gave evidence at the hearing, when the case turned completely on legal argument rather than his evidence, so it was unfortunate that he was put through the experience of giving evidence when the judicial immunity point was the real heart of the case.

I hope that he does want to find out and that an appeal will be brought.

That’s not to say that I think Mostyn J got this spectacularly wrong or was off on a frolic of his own – this sort of application and this sort of order is a natural extension of where the legal authorities on inherent jurisdiction are eventually going to take us. I’d be very keen to find out if the Court of Appeal think that there IS a line in the sand that needs to be drawn on inherent jurisdiction and where that line might be.

I don’t think that the law SHOULD have allowed Mr Mazhar to have police officers enter his home and remove him by force and detain him in hospital for treatment that he had a right to refuse. But I think that the law MAY say that this is within the Court’s jurisdiction and powers. I hope that even then, the Court of Appeal may have something to say about the safeguards that ought to be put in place about how such wide-ranging and sweeping powers need to be managed to respect a person’s article 5, 6 and 8 rights.

If police came to my door, forced entry and removed me from my home to hospital for treatment that I’d said I didn’t want, just because doctors thought my decision was stupid and went before a Judge on their own without putting my side of the story, I wouldn’t be satisfied to be told that the Court’s magical sparkle powers make all of this okay. It isn’t okay.

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Nods and becks and wreathed smiles

In this case, the President of the Family Division deals with the thirty-fifth case where a fertility clinic had failed to complete the paperwork properly, meaning that people who thought they were a child’s legal parents were not, and had to go to Court at considerable stress and expense to put this right.

Re P, Q, R, S,T and U 2017
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/2532.html

(This episode of Sesame Street is brought to you today by far too many letters)

The clinic in question sent letters out to the people who had conceived a child with flawed paperwork, following the realisation and reporting of the first such case Re A 2015

12.No-one before me seeks to justify, either in terms of their tone or in relation to their legal content, the letters sent out by Dr X on 15 March 2016. I also have concerns about the form of letter sent out on 28 April 2016. My concerns relate to (i) the focus on “clarifying” the parent’s “intention” and (ii) the indication that a statement “clarify[ing] what your intention was … may not give you legal certainty or resolve any potential problems with legal parenthood” (emphasis added). The point is very simple. Although “intention” is a necessary it is not a sufficient condition for acquiring parenthood. For, as I very recently observed, in Re the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (Case AK) [2017] EWHC 1154 (Fam), para 20, it is the presence or absence of consent in writing – and, I should emphasise, such a consent given before the relevant treatment – which is ultimately determinative:

“As In re A demonstrates, the ultimate question is whether X has, within the meaning of sections 44(1)(a) and 44(2) of the 2008 Act, “given … a notice [in writing .. signed by [X]] stating that [X] consents to [X] being treated as the parent of any child resulting from treatment provided to [Y].”

Moreover, the word “may” was, it seems to me, insufficient in circumstances which surely demanded plain words rather than “Nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles.”

You do have to admire a Judge who, whilst admonishing someone for not using plain words, throws in a bit of Milton poetry containing the word “becks” which is not in wide circulation other than when referring to German lager. A beck, in this context is a gesture designed to attract attention (as if you were trying to catch the eye of a waiter) and is where we get the expression “At his beck and call”

The line before “Nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles” in the poem is “Quips and cranks, and wanton wiles” which I am going to claim as an accurate description of my site. If only I were launching it today, I’d have that as the tag-line.

“Cranks” in the Milton poem, means ‘clever or fanciful speech, whims, caprice’ and not what you thought I meant.

Oh, also “wreathed smiles” just means to have a big smile on your face – I had originally taken this to be a sinister or thin-lipped smile because of the negative connotation that wreath has now, but I guess it is more in the laurel wreath or Christmas wreath sense rather than a funeral wreath.

I am beginning to think that Milton is not the best source for plain speaking that everyone can readily understand…

As ever, I am ashamed that I did not have a proper classical education. If I had, then I too would scatter allusions to Homer and Milton around as though this was commonplace on the Clapham omnibus. The only Milton I was exposed to in my school days was on the last day of term when we were allowed to bring in Ker-Plunk by Milton Bradley Games. [Tin-Can Alley was the best thing for someone to bring in, because there was a rifle that shot light at toy tin cans, making them jump into the air. Awesome-sauce. I only really know Milton now from the ‘better to serve in Heaven than to reign in Hell’ line and that only from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman)

Anyway, what emerged in the case was a practice of patients being asked to sign declarations kept by the clinic that they MEANT to be joint parents, and thus avoiding the need to go to Court AND more importantly that the HFEA was wrongly passing on to clinics this suggestion.

The President was rightly not in the slightest bit keen on that, and stressed that this practice emerged AFTER Re A, which clearly demonstrated that Court orders were required to fix the mess caused by these clinics.

13.My real concern is that there appears to be an impression in some quarters that the kind of problems which have characterised all the many cases which I have had to deal with – Re the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (Case AK) was the thirty-fifth such case in which I have given judgment – can sometimes be resolved appropriately without obtaining an order of the court. This, in my judgment, is a highly problematic, indeed dangerous, view. I need briefly to explain why.

14.I venture to repeat at this point what I said in in In re A and others (Legal Parenthood: Written Consents) [2015] EWHC 2602 (Fam), [2016] 1 WLR 1325, para 3:

“The question of who, in law, is or are the parent(s) of a child born as a result of treatment carried out under this legislation … is, as a moment’s reflection will make obvious, a question of the most fundamental gravity and importance. What, after all, to any child, to any parent, never mind to future generations and indeed to society at large, can be more important, emotionally, psychologically, socially and legally, than the answer to the question: Who is my parent? Is this my child?”
15.Legally the issue has the potential to arise – possibly, I emphasise, years or even decades in the future – in a variety of contexts. Family lawyers will of course be alert to the risk of future breakdown in the parental relationship, perhaps triggering private law proceedings under the Children Act 1989 in which the precise legal status of a parent may be challenged. But we need also to be aware that the existence or otherwise of the legal relationship of parent and child may become relevant in the future in relation to such matters as citizenship and nationality or – and possibly decades in the future when both parents are dead and therefore unable to give evidence – in relation to matters of succession and inheritance.

16.In what is now a long line of cases involving applications for parental orders in accordance with section 54 of the 2008 Act, Theis J has emphasised the importance of the need for such orders. There is, of course, a significant difference between the two types of case, because whereas a parental order has, as has been said, a “transformative” effect, and creates legal rights, the declaration granted in the present type of case is, as the word suggests, merely declaratory of existing legal rights. But that does not mean that there is no advantage to be gained by obtaining such a declaration. Far from it: a declaration of status granted by the High Court after appropriately stringent investigations, and after, as is invariably done, notice of the proceedings has been given both to the Attorney General and to the Secretary of State, has an effect in law and reality which far transcends any purely private transaction or agreement between the parents. To adopt, mutatis mutandis, some words used by Theis J in J v G [2013] EWHC 1432 (Fam), para 28, quoting from the parental order reporter in that case:

“A parental order allows the reality for [the children] to be formalised now and bestows a sense of finality and completeness. It closes the door on official challenges to the intended parents’ authority and paves the way for the future without … further anxiety.”

Similarly, a declaration puts matters on a secure legal footing. It affords both child and parent lifelong security. It puts beyond future dispute, whether by public bodies or private individuals, the child’s legal relationship with the parent as being, indeed, his legal parent.
17.There is one final matter to which I need to draw attention. The witness statement filed on behalf of the HFEA by Nick Jones, its Director of Compliance and Information, included the following:

“Ms Walsh [she was the Senior Inspector who, with colleagues, undertook the inspection of the clinic in March 2016] has set out in her statement the facts and circumstances surrounding Care Manchester’s ill-advised decision to try resolving the parenthood issues by getting patients to sign a declaration. As Ms Walsh has said, we were not aware that the clinic intended doing this until after they had already sent out a number of those declarations to patients. Whilst we were not aware of Care Manchester’s intentions to use this declaration, following the judgment in the Alphabet case [In re A] we had been informed by a number of clinics that on legal advice, they were asking a small number of patients to complete declarations.

These clinics told us that some patients had, having been fully informed of the potential consequences and impact of the consent failings, said that they did not wish to go through any legal process in order to become the legal parents of their own children. Understandably, some patients were affronted at the suggestion that they were not legally the parents of their children. In such cases, a small number of clinics informed us that on legal advice, they had asked these patients to complete a declaration. These clinics and a legal advisor acting for several clinics, told us that the purpose of this declaration was to record the intentions of the couple at the time of their treatment, that is, a way of confirming that at the time that the couple had treatment, and notwithstanding any anomalies in their consent forms, they had intended to have treatment together and for both to be the legal parents of the children born from such treatment.

Clinics told us that this was a measure their legal advice suggested they put in place in order that in the future, should these couples separate, for example, and have to grapple with issues around the custody and care of their children, the clinics would have these signed declarations which could be relied on at that time, albeit with uncertainty as to the status of such a declaration. Whilst I expressed some concern about such an approach, and felt unease, I was assured the clinics did so on the basis of legal advice, and then only in those cases where patients had said that they did not wish to go through a court process in order to become the legal parents of their children. Having advised clinics to take their own legal advice, and now having done so, I felt we were not in a position to question that advice. Similarly, not having any method of communicating with this group of patients directly and also taking it on trust and good faith that the legal advice was sound and that clinics were acting in the interests of their patients, we felt we could not question the clinic’s approach and the decision these patients had taken to sign declarations.”
18.For reasons which by now will be apparent, Mr Jones was, as it seems to me, well justified in having those concerns and feeling that unease. But I am bound to say that it seems, and not merely with the priceless benefit of hindsight, unfortunate that the HFEA was not more questioning of what it understood was the advice being given at a time, I emphasise, after I had given judgment in In re A. I appreciate that the HFEA was not privy to the detail of any of that advice, but in the light of its understanding, as explained by Mr Jones, of what advice was being given, it might be thought that alarm bells should have been ringing and that the HFEA should have been more questioning, both privately and more publicly, as to the appropriateness and wisdom of the advice it understood was being given. I do not suggest that the HFEA should necessarily have commissioned legal advice itself on the point, but might it not have been better if it had circulated guidance to clinics, setting out what it understood to be happening, stressing that it was for individual clinics to obtain such legal advice as they might think appropriate, but saying that it did have concerns about the appropriateness of the advice which it understood certain clinics had received and perhaps briefly explaining why.

Follicle a deux

(or trois, really)

This is a High Court case involving hair strand testing, where three different companies were involved and produced three slightly different results. The science is discussed and some guidance for more meaningful and clearer reports is provided.

Note that this case is NOT authority for “one of these companies is the bestest” or “one of these companies is the suck” – it is notable that each of the three companies ended up lawyering up for the hearing, two of them silking up.

There’s a lot at stake with revenue and commercial reputation here for each of these companies and I’m not going to be damn foolish enough to draw any conclusions of my own, so I’ll stick to what the Court said.

Re H (A Child :Hair Strand Testing) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/64.html

The case was heard by Mr Justice Peter Jackson (I think it might be his last case as plain J. For the moment, he is LJ. Frankly, if and when our current Dali Lama moves on, I have my own views about a suitable replacement.)

3. The reason why this hearing has involved five days of evidence is because there is also an underlying factual issue. Has the mother been using drugs, albeit at a low level, during the past two years? She adamantly denies doing so and, with one significant exception, the other evidence supports her. The exception is a body of scientific information from hair strand tests taken over the two-year period, which are interpreted by the testing organisations as showing low-level cocaine use for at least some of the time. That has been challenged by the mother and I have heard from five expert witnesses: one from each of the three testing organisations, one on behalf of the mother, and one jointly instructed.

From my reading of the case, by the time of the final hearing, it was common ground that the child should be placed with the mother (although that only became common ground 2 days before the final hearing) and the only issue was whether that should be under a Care Order or a Supervision Order – so in this particular case, the outcome of the hearing was not hinging on the outcome of the drug tests, but there are of course many others where it does, so the good practice guidance is going to be helpful for those.

In summary, there is no doubt that the mother was in a dismal state two years ago, to the point where she was quite incapable of looking after any child. It is now accepted that she has turned her life around to the point that she is now capable of looking after one child with support. She says that she has achieved this by avoiding damaging relationships and by complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. The local authority argues that the hair strand testing shows that complete abstinence has not been achieved, which raises the level of risk that Holly will get caught up in future drug use of the kind seen in the past. It also argues that the hair strand tests show that the mother has not been telling the truth and consequently that she cannot be fully trusted.

There were in all some 47 hair strand tests in this case. That’s not a typo. Forty. Seven. Forty-seven. 47. There was some variation in the tests, even when they were taken at similar times.

37. In relation to the variability of results, the tables provided by Mr Poulton at [C164z-164ac] illustrate that the range of results obtained by the different laboratories varies quite considerably. Notably, the DNA Legal results for 2016 were in some cases two or three times higher than those found by the other organisations. This is then reflected in the fact that DNA Legal reported findings in the low to medium range, while the others reported only low findings. However, direct comparison between the test results is to some extent confounded by the fact that hair was taken at different times, and that the assumed 1 cm growth rate may not be correct. It is also important to remember that the results may be affected by differences in laboratory equipment and differences in the way the hair is washed before analysis.

38. The testing carried out in July 2017, allows for the most direct comparison as the hair was all harvested at the same time. Even so, as an example of variability, two laboratories showed a cocaine result relating to the month of April at 0.11 and 0.17 (well below the cut-off), while the third showed it as 0.52 (just above the cut-off).

You can see that this is problematic. Courts, and social workers, and lawyers and parents need to know that when a hair strand test says that someone has taken cocaine (or hasn’t), that the test is accurate. Here, if a parent had done just one of those three tests on their own, a conclusion could have been drawn that they were clean, or that they had used cocaine depending on nothing more than which company did the test. That can’t be right.

And it doesn’t mean that one company is being too harsh, or that another is messing it up, it is just illustrative that there are limits, presently, to the science.

[I have already seen this morning triumphant press releases trumpeting that this High Court Judge has praised x company to the skies. I think that somewhat overstates things. That’s just my personal opinion, naturally. The Judge does clearly prefer, in this case, the evidence from the companies to that of the independent expert who was attacking their methodology, but it would be simplistic, in my view, to claim that the judgment strongly backs the science or an individual company or sets down a marker that hair strand test results are definitive always]

Yes, Cousin It, your hair strand test has come back positive for Creepy, Spooky and altogether Oooky.

The Judge says this :-

40. In my view, the variability of findings from hair strand testing does not call into question the underlying science, but underlines the need to treat numerical data with proper caution. The extraction of chemicals from a solid matrix such as human hair is inevitably accompanied by margins of variability. No doubt our understanding will increase with developments in science but, as matters stand, the evidence in this case satisfies me that these testing organisations approach their task conscientiously. Also, as previous decisions remind us, a test result is only part of the evidence. A very high result may amount to compelling evidence, but in the lower range numerical information must be set alongside evidence of other kinds. Once this is appreciated, the significance of variability between one low figure and another falls into perspective

41. I must say something about the reporting of test results as being within the high/medium/low range. In fairness to the testing organisations, this practice has developed at the request of clients wishing to understand the results more easily. The danger is that the report is too easily taken to be conclusive proof of high/medium/low use, when in fact the actual level of use may be lower or higher than the description. You cannot read back from the result to the suspected use. Two people can consume the same amount of cocaine and give quite different test results. Two people can give the same test result and have consumed quite different amounts of cocaine. This is the consequence of physiology: there are variables in relation to hair colour, race, hair condition (bleaching and straightening damages hair), pregnancy and body size. Then there are the variables inherent in the testing process. Dr McKinnon explained that there is therefore only a broad correlation between the test results and the conclusions that can be drawn about likely use and that it should be recognised that in some cases (of which this is in his opinion, one) there will be scope for reasonable disagreement between experts.

42. Furthermore, the evidence in this case shows that even as between leading testing organisations, the descriptions are applied to different numerical values. DNA adopts the figures set out in the relevant studies, while the two other organisations divide their own historic positive laboratory results into thirds (Alere) or use the interquartile range for medium (Lextox).
43. So it can be seen that there is variability in descriptions that are intended only to assist. As a case in point, the DNA Legal high figure for 2016 (1.50), which was itself significantly higher than that reported by the other testers, would only be described as falling into the medium range by two of the three organisations.

(Again, that’s not to say that one company is better than the others, or that one is getting it wrong, but you can see that a helpful label of high, medium or low use, is only helpful if you know what high, medium or low means FOR THAT company. It won’t necessarily be the same as for another company)

Hair strand testing has been considered in several previous cases:

In Re F (Children)(DNA Evidence) [2008] 1 FLR 328, a case involving DNA testing, Mr Anthony Hayden QC said this, amongst other things, at paragraph 32:

“The reports prepared for the court by the… experts should bear in mind that they are addressing lay people. The report should strive to interpret their analysis in clear language. While it will usually be necessary to recite the tests undertaken and the likely ratios derived from them, care should be given to explain those results within the context of their identified conclusions.”

In London Borough of Richmond v B [2010] EWHC 2903 (Fam), a case about hair strand testing for alcohol, Moylan J said this at paragraph 10, referring to the practice direction that became PD12B:

“10. I have referred to the Practice Direction because some of the expert evidence which has been produced in this case appears to have been treated as though it was not expert evidence. It may well be that results obtained from chemical analysis are such as to constitute, essentially, factual rather than opinion evidence because they are not open to evaluative interpretation and opinion. Although I would add that it is common for such analysis to have margins of reliability. However, the Practice Direction applies to all expert evidence and it will be rare that the results themselves are not used and interpreted for the purposes of expert opinion evidence.”

And further, at paragraph 22:

“When used, hair tests should be used only as part of the evidential picture. Of course, at the very high levels which can be found (multiples of the agreed cut off levels) such results might form a significant part of the evidential picture. Subject to this however, both Professor Pragst and Mr O’Sullivan agreed that “You cannot put everything on the hair test”; in other words that the tests should not be used to reach evidential conclusions by themselves in isolation of other evidence. I sensed considerable unease on the part of Professor Pragst at the prospect of the results of the tests being used, other than merely as one part of the evidence, to justify significant child care decisions;”

Bristol City Council v The Mother and others [2012] EWHC 2548 (Fam), Baker J was concerned with testing for cocaine and opiates. In that case, an unidentified human error in the process led to a false positive report. At paragraph 25, Baker J endorsed these four propositions:

“(1) The science involved in hair strand testing for drug use is now well-established and not controversial.

(2) A positive identification of a drug at a quantity above the cut-off level is reliable as evidence[1] that the donor has been exposed to the drug in question.

(3) Sequential testing of sections is a good guide to the pattern of use revealed.

(4) The quantity of drug in any given section is not proof of the quantity actually used in that period but is a good guide to the relative level of use (low, medium, high) over time.”

Baker J declined to go further, saying this at paragraph 25:

“The jurisdiction of the family courts is to determine specific disputes about specific families. It is not to conduct general inquiries into general issues. Occasionally, a specific case may demonstrate the need for general guidance, but the court must be circumspect about giving it, confining itself to instances where it is satisfied that the circumstances genuinely warrant the need for such guidance and, importantly, that is fully briefed and equipped to provide it.”

Most recently, Hayden J returned to the subject in London Borough of Islington v M & R [2017] EWHC 364 (Fam), a case of hair strand testing for drugs. He said this at paragraph 32:

“It is particularly important to emphasise that each of the three experts in this case confirmed that hair strand testing should never be regarded as determinative or conclusive. They agree, as do I, that expert evidence must be placed within the context of the broader picture, which includes e.g. social work evidence; medical reports; the evaluation of the donor’s reliability in her account etc. These are all ultimately matters for the Judge to evaluate.”

Peter Jackson J (as he then was) drew up 12 principles about hair strand testing (they are really useful). I hadn’t myself been aware of the principle that some hairs in a sample at any time won’t actually be growing (resting hairs – about 15%) which is why you can’t just test on a single hair, you need a large enough sample to make sure that you’ve accounted for hairs within the sample where there will not have been any growth. If you just tested one hair, that hair might be a resting growth hair, and would thus show you cocaine use from 4-6 months ago and fool you into thinking that it is a growing hair where that would mean recent cocaine use.

28. I next set out twelve propositions agreed between the expert witnesses from whom I have heard:

(1) Normal hair growth comprises a cycle of three stages: active growing (anagen), transition (catagen) and resting (telogen). In the telogen stage can remain on the scalp for 3-4 (or even 5 or 6) months before being shed. Approximately 15% of hair is not actively growing; this percentage can decrease during pregnancy.

(2) Human head hair grows at a relatively constant rate, ranging as between individuals from 0.6 cm (or, in extreme cases, as low as 0.5 cm) to 1.4 cm (or, in extreme cases, up to 2.2 cm) per month. If the donor has a growth rate significantly quicker or slower than this, there is scope both for inaccuracy in the approximate dates attributed to each 1 cm sample and for confusion if overlaying supposedly corresponding samples harvested significant periods apart.

(3) The hair follicle is located approximately 3-5 mm beneath the surface of the skin; hence it takes approximately 5-7 days the growing hair to appear above the scalp and can take approximately 2-3 weeks to have grown sufficiently to be included in a cut hair sample.

(4) After a drug enters the human body, it is metabolised into its derivative metabolites. The parent drug and the metabolites are present in the bloodstream, in sebaceous secretions and in sweat. These are thought to be three mechanisms whereby drugs and their metabolites are incorporated into human scalp.

(5) The fact that a portion of the hair is in a telogen stage means that even after achieving abstinence, a donor’s hair may continue to test positive for drugs and/or their metabolites for a 3-6 month period thereafter.

(6) Hair can become externally contaminated (e.g. through passive smoking or drug handling). Means of seeking to differentiate between drug ingestion and external contamination include:

(i) washing hair samples before testing to remove surface contamination

(ii) analysing the washes

(iii) testing for the presence of the relevant metabolites and establishing the ratio between the parent drug and the metabolite

(iv) setting threshold levels.

(7) Decontamination can produce variable results as it depends upon the decontamination solvent used.

(8) The SoHT has set recommended cut-offs of cocaine and its metabolites in hair to identify use:

(i) cocaine: 0.5 ng/mg

(ii) metabolites BE, AEME, CE and NCOC: 0.05 ng/mg

(9) Cocaine (COC) is metabolized into benzoylecgonine (BE or BZE), norcocaine (NCOC) and, if consumed, together with alcohol (ethanol), cocaethylene (CE). The presence of anydroecgonine methyl ester (AEME) in hair is indicative of the use of crack smoke cocaine.

(10) Cocaine is quickly metabolised in the body: therefore, in the bloodstream the concentration of cocaine is usually lower than that of BE. However, cocaine is incorporated into hair to a greater degree than BE: therefore, the concentration of cocaine in the hair typically exceeds that of BE. Norcocaine is a minor metabolite and its concentration in both blood and hair is usually much lower than either cocaine or BE.

(11) Some metabolites can be produced outside the human body. In particular, cocaine will hydrolyse to BE on exposure to moisture to variable degree, although high levels of BE as a proportion of cocaine would not be expected. It is very unlikely that NCOC will be found in the environment. The fact that cocaine metabolites can be produced outside the body raises the possibility that their presence is due to exposure: this is not the case with cannabis, whose metabolite is produced only inside the body.

(12) Having washed the hair before testing, analysis of the wash sample can allow for comparison with the hair testing results. There have been various studies aimed at creating formulae to assist in differentiating between active use and external contamination. In particular:

(i) Tsanaclis et al. propose that if the ratio of cocaine in the washing to that in the hair is less than 1:10, this indicates drug use.

(ii) Schaffer proposed “correcting” the hair level for cocaine concentration by subtracting five times the level detected in the wash.

The underlying fundamentals are that if external contamination has occurred (and therefore a risk of migration into the hair giving results that would appear to be positive) this is likely to be apparent from the amount of cocaine identified in the wash relative to that extracted from the hair.

An issue in the case was whether the existence of results that showed something, but below the cut-off levels, were evidence of anything

7. Having considered the evidence in this case, I arrive at the same conclusion as Hayden J in Re R, where (at paragraph 50) he preferred “a real engagement with the actual findings” to “a strong insistence on a ‘clear line’ principle of interpretation”. I accept the evidence of the witnesses for the testing companies that when one analyses thousands of tests, patterns can emerge that help when drawing conclusions. It would be artificial to require valid data to be struck from the record because it falls below a cut-off level when it may be significant in the context of other findings. That would elevate useful guidelines into iron rules and, as Dr McKinnon says, increase the number of false negative reports. What can, however, be said is that considerable caution must be used when taking into account results that fall below the cut-off level

The Court gave some practical guidance on the presentation of reports

Report writing and reading

57. The parties have made suggestions as to how the presentation of reports might be developed so as to be most useful to those working in the field of family justice. I will record some of these suggestions and some of my own. Before doing so, I note that each of the testing organisations already produces reports that contain much of the necessary information in one shape or another. It is also important to stress the responsibility for making proper use of scientific evidence falls both on the writer and the reader. The writer must make sure as far as possible that the true significance of the data is explained in a way that reduces the risk of it becoming lost in translation. The reader must take care to understand what is being read, and not jump to a conclusion about drug or alcohol use without understanding the significance of the data and its place in the overall evidence.

58. Comment was made during the evidence that certain courts, and in particular Family Drug and Alcohol Courts, are very familiar with the methodology of hair strand testing and the way in which reports are laid out. The objective must be for all participants in the system, professional and non-professional, to develop a similar competence, even though they do not read as many reports as the FDAC does.

59. There are currently nine accredited hair strand testing organisations working in the family law area. It is not for the court hearing one case to dictate the way reports are written by those who have intervened in this case or by others who have not taken part, but I include the following seven suggestions in case they are helpful.

(1) Use of high/medium/low descriptor:

This is in my view useful, provided it is accompanied by:

· A numerical description of the boundaries between high/medium/low, with an explanation of the manner in which the boundaries are set should be stated.

· A clear statement that the description is of the level of substance found and not of the level of use, though there may a broad correlation.

· A reminder that the finding from the test must always be set alongside other sources of information, particularly where the results are in the low range.

(2) Reporting of data below the cut-off range:

There is currently inconsistency as between organisations on reporting substances detected between the lower limit of detection (LLoD) and the lower limit of quantification (LLoQ), and those between the LLoQ and the cut-off point.

I would suggest that reports record all findings, so that:

· a finding below the LLoQ is described as “detected, but so low that it is not quantifiable”

· A result falling below the cut-off level is given in numerical form

and that this data is accompanied by a clear explanation of the reason for the cut-off point and the need for particular caution in relation to data that falls below it.

(3) Terminology

Efforts to understand the significance of tests are hampered by the lack of a common vocabulary to describe results in the very low ranges, Descriptions such as “positive”, “negative”, “indicates that” and “not detected” can be used and understood vaguely or incorrectly. The creation of a common vocabulary across the industry could only be achieved by a body such as the SoHT. In the absence of uniformity, reporters should define their terms precisely so that they can be accurately understood.

(4) Expressions of probability:

The Family Court works on the civil standard of proof, namely the balance of probabilities. It would therefore help if opinions about testing results could be expressed in that way. For example:

“Taken in isolation, these findings are in my opinion more likely than not to indicate ingestion of [drug].”

“Taken in isolation, these findings are in my opinion more likely than not to indicate that [drug] has not been ingested because….”

“Taken in isolation, these findings are in my opinion more likely to indicate exposure to [drug] than ingestion.”

(5) Where there is reason to believe that environmental contamination may be an issue, this should be fully described, together with an analysis of any factors that may help the reader to distinguish between the possibilities.

(6) The FAQ sheet accompanying the report (which might better be described as “Essential Information”), might be tailored to give information relevant to the particular report, and thereby make it easier to assimilate.

(7) When it is known that testing has been carried out by more than one organisation, the report should explain that the findings may be variable as between organisations.

And I think this line is likely to appear in written submissions from time to time

61. The burden of proof is on the local authority, which must prove its allegations on the balance of probabilities. As Ms Markham QC and Miss Tompkins rightly say, the presence of an ostensibly positive hair strand test does not reverse the burden of proof.

Carbonara conundrums – what we do or don’t know about the “Muslim foster carer” case

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or you’ve taken a year off from the news in the hope that when you come back everything will be okay (good luck with that), you’ll have heard about the child in foster care said to have been mistreated by Muslim foster carers.

The Times (paywall paywall paywall) and Mail have reported on it extensively this week, and most other papers have followed them.

This is the gist of the story – a white English child whose mother is a Christian, has been placed against mother’s wishes with Muslim carers. The child told the mother that they had not spoken English (the press reports were that the carers couldn’t speak English, we know now that this is not correct), that they had told her she couldn’t or shouldn’t celebrate Easter or Christmas, was forbidden from having her favourite meal spaghetti carbonara because it contains ham, had her crucifix taken/ripped off her, and was told that all English women are alcoholics. The child was reported to be distraught by this.

 

The Press reported that, and had the additional angle that it was wrong for white Christian children to be placed with Muslim carers.  The Times published a genuine (but pixelated) photograph of the female foster carer and the child, the Mail used a stock photograph and badly photoshopped in a veil for some reason on the adult female.

 

Han Solo was all, like “they’re going to put me in the Carbonara chamber? Bring it”

 

 

Imagine that I am more tech savvy and that this niqab is over the plate of carbonara. That would be much better.

 

Let’s very quickly deal with the first issue – the systemic one.  Should ethnic and cultural matches be the priority when placing children – well, sort of. Local Authorities do have duties to take into account the child’s cultural and religious heritage and make sure that those needs are met in foster care.  At the same time, the Government brought about law  (cough, at the behest of the same Press outlets who are screeching about this) to stop those factors being considered in adoptive placements  (that came about because the Press were appalled that white carers were being told they couldn’t adopt non-white children, of whom there was a surfeit – the system had more white carers than white children who needed carers, and more BAME children who needed carers than BAME carers. That’s true of foster carers too).

So whilst a Local Authority will try to match children to foster carers, it isn’t always possible to have an exact match – the amount of carers of particular types doesn’t equate to the amount of children who need such carers.  In general, it is more common to find BAME children placed with white carers than the reverse – which is what happened here, but it depends where you are in the country.  When I worked in the West Midlands, we did sometimes have to place white children with BAME carers, so it depends on local demographics as well as national ones.

 

So there is a systemic problem, but it is interesting that the Press have complained about it in two different directions, that white carers should be allowed to have BAME children and that white children shouldn’t be with BAME carers.  I think the Press might want to have a bit of a think about that.

 

Anyway, I’m more interested in the INDIVIDUAL issues.

Easiest question first.

 

  1. If the foster carer did this, is that okay?

 

Absolutely not. Local Authorities and foster carers have a duty to look after children in their care and treat them well. They have a duty to respect a child’s cultural and religious heritage and what is complained of here IF TRUE is appalling.  IF TRUE, that person would be unsuitable to foster and would probably be deregistered as a foster carer.

 

2. Are all foster carers perfect?

 

No. Foster carers are human beings, and all human beings have flaws and are capable of showing those flaws. Some foster carers have abused children in their care – some much more seriously than these allegations and have gone to prison for it. The Press don’t seem to give those convictions front page stories very often (though cases where foster carers murder children in their care do make the front page).  It’s a bit like a plane crash – plane crashes happen, and when they happen it is awful and dreadful and important that people try to learn from how it happened and stop it happening in the future, but you can’t assess whether plane travel is generally safe or generally dangerous by only thinking about the ones that crash. You have to have the context of there being a lot of planes flying every day with no problems.  (That doesn’t mean that abuse in foster homes is okay, any more than a plane crash is okay. Just that context is important)

3. So is this a story?

 

IF TRUE, yes, it is a story.  If it isn’t true and mother’s allegations are false, it’s not really a story at all.  Person lies in Court is not a news story. People do it all the time. That’s why we need Judges. If everyone who went to Court just told the truth always, we wouldn’t need a Judge and thousands of pieces of paper to work things out.

 

4. So is it TRUE ?

 

We don’t know.  There’s some stuff that we DO know.

 

The Court have published the order

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/judgments/the-child-ab-case-management-order-no-7-anonymised/

 

From that, we do know some stuff. I’d suggest you read it at the end rather than now, because whilst it might make readers lean one way or the other on whether the story is true or not, the ultimate fact is that we don’t know.  We know that mother alleges this stuff, and that the Local Authority say it isn’t true.  The Court is gathering the evidence, but nobody has yet got into the witness box and answered questions and the Judge hasn’t decided anything.

If this child has given that account, it MUST have been in a supervised contact setting. So perhaps there is evidence that supports the mother’s allegations – of contact recordings showing that the child said that. Perhaps the contact recordings don’t show any such conversations. We don’t know.  The Times certainly didn’t apply to Court for permission to publish an anonymised version of the contact recordings that would support their story – that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist, maybe the reporter didn’t know that they could ask. Maybe if they had asked, the Court would have said no. We don’t know.

Anyone who says now that they are SURE the foster carer has done this, is coming to that conclusion when we don’t know any of the facts or evidence. Equally, anyone who says this mother must be lying (because she is this, that and the other) is also jumping to a conclusion when we don’t know any of the facts or evidence.  Imagine for a moment this Press report being that a mother claimed the foster carer racially abused her, or that a psychologist made up quotes from her – we might speculate that the mother is bound to be making this up (but in two cases where those things were claimed, the mother was right and tape recording evidence proved it).   So don’t assume that either of them MUST be telling the truth. We don’t know.

5. Will we EVER know?

 

Tricky. The way that we will know whether the evidence, as tested in Court, by witnesses being asked evidence and the documents being considered, is when a judgment is published. That judgment would clearly be in the public interest and I’m sure it will be published. I would then write about it.  The Press may, if the Judge decides that the mother’s account was right. They may, if the Judge decides they were all fooled by a single source, publish that with an apology. They may publish a Christoper Booker-esque piece about how the secret family Courts have got this wrong and that they know best. We don’t know.

 

6. But will there be a judgment?

 

This is really my reason for contributing on this.  The family Courts are paid for by taxpayers. They are spending taxpayers money. They have a job to do in relation to each set of care proceedings they hear. The Court of Appeal has made it clear that they have to answer two questions.

 

(a) Has this child been significantly harmed or is the child at risk of significant harm with that harm being a result of the parents behaviour being unreasonable (and if not, that’s the end of it)

and

(b) What orders, if any, should the Court make?

 

(Many people wrongly conflate b with – decide where the child should live. Although there’s often quite a bit of overlap, the Court is not deciding where the child should live, but what order if any to make)

 

Now, from reading the order, this mother is undertaking drug tests and alcohol tests, and is also facing criminal charges for something (some of the Press reports specify it, but it isn’t in the order) and the criminal proceedings papers are being produced.  I think those things are probably relevant to (a) – it may be proved, or it may not. But whether or not  the foster carer did or didn’t do these things doesn’t come into it.

The foster carer isn’t being considered as a permanent carer for the child, so there’s no need to assess her for (b). It is a straight shoot-out between Special Guardianship Order to grandmother (with possibly a string of other orders about placing the child in a foreign country, as that’s her intention) or no order/Supervision Order with the child being with mother.  That’s going to hinge on whether the Court considers that mother can provide good enough care for the child. These allegations don’t come into it.

But, surely if the Court decides that mother was wronged about the foster placement, they’d have to put that right by returning the child to her care? No, the Court’s paramount consideration is the child, not mother.   But surely, if the Court decides mum lied about these allegations, they couldn’t return the child to her care? No, because the Court’s paramount consideration is the child, not whether mother lied.  But surely if mother lied about this, the Court could take that into account as to whether she’s lying about other stuff?  Well, not really. The Court have to follow a principle from a case called Lucas  – the Court must remind itself that just because a person told lies about A that doesn’t mean that they are lying about B, C or D too – people can tell lies for a number of reasons and lying about one thing, even if you are caught out doesn’t mean you are lying about everything.

 

SO – I think there is a considerable prospect of the Court not actually litigating this argument at all.  If the assessments of mother are that she can provide good enough care, there won’t be a contested final hearing at all. If there is a final hearing about SGO with grandmother versus no order/ Supervision Order with mum, then this aspect doesn’t help the Court make that decision in any way.

 

It is possible that the Court will deal with it and make findings one way or the other, as a result of the public interest – but it is worth remembering that the Court isn’t a public inquiry – it isn’t there to give me, or you or the Daily Mail answers – it is there to decide what orders to make for the child.  If the Court hears evidence about these allegations, they would need to hear from the foster carer (s), the contact supervisor(s) and mother – that probably amounts to adding an extra day to the hearing to satisfy my curiousity. And if the Judge spends an extra day doing this case than another case, another child, has to wait for their decisions.

 

It’s a bit of a downbeat answer – we may never know from the family Court what really happened.

 

 

BUT BUT BUT

 

What about other Court hearings?

Well, it is theoretically possible that mother might make a claim under the Human Rights Act for damages for these allegations, and then the Court would have to hear evidence and make the decision.  Or for damages as a result of the Local Authority failing to comply with their statutory duty to promote and respect the child’s cultural and religious heritage. That sounds a bit thin.  Firstly, the claim even if everything is proved is a bit thin for a HRA claim and secondly mother would have to get that litigation funded somehow – which means persuading either the Legal Aid Agency that this is an exceptional case which justifies it or persuading a lawyer to do it for free.

And there isn’t an automatic guidance that all judgments like that are published (I think it would be in this case due to the public interest).

 

What else?

Well, an investigative route would be Fostering Panel. Foster carers do have their registration reviewed, and Fostering Panel can consider revoking registration. They aren’t massively set up for hearing evidence on contentious issues and making determinations as to disputed facts – I also don’t think they’d do a long ‘judgment’  – it would be more likely to be a short decision. And they don’t have to publish that. And even a cunningly-worded FOI request to Tower Hamlets would probably be knocked out on the basis that the foster carer has rights under the Data Protection Act about their sensitive and personal data.

 

A Serious Case Review? Don’t think it meets the criteria – the child hasn’t been seriously injured.

 

So either this Judge will go out on a limb to deal with the allegations as part of a contested final hearing and publish a judgment, or we will never know. At this point, I’d say it is 70-30 on us never knowing.

 

ANYONE CURRENTLY saying  “This is definitely what happened in this case” does not know what they are talking about.  It is a guess. It might turn out to be a good guess, but it is a guess.

Guardian and Child’s Solicitor get strong (and justified) bashing from High Court

This is a Keehan J decision in the High Court.

It is pretty rare for a Judge to criticise a Guardian, and I can’t recall a case before where a Child’s Solicitor was criticised in a judgment. This is full on judicial dissection. And in my humble opinion, utterly warranted.

The case involved a child who was 13 and had learning difficulties. There was also a sibling, Y. There were serious allegations of abuse made by the child against the father. Achieving Best Evidence interviews had been conducted.

Most of the case is very fact specific, so I won’t go into it, (and the hearing lasted 20 days, so there was a LOT of it) but the part that has wider application is what happened towards the end of the case.

The father, understandably, made an application for the child X to give evidence. The Court set down a Re W hearing to decide whether the child should or should not give evidence. The Court directed the Guardian to meet with the child and to provide a report to the Court as to her view as to whether the child should or should not give evidence.

What actually happened was that the Guardian allowed the child’s solicitor to take the lead during that visit and that rather than exploring the Re W issues, the child’s solicitor actually cross examined the child AT LENGTH about the detail of the disclosures, leading her, challenging her, contradicting her. (In fact it also appears that some of the disclosures made were fresh disclosures not previously made, so it was not only emotionally abusive to the child but contaminated the evidence, and neither the Guardian nor the solicitor made referrals to the social work team about the fresh allegations)
(I’ve used ‘disclosures’ here as a synonym for ‘allegations’ and have rightly been corrected. We should all use allegations for things that are yet to be proved, and disclosures afterwards. Fixxored in edit)

None of this should have happened. Reading the case it appears that the Guardian is the subject of internal disciplinary proceedings through CAFCASS and that there is to be a hearing to decide whether this case should be referred to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. It will be a very difficult thing for either of them to come back from, professionally. Readers can make up their own mind how sympathetic they are about that.

Wolverhampton City Council v JA and another 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/62.html

The Former Children’s Guardian and the Former Solicitor for the Children
172.On 30 August 2016 the then children’s guardian, AB, and the children’s solicitor, Ms Noel, visited X in her foster placement for the purpose of speaking with her, ostensibly to gain her wishes and feelings about giving evidence at this hearing.

173.During the course of this interview X is recorded as having made a number of disclosures relating to her having been sexually abused.

174.On 6 September 2016 AB and Ms Noel paid a similar visit to Y.

175.At an advocates’ meeting the disclosures made by X in her interview on 30 August were revealed. It became apparent that no referral in respect of those disclosures had been made to the local authority nor to the police. The advocates’ meeting was immediately terminated and an urgent directions hearing was sought before the then allocated judge.

I’ve done at least a thousand advocates meetings and they are universally very dull. This one, however, wasn’t. There must have been an utterly deathly silence as this information came to light.

176.The children’s guardian and the children’s solicitor were ordered to disclose their notes on both interviews with the children and to file and serve witness statements.


177.On 30 September 2016 the appointment of the children’s guardian and the children’s solicitor were terminated and a new guardian and solicitor were appointed for the children. I am, understandably, asked to make clear in this judgment that the current children’s guardian, the current children’s solicitor and counsel instructed by him at this hearing had no part and no involvement, whatsoever, in the events of 30 August or 6 September 2016.

So a whole new team was appointed to represent the child, and that new team were untainted by these failures.

178.The guardian and solicitor’s interview of Y on 6 September 2016 could be the subject of considerable criticism, however, for the purposes of this judgment I focus on the interview with X on 30 August where the most egregious errors occurred.

179.X was subjected to an almost two hour cross examination conducted principally, if not exclusively, by Ms Noel: I stop short of categorising it as an interrogation. I have never seen the like of it before and I hope never to see a repetition of it again. X was asked leading questions on innumerable occasion, she was contradicted repeatedly by Ms Noel and when X denied a particular treatment or abuse by her father the question was put again and again, effectively denying the child the opportunity of being heard.

180.A particularly egregious question was asked by Ms Noel when she asked ‘Did your dad ever push the sponge or his fingers inside your private?’ X replied ‘no I don’t think so but it was painful’. The question was repeated and the answer was the same save hurt replaced painful. Ms Noel then asked ‘did dad ever get into bed with you’. Answer no. Prior to this interview and prior to these questions X had never asserted that the father had inserted his fingers into her vagina nor that he got into bed with her.

When you have a High Court Judge driven to say “I have never seen the like of it before and I hope never to see a repetition of it again” things are really bad. This is painful to read.

181.Prior to this ‘interview’ X had not said that she had told her mother of the father’s alleged sexual abuse of her.

182.At the time of both X’s and Y’s interviews the children’s guardian and the children’s solicitor knew that there was an ongoing police investigation into these allegations of sexual abuse and ongoing enquiries by the local authority.

183.Both AB and Ms Noel accepted their respective contemporaneous notes of the two interviews were not a verbatim transcript of the interviews. As the lead questioner Ms Noel’s notes were more comprehensive than AB’s but neither recorded all questions asked nor all the answers given.

The impact on the Guardian of these failings was so pronounced that the Judge was actually very concerned about her well-being when giving evidence.

184.AB is a very experienced children’s guardian of longstanding. I was very concerned about her welfare and well being when she came to give evidence.

185.My order of 6 December 2016 was received by Cafcass. She was the subject of internal disciplinary procedures of which it is not necessary for the purposes of this judgment to say any more. She has since been reinstated.

186.The guardian had just returned from holiday. She knew the purpose of the visit was at my request to establish X’s views about giving evidence. She met Ms Noel outside the foster carer’s home and there was a limited discussion about how the interview should proceed. She told me, and I accept, she agreed Ms Noel should take the lead in asking questions as she had not been present at the last court hearing. It was she said, and I accept, the one and only time she had allowed a children’s solicitor to take the lead in asking questions of a child. She had not, at that time, viewed the children’s ABE interviews nor had Ms Noel.

187.When asked why she had not referred the disclosures made by X to the police, she said Ms Noel advised her that she needed to consult with counsel then instructed on behalf of the children.

188.AB conceded her note taking of the interview was not as thorough as it should have been. She readily acknowledged that she should have stopped the questioning as soon as disclosures had been made. She candidly told me that X wanted to talk and because AB believed the children had not been listened to she was open to let X, and then Y on 6 September, talk. She said she was uneasy at some of the questions the girls were asked by Ms Noel and now realised she should have stopped it.

189.It was immediately obvious from the moment AB stepped into the witness box that she was racked with guilt and remorse. Only a few minutes into her evidence she became distressed and I adjourned for a short period to enable her to compose herself. She readily acknowledged the grave and serious professional errors she had committed in allowing these interviews to progress as they did – most especially in respect of X – and for not terminating them at an early stage.

190.I accept the guardian’s errors and professional misjudgement in this case were grave and serious. Nevertheless I accept her regret and remorse at her actions and omission are entirely genuine and sincere.

It is obviously very dreadful that a children’s solicitor would cross-examine a child with learning difficulties about sexual abuse allegations for 2 hours – that’s made worse still when you realise that she had not even seen the ABE interviews – so effectively cross-examining without properly looking at the source material.

If you think things were bad for the Guardian, they are about to get very much worse

191.I only wish I could make the same observations in respect of Ms Noel: I regret I cannot.

192.Ms Noel has been a solicitor for 11 years. She has been on the Children’s Panel for 6 years but this was the first case of sexual abuse in which she had acted for the children. I do not understand why a solicitor so inexperienced in acting for children should have come to be appointed in as complex and serious case as this one.

193.I was moved to comment during the course of Ms Noel’s evidence that by her actions during the interview with X she had run a coach and horses through 20 years plus of child abuse inquiries and of the approach to interviewing children in cases of alleged sexual abuse. I see no reason, on reflection, to withdraw those comments.

194.At the conclusion of Ms Noel’s evidence, in very marked contrast to that of the former children’s guardian, I had no sense that Ms Noel had any real appreciation of what she had done or of the extremely serious professional errors she had committed. She appeared to be almost a naïve innocent who had little or no idea of what she had done.

That’s the stuff of anxiety nightmares, having that sort of thing said about you.

195.It is right that I set out with particularity her evidence, most especially to highlight those matters which cause me to make the foregoing observations.


196.Ms Noel told me that her visit to X was the first time she had met X.
She said that the language she used when asking questions of X and the length of the interview – some 2 hours – was “possibly” inappropriate for a child with learning difficulties. On repeated occasion Ms Noel had told X how brave she was being in answering the questions. On reflection, she said, such comments could have been seen by X as a clue as to what she was expected to say and to talk about. She said that ‘it may appear but was not my intention.’

197.Ms Noel had had no training in how to speak with children involved in court proceedings. She knew X had made disclosures to the police and to her foster carers. Why, therefore, she was asked did she embark on this lengthy questioning of X? She replied that at the time she wanted to clarify what X was saying. With the benefit of hindsight, she accepted she should not have done so and should have stopped asking questions. She said she did not know she had asked X directed or leading questions. When it was put to her that she was cross examining X, Ms Noel replied ‘I suppose so, yes’.

Now, perhaps it is an omission of Children Panel training that she did not have training in how to ask children questions, but as an ADVOCATE you really should know whether or not you are asking someone directed or leading questions – that’s a catastrophic failing to admit that you didn’t know whether you were or not. And note that this 2 hour cross-examination was the first time she had ever met the child.


198.She confirmed her notes were not a verbatim record and that she had not noted X’s demeanour during the course of the interview. She accepted she had probably got some questions and answers missing from her notes and in that sense her notes could be misleading.


199.Ms Noel asserted she had only seen the DVDs of the girls’ interviews after she had seen X on 30 August and Y on 6 September. She had not reported X’s disclosures to the local authority because counsel then instructed by her had advised her to wait until after counsel had met with her and the guardian in conference.

(The Judge doesn’t pass any comment as to whether counsel was right or wrong there. I might have my own view, but the Judge had all of the facts and was in a far better position to say so if there was fault)

200.Ms Noel accepted that in acting as she did she had badly let the children down. She accepted there was a risk of the children, especially X, being ‘set up’ to make fake allegations. She accepted there were not insignificant differences between her contemporaneous notes of her meetings with X and with Y and those set out in her statement which she had prepared and signed in December.


201.Ms Noel was specifically asked if she had approved and authorised the contents of a position statement provided to the court for hearing on 16 September 2016. She said she could not remember. When reminded that she had emailed the same to the court, she replied ‘I would have read it’. The position baldly states that in the interview with the guardian and the solicitor X had made disclosures of a sexual nature against her father and had made disclosures in relation to the state of knowledge of the mother and the maternal grandmother. At no point is any reference made to the circumstances in which X said these things, namely that she had been subjected to an intense and prolonged period of cross examination.


202.I am sorry to observe that Ms Noel’s many acknowledgments of error and of professional misjudgement were made, in my judgment, very begrudgingly.


203.In conclusion I find that in relation to interview undertaken with X on 30 August 2016:

a) she was inappropriately questioned by Ms Noel;

b) the interview lasted for a wholly excessive length of time;

c) the conduct of the interview took no account that X suffered from learning difficulties;

d) she was repeatedly asked leading questions;

e) frequently leading questions were repeated even after X had answered in the negative to the proposition implicit in the question;

f) there was absolutely no justification for embarking on this sustained questioning of X;

g) the exercise was wholly detrimental to X’s welfare and seriously imperilled a police investigation;

h) the conduct of the interview led to a real possibility that X would be led into making false allegations;

i) the conduct of the interview was wholly contrary to the intended purpose of the visit, namely to establish X’s wishes and feelings about giving evidence in this fact finding hearing; and

j) the record keeping of AB and Ms Noel was very poor. Not all questions and answers were recorded or accurately recorded. No reference is made to X’s demeanour during the interview or to any perceived change in her demeanour.

204.The breaches of good practice were so legion in the interview conducted with X that I have concluded that it would be unwise and unsafe for me to rely on any comments made by X
. I will have to consider later in this judgment the extent, if at all, to which this interview with X on 30 August tainted the subsequent ABE interview undertaken by the police with X on 30 September 2016.


205.One of the worst examples of these very poorly conducted interviews arose in Y’s interview on 6 September. She alleged for the very first time that she told her grandmother of the sexual abuse she had suffered. For the reasons I have given in relation to X’s interview, I pay no regard to this comment at all. To the extent that I find, if at all, that the grandmother knew about the sexual abuse of both girls, I shall rely on the other evidence before me.


206.The issues of whether I should name Ms Noel in this judgment and/or she should be referred to her professional disciplinary body is to be determined at separate hearing. None of the parties to these proceedings wish to be heard on these issues: the matter is left to the court. I will, however, hear submissions on behalf of Ms Noel at that hearing. At the hearing on 18 August I read and heard submissions from counsel on behalf of Ms Noel. I was asked to show compassion to Ms Noel and not name her in the judgment. A number of personal and professional reasons were advanced. I do not propose to set them out in this judgment. I took account of all those submissions but concluded that the public interest and the need for transparency overwhelmingly required me to name Ms Noel. Accordingly her name appears in the published version of this judgment.

Child refugees – section 20? Care proceedings? Either?

This is a case in which Mr Justice Peter Jackson was asked to decide whether to make a Care Order for two children aged 9 and 10 who had come to England as refugees from Afghanistan due to actions of the Taliban in their own country.
The Judge was also asked to give indications as to whether care proceedings or s20 were the right approach for other children and other Local Authorities.

Re J (child refugees) 2017
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/44.html

On the critical issue of threshold (which has given me disquiet for a while, because the Act requires that the significant harm is as a result of the parents behaviour not being what it would be REASONABLE to expect a parent to provide, and if you are a parent in a war-torn country such as Syria and you can get your child to a place of safety can that really be said to be unreasonable?) the Judge decided this :-

15.The question first arises as to whether such children can properly be accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act, or whether the Local Authority is under an obligation to bring care proceedings. In this case, the threshold criteria have undoubtedly been crossed because the children have certainly faced the risk of significant harm and have, indeed, suffered significant harm at the time the proceedings were brought as a result of being sent across the world without any parental protection. Whether the children are to be described as abandoned or just sent out into the world makes no difference. It also seems to me that the fact that the children may have been sent out of Afghanistan for their own benefit does not prevent the threshold for care proceedings being met. That was a decision that was taken either by the parents or the parents were not in a position to exercise parental responsibility so that it was taken by others. The fact that the children might have suffered worse harm by staying does not mean they have not suffered significant harm and risked suffering significant harm by going.

(For my own part, I think that rather weakens the concept of a parent acting unreasonably from the statutory test, but we now have our pragmatic answer that sending a child overseas to become a child refugee is, in and of itself, sufficient to meet threshold. I can understand, however, why a Court would want to find threshold proven in this sort of situation, and why the formulation above was arrived at)

On the issue of whether or not care proceedings should always be preferred to s20 or vice versa, the Judge decided that it was a case specific decision rather than there being a universal preference. He helpfully outlined some of the factors to take into account when a Local Authority was making such a decision

18.Turning finally to the issue that faces many Local Authorities who are taking up responsibility for unaccompanied children, the submission made by Mr Jones is that the question of whether it is appropriate to apply for a care order will depend upon the facts of the individual case. I agree with that. This relatively short application is not the occasion to define when applications should be made to the court or not, to define the limits of accommodation under section 20, or to try to identify where the dividing line might fall. This is a case in which the Local Authority’s decision to take proceedings for the protection of children as young as ten and nine with no relatives whatever in this country so far as it was obviously correct. There may be many other cases, however, in which much older children fall into the hands of Local Authorities where accommodation under section 20 would be perfectly appropriate, because the arrangements in place for their support are relatively straightforward and need no oversight from the court or input from a litigation friend or children’s guardian.

19.I will, however, take advantage of the thought that has gone into the presentation of this case by referring to a schedule of the advantages and disadvantages of section 20 accommodation and care orders in so far as they might apply in cases of this sort. I do so in case, firstly, to carry forward the work and in case it should be useful to others.

20.Starting with accommodation under section 20, I the benefits that flow are: firstly, the provision of accommodation; secondly, the possibility of a child in need plan; thirdly, the availability of support under the leaving care legislation when the child reaches maturity; and fourthly the availability of looked after child reviews and an independent reviewing officer.

21.Turning then to the benefits that may arise under a care order, they are these: firstly, as above, the provision of accommodation; secondly, by distinction, support under a formal care plan that has been approved or at least considered by a children’s guardian and by a court; thirdly, again, the children would be entitled to leaving care legislation and support; fourthly, they would be entitled again to looked after reviews; fifthly, the children would have priority in relation to the obtaining of specialist therapy or medical care. They would undoubtedly be a first call on the Local Authority’s resources if subject to a care order and, depending upon the education legislation, quality for priority in the allegation of educational resources. Next, the Local Authority will have parental responsibility for the children, allowing it to make and carry through decisions about care, medical treatment, education and so forth. Next, if the children were to leave their placement, the Local Authority would be under a duty to find them with whatever measures were to hand. Next, the Local Authority holding a care order would be obliged to take an active role in relation to the asylum applications of such children, and finally, a care order would be most likely to provide the children with a plan for a permanent and established family life. Considering the benefits, it will easily be seen that the advantages of a care order may particularly apply to younger children or to children with unusual or particular needs.

22.The disadvantages of each option are to some degree the other sides of the coin of advantage, firstly as to section 20: (1) no one has parental responsibility or is able to exercise it; (2) there is a risk that the children will fall down the queue for such services as may be available; (3) although section 20 can be used in cases where children have been abandoned, that is not its core function; (4) living under section 20 throughout one’s middle and later childhood may lead to a lack of purpose in planning for the future and looser responsibilities should the children, for example, abscond. Without a care order or the presence of just section 20 accommodation, there may be more uncertainties than need be.

23.As against that, the disadvantages of a care order are few. It may potentially stigmatise the children to be accompanied by such an apparatus, and secondly, as a matter of principle it is a more interventionalist order that accordingly needs to be justified.

24.That is the balance sheet collected by Mr Jones, to whom I am grateful.

25.It will be apparent that cases of this kind, however, cannot be read alongside the very different class of case where Local Authorities harbour children under section 20 where they have, in effect, removed them from their parents for child protection purposes and where the parents are at hand and, in many cases, wanting the children back. In those cases, the instances of judicial and other guidance in favour of bringing care proceedings without delay are numerous, but they do not, I think, apply in circumstances of this kind. It is neither in the interests of individual children, nor, I think, in the wider public interest for Local Authorities to feel that they have to bring care proceedings to no good purpose, as would be the case if every unaccompanied asylum-seeking child was to be brought within care proceedings.

The last sentence is very significant, so I’ll repeat it

It is neither in the interests of individual children, nor, I think, in the wider public interest for Local Authorities to feel that they have to bring care proceedings to no good purpose, as would be the case if every unaccompanied asylum-seeking child was to be brought within care proceedings.

So a Local Authority, and the IRO, should be weighing up with such children which of the two options is the better option for the child, but the law is not that section 20 is always wrong or always right. There needs to be individual analysis of what’s best for that particular child.

Ostriching and adverse inferences

The law in relation to decisions not to engage with assessments and the consequences that may flow from this

I ended up scratching my head about this issue about a month ago – where a parent doesn’t engage with assessments and doesn’t provide samples for drug testing, what can the Court do about it? It seemed a very obvious answer that the Court would be invited to draw adverse inferences from the failure to cooperate, but I couldn’t easily lay my hands on the authority for that proposition. It turned out to be more elusive than I had imagined, so having done the research and written it up, it was rather vexing to receive an email minutes later to say that the parent was now willing to engage rendering all my hard work pointless.

So, waste not want not. At the very least it might save someone else having to do all the legwork.

1. The starting point is that under the Children Act 1989 and civil proceedings generally, the burden of proof in any allegation falls upon the party making it, and the standard of proof is the balance of probability. Thus, in care proceedings, it will be the task of the Applicant to establish that it is more likely than not that the parent’s behaviour, history or failings amount to behaviour that it is not reasonable to expect a parent to provide and that it amounted to either causing the child significant harm or establishes a likelihood of significant harm in the future.

2. In a case where the allegation is, say, mental health instability or substance misuse, it is not a burden on the parent to demonstrate that their mental health is now fine, or that they are no longer using heroin. (This misapprehension works its way quite regularly into language used outside Court – “This mother needs to show me that she’s changed” and so on, but it is not a legal burden on the mother at all.)

3. If the Local Authority satisfy the Court that an assessment under Part 25 is necessary to establish the history and prognosis of mother’s mental health, or the current status of abstinence from or usage of substances in order to make confident predictions about the future, what happens where a parent declines to participate?

4. The Court of Appeal in S (Children) [2006] EWCA Civ 981 http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed1435 addressed particularly where the limits are in the family Court of compelling parents to produce evidence.

5. 23. I move, therefore, from the clear need for the court to receive the disputed evidence to the manner by which it should do so. I have no doubt that the submission is correctly made on behalf of the father, and today correctly conceded on behalf of the local authority, that the court cannot compel a party, against his will, to procure the evidence of a person not already a witness in proceedings. A party can be permitted to file evidence which he wishes to file; and, in civil proceedings, he can be compelled to file evidence from himself. He cannot, however, be compelled to file evidence to be collected by him from a third party; for he has no power to compel the third party to co-operate in enabling him to comply with the order against him. So, yes, the father is right: he should not have been subject to purported compulsion to file a report by his psychiatrist. The judge seems to have recognised as much when, in judgment, he observed “although it does not seem to me that the father can be forced to, the evidence from [the father’s psychiatrist] can be obtained now.” Notwithstanding his doubts the judge for some reason proceeded in his actual order to direct the father to file a report from the psychiatrist.

6. A parent can be compelled to provide a statement from themselves within care proceedings (there is no “right to silence” as a result of s98(2) and failure to produce a statement as directed could be treated as contempt and breach of an order and punishable by committal Re LR (Children ) 2013 http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed117035 )

7. There is, however, a right to silence, when the application is for committal, and the parent must be informed by the Judge that he or she does not HAVE to go into the witness box and is entitled to decline the option of giving evidence. The Court of Appeal confirmed in Khawaja v Popat & Anor [2016] EWCA Civ 362 that the Court can draw adverse inferences from the parents decision to exercise that right to silence (this is NOT the case in criminal law, but is the case in civil law)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/362.html

27.As the proceedings led potentially to a criminal penalty, the appellant could not be compelled to give evidence. He could have remained completely silent and could have addressed submissions as to the strength or weakness of the evidence adduced by the respondent. However, he took a half-way course. He provided two affidavits in explanation, but he declined (as was his right) to have that evidence put to the test in cross-examination.

28. It might have been unwise for the judge to say to the appellant so bluntly that “…the reality is that if you don’t go in the witness-box it is likely that I will infer that you won’t go in the witness-box because you know you are lying…”. However, it seems to me that his overall remarks to the appellant, at the end of Mr Roseman’s opening of the case for the respondents, were correctly in accord with the law and practice as reflected in paragraph 81.28.4 of Civil Procedure 2015 Vol. 1 (p.2460) as follows:

“A person accused of contempt, like the defendant in a criminal trial, has the right to remain silent (Comet Products UK Ltd. v Hawkex Plastics Ltd. [1971] 2 QB 67, CA). It is the duty of the court to ensure that the accused person is made aware of that right and also of the risk that adverse inferences may be drawn from his silence (Interplayer Ltd. v Thorogood [2014] EWCA Civ 1511, CA…)…”
29.It is entirely clear from the transcript of the judge’s exchanges with Mr Roseman that he recognised fully the burden of proof that was upon the respondents and the standard of proof required to discharge that burden. The judge pressed Mr Roseman closely upon the evidence adduced in support of the application. I do not accept Mr Hendron’s submission that the judge concluded that the appellant’s silence on its own proved his guilt (contrary to the principles emerging from R v Cowan [1996] 1 Cr App R 1 at 7). The judge was conspicuously aware of the burden resting upon the respondents throughout. In my judgment, it seems clear that the judge recognised that the respondents’ evidence produced a case for the appellant to answer; he found the explanations given in the appellant’s affidavit evidence unsatisfactory and in the absence of oral evidence he drew the inference open to him that the appellant’s explanations were untrue.

30.It seems to me further that the law and practice as briefly stated in Civil Procedure (Loc. Cit. supra), and applied by the judge, is entirely consistent with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, as reflected (for example) by the following passage from the judgment in Murray v UK [1996] ECHR 18731/91 at paragraph 47:

“On the one hand, it is self-evident that it is incompatible with the immunities under consideration to base a conviction solely or mainly on the accused’s silence or on a refusal to answer questions or to give evidence himself. On the other hand, the Court deems it equally obvious that these immunities cannot and should not prevent that the accused’s silence, in situations which clearly call for an explanation from him, be taken into account in assessing the persuasiveness of the evidence adduced by the prosecution.”

“Wherever the line between these two extremes is to be drawn, it follows from this understanding of “the right to silence” that the question whether the right is absolute must be answered in the negative.”

“It cannot be said therefore that an accused’s decision to remain silent throughout criminal proceedings should necessarily have no implications when the trial court seeks to evaluate the evidence against him. In particular, as the Government have pointed out, established international standards in this area, while providing for the right to silence and the privilege against self-incrimination, are silent on this point.”

“Whether the drawing of adverse inferences from an accused’s silence infringes Article 6 is a matter to be determined in the light of all the circumstances of the case, having particular regard to the situations where inferences may be drawn, the weight attached to them by the national courts in their assessment of the evidence and the degree of compulsion inherent in the situation.”

8. If a parent has within their possession and control documents or evidence, this can also be ordered to be produced. But the thrust of the passage in Re S 2006 above is that a parent cannot be compelled to participate in a psychiatric assessment if they do not consent. The Court has no power to compel them to do so.

9. However, the Court of Appeal provided a recommendation for such a scenario :-


24. It must be remembered, however, that the request for an order that the father should file a report from the psychiatrist was only the fall-back application made on behalf of the local authority. Their primary application was for an order for the disclosure of the records held by the psychiatrist and the linked records held by the father’s GP. Granted the relevance of the father’s psychiatric condition, that application was in my view unanswerable. In the ordinary case, in which the medical records are held by the doctors, the appropriate direction would have been to grant leave to the local authority to issue what in the Division we still have to call subpoenas duces tecum and ad testificandum, returnable either at the outset of the substantive fact-finding hearing or, surely more conveniently, at a prior review hearing, at which the doctor or doctors can produce the records to the court and answer such questions as will enable the parties both to make sense of them and, more broadly, to collect from them the focussed information about the parent’s likely condition at the time of the event. In this case, however, we are given to understand that the medical records are already in the possession of the father; and so in my view there is no impediment to a straightforward order for his immediate disclosure of them to all other parties. To that order I would attach permission to the local authority and the guardian, if so minded, to show the records to a psychiatrist of their own choosing; and, having studied the records and perhaps having instructed a psychiatrist to educate them about their significance, the local authority and/or the guardian will be free at the next review hearing to ask for leave to issue a subpoena ad testificandum against the father’s psychiatrist. I have to say that, once the court in care proceedings has decided in principle that such information should be obtained and once the parent has had the benefit of legal advice, this cumbersome method of obtaining it is usually circumvented by his agreeing, as a recital to the order, to procure a report from the psychiatrist upon the matters ruled to be relevant. Perhaps, now that this appeal is reaching its end and now that he can be given further and clearer advice, the father will be amenable to that elementary level of co-operation. But we should not count on it. It follows that I propose that the local authority’s cross-appeal and, insofar as it relates to the direction that the father should file a psychiatric report, the father’s appeal should be allowed; and that the orders which I have indicated should be substituted for the direction made by the judge. In all other respects the father’s appeal should in my view be dismissed.

9. The Court does, therefore, have jurisdiction to compel production of the medical records and can, if a party has made an application under Part 25 for an expert, direct that the expert report on a paperwork basis, considering said records. (And the Court of Appeal express hope that given that scenario, a parent would reflect that a report might be more favourable and balanced and nuanced if the expert has the benefit of speaking to them about these issues and thus change their mind about participation)

10.However, such an option is not available with drug or alcohol testing. If the parent is not consenting to the production of samples, alternate methods of collecting the samples cannot be used.

11. The issue therefore is whether the Court is entitled to draw adverse inferences or conclusions (specifically – does the decision by a parent not to consent to providing a sample amount to evidence that the tests if undertaken would demonstrate something unfavourable to the parents case?)

12. The High Court in RE O (CARE PROCEEDINGS: EVIDENCE)
[2003] EWHC 2011 (Fam) considered the issue of adverse inferences where a parent declined to give evidence at all or refused to answer particular questions

13. As a general rule, and clearly every case will depend in its own
particular facts, where a parent declines to answer questions or, as here, give
evidence, the court ought usually to draw the inference that the allegations are
true.

13. A decision not to consent to provide samples for the purpose of alcohol or drug testing is not strictly a parent declining to give evidence, but rather a parent declining to provide additional evidence which might establish things one way or another.

14. It might be analogous to the refusal to submit to DNA testing in paternity cases. The Court in those cases are entitled to draw ‘such inferences, if any, from that fact as appear proper in the circumstances’ (s23(1) Family Law Reform Act 1969) – the Court of Appeal ruled in Re G (Parentage : Blood Sample) 1997 1 FLR 360 that where a putative father refused to submit to blood tests then a forensic inference should be drawn and since the forensic process was advanced by the truth being told in court, those who obstruct that process will have an adverse inference drawn against them.

15. Whilst this is a helpful illustration, as the statute in question specifically provides in s23(1) the Court’s power to draw inferences, and the Children Act 1989 does not, it does not provide a definitive answer.

16. The Supreme Court, dealing with an ancillary relief case, considered the issue more broadly, in Prest v Petrodel 2013 https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2013-0004-judgment.pdf

44. In British Railways Board v Herrington [1972] AC 877, 930-931, Lord Diplock, dealing with the liability of a railway undertaking for injury suffered by trespassers on the line, said:
“The appellants, who are a public corporation, elected to call no witnesses, thus depriving the court of any positive evidence as to whether the condition of the fence and the adjacent terrain had been noticed by any particular servant of theirs or as to what he or any other of their servants either thought or did about it. This is a legitimate tactical move under our adversarial system of litigation. But a defendant who adopts it cannot complain if the court draws from the facts which have been disclosed all reasonable inferences as to what are the facts which the defendant has chosen to withhold. A court may take judicial notice that railway lines are regularly patrolled by linesmen and Bangers. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it is entitled to infer that one or more of them in the course of several weeks noticed what was plain for all to see. Anyone of common sense would realise the danger that the state of the fence so close to the live rail created for little children coming to the meadow to play. As the appellants elected to call none of the persons who patrolled the line there is nothing to rebut the inference that they did not lack the common sense to realise the danger. A court is accordingly entitled to infer from the inaction of the appellants that one or more of their employees decided to allow the risk to continue of some child crossing the boundary and being injured or killed by the live rail rather than to incur the trivial trouble and expense of repairing the gap in the fence.”

The courts have tended to recoil from some of the fiercer parts of this statement, which appear to convert open-ended speculation into findings of fact. There must be a reasonable basis for some hypothesis in the evidence or the inherent probabilities, before a court can draw useful inferences from a party’s failure to rebut it. For my part I would adopt, with a modification which I shall come to, the more balanced view expressed by Lord Lowry with the support of the rest of the committee in R v Inland Revenue Commissioners, Ex p TC Coombs & Co [1991] 2 AC 283, 300:

In our legal system generally, the silence of one party in face of the other party’s evidence may convert that evidence into proof in relation to matters which are, or are likely to be, within the knowledge of the silent party and about which that party could be expected to give evidence. Thus, depending on the circumstances, a prima facie case may become a strong or even an overwhelming case. But, if the silent party’s failure to give evidence (or to give the necessary evidence) can be credibly explained, even if not entirely justified, the effect of his silence in favour of the other party may be either reduced or nullified.”
Cf. Wisniewski v Central Manchester Health Authority [1998] PIQR 324, 340

17. It is suggested, therefore, that following the guidance in Prest v Petrodel (The ‘modification which I shall come to’ being very specific to ancillary relief cases and we can thus ignore it) , where the Local Authority have provided evidence which provides a reasonable basis for coming to a conclusion about substance misuse or alcohol misuse, a parent who chooses to be silent and not provide evidence by way of scientific testing (unless credibly explained) may have the Court determine that their silence turns a prima facie case into a strong or overwhelming one.

18. A Local Authority could not simply ask for a drug test as a fishing expedition and ask the Court to draw adverse inferences if a parent refuses to give one – they need to establish an evidential basis for suspicion that a test is necessary. (Previous history, allegation by a credible witness, evidence of the parent acting in a way which is consistent with drug misuse or so on)

(Why Ostriching? It’s lawyer slang for when a client is burying their head in the sand and pretending that it will all just go away if they ignore it. Actually, ostriches don’t do this – though they do dig holes in the sand to bury their eggs, and occasionally put their heads in those holes to turn the eggs hence the myth.)

Octavia, looking for Hartley and Topov