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Category Archives: case law

Application to not disclose a CAFCASS report

 

This is a bit of a weird set of circumstances, although the nature of the facts behind it are not that uncommon.

Basically, in private law proceedings, a CAFCASS officer was about to share their report.  A final hearing was listed for 3 weeks time, so everyone understandably wants to know what the CAFCASS report is going to say.

However, before the CAFCASS officer finished the report, they became aware via the police that there was a child protection investigation taking place about the father, the investigation being done by both English police  in Dorset and New Zealand police – that’s obviously quite a logistical challenge, because of both the time zones and the accents.  The police weren’t ready to as the Judge described ‘go over the parapet and confront the father and interview him’ and didn’t want him tipped off as to the nature of the allegations before doing so.

Obviously the CAFCASS officer can’t simply ignore that they’re now aware of an allegation that father has committed sexual offences against a child and that there’s a police investigation, but doesn’t want to jeopardise that investigation by tipping father off.

 

So, an application was made to Court for the report not to be shared, yet.

 

I don’t actually know what CAFCASS are supposed to say when they are chased up by the parents solicitors, since I don’t think they can actually say ‘there’s a court order that says we don’t have to share it yet’ because the obvious next question will be ‘why?’

 

(I did immediately wonder why the parents wouldn’t twig that ‘hey, I live in Dorset and father lives in New Zealand, and we’ve got a private law hearing at the end of May, is this about us?’, but the judgment was published AFTER the CAFCASS report was ordered to be disclosed)

This particular set of circs is unusual, but the whole ‘police know something but they don’t want it shared yet’ is not that unusual.

 

So, here’s a High Court authority if you want it.

 

G v G and Another 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/1100.html

 

And obviously you should buy my book, which is out now, and being reviewed (over charitably as ‘more enjoyable than Harry Potter’  and ‘From Dusk till Dawn meets Tracy Beaker’ – fair, I think)

 

 

BUT if you want a chance at winning a copy, come up with a good Suesspicious Minds type headline for this piece. I sat down assuming something with Kiwi or Dorset would come to me readily, but it didn’t happen.  A signed copy to the answer I like best.  Poor puns, pop culture references are the way to my heart.  Or frankly, just tweet me at @suesspiciousmin with really good pictures of Natalie Dormer.

 

If you’ve read the book, please take five minutes to pop a review on Amazon. Because of the way their robot algorithms work, the more reviews I get, the more the book pops up on other people’s “Hey you might like this” bit. Also, I genuinely want to know what people think of it.

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Incompatible

 

I think during one of the many Writers Guild Strikes in America, the hit TV series Moonlighting, which was built around the ridiculous chemistry between its two leads, David Addison (played by a Bruce Willis so young that he had hair and had never got any shards of glass in his feet) and Madelyn Hayes (a never better Cybil Shepherd), instead ran with a whole season without those two in it, and trying to base the show around two minor cast members Herbert Viola and Agnes DiPesto.

 

It did not really fly.  In the words of Douglas Adams ‘it hung in the air in the same way that bricks don’t’

 

It occasionally still makes me wince to think of that dreadful error of thinking.

That portion of Moonlighting, I would be prepared to give a declaration of incompatibility for.

 

All of which is a sprawling and ramshackle opening to Coulibaly v Coulibaly 2018  (which joyously has a “Rev no 1” in its full title, implying that there’s more to come, yes please!)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/936.html

 

As far as one can tell, this case began as a private law dispute with the mother becoming very concerned that the father would abduct the children. It is not clear whether that has any basis (we know he DIDN’T, but not whether it was a rational fear that he MIGHT), or what it was that led to a Local Authority obtaining an interim care order and removing the child.

In any event, the bundles for the Court were delivered via wheelbarrow, if not actual dumper truck.  (And yes, I did hover over google images of Big Trak for this moment… )

 

  1. There was listed today, with one day allowed, a number of wide-ranging applications for declarations pursuant to section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 that a number of sections of the Children Act 1989, and also the whole of the Child Abduction Act 1984, are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
  2. There were delivered to my room yesterday afternoon 7 lever arch files of material. I have not counted up the number of pages, but if one were to assume about 300 to 400 pages on average per bundle, then somewhere between about 2,100 and 2,500 pages are involved. Frankly, the bundles are not coherently arranged and presented, and I could not even readily identify the skeleton arguments for this hearing. In any event, the applicant’s series of written submissions themselves total about 70 pages.

 

A number of sections of the Children Act and the whole of the Child Abduction Act? Tell me more, tell me more

 

 

  1. The proposition that certain provisions of the Children Act 1989 are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights was first formally raised in the High Court by an appellant’s notice issued by Mrs Coulibaly on 2 May 2017. Since then she has, at various times, filed a considerable number of supplementary documents and submissions, the most recent of which was earlier this week. That procedural history, of course, creates a somewhat confusing moving target, in particular for the Lord Chancellor, who has been named as the respondent to these applications, to meet. However during the oral submissions of Mr Duke this morning it was clarified and confirmed and agreed that, by a combination of her appellant’s notice dated 2 May 2017 and her various subsequent written skeleton arguments or written submissions to the court, and the oral submissions made today, the totality and scope of all the applications for declarations of incompatibility is as follows.
  2. First, that section 2 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR); second, that section 8 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Article 3 of the ECHR; third, that section 38 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Articles 3, 5, 8, 9 and 10 of the ECHR; fourth, that section 50 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Article 3 of the ECHR; fifth, that section 97 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Article 3, read with Article 10, and also with Article 6 of the ECHR; sixth, that section 1 of the Child Abduction Act 1984, and also the whole of that Act, are incompatible with Article 3 of the ECHR.

 

 

Well, if Mrs Coulibaly succeeds in this application and the High Court declare sections 2, 9, 38, 50 and 97 of the Children Act 1989 incompatible with the HRA, there will be champagne corks flying in the household of Ian from Forced Adoption.  But perhaps let’s not get the ice buckets out just yet.

 

Let’s be honest, if I was writing up a law report that junked an entire Act and large chunks of another, I’m burying the lede under all that Moonlighting stuff….

Mrs Coulibaly was not represented and her brother Mr Duke spoke on her behalf as a McKenzie Friend.

We shall observe with interest how he develops this wide-ranging submissions.

 

  1. I now come in turn to the sections of the Children Act 1989 which it is alleged are incompatible with one or more of those various rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, and I will briefly describe and address the arguments. It will emerge that some points and themes, particularly in relation to international child abduction, recur several times in relation to a number of the statutory provisions under challenge. The fundamental and essential point is an assertion by, and on behalf of, Mrs Coulibaly that the statutory provisions simply are not strong enough and effective enough to prevent international child abduction which, she submits, may amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment” within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention. Without so holding, may I make quite clear for the purposes of this case and this judgment that I fully accept that international child abduction, whether it takes the form of unlawful removal from this country, or unlawful retention of the child abroad after a lawful removal, does, or may, expose the child concerned to a form of inhuman or degrading treatment. So, insofar as child abduction is the fear of Mrs Coulibaly, and insofar as her argument focuses on child abduction, I readily accept, but need not keep on repeating, that Article 3 is engaged.
  2. During the course of his submissions, Mr Duke said that “the Children Act is useless” and that “the entire Act needs to be rewritten.” Part of the context of his argument is that circumstances have changed in the almost 30 years since that Act was enacted. International child abduction has become more prevalent, and some of the safeguards such as strict border controls on exit have tended to be removed or relaxed. Another phrase used a number of times by Mr Duke during the course of his submissions is that “the Children Act is incomplete.” Those points and submissions indicate, to my mind, the flaw or fallacy in the whole, or much, of the argument on these applications. The issue for the court on an application under section 4 of the Human Rights Act is whether or not a provision of the primary, or any subordinate, legislation in point “is compatible” with a Convention right, or whether it “is incompatible” with a Convention right. That is a wholly different question from whether there are gaps in a particular statute, or the whole corpus of legislation generally, and whether or not an Act of Parliament is “incomplete”. I readily accept, for the purposes of this hearing and this judgment, that mechanisms for preventing the scourge of international child abduction may be able to be strengthened; but that is a world apart from saying that such provisions as there are in the legislation, whether specifically directed to child abduction or more generally, are themselves incompatible with Article 3.

 

 

I think the best argument (and I use best in fairly loose sense) is in relation to section 38 – which is interim care orders. Mr Duke argued that the power to remove a child under s38 is a restriction of the child’s liberty (in that the State in the form of the LA get to decide where the child lives), so unless any of the criteria in Article 5 are made out, that’s incompatible with Article 5

 

1Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law

(a)the lawful detention of a person after conviction by a competent court;

(b)the lawful arrest or detention of a person for non-compliance with the lawful order of a court or in order to secure the fulfilment of any obligation prescribed by law;

(c)the lawful arrest or detention of a person effected for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence or when it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent his committing an offence or fleeing after having done so;

(d)the detention of a minor by lawful order for the purpose of educational supervision or his lawful detention for the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority;

(e)the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts or vagrants;

(f)the lawful arrest or detention of a person to prevent his effecting an unauthorised entry into the country or of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition.

 

I would agree with Mr Dukes that none of those criteria apply to an interim care order – but the problem in his argument is that Article 5 only applies if the Court agree with him that an interim care order is depriving a child of their liberty  [Spoiler alert – the Court do not]

 

  1. I turn, next, to the argument that section 38 of the Children Act 1989 is incompatible with Articles 3, 5, 8, 9 and 10 of the Convention. Section 38 of the Children Act falls within Part IV of the Act, which deals with care and supervision. Section 31 of the Act makes provision for what I will call “full” care or supervision orders. Section 38 makes provision for the making of interim care or supervision orders. Again, it is not necessary to cite any of the express provisions of section 38, for much of the argument of Mr Duke is directed not to what section 38 does contain, but, rather, to what it fails to contain. There is, however, one overarching submission in relation to section 38, namely that it is incompatible with Article 5 of the Convention. I have already quoted the opening words of Article 5 above. The submission is that when an interim care order is made and implemented, it has the effect of depriving the child or young person concerned of his liberty. By Article 5 no one shall be deprived of their liberty save in the cases then listed at paragraphs (a) to (f), and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law. Clearly, when an interim care order is made there is a procedure prescribed by law, namely the provisions of section 38 itself, but the thrust of the submission of Mr Duke is that the circumstances in which an interim care order is made do not fall within any of paragraphs (a) to (f). I do accept that most of those subparagraphs are clearly not in point at all, but, as Mr Neil Sheldon submits on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, one has to have regard to the content of the subparagraphs in order to understand what is contemplated by the words “deprived of his liberty”, which is proscribed by Article 5, save in the permitted circumstances.
  2. I accept the submission of Mr Sheldon that when a child is taken into care pursuant to the making of an interim care order, he is not thereby “deprived of his liberty” in the manner which Article 5, read as a whole, contemplates. Further, I accept the submission of Mr Sheldon that if, in the particular circumstances of an individual case, there is a deprivation of liberty, then that deprivation of liberty can be the subject of case-specific challenge under the provisions of section 7 of the Human Rights Act. This indeed ties in with an important overarching point. The express effect of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 is that “It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.” That section is binding on all public authorities, including, indeed courts. The provisions of the Children Act 1989, wherever they confer a discretionary power, always have to be read and applied with regard to section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and any relevant provision of the Convention. If Mr Duke is correct in his argument that the making of an interim care order necessarily infringes a right guaranteed by Article 5, then the argument would apply no less to the making of a “full” care order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989. Frankly, carried to its logical conclusion, the argument and submission of Mr Duke is that every care order, whether an interim order or a full order, that has ever been made since the Children Act 1989 came into force has been contrary to Article 5 of the Convention, and has been unlawful since the Human Rights Act came into force. I admire Mr Duke for his courage and boldness in making that submission, but, at any rate at the level of the High Court, I reject it as being unarguable.
  3. Other reasons why it is said that section 38 is incompatible with a range of Articles of the Convention are the following. First, Mr Duke argues that there is nothing in section 38 itself which compels a local authority to provide medical assistance to a child whom they have taken into their care pursuant to an interim care order. This, he says, may involve a breach of Article 3 of the Convention. Just to understand the context in which the submission is made, I have been told (I stress that I have absolutely no independent evidence whatsoever with regard to this) that on 7 February 2018 Mrs Coulibaly’s son was “forcibly removed” from her care by the police. She says that her son later reported that the police had hurt his arms, and they were really painful. The complaint is that it was apparently not for 13 days that the local authority arranged for her son to be seen by a doctor. Mr Duke submits that there should be an added provision within section 38, or elsewhere in the Children Act 1989, to compel a local authority to undertake an immediate, or very early medical examination of every child whom they take into their interim care, both to check that he or she has not been harmed during the process of removal, if forcible, and also to check for such matters as allergies. He submits that the absence of some such express duty in section 38 or elsewhere in the Act infringes the positive obligation on a state to ensure that no one is subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, as Article 3 of the Convention requires. Again, I make absolutely clear that I express no view whatsoever on whether or not it should be made mandatory for a local authority immediately to arrange a medical examination of a child taken into their care. That, again, is a matter for government and Parliament. But at its highest, in my view, this is another example of the Act being “incomplete”. There is nothing in this regard that renders the Act incompatible with the Convention.
  4. Mr Duke argues also that section 38 of the Act is incompatible with Article 8 of the Convention.  He says, in particular, that in order that the important rights under Article 8 of the Convention are respected (which is what Article 8 requires), there should be express statutory provision for what he calls “a transfer plan” before any child is taken into care. He submits that a local authority can at the moment “just come and grab a child, which disrupts the child’s private life” and that unless there is an express statutory requirement of “a transfer plan”, section 38 is incompatible with Article 8. He further says that often, when a child is taken into care, the child is not enabled immediately to take his own personal belongings with him, and that in order for the Act to be compatible with Article 8 there must be express statutory provision for a child to be able to do so. Again, in my view, these are, at best, matters of good practice, or examples of the legislation being “incomplete”, but the absence of express statutory provisions of the kind that Mr Duke contends for does not render section 38 itself incompatible.

 

I say, that ‘transfer plan’ is a good idea, I wonder if we could call it by a shorter name and have it be a mandatory requirement before the making of an interim care order. We could call it, oh, I don’t know – a care plan?

 

Let us just enjoy the fine work of Holman J once again

 

If Mr Duke is correct in his argument that the making of an interim care order necessarily infringes a right guaranteed by Article 5, then the argument would apply no less to the making of a “full” care order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989. Frankly, carried to its logical conclusion, the argument and submission of Mr Duke is that every care order, whether an interim order or a full order, that has ever been made since the Children Act 1989 came into force has been contrary to Article 5 of the Convention, and has been unlawful since the Human Rights Act came into force. I admire Mr Duke for his courage and boldness in making that submission, but, at any rate at the level of the High Court, I reject it as being unarguable. 

 

As I’ve suggested above, the article 5 v s38 is very much Mr Duke’s best point.  If you think that this dissection of his best point doesn’t augur well for his less good ones, you are correct.

Surprisingly, Holman J does not grasp the opportunity offered to him by Mr Duke to overturn huge chunks of statute that have been running for thirty odd years.

 

  1. For the reasons I have given, I am crystal clear, even at this short summary hearing today, that none of these applications for declarations of incompatibility are, in the least, arguable. I will accordingly make an order which, first, recites by list all the applications that Mrs Coulibaly has made for declarations of incompatibility as I listed them at the outset of this judgment, and then orders that all the applications for declarations of incompatibility listed under that recital are summarily dismissed.

 

So the law remains intact.  Well, at least until Coulibaly v Coulibaly Rev no 2, which I’m looking forward to. I shall be immensely disappointed if the Act of Union, Magna Carta and  the Licensing Act 1872 (which makes it a criminal offence to be drunk in a pub)

 

 

I’m sorry if the raw charisma and chemistry  of Hubert and Agnes has just burned a hole initially through your screen and now through your retinas.

 

Care proceedings and diplomatic immunity

This photo has NO relevance to the case being discussed. I know sometimes I’m tenuous, but this time there’s literally no connection. It may as well be a picture of the Frog Brothers. (“We trashed the one who looked like Twisted Sister!”)

 

 

Sadly, my gut instincts that I’d used the Lethal Weapon 2 gag about diplomatic immunity proved correct, and I’ve got nothing else. Believe me, I’ve tried…. I have utterly no reason to believe that Balki from Perfect Strangers was a diplomat, but at least I’ve made you think about Perfect Strangers again. Goodness, that was an awful show.  Was it as bad as Small Wonder, a show involving a precocious child who also happened to be a robot? They are both about as relevant to this case.

 

 

 

But this is a case in which a woman who worked for the High Commission of X country (we never get to learn which) became involved in care proceedings – it being alleged that she had hit her children 4o times with a belt and shaved the head of one of the children as a punishment.

 

This is what the Judge found proved

 

  1. My judgment in October 2017 recorded the basis upon which the threshold criteria were satisfied. To summarise, the children had suffered significant physical and emotional harm as a result of the mother having smacked and slapped all of them; having hit all of the children with a belt using up two or three strikes; having thrown a shoe at D’s head causing injury; having shouted at D and threatening to send him to X if he did not behave and thereby scaring him; and having threatened to cut D’s hair as a punishment. That abusive behaviour towards the children was to be addressed by the mother engaging in therapeutic work, a detailed programme of which had been endorsed by me in my judgment. At that time, the mother had expressed a willingness to commit herself to the therapeutic work required. It is important to bear the above in mind when assessing the situation now.

 

The Court had to hear legal argument about whether :-

 

(a) She had diplomatic immunity at the time that the allegations had occurred and

(b) Whether her diplomatic immunity was a shield against care proceedings

 

A Local Authority v X and Others 2018

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

 

A lot of the judgment is quite dense, so I’m just going to give you the whistlestop highlights – if you’ve got a diplomatic immunity / care proceedings crossover case or when you get one in the future, you’ll want to read the whole case.

Just by way of context, by the time of this hearing, the LA plan was to rehabilitate all of the children to mother’s care, she would be moving back to X and the LA sought no orders. The Guardian vehemently opposed that plan.  The older children wanted to go back to mother’s care, but in England, not in X country.

In terms of whether diplomatic immunity applied, as the mother had left the employment of the High Commission of X, a notice had been given. The diplomatic immunity ends 31 days after that notice.  (So if you have diplomatic immunity and leave the job that attracts it, you still keep the immunity for 31 days after your last day. Who knew?)

 

  1. It is the FCO’s policy that, pursuant to Article 39(2) of the VCDR, individuals who enjoy privileges and immunities by reason of their diplomatic functions shall cease to enjoy them when they leave the country, or alternatively shall normally be considered to have ceased to enjoy them 31 days after their functions (or those of the person from whom that individual derives their privileges and immunities, in the case of a family member) come to an end.

 

The FCO certificate and the 31 days of grace had ended before the allegations were said to have happened, so diplomatic immunity would not have applied. However, the Court went on to consider and determine whether it would have been a shield in any event.

 

  1. Re B (Care Proceedings: Diplomatic Immunity) [2002] EWHC 1751 (Fam), [2003] 1 FLR 241 considered the making of an interim care order in respect of a 13-year-old child of a member of the administrative and technical staff of a foreign mission who was found to have suffered serious non-accidental injuries consistent with repeated and severe hitting. The father and his family were accepted as having no immunity from care proceedings, which were civil proceedings, provided that they related to acts performed outside the course of the duties of the father. It was not suggested the beating and bruising of the child came within the scope of the duties of the father, and on this basis the court found the father, mother, and the child had no immunity from family proceedings and so continued the interim care order with the child being placed in foster care. Nothing in that decision suggested that the child lost her diplomatic rights and privileges by reason either of being the subject of an interim care order and/or being placed with foster parents [see paragraph 17].

 

 

Under diplomatic immunity, the person cannot be imprisoned or arrested. Neither is it possible to bring  a civil lawsuit for actions that relate to the functions the person was carrying out as part of their duties.  It is, however, possible to bring  a civil case for behaviour or alleged behaviour which was outside of the duties of the diplomat.  (It obviously isn’t part of your duties as a diplomat to hit your children with a belt)

 

The Effect of Diplomatic Immunity on the Court’s Jurisdiction

  1. Given the conclusions I have reached, neither the mother nor the children retained their diplomatic privileges and immunities which were lost on 31 January 2018.
  2. That conclusion does necessarily permit the court to make final care orders. Both Mr Newton QC and Miss McKenna QC sought to persuade me that the court had no jurisdiction to do so if the children retained their diplomatic privileges and immunities. Even if they do not, as I have found, there may be other obstacles to the court’s jurisdiction.
  3. The decision of the then President of the Family Division, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, in Re B [see above] suggested that there might be limits to the court’s power to enforce either interim or final care orders. Arguments that the court had no jurisdiction to make care orders were rejected in that case. The President considered Article 29, Article 30, Article 31 and Article 37(2) in coming to the following conclusion:
  4. “17. The father is within the group of administrative and technical staff of the embassy. Consequently, he and his wife and children enjoy, as I understand it, the following privileges under the 1964 Act which are relevant to these proceedings. His person is inviolable. His private residence is inviolable. He has immunity from criminal proceedings and is not obliged to give evidence in any proceedings. No measures of execution can be taken against him. He and his family are not, however, immune from civil proceedings in the case of acts performed outside the course of his duties. It has not been suggested to me that the beating and bruising of B come within the scope of the duties of the father. Prima facie, it would therefore appear on the written evidence before me that the father has no immunity from family proceedings, including care proceedings which are civil proceedings. This loss of immunity would also seem to apply to the mother and to B, who derive their immunity from the father.”

The President went on to consider whether she was able to make orders which could not ultimately be enforced. She did not find this to be an impediment and concluded that the making of an interim care order fell within the exception to Article 37(2) of the 1964 Act. She went on to consider whether the child was being detained under the interim care order and concluded that the child’s present situation did not breach her rights under Article 29 of the VCDR [paragraphs 32 and 35].

  1. Having come to those conclusions, the President recognised that there were limits to the power of the court to enforce any orders which might be flouted by either of the parents [paragraph 37]. Though it was not strictly necessary for her to consider the impact of the European Convention on Human Rights on the 1964 Act, she expressed the opinion that the European Convention Article 3 rights of the child had been breached. In those circumstances, the court as a public authority had a positive obligation to protect a child who had been exposed to abusive treatment which appeared to fall within article 3. Her final conclusion on the court’s jurisdiction reads as follows:
  2. “40. … if I were wrong in the view I have taken of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, leaving this court with jurisdiction to entertain the local authority’s application, I would find myself satisfied that such a result is necessary in order to read the 1964 Act in a way that is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.”

I respectfully adopt that analysis which also applies to the making of final care orders.

  1. In this case I am being asked to make final care orders in respect of S, E and SL. That course is opposed by the local authority and by the children’s mother. I have concluded that I do have the jurisdiction to make final care orders in respect of these children in circumstances where they have lost their diplomatic privileges and immunities. Though I was not required to do so, I would have come to the same decision if the children had retained their diplomatic privileges and immunities. My reasoning is as follows.
  2. The President in Re B held that any limitation on the power to enforce orders should not prevent orders being made. In that case there was little argument regarding enforcement and, in consequence, I do not regard the remarks made about the power of enforcement as determinative of the issue. It would be surprising in my view if the provisions of Article 37(2) permitted proceedings to be brought but did not also permit consequent orders to be enforced. It would also be contrary to the rule of law for a court to determine a person’s legal rights and then not enforce them. Principles such as the rule of law are well recognised in international law and are relevant, in my view, when interpreting the provisions of Article 37(2). In Jelicic v Bosnia (2008) 47 EHRR 13, European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a breach of Article 6(1) for the failure to enforce a final judgement in respect of the contents of a bank savings account. The Court declared in paragraph 38 as follows:
  3. “The Court reiterates that Art.6(1) secures to everyone the right to have any claim relating to his civil rights and obligations brought before a court or tribunal; in this way it embodies the “right to a court”, of which the right of access, that is the right to institute proceedings before courts in civil matters, constitutes one aspect. However, that right would be illusory if a contracting state’s domestic legal system allowed a final, binding judicial decision to remain inoperative to the detriment of one party. It would be inconceivable that Art.6(1) should describe in detail the procedural guarantees afforded to litigants – proceedings that are fair, public and expeditious – without protecting the implementation of judicial decisions. To construe Art.6 as being concerned exclusively with access to a court and the conduct of proceedings would indeed be likely to lead to situations incompatible with the principle of the rule of law which the contracting states undertook to respect when they ratified the Convention. Execution of a judgment given by any court must therefore be regarded as an integral part of the “trial” for the purposes of Art.6.”
  4. In this context I note that Article 31(3) of the VCDR contains no prohibition on enforcement for diplomatic agents in proceedings under the civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving state in respect of actions relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving state outside of his official functions [Article 31(1)(c)]. That Article also extends to members of the administrative and technical staff of a mission who do not enjoy immunity for acts performed outside the course of their duties. It is plain in this case that the mother’s behaviour towards her children was not within the course of her duties as a member of the administrative and technical staff of X High Commission. There was nothing in Article 31(1)(c) which prevented the enforcement of care orders in public law proceedings and the enforcement of such orders would, in my analysis, also be compatible with Article 29 which provides for the inviolability of the person of the diplomatic agent who shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention.
  5. The local authority, supported by the mother, sought to argue that the provision of foster care for the children comprised an element of detention contrary to Article 29. I do not accept that submission and neither did the President in Re B. The children presently placed in foster care were not locked in or prevented from leaving the home and therefore their present situation fell very far short of a breach of any rights they might have under Article 29 of the VCDR. That conclusion was supported by the judgment of the current President of the Family Division in in Re A-F (Children) [2018] EWHC 138 (Fam) [see paragraphs 37-44]. There was nothing in the children’s circumstances in foster care which amounted to a deprivation of their liberty or an infringement of any rights they might have pursuant to Article 29 of the VCDR.
  6. Did the mother retain any residual rights and privileges which might prevent the making a final care orders in this case? Article 39(2) provides that, when the functions of a person enjoying privileges and immunities have come to an end, such privileges and immunities shall normally cease at the moment when he leaves the country or an expiry of a reasonable period in which to do so but shall subsist until that time even in case of armed conflict. However, with respect to acts performed by such person in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission, immunity shall continue to subsist. Here, it is clear that the mother’s residual immunity did not extend to acts performed outside the course of her duties such as are engaged in these proceedings.
  7. In conclusion I find that, should I consider the children’s welfare so requires, I have the jurisdiction to make final care orders in respect of these children, all of whom have lost their entitlement to diplomatic privileges and immunities as has their mother.

 

 

In short then

 

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

 

In the case in question, there was criticism of the Guardian’s position and the amount of work done. (This was the LA and mother’s position about that, rather than the judicial conclusion)

 

  1. I record that the Children’s Guardian has been criticised by the mother and the local authority. These criticisms were in effect (a) that she failed to meet with the children’s mother until August 2017 at which time the proceedings had been ongoing for many months; (b) in consequence, she had an inadequate understanding of the mother; (c) further, she had an inadequate understanding of the home circumstances and any change in those by not meeting with C, the children’s older sister, until 3 February 2018; (d) she entertained an unrealistic doubt in the mother’s obligation to return to X; and (e) she had a belief that X was a dangerous country per se where any children should not be required to live regardless of the quality of parenting they might receive. It was asserted that, for those reasons, I should approach her evidence with a considerable degree of caution.

 

 

The Court’s take was

 

  1. Although the Children’s Guardian’s recommendation was based on welfare considerations, with any impact of the children’s immigration status being consequential, the making of a final care order in relation to S on the basis that, should the mother be required to return to X, he would return to long-term foster care for the remainder of his childhood was a wholly disproportionate outcome. It was founded on an evidential basis about the risks in X which was not established to the relevant standard of proof and it represented, on one view, the making of an order which had the impermissible effect of depriving the Secretary of State for the Home Department of her power to remove S from the UK. As contended for by the Children’s Guardian, final care orders with a contingency plan for long-term foster care which precluded the return of all three children to X were also, in my view, impermissible for the same reasons.
  2. Though I understand the concerns expressed by the Children’s Guardian in this difficult and finely balanced case, I have concluded that she sought to protect the children from both their mother and their homeland and, in so doing, lost sight of the children’s welfare in the short, medium and long-term. Her evidence focused on the negatives in the relationship between the mother and children rather than attempting to balance these against the positive changes achieved by the mother during the entirety of the legal process. In coming to this conclusion, I do not accept all of the criticisms made of the Children’s Guardian by Miss McKenna though I was persuaded by her overall submission that I should be circumspect about accepting the recommendations made by the Children’s Guardian.

 

The children would be returning to the mother under a rehabilitation plan, and going back to X in due course, under no statutory orders.

Magical sparkle powers, secure accommodation and consent

 

 

These are two intricate judgments about the same child, where two different and unusual points of law collide.

 

  1. For a while now, because there are not enough Secure Accommodation beds for the children who need to be placed in them, the High Court has been asked (and is often granting)  approval for the child to be placed in a unit that is NOT approved for Secure Accommodation and giving all of the powers for the child’s liberty to be restricted, using the Court’s inherent jurisdiction – or what I like to call magical sparkle powers. (I think this is a public enquiry waiting to happen – there are very good reasons – google Pindown – for why Parliament set up a very restrictive statutory regime for how children can be deprived of their liberty, with training and inspection regimes to safeguard those children. Others take a pragmatic view that these children need to be somewhere safe and contained and as we don’t have enough Secure Units, we have to do something, and the High Court are doing their best with the resources we have)
  2. The deprivation of liberty for children as a result of their circumstances short of the secure accommodation regime, where the Court of Appeal and High Court have found that parents can consent to the arrangements and that capacitious children can consent to the arrangements too. So that an authorisation under the inherent jurisdiction is not necessary, because it is being done by consent.

 

What appeared before Mostyn J was a young person for whom the grounds for Secure Accommodation were clearly made out, but there was no bed in a Secure Unit. He was being asked to approve a different form of home to use those powers, BUT it was argued that the young person was consenting to that regime, and so a declaration by the Court for use of inherent jurisdiction was not necessary.

 

The way that Mostyn J approached it was to think about the quality of consent – was it temporary or enduring?

 

A Local Authority v SW and Others 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/576.html

 

Mostyn J firstly sets out his approach when looking at authorising secure accommodation with a lowercase s, under the inherent jurisdiction. I wholeheartedly agree – I’d rather we weren’t doing it at all, but at least this is making efforts to safeguard these very vulnerable children.

 

  1. Since the enactment of the Act that scheme appears to have functioned tolerably well until recent times, when an unhappy phenomenon has arisen, and that phenomenon is that there had not been sufficient authorised places made available under this section. When I say “authorised places” I am talking about places that have been authorised by regulations made pursuant to subsection (7), which allow the Secretary of State to prescribe which places may provide secure accommodation. In recent times, a phenomenon has arisen, as I have said, whereby insufficient places have been made available to meet the demand for children to be placed in secure accommodation. Therefore, a mirror procedure has been devised by the High Court which has authorised placements in secure environments for children in places not authorised pursuant to the regulations made under section 25 of the Children At. And this is such a case. There is no suitable place to accommodate a child pursuant to an order under section 25 of the Children Act (or its Welsh equivalent) apparently available anywhere in the country, even in Scotland.
  2. There have been a number of authorities as to the scope of the power of the High Court under an inherent jurisdiction to make these alternative mirror arrangements. In my opinion, lest the democratic process is to be subverted by judicial activism, it is important that, so far as is practicably achievable, that mirror orders made under the inherent jurisdiction conform as much as possible with the prescriptions within section 25 and its subsidiary regulations. Were the court to devise an alternative scheme that deviated significantly from the terms of section 25 (or its Welsh equivalent) there would, as I have said, be a danger of criticism of judicial activism in conflict with a Parliamentary directive.
  3. Therefore, it seems to me that if the court is to make an alternative mirror order pursuant to its inherent jurisdiction, it should strive to ensure that, in the first instance, it is not longer than 3 months, and that each subsequent renewal is for no more than 6 months. Further, it should be satisfied initially and on each renewal that the criteria within section 25(1) are met. I am not saying that the court is imprisoned within the four corners of the terms of section 25(1). To coin a phrase, it should not have its liberty so deprived, but there should be endeavours made by the court that, so far as possible, it should be satisfied that the statutory criteria are met. Were that not so, then there would be, by judicial activism, established an alternative scheme which perhaps might have lower standards than that which Parliament has decreed should apply where the liberty of a child who is the subject of a care order is deprived.
  4. The compliance of section 25 with the European Human Rights Convention and the Human Rights Act was considered by the Court of Appeal in the famous case of Re K [2001] 1 FLR 526. In that case it was held that a secure accommodation order is indeed a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of article 5 of the Convention, but it is not incompatible with the Convention where it is justified under one of the exceptions in article 5(1). For example, where the order is for the purposes of educational supervision. I should say here that education within article 5(1) plainly is not to be read as being confined purely to scholastic instruction, but must be given, for the purposes of the construction of that provision, a wider definition. Re K was decided 17 years ago, and since then there have been (as is well known) significant developments both in the Strasbourg Court and domestically in the interpretation of the scope and meaning of article 5. Famously, in Storck v Germany [2005] 43 EHRR 96 it was held that in order for article 5 to be engaged three criteria must be met: namely, that there must be an objective component of confinement in a particular restricted place for a not negligible length of time; secondly, there must be a subjective component of lack of valid consent; and, thirdly, there must be an attribution of responsibility to the state. Thus, there must be a non-consensual detention at the behest of the state. This formulation was approved by the Supreme Court in the Cheshire West case [2014] UKSC 19 at para 37.

 

He then turns to the issue of consent

 

  1. The second limb of the formulation requires there to be a lack of valid consent. An interesting question arises, which is relevant to the decision that I have to make, as to whether this requirement has to be demonstrated when an application is determined under section 25 of the Children Act 1989. The notes to the Red Book state that the consent of a young person to the making of a secure accommodation order is not required. The citation for that is Re W (a child) [2016] EWCA (Civ) 804. But that does not really answer the question that I am now posing, which is that if the young person who is the subject of an application under section 25 consents to the application, can the order in fact validly be made? Because in order for there to be a deprivation of liberty, there must be, as the Strasbourg Court has said, present the subjective component of lack of valid consent. So one can see a curious catch-22 arising, which is where the local authority consider that a child should be placed in secure accommodation, and the child through his representatives realises that the case against him or her is very strong, if not overwhelming, and consents to it, that the act of consent in fact prevents the order being made. That cannot be an acceptable construction of the provision, in my respectful opinion, and it is for this reason that consent, or lack of consent, never features in applications under section 25, and that, as Miss Edmondson has eloquently explained, in many cases the applications for these orders are disposed of by consent.
  2. So this gives rise to the question whether there must be demonstrated lack of valid consent if the application is being made under the alternative mirror procedure pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction. If the issue of lack of consent is not a requirement under the statutory procedure, and if, as I have suggested, it is important that the alternative mirror procedure conforms as much as possible to the statutory procedure, it is hard to see why there should be an imputation of the lack of consent requirement into the alternative procedure. However, I am persuaded by Mr Laing that all the authorities under the alternative procedure have emphasised strict compliance with the Strasbourg jurisprudence on article 5. Therefore, I do accept, even though this may appear anomalous, that where the court is considering secure accommodation pursuant to the alternative procedure, that it does have to be satisfied of the presence of a lack of valid consent. It may well be that in a case in which an application is being made under section 25 (or under its Welsh sibling) the court will have to consider the point that I have spent some time describing, and whether there does in fact, since the arrival of the Strasbourg jurisprudence to which I have referred, lie latently within section 25 an insoluble catch-22.
  3. So I proceed on the basis that in order for the order to be made today, the 3 components have to be present. There is no dispute as to the first and the third. The question is as to whether the second is demonstrated in circumstances where there is active consent by the child with whom I am concerned to the placement in question.
  4. This matter was considered by Keehan J in the decision of A local authority v D [2016] EWHC 3473 (Fam) (otherwise known as Re C). It has to be said that in that case the conduct of the children concerned was very much of a lower level of concern to that which I am concerned with. However, Keehan J decided clearly that the child in question could give a valid consent. Moreover, he decided at paragraph 58 that once he was satisfied that valid consent has been given, the fact that he may withdraw that consent at some point in the near future does not negate the valid consent he gave nor does it negate the legal consequences of that consent. I have considered this judgment carefully, and I take from it that the concept of consent does not necessarily mean hearing the words “I do”. There must be an authentic consent, and this much is accepted by Mr Laing who represents the child. As he put it, he must say it and mean it. The consent in question must be an authentic consent, and it must be an enduring consent. This means that the court will have to make a judgment as to whether the consent is going to endure in the short to medium term, or whether it is a merely evanescent consent. If the court is satisfied by the history that the consent in question is merely evanescent and is not likely to endure, then, in my judgment, that is not relevant consent for the purposes for which I am concerned. This is, to my mind, to state the obvious. So the court can only make the order in question if it is satisfied that there is a lack of valid consent in the way that I have described it: authentic, and likely to endure.

 

(The bits in italic are the parts that probably lead to the decision being appealed.  For my part, I think that Mostyn is right. We can’t predict whether consent will be withdrawn, but where the history is very clear that it is a temporary consent that the young person can’t maintain, that’s a factor to be taken into account.  Put bluntly, if a Local Authority are looking to have the power to stop a young person leaving a children’s home because they have a history of running away, how much force does the young person saying “okay, I agree that I can’t leave… but if I change my mind and try to, you’ve got to let me” actually have?)

 

On the facts of the case Mostyn J decided that the consent being proffered by the child was not authentic and likely to endure and he made the inherent jurisdiction declarations.

Permission to appeal was then given by Jackson LJ. The child absconded from the unit, and the case came back to Court. And if there was ever a daunting prospect in advocacy it is appearing before Mostyn J on a case where he knows you have just appealed him.  His approach to such things is not sanguine. It is more akin to striking an Edwardian gentleman about the face with a white silken glove. In short, it’s on.

 

Like Donkey Kong.

 

So, part 2

 

A Local Authority v SW part 2  2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/816.html

 

  1. That decision of mine has been appealed and permission to appeal was granted by Peter Jackson LJ on 19th March 2018 under the second limb, namely that there were compelling reasons for an appeal to be heard. I have noted that in the skeleton argument in support of the proposed appeal, an analogue in relation to the consent to sex was made; similarly, an analogue with the formation of a commercial contract was made. It will be for the Court of Appeal to decide whether these analogues have any relevance at all to the consent which, is in fact, in play. I would point out that a person at the age of the child with which I am concerned cannot consent to sex or form a contract, so the relevance of those analogues at the moment presently escapes me.
  2. In my judgment, the view that I took that the consent in question has to be found to be both authentic and enduring is well borne out by the subsequent events. I cite from the witness statement made by a social worker on behalf of the Local Authority dated 16th March 2018. At para.10 it says this:
    1. “On 3rd March 2018, [name redacted] went out for a walk without permission at 16.45 following becoming agitated at the home and staff followed her. A staff member [name redacted] has reported that she maintained contact with [name redacted] through text messaging and met up with her again in McDonald’s at 17.40. [Name redacted] reports to [name redacted] that she was upset about her younger brother staying at his mother’s house when he was not supposed to. On her return, [name redacted] went into her bedroom, the following day staff reported that [name redacted] was pacing back and forth in her room, asking for a paracetamol for a headache. [Name redacted] reports that [name redacted] unusual behaviour continued, leading her to request a room search. [Name redacted] became aggressive towards staff whilst in her bedroom when staff asked her to do a room search. They describe that her eyes were like saucers and could possibly have been under the influence of a substance. [Name redacted] used a plastic plaque to harm herself, was hitting out at staff with it and making verbal threats that she would, “Fuck them up”. The staff reported that [name redacted] calmed down quickly after the incident. Police attendance had initially been requested and when the police arrived, [name redacted] became agitated again and upon search of her, a mobile phone with Internet use fell out of her bra. Upon a search of the room, nothing further was found. [Name redacted] was admitted to hospital following the incident of self-harm, where she had superficially cut her wrists. At the hospital, she was seen by CAMHS and they concluded that she had no further self-harm intent and no suicidal ideation and were happy for her to be discharged. She was discharged back to [name redacted] on 6th March 2018 at 2.00 p.m…

12. On 6th March 2018, following being discharged, [name redacted] left her accommodation at about 5.00 p.m. and was reported missing to the police. She was found by the police smelling of alcohol, having hallucinations and was aggressive. She was refusing to be monitored and was very agitated and was given two milligrams of Lorazepam to calm her down. Ambulance staff transported her to hospital on 7th March 2018 at 5.00 a.m. where [name redacted] reported to hospital staff that she did not remember what had happened, was given alcohol and sweets and reported to have had anal and oral sex with one man who she did not know. [Name redacted] refused to go to the [name redacted], a provision to offer urgent and follow-up care to people who have been sexually assaulted but agreed to a hepatitis B vaccine, bloods and sexual health tests. [Name redacted] was given three weeks preventative medication for HIV.”

  1. Three days after that, the placement of the child completely broke down and she was moved to a new placement in the Midlands. She is content and compliant at that placement. Everyone hopes that this new placement will represent a success for her and that improvements can be made in her mental rehabilitation.
  2. The consequence of this is that the order that I made authorising her detention at the previous placement has been overtaken by events. That order will therefore be discharged and replaced by a fresh order made by me today. The consequence of that is that the order in respect of which permission to appeal has been granted by Peter Jackson LJ no longer exists and that appeal becomes redundant. However, in view of the fact that I intend to adopt the same legal reasoning in respect of this fresh placement will, no doubt, lead the child to seek permission to appeal this new order, notwithstanding that the point of this exercise entirely escapes me.

 

At this point, I like to pause and imagine the charged atmosphere should Mostyn J and Peter Jackson LJ find themselves in a slow lift together at the Royal Courts of Justice, with perhaps the “Girl from Ipanema” as elevator hold music playing in the background.

 

So, the order that was being appealed is no more, so the appeal has to end (it is an appeal of an order, not a decision – though the Court of Appeal do fluctuate quite wildly on whether they champion this point or completely ignore it – see the various decisions about findings of fact).  Mostyn J recognises that this judgment is also likely to be appealed (though he is on even firmer ground in deciding that the young person’s consent is not enduring, the point of law as to whether that’s necessary if capacity and consent are both present remains)

 

  1. On the last occasion in my judgment I held that the consent, as I have said, can only be found to exist where it is authentic and enduring. That I was correct in that determination is demonstrated by the subsequent events. Notwithstanding that the child on the last occasion expressed to me, seemingly authentic consent, subsequent events show that within a relatively short period of time, that consent was not genuinely expressed because the events which I have set out occurred.
  2. For these reasons, I am satisfied once again, even more satisfied than I was on the previous occasion, that the deprivation of liberty declaration should be given, granting the Local Authority the powers and protections which I have mentioned in my previous judgment.
  3. I have asked, if I were not to make this declaration, what position would the Local Authority and, indeed, the child be left in? She would not be in a position of formal state detention with the powers and protections that attach to that. She would, on the face of it, be free to leave her present placement, although the consequences would be that she would then become an officially missing person and the Local Authority could summon police assistance to bring her back to base, but there will be nothing to prevent her leaving again almost instantly, a situation that is almost too absurd to contemplate as a consequence that the law intends to apply.
  4. For these orders, therefore, I make an equivalent order to the one that I made on the last occasion in relation to this new placement. For the avoidance of any doubt and in anticipation of an application for leave to appeal, I refuse leave to appeal on the same basis that I did on the last occasion, namely that I see no prospect of an appeal succeeding and, with all due respect to Peter Jackson LJ, I can see myself no compelling reason for the appeal to be heard.
  5. I will authorise the bespeaking with expedition of a transcript of the judgment I have just given at public expense.

 

(Bespeaking, by the way, doesn’t refer to speech – it isn’t a posh way of saying, “speaking”, it means to order in advance. It is like Captain Picard saying “Make it so”)

 

Mostyn J had raised in the first judgment the issue of whether consent could block a Secure Accommodation application, if it were not for his test of whether the consent is authentic and enduring.  If it were not for the particular construction of s25, that would be a powerful point.  If the ‘no order principle’ applied to s25, consent from the young person would be sufficient to block the order, and then the young person could immediately withdraw the consent and walk out of the placement. Assuming no criminal offence was being committed, nobody could stop the child (it is arguable that the LA could use the 72 hour provision if they had not already done so, but only arguable)

 

However, section 25 is constructed in such a way that it is not at all clear that s1(5) applies

1 (5)Where a court is considering whether or not to make one or more orders under this Act with respect to a child, it shall not make the order or any of the orders unless it considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all.

That would mean that the Court should not make a Secure Accommodation Order if the child is consenting.

 

BUT

 

s25 (4)If a court determines that any such criteria are satisfied, it shall make an order authorising the child to be kept in secure accommodation and specifying the maximum period for which he may be so kept.

 

And those two sections are in conflict.  After nearly 30 years of the Act, we don’t actually know whether s1(5) applies to a section 25 order.  I would always have said that it didn’t, but it is less clear since the Human Rights Act. Since a Court making a Secure Accommodation Order not only has to think about article 5, but also article  8 – is it proportionate and necessary?  And I think consent might come into play on necessity.

 

In conclusion then, I agree with Mostyn J’s decision and rationale. I disagree that there’s no value in an appeal. It is not usually desirable to have an appeal on a decision that you think is right, but it would be nice to have clarity and backing.  Particularly given that a lot of Secure Accommodation applications are heard before the Magistrates and having to decide whether consent blocks Secure Accommodation order might be better if they have some very clear judicial guidance.

 

 

“I completely forgot”

 

This is a successful appeal (indeed fairly unusually it was an appeal that by the time the Court of Appeal came to look at it, all four parties were in agreement should be granted) about a decision in the High Court to make a finding of sexual abuse against a child, T, who had just turned 16 when the High Court considered the case. T had been the subject of a Care Order and Placement Order when she was six, then placed for adoption.

 

(Bit nervous about this one, as I know that 75% of the silks in the case read the blog… and I have a mental crush on all three of them. And because I also have a lot of respect for the High Court Judge who gets monstered in the appeal judgment)

 

The adoption got into difficulties, and T went into respite care for a short time in May 2014. She went back to her adopted family at the end of May and that carried on until the end of August 2014, at which point the adopters agreed a section 20 arrangement – the social work team wishing to remove T as a result of her allegation to a CAMHS worker. The allegation was that during that period from May 2014-August 2014 when she was with her adopted family, the adoptive father had sexually assaulted her, including one allegation of rape.

P (A Child), Re [2018] EWCA Civ 720 (11 April 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/720.html

 

The section 20 arrangement continued. It was obvious to all that T would not be going back to the adopters. (Listen, I know that at this point, the adopters are legally her parents and I don’t seek to diminish that, but I think to understand the case it is easier to say adoptive parents and birth parents). The s20 continued until the Local Authority issued proceedings in April 2016. By that time, T had given an ABE interview, made further allegations and declined a second ABE interview and made partial retractions of the allegations. Her behaviour had deteriorated and by the time of the Court case, had been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. (which is rare for a child)

 

The first question the case raises then, is why this child was under a section 20 arrangement for so long, rather than proceedings having been issued?   I’ll preface this by saying that obviously a case involving an allegation of rape against a child – particularly rape where the alleged perpetrator is an adopter and someone still approved to adopt children, ought to have been placed before the Court. Very quickly after those allegations were made – perhaps allowing a short period of time for the investigation to take place.

(I can’t lay my hands on the authority at the moment, and Hershman McFarlane is being uncooperative, but I’m fairly sure that there is a mid 1990s authority that says where the LA believe the child has been the subject of serious sexual or physical abuse, they ought to place it before the Court by issuing proceedings… I wish I could find the authority. Perhaps one of my illustrious silk readers can illuminate us.  The Act itself just says that the LA can’t issue proceedings unless they believe the threshold criteria to be met – so it says that there are situations where they shouldn’t, it is silent about the circumstances in which they should. The LA don’t have to issue proceedings on every child where the threshold is met. )

 

So what follows is not a justification or excuse for the delay, but an attempt to consider the context.

 

Here are some possible reasons why proceedings were not issued :-

 

  1. It just never got considered (prior to April 2016), and it wasn’t a conscious decision not to, so much as just nobody thinking about it.
  2. The adoptive parents were not asking for T back, T didn’t want to go back, T was in what was considered to be a safe place, and so there was a thought process that nothing was to be gained by going to Court. T wasn’t going to be adopted by anyone else and a Care Order would add nothing to the situation on the ground. Perhaps people even actively thought about the ‘no order principle’ and considered that it wasn’t possible to make out a case that the making of a Care Order (as needed by article 8) would be ‘proportionate and necessary’
  3. This was happening BEFORE the s20 drift was coming to judicial attention and prominence as an issue, and when those s20 cases did emerge, that’s when the LA did take action.
  4. Perhaps everyone was caught up in the day to day management of T and what she needed in terms of placement and stability, and overlooked the bigger picture.
  5. Let’s be quite honest – there’s the potential that the parents in this case were treated differently (because they were adopters) to the way they would have been treated as birth parents.

 

However, ALL of those issues are hard to excuse the fact that T’s sister, X, remained with the adoptive parents. So the LA had an allegation of rape by T, known about for over 18 months, and knowing that a younger sister was still living with the adopters.

 

(So either they didn’t believe T’s allegations OR they thought for some reason that X was safe, but the point is they couldn’t know for sure either way)

Anyway, the Court of Appeal were critical of the delay

 

12.Unfortunately, and to my mind inexplicably, the state of affairs whereby T was accommodated under CA 1989, s.20 was maintained from August 2014 until the institution of care proceedings in April 2016, notwithstanding the clear and stark issue of fact created by T’s allegations and the father’s wholesale denial. Irrespective of the fact that T’s mental health and presenting behaviour may have rendered it impossible for her placement in the family home to be maintained, the need to protect and have regard to the welfare of the younger sibling, X, who remained in the family home, required this significant factual issue to be determined

 

The next issue in the case is that the adoptive parents agreed that the threshold was met for T, because she was beyond parental control. The LA, however, sought a finding about the sexual abuse allegations (five findings in all). That obviously makes sense given that X wasn’t beyond parental control, and there was a need to establish what happened to T, to decide if X was at risk of sexual harm. That makes sense to me. (I can’t, so far, make sense of why it appears that the proceedings were about T, and not T AND X – and the Court of Appeal say that

 

 

50.So far as X is concerned, although she has been the subject of arrangements made under the Pre-commencement Procedure operated within the Public Law Outline, no proceedings have ever been issued with respect to her since the making of the adoption order )

 

The High Court heard from 16 witnesses at the finding of fact hearing. Things went wrong when Parker J came into Court to deliver her judgment

 

 

 

 

The judgment

17.The oral evidence had been concluded on 18 November 2016 and closing submissions were delivered on 18 and 25 November. The case was then adjourned to 8 December 2016 for the delivery of judgment. On that occasion, however, the Judge explained that she had been occupied with other cases and had been unable to prepare a written judgment. She had, however, reached “some conclusions” and, with the parties’ agreement, she stated what those were in the course of a short judgment which runs to some 6 pages in the agreed note that has been prepared by the parties. In short terms, the Judge rehearsed a number of the significant points in the case, for example, T’s mental health, the recording of her allegations and the ABE interview process, any evidence of inconsistency and T’s overall reliability, and an assessment of the father’s credibility before announcing her conclusion in the following terms:

 

 

 

“I have come to the conclusion therefore, and I am sorry to have to do so as I thought the mother and the father were the most likeable people, but during the course of 2014, there was an attempt at least, it may have been more, of sexual congress between the father and T.”

18.The case was then adjourned to 30 January 2017 for the delivery of a full judgment. A note of what had been said in court on 8 December was agreed between the parties and submitted to the Judge. On 30 January the Judge again indicated that, due to pressure on her time as a result of other cases, she had not been able to prepare a full judgment. Instead the Judge gave a lengthy oral judgment, seemingly based on prepared notes.

 

 

19.On 30 January, when the Judge had concluded her judgment, counsel for the father immediately identified a number of aspects in which, it was submitted, the judgment was deficient. The Judge directed that an agreed note of what she had said should be prepared and submitted to her within 7 days, together with requests from each party identifying any suggested corrections or requests for clarification.

 

 

20.The parties, in particular those acting for the parents, complied with the tight 7-day timetable. The Judge was provided with an agreed note of judgment which runs to some 115 paragraphs covering 42 pages. In addition, counsel submitted an annotated version of the note indicating possible corrections, together with a list of more substantial matters which, it was claimed, required clarification. In doing so those acting for each of the parties were complying precisely with the process originally described by this court in the case of English v Emery Reimbold and Strick Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 605 and subsequently endorsed in the family law context by this court on many occasions.

 

 

All of this was compounded then, because despite knowing that the case was going to be appealed, following the judgment in January 2017, the transcript of the judgment wasn’t made available. The transcribers sent it to the Judge on 18th March 2017 – the Judge sent an approved copy back to them SIX MONTHS later, September 2017, but that approved copy never got sent to the parties or the Court of Appeal.

 

The Court of Appeal (at the time of hearing the appeal) were therefore working from an agreed note of the judgment rather than the transcript

The Judge’s decision

26.Early in the judgment of 30 January the Judge records the decision that she had already announced at the December hearing in the following terms (paragraph 17):

 

 

 

“I have decided that she has been sexually interfered with by her father and that she has been caused significant emotional harm by reason of her mother’s disbelief in telling her so, although my criticism of the mother was highly muted in the circumstances for reasons I will come back to.”

27.After a summary of the evidence the Judge stated (paragraph 58):

 

 

 

“It is against that background that I need to assess the threshold.”

 

She then set out the content of the local authority fact-finding Schedule introducing it with the following words:

 

“I am asked to make findings in terms of:”

 

Unfortunately, the judgment does not record the Judge’s decision on any of the five specific findings of sexually abusive behaviour alleged in the local authority Schedule save that, at paragraph 71, the Judge stated “I also find that the description T gives of her father attempting to penetrate her is wholly believable”. Whether that statement amounts to a finding is, however, not entirely clear as it simply appears as a statement in the 8th paragraph of a 40 paragraph section in which the Judge reviews a wide range of evidence.

28.The basis of the appeal is that the Judge’s judgment fails sufficiently to identify what (the local authority would submit, if any) findings of fact the Judge made.

 

 

29.Before leaving the 30 January judgment, it is necessary to point to 2 or 3 other subsidiary matters that are relied upon by the appellants as indicating that the judgment, substantial though it may be in size, is inchoate:

 

 

 

  1. a) Prior to listing the witnesses who gave oral evidence the Judge states “I think I heard the following witnesses”. The list of 13 witnesses is said to omit 3 other individuals who also gave oral evidence.

 

  1. b) In the closing stages of the judgment the Judge makes one additional point which is introduced by the phrase “one thing I forgot to say” and a second which is introduced by “also one thing I have not so far mentioned, and I should have done”.

 

  1. c) At the very end of the judgment, and after the Judge has gone on to deal with procedural matters unrelated to the findings of fact there appears a four paragraph section dealing with case law related to the court’s approach to ABE interviews where it is asserted there has been a breach of the ABE guidelines. That section is preceded by the phrase “I completely forgot”.

 

There are of course, all sorts of different styles and approaches one can adopt to delivering a judgment and the Court of Appeal are not trying to be prescriptive or to fetter a Judge’s discretion of   stylistic delivery. Having said all that, if the immediate comparator that comes to mind is Columbo talking to Roddy McDowell, that’s not a good thing.

 

Have I ever been happier to be able to get a particular picture into the blog? Maybe Kite-Man, but I am VERY pleased about this one

 

The appeal itself

30.Two notices of appeal issued on behalf of the father and mother respectively were issued in August 2017. Although this was many months after the making of the care order and the delivery of the oral judgment in January 2017, I accept that the delay arose because the parties were waiting for the Judge to engage in the process of clarification that she had directed should take place and, thereafter, the production of a final version of the judgment. There were also considerable difficulties in securing legal aid, caused at least in part by the absence of a judgment. At various stages the Judge’s clerk had given the parties some hope that a final judgment might be produced. The notices of appeal were only issued once the parties were forced to conclude that a final version of the judgment was unlikely to be forthcoming. Following the failure of the efforts made by the Court of Appeal to obtain a judgment, I granted permission to appeal on 16 November 2017.

 

 

31.The grounds of appeal and skeleton arguments that argue the cases of the father and of the mother from their respective positions engage fully with the underlying facts in the case in addition to arguing that the process as a whole has been fatally compromised by the court’s inability to produce adequately precise findings and to do so in a judgment which sufficiently engages with the significant features of the evidence. As it is on this latter basis that the appeal has preceded by consent, my Lords and I have not engaged in the deeper level, granular analysis of the evidence that would otherwise be required.

 

 

32.In terms of the English v Emery Rheimbold process, those acting for each of the two parents submitted short (in the mother’s case 3 pages, in the father’s case 5 pages) requests for clarification on specific issues. Each of those requests is, on my reading of the papers, reasonable and, even if a specific request were unreasonable, it was open to the Judge to say so.

 

 

33.The resulting state of affairs where the only record of the Judge’s determination is imprecise as to its specific findings and silent upon the approach taken to significant elements of the evidence is as regrettable as it is untenable.

 

 

34.That the state of affairs that I have just described exists, is made plain by the stance of the local authority before this court. Rather than simply “not opposing” the appeal, the local authority skeleton argument, as I will demonstrate, specifically endorses the main thrust of the appellant’s case. Further, we were told by Miss Hannah Markham QC, leading counsel before this court, but who did not appear below, that the local authority’s position on the appeal has been approved at every layer of management within the authority’s children services department. For one organ of the state, the local authority, to conclude that the positive outcome (in terms of the findings that it sought) of a highly expensive, time and resource consuming, judicial process is insupportable is a clear indication that the judicial system has, regrettably, failed badly in the present case.

 

 

35.Against that background it is helpful to quote directly from the skeleton argument prepared by Miss Markham and Miss Grieve on behalf of the local authority:

 

 

 

“5 At the heart of the appeal are findings that (father) behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards his daughter T. The findings are set out in this way, as it is accepted by the respondent local authority that the judgment given by Mrs Justice Parker does not particularise the findings made nor does it cross refer findings to the local authority Schedule of findings. As such the findings have not been accurately recorded or set out.

 

….

 

“14 The local authority does not oppose the appeal for reasons set out below.

 

15 However the local authority does not accept that all grounds as pleaded would be matters or arguments which the local authority would either not oppose or indeed agree, if taken in isolation. The focus in approaching this appeal has been to stand back and have regard to the fairness and integrity of the judgment and the process taken by the parties to try to clarify the judgment and in particular the findings made.

 

16 It is submitted that it must be right and fair that a party against whom findings are made should know the actual findings made and the reasons for them. It is submitted that reasons on reasons are not necessary, but clarity as to findings and a clear basis for them is a primary requirement of a Judge.

 

17 It is significant that the learned Judge has resisted requests of her to clarify her judgment and that in particular she has not taken opportunities to set out the findings she has in fact made.

 

18 Dovetailing into that error is the argument that flows from that omission; absent clear findings it is impossible to see, understand and argue that the Judge formulated her findings on clear, understandable and right reasoning.

 

 

21 In this instant case it is submitted on behalf of the parents that the judge did not even set out the findings, not least allow them to see whether she fairly and with significant detail set out her reasoning for coming to the findings she then made. Further requests of the Judge were properly made and the learned Judge has neither responded to them nor clarified why she is not engaging in the requests of her

 

 

23 (Having listed the short specific findings made by the Judge) It is acknowledged that these matters are the most detail (the Judge) gives to her findings. Whilst it is asserted by the local authority that the learned Judge was able, within the ambit of her wide discretion to make findings, it was incumbent upon her to set out with clarity what those findings were and how she came to make them.

 

24 It will be apparent from the matters set out above that she failed in this task and that she failed to cross refer back to paragraph 59 (where the Judge listed the content of the local authority Schedule of findings) and set out what she had or had not found proved.”

36.The local authority identified two specific grounds relied upon on behalf of the father, one asserting that the Judge rejected the father’s case on the deficits on the ABE interview, against, it is said, the weight of the evidence, but provides no analysis for coming to that conclusion. Secondly the local authority accepts that there were many examples of inconsistency within the accounts that T had given. In both respects the local authority expressly acknowledged that the Judge failed to engage with these two important aspects of the case and failed to set out her findings in respect of each.

 

 

37.The local authority, rightly, argue that a Judge has a wide discretion to accept or reject evidence in a case such as this and that the Judge does not have to refer expressly to each and every detail of the evidence in the course of their judgment. The local authority’s skeleton argument, however, accepts “that a fair and balanced assessment of the cases advanced and evidence for and against said cases is necessary, proportionate and fair and has not occurred sufficiently in this complex case.”

 

 

38.Miss Kate Branigan QC, leading Miss Lianne Murphy, both of whom appeared below for T, acting on the instructions of the children’s guardian adopt a similar stance to that taken by the local authority. In their skeleton argument (paragraph 10) they state:

 

 

 

“Albeit T maintains that the allegations made against her father are true, the children’s guardian has had to conclude that the judgment as given by the court on 30 January 2017 is not sustainable on appeal and that inevitably the appeals on behalf of both appellants must succeed.”

 

Later (paragraph 14) it is said:

 

“Regrettably we accept that it is not possible from the judgment to identify what findings the court has made. At paragraph 59 of the judgment note, the court sets out the detail of the findings it is invited to make, but at no stage thereafter does the learned Judge indicate which of the findings she has found established to the requisite standard nor does she attempt to link what she is saying about the evidence to the specific findings sought….On this basis alone the judgment is arguably fatally flawed.”

 

And at paragraph 15:

 

“We further recognise in certain key respects the court has failed to engage with the totality of the evidence to the extent that any findings the court has purported to make are unsustainable in any event. In particular, we accept the arguments advanced on behalf of the appellant father… that the court failed to undertake a sufficiently detailed analysis of the context in which T’s allegations came to be made, failed to engage with the professional evidence which called into question the reliability of those allegations and did not weigh appropriately in the balance the inconsistencies which were clearly laid out on the evidence in relation to T’s accounts.”

39.In the light of the parties’ positions, the oral hearing for this appeal was short. All were agreed that the appeal must be allowed with the result that, at the end of a process which started with allegations made in August 2014, and in included a substantial trial before a High Court Judge, any findings of fact made by the Judge and recorded in her oral determinations made in December 2016 and on 30 January 2017 must be set aside and must be disregarded in any future dealings with this family.

 

 

40.For our part, my Lords and I, rather than simply endorsing the agreed position of the parties, had, reluctantly but very clearly formed the same view having read the note of the 30 January judgment and having regard to the subsequent failure by the court to engage with the legitimate process of clarification that the Judge had, herself, set in train

           41.Before turning to the question of what lessons might be learned for the future and offering some guidance in that regard, a formal apology is owed to all those who have been adversely affected by the failure of the Family Justice system to produce an adequate and supportable determination of the important factual allegations in this case. In particular, such an apology is owed to T, her father and her mother and her younger sister X, whose own everyday life has been adversely affected as a result of professionals justifiably putting in place an intrusive regime to protect her from her father as a result of the statement of the Judge’s conclusions 16 months ago.      

 

    

The Court of Appeal were asked to give some clarifying guidance in relation to the issue of what happens where the parties ask (as they must) for the Judge to clarify flaws in the judgment and after a period of time the Judge has not done so. For a start, when does the clock for the appeal start to tick? After judgment, or after the request for clarification, or after receipt of such clarification?

 

 

 

42.Whilst it is, fortunately, rare for parties to encounter a situation such as that which has arisen in the present case, such circumstances do, however, occur and we have been invited to offer some limited advice or guidance.

 

 

43.The window in which a notice of appeal may be issued under Civil Procedure Rules 1998, r 52.12(2) is tight and is, in ordinary circumstances, limited to 21 days. It is often impossible to obtain a transcript of a judgment that has been delivered orally within the 21 day period. Unfortunately, it is also the experience of this court that not infrequently problems occur in the five or six stages in the administrative chain through which a request for transcripts must proceed and it may often be months before an approved transcript is provided. Whilst it is plainly more satisfactory for the judges of this court to work on an approved transcript, and that will normally be a pre-requisite for any full appeal hearing, the Lord or Lady Justices of Appeal undertaking evaluation of permissions to appeal in family cases are now more willing to accept a note of judgment (if possible agreed) taken by a lawyer or lawyers present in court in order to determine an application for permission to appeal rather than await delivery of an approved transcript of the judgment. It is therefore important for advocates attending court on an occasion when judgment is given to do their best to make a full note of the judgment so that, if it is needed, that note can be provided promptly to the Court of Appeal when a notice of appeal is filed.

 

 

44.The observation set out above requires adaptation when a party seeks clarification of the Judge’s judgment. In such a case, it must be reasonable for the party to await the conclusion of the process of clarification before being obliged to issue a notice of appeal, unless the clarification that is sought is limited to marginal issues which stand separately to the substantive grounds of appeal that may be relied upon.

 

 

45.Where, as here, the process of clarification fails to achieve finality within a reasonable time, it is not in the interests of justice, let alone those of the respective parties, for time to run on without a notice of appeal being issued. What is a reasonable time for the process of post judgement clarification? The answer to that question may vary from case to case, but, for my part, I find it hard to contemplate a case where a period of more than 4 weeks from the delivery of the request for clarification could be justified. After that time, the notice of appeal, if an appeal is to be pursued, should be issued. The issue of a notice of appeal does not, of itself, prevent the process of clarification continuing if it has not otherwise been completed. Indeed, in some case the Court of Appeal at the final appeal hearing may itself send the case back to the Judge for clarification. The benefit of issuing a notice of appeal, apart from the obvious avoidance of further delay, is that the Court of Appeal may itself directly engage with the Judge in the hope of finalising any further outstanding matters.

 

 

Whilst the Court of Appeal say that because of the administrative nightmare that is obtaining an approved transcript, they will accept an agreed note from the lawyers I wonder how on earth that is going to work with cases involving only litigants in person (eg about 90% of private law proceedings)

Judge versus Fostering Panel

 

Actually, this was more of a Triple Threat match, with Judge versus Fostering Panel versus Agency Decision Maker, but you get the general idea.

 

Re T (A child) 2018  EWCA Civ 650

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/650.html

 

This is a Court of Appeal decision with Jackson LJ giving the lead judgment.

 

At final hearing, the LA sought Care Orders and Placement Orders with a plan of adoption. After hearing seven days of evidence, the Judge decided that on balance, the right legal framework for the child was to live with paternal grandmother under a Care Order.  Before the orders could be made, however, the Judge needed to establish whether that was legally possible.

That’s because as a result of the way the Children Act 1989 is constructed, a Local Authority can only place a child who is the subject of a Care Order with  (a) his or her parents OR (b) with a foster carer approved by the Fostering Panel.   Everyone who isn’t a parent has to fit into the second category, which means that the grandmother would need to be approved as a foster carer.

(There is one super obscure third way, which didn’t come up in this case… it takes about two pages of very very very detailed explanation, but the gist of it is that you use section 22C(6) (d), to sanction the placement, which needs approval of the IRO rather than Fostering Panel. Let’s ignore it for now. It’s uber-geeky. )

 

The Local Authority took their case to Fostering Panel,   who unanimously said no

 

  • The panel unanimously resolved not to recommend the grandmother as a connected foster carer. They gave these reasons, which I again quote verbatim:

“(1) The risks and vulnerabilities outweigh strengths to the application.

(2) It is likely that Alan’s needs for emotional stability, sense of positive role modelling of internal family dynamics, safeguarding of contact and sense of identity will be compromised.

(3) Panel members felt the likely risk to Alan’s safety around contact with birth parents and the grandmother’s ability to manage this over the long term.

(4) The grandmother’s lack of insight into the impact of her relationships and family dynamics and discord has on children in her care and her ability to manage this.

(5) The grandmother’s inability to grasp the emotional needs of Alan given his traumatic start to life and future uncertainties.

(6) Concern that the grandmother may not work in partnership with professionals in an open and honest way.

(7) That the following National Minimum Standards for fostering are not met:”

It can be seen that the social workers did not advance the court’s assessment at the panel but instead contested it and gave the panel to understand that they “could not or would not commit to” a care order, which they described as an intrusion.

 

Then, because this case isn’t already bogged down with ponderous technicalities about how a Local Authority works, the recommendation of the Fostering Panel had to go to the Agency Decision Maker to make the decision.  The Agency Decision Maker is a statutory office, a senior member of the Local Authority.  That’s because by law, Fostering Panel has to have people who AREN’T in the LA  as part of the make-up of the Panel, but also by law, people who AREN’T part of the LA CAN’T make DECISIONS on behalf of the LA.  So they make a recommendation and then the Agency Decision Maker decides it.

 

I didn’t make these rules, I’m just trying to explain them.

Also, the Agency Decision Maker said no. 

  1. On 9 November, the Agency Decision Maker made a decision accepting the panel’s recommendation. She did so by signing the minutes against the pre-entered word ‘Agreed’. Her signature appears at the foot of a box entitled ‘Decision’, which was left empty. The parties received the decision on 10 November, which was a Friday.

 

On the Monday, still staggering with the effects of shell-shock from that decision, the parties attended Court. None of them had really sketched out their Plan B, understandably. I don’t know whether there was an application to adjourn to take stock or not, but what ultimately happened was that the Judge decided in essence :- I’ve already decided that narrowly, a placement with grandmother under a Care Order is the only alternative to adoption, so if I can’t legally place with grandmother under a Care Order, there is no alternative to adoption, so Care Order and Placement Order.

 

The Court of Appeal note that they (the Court of Appeal) had more assistance from the advocates as to the legal options than had been given to the Judge at the time.

 

The first option, obviously, was for the Judge to explore further the Fostering Panel’s recommendation (given that it does not seem obvious that they were properly informed of the Judge’s decision following seven days of evidence and the reasoning), and the Agency Decision Maker’s decision, which did not follow any of the Hofstetter principles

  1. In Hofstetter v LB Barnet and IRM [2009] EWHC 328 (Admin), Charles J gave guidance on the Agency Decision Maker’s approach in relation to adoption approval. This has been endorsed for use in fostering cases by statutory guidance (The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Services at 5.40). It is good discipline and appropriate for decision-makers to:
  2. list the material taken into account in reaching the decision;
  • identify key arguments;
  • consider whether they agree with the process and approach of the relevant panel and are satisfied as to its fairness and that the panel has properly addressed the arguments;
  • consider whether any additional information now available to them that was not before the panel has an impact on its reasons or recommendation;
  • identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendation that they do or do not wish to adopt; and
  • state (a) the adopted reasons by cross reference or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for their decision.
  1. Of course none of that was done in the present case.

 

It was literally a box-ticking exercise rather than that detailed analysis.

So the Court could have explored that further and invited the ADM to attend and to give evidence, with a view to seeing whether the decision could be reconsidered.

 

The Court could also have explored a range of other legal framework options – although a Care Order might have been viewed as the best option, if it were not available, it wasn’t simply that no option existed and hence adoption had to be the plan. A lesser order, whilst less desireable, had to be properly weighed against adoption. A Special Guardianship Order, Child Arrangements Order, Supervision Order or Interim Care Order (with presumably the Court sanctioning the placement using the Cardiff City Council v A decision of the President that this could be done as an assessment under s38(6) were all possibilities that could be considered.

 

And of course, the Court of Appeal note, that the Judge could have wheeled out the Enola Gay option of wardship

 

  1. Another potentially relevant decision that was not brought to the judge’s attention was Re W and X (Wardship: Relatives Rejected as Foster Carers) [2004] 1 FLR 415. In that case, three children were living with their grandparents. The local authority wanted to continue the placement under a care order, but the statutory and regulatory provisions that were then in force meant that if a care order was made, the children would have had to be removed. Hedley J responded by making private law orders, supervision orders and orders in wardship, all with the agreement of the local authority. The case is different on its facts, as the legislation has since been amended to make particular provision for the approval of family foster carers, but it shows that wardship can exceptionally be available to achieve a good outcome where other avenues are blocked.

 

 

So the decision to make a Placement Order was overturned and sent back for re-hearing.

 

Conclusion

  1. Drawing these matters together, as regards the parents the threshold for intervention was not in doubt, and the conclusion that they could not care for Alan was clear and, in the end, undisputed. The welfare decision as to whether there could be a family placement with the grandmother was in contrast finely balanced. The judge carried out a thorough fact-finding process and a careful welfare evaluation, leading her to the conclusion that this placement was in Alan’s interests, provided that the necessary local authority services were made available. That was her first preference as a way of promoting Alan’s welfare and respecting the Article 8 rights that were engaged. Her preference was not supported by the decision of the local authority’s fostering panel which, on a much more limited set of data, evaluated the grandmother’s ability to care for Alan differently. For her part, the Agency Decision Maker gave no indication of exercising an independent judgement beyond a simple endorsement of the panel’s recommendation.
  2. Faced with this unfortunate situation, the judge did not press the local authority further. She treated its stance as being beyond the power of the family court to amend and she removed placement with the grandmother from the list of realistic options. She then went on to balance adoption against the (unrealistic) option of long-term fostering before reaching her conclusion.
  3. It is entirely understandable that the judge wanted to reach a final decision. Alan was by then a child aged 15 months who had been in foster care all his life. The statutory obligation under CA 1989 s.32, requiring the court to timetable the proceedings to conclude within 26 weeks had been repeatedly exceeded and extended. The proceedings had been on foot for 14 months. The judge was demonstrably aware that such extensive delay was seriously disadvantageous for a child of this sensitive age, and of the psychological advantages to him of being able to forge bonds with adopters. However, the extensions of time to conclude the proceedings could only have been granted because the court considered them “necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly”: s.32(5). To state the obvious, the proceedings could only be concluded if they could be justly concluded.
  4. In the end, I am in no doubt that, despite the difficulties of the situation, the judge was wrong to make a placement order at the point that she did, for these essential reasons:
  5. (1) The judge underestimated her powers. She should not have accepted the local authority’s unchanged position without calling it to account for what was on the face of it an unconvincing response to her careful assessment of risk and welfare. This could have been done in a number of ways, as suggested by Ms Seddon, Mrs Hendry and Mr Messling.

(2) It is true that the judge stayed her order to allow for judicial review proceedings, but that amounted to an acknowledgement that the resources of the family court were exhausted, when they were not. In effect, she accepted the submission of the local authority, recorded at paragraph 34 above, that the decision in relation to whether the child should be placed in the care of the grandmother was not a question for the court. It was.

(3) Even if the point arrived where a decision had to be taken in circumstances where the local authority maintained a refusal to approve the grandmother as a foster carer, it was necessary for the judge to re-evaluate the remaining options for Alan’s future. By not doing this, she effectively boxed herself in. Had she looked at matters afresh, she would inevitably have confronted the fact that this was a child who was being sent for adoption as a direct result of a decision of a non-court body, an outcome unprecedented in modern times so far as I am aware. She would then have been able to weigh that prospect against a range of lesser legal orders (interim care order, private law order, supervision order, injunctions, special guardianship, wardship) in order to arrive at a valid welfare outcome.

(4) The fact that the local authority’s decision arose as a result of a second process (fostering approval) does not alter the general principles that apply. The Agency Decision Maker was not obliged to follow the recommendation of the panel. Nor was the Agency Decision Maker in relation to fostering approval responsible for the case put by the local authority to the court. The judge’s further investigations would have led her to better understand who was ultimately directing the local authority’s thinking and to achieve an effective engagement with them until the issue had been satisfactorily resolved.

  1. For these reasons, I agreed that the appeal should be allowed and that the matter should be reheard by a different judge. The rehearing will be limited to a consideration of the grandmother’s position and not involve any reconsideration of the parents as carers.

Cringe

 

This judgment is an appeal, where nobody involved comes out of it well.  There were moments when reading it where it was SO awkward that I felt each individual vertebrae try to leave my body so that they could stop dealing with the level of “awkward! warning awkward!” nerve signals that they were sending hither and thither.

Let us begin by saying that I don’t know ANY of the individuals concerned in the case, and I think in the interests of fairness it is best to read this whole thing on the basis that everyone involved on that day was just having one of those bad days and that succession of individual bad days cascaded and collided into a day so bad that it almost reads as though the Court had been the subject of some form of hallucinogenic gas attack.

A v R & Anor 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/521.html

In very broad terms, this was a private law case, in which father was asking for contact with his 13 year old daughter T – with the sadly too familiar backdrop of a long history of Court dispute and litigation.

A psychologist, Mr Clowry, had been instructed to assess the child. The child had decided not to participate in the assessment. It is fair to say that nobody was enamoured of the report prepared (though it is obviously tricky to do a psychological assessment of a child if you don’t get to meet them).

  1. When the final hearing came before the court on 28 November 2017, it did so initially before a District Judge, for reasons I will come to, before latterly being placed before the learned Judge. As noted above, the order of 15 September 2017 made no provision for statements of evidence to be filed and served for the final hearing on 28 November 2017, nor for the filing and serving of a final report from the Children’s Guardian. In the circumstances, on 28 November 2017, the court was without up to date sworn evidence from the parents or a report from the Children’s Guardian on the issues that fell to be considered at the final hearing. For the reasons I have already set out, the expert report that had been produced the evening before the final hearing to inform the same was deficient by reference to the terms of the letter of instruction.
  2. At the hearing the Mother and the Children’s Guardian argued that the proceedings should be concluded. Both sought an outcome that provided for no order to be made with respect to the time the father spent with T. The Guardian’s Position Statement also urged the court to make an order pursuant to s 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 in respect of the father for a period of 12 months. However, no application had been issued. The father sought permission to instruct a replacement expert or an adjournment of the final hearing to permit him time to make a properly constituted application under FPR 2010 Part 25 for permission to instruct a replacement, with a view to him pursuing his argument for a far greater level of contact at an adjourned final hearing. In any event, the father sought a final child arrangements order that provided for a much greater level of time spent with T than was then taking place. The final hearing was, therefore, contested.
  3. Within this context, the learned judge proceeded, following submissions by counsel initially in front of the District Judge and then before the learned Judge, and contrary to the arguments of the father, to refuse the father’s application for permission to instruct a replacement expert or for an adjournment to allow the preparation of such an application. Further, and contrary to the varied positions of the mother, the father and of the child, the learned Judge proceeded to make a final child arrangements order. The final order made by the learned Judge in respect of the time the father would spend with T reflected the level of contact that was then said to be taking place. Accordingly, the order provided for the father to spend time with T for at least 2 hours once per month, with an additional 2-hour periods during the holidays, together with indirect contact.

 

Those of you who go to Court will be aware that the proceedings are tape recorded. Sometimes if the case is appealed, a transcript of the tape recording is made for the appeal Court. That’s what happened here, so these exchanges are exactly what was said in Court.  Prepare to cringe, and also prepare to have anxiety nightmares over the next few days of everything you’ve ever said in Court.

 

Make it stop, make it stop Prince Adam

 

  1. As I have noted, the final hearing on 28 November 2017 did not initially commence in front of the learned judge on 28 November 2017, but rather in front of District Judge Abigail Smith. The reason for this appears to have been that, whilst the learned Judge had reserved the matter to himself, he was very heavily listed on the day in question and the matter had therefore been placed in District Judge Smith’s list. The matter remained before the District Judge for approximately half an hour. During that time the parties made substantive submissions on the adequacy of Mr Clowry’s report and the proper course of action in respect of the report. The District Judge having expressed “severe concerns” regarding the report of Mr Clowry, counsel for the father, Ms Sarah Cooper, proceeded to make submissions in support of the continued need for expert evidence, a course opposed on behalf of the mother by Mr Persson and on behalf of T by Ms Topping.
  2. It is a noteworthy feature of the transcript of the hearing before the District Judge that, as was to become a feature of the transcript of the hearing before the learned Judge, counsel constantly interrupted each other. Ms Cooper’s submissions on the fate of Mr Clowry’s report were interrupted by Mr Persson, without demur from the District Judge. Mr Persson was in turn interrupted by Ms Topping, again without judicial demur. Indeed, at times the transcript appears to show simply an argument between counsel with no input from the District Judge. This conduct continued until the District Judge decided that enquiries should be made as to whether the learned Judge could take the case. The net result of the way this part of the hearing was conducted meant that no party ever got to the point of concluding a complete, focused and structured submission on any issue.
  3. The learned Judge agreed to take the matter and proceeded to hear the case, which had been given a three-hour time estimate, at 2.20pm. As I have noted, in summary the father’s first ground of appeal includes the complaint that the learned Judge had not properly prepared for the hearing. The father also complained before me that the Judge appeared, from his initial comments, to have reached a settled judgment from the outset. The opening statements of the learned Judge, who had had long involvement with this case, form the basis of the father’s contentions in this regard:
    1. His Honour Judge Scarratt: Yes well, I’m sorry you’ve had a bit of wait. The fact of the matter was this morning I had a one-day case with five applications and this three-hour hearing.

Miss Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: And so District Judge Abigail Smith’s diary emptied yesterday and I’m afraid this happens. Cases are moved about. Not ideal but as it happens I have finished my five applications and given judgment so I’m, I’m now free to deal this but you’ve really got limited time because I have to be at a meeting at 4 o’clock. I’ve got bundles here, I’ve not looked at them –

Ms Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: I mean I’m just going to go on what I know about the case and well I gather Brendan Clowry’s report was a nonsense so Judge Abigail Smith tells me.

Miss Cooper: Certainly the District Judge was not impressed.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Yes, well I, I’ve, I have looked at that, eating my sandwich at lunch.

Miss Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: He’s gone completely off piste.

Miss Cooper: Well it, it is right to say –

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Well he’s gone off piste.

Miss Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: I’m putting it to one side and I doubt whether he’ll get paid.

Miss Cooper: Yes, well no doubt —

His Honour Judge Scarratt: So where are we now, that being the case.

Miss Cooper: You Honour, we are at the following bit of the case. What he had done was he had interviewed my client and my client and the mother had paid him quite a lot of money. The mother, I don’t know if you’ve seen, I did a further very short position statement, could I just briefly hand that up because I did it last night once the report had come —

His Honour Judge Scarratt: I mean at the end of the day your client’s got to accept that [T] has had enough. There’s a very poignant note to Mr Gaye, a very experienced Guardian, and last, I don’t think you were here last time.

Miss Cooper: No, I wasn’t your honour.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: No. Well can I tell you and this is the benefit of having me, judicial continuity.

Miss Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: That really last time, the application made by the Guardian being repeated today was made last time, but I felt your client should have a chance and that Clowry, who has now thoroughly blotted his copy book, I shan’t be having him again in these Courts, your, and, and I gave the chance for this to happen, but it’s not happened but, but at the end of the day I’ve got a 13 and a half year old girl there who’s saying actually, let’s have the contact, let’s have the drinks and the teas and the lunches or whatever, which have gone on. This is not a case where there’s no contact. So I think it can be finished quite, I think your client’s got to accept that contact should continue as organised between the parents. Does he agree that?

Miss Cooper: No, Your Honour.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Well, I’m not having a final hearing with this little girl dragged in now. Have you read the letter from her?”

  1. Following this opening exchange, the learned Judge went on to conduct a hearing over the course of the next hour and a half. As I have noted, in his first ground of appeal, the father also contends that during this hearing the learned Judge proceeded to make final orders without any proper consideration of the arguments being advanced by the parties with respect to that issue. Within this context, the father also complains before me in support of his grounds of appeal that the hearing descended into what the father termed a “shouting match“. The genesis of these complaints by the father is apparent from the transcript.

 

Part of the father’s appeal was that the Judge was unprepared for the hearing. Given that he was only doing it because the hearing before the DJ had gone so wrong that it was moved to a different Judge on the same day, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Judge was unprepared.  Nor, given that he candidly says that he hasn’t read the bundle and has read the expert report ‘over a sandwich’ reaching a conclusion that it was ‘nonsense’  would it be surprising for the Appeal Court to agree that the Judge was unprepared.

The conclusion of the Appeal Court is, perhaps, surprising though.

 

  1. I am not satisfied that the father has made out his complaint that the learned judge had not prepared adequately to deal with the matter on 28 November 2017, nor am I satisfied that the father has made out his complaint that the learned Judge pre-judged the matter.
  2. As is clear from passages quoted above, it can perhaps be seen why the father, as a lay person, drew these conclusions from the statements made by the learned Judge at the outset of the hearing. However, with respect to the issue of preparation, whilst the learned Judge indicated he had not looked at the bundles, he had long experience of this matter, having dealt with it on numerous occasions previously. He was therefore well versed in the key issues before the court. Whilst the learned Judge’s announcement that he had read Mr Clowry’s expert report over his sandwich at lunchtime may suggest to a lay party a certain informality of approach, the need for judges to work through lunch in order to get through the work in their extremely heavy lists is the modern reality for judges up and down the country. Within this context, the fact that the learned Judge combined eating and reading is not an indication of a lack of diligence or preparation. Rather, it is quite the opposite. The learned Judge worked assiduously through his lunch break to ensure he had considered the material relevant to the hearing he was about to conduct.
  3. In relation to the father’s complaint that the learned judge had pre-judged the matter, the learned Judge did say at the outset that “I think it can be finished quite, I think your client’s got to accept that contact should continue as organised between the parents“. After asking Ms Cooper whether the father agreed with this analysis, and being told he did not, the learned Judge did respond, “Well, I’m not having a final hearing with this little girl dragged in now“. It is clear from the transcript that the learned Judge also continued, throughout the hearing, to press the then current contact regime as the appropriate outcome.
  4. Within this context, it is the case that the learned Judge expressed himself in robust terms early on during the hearing and I can understand why the father raises this issue before me. However, I also bear in mind that the matter was listed on 28 November 2017 for a final hearing rather than a preliminary case management hearing, at which final hearing the learned Judge was required to adopt an essentially inquisitorial role in pursuance of his duty to further the welfare of the child as his paramount consideration. Within this context, at least on one reading, the learned Judge was simply exploring at the outset of the final hearing the extent of the issues between the parties at the final hearing and inviting the father to consider a reasonable view on the information available to the court. Finally, as Mr Persson points out, upon being told that the matter was contested by the father, the learned Judge did go on to conduct a hearing and to listen to certain submissions from the parties.
  5. In the foregoing circumstances, I am satisfied that it cannot be said that the learned Judge failed to properly prepare himself to conduct the hearing. I am also satisfied that, whilst perhaps falling somewhat closer to the line marking the boundary between a robust, inquisitorial approach and premature adjudication (to adopt the phrase utilised by McFarlane LJ in Re Q) than is often the case, within the context of the case being listed for final hearing, the learned Judge was not guilty of pre-judging matters.

 

And yes, I did contemplate “premature adjudication” as the title of this post, but there’s no way I’m typing THAT into Google Images.

 

The Guardian also gets a rebuke (which might ordinarily be stinging, but in the face of everything else going on in the case is mild) for promising the child that the next hearing would be the last one, which was of course outside of her control and a promise which should not have been made.

 

  1. The email from the Children’s Guardian of 4 October 2017 is, in many respects, carefully drafted. It is of concern however, that the Children’s Guardian also informed T in that email that the learned Judge had “promised” that the proceedings would end on the next occasion. This is not an accurate reflection of what the learned Judge had said and, in any event, is not a promise he could have made, not least having regard to the right of a party to appeal. The email from T of 1 October 2017 appears to have been disclosed to the father’s legal team some time after it was sent, even though it was plainly relevant to the question of expert evidence.

 

MacDonald J is critical of some drafting, in the order authorising the instruction of an expert – where the wording is reminiscent of ‘mission statements’  in that nobody could ever actually believe in or support the opposite

 

  1. The letter of instruction to Mr Clowry is contained in the appeal bundle before me, dated 18 September 2017, which letter provides as follows with respect to the instructions to Mr Clowry:
    1. “Pursuant to the order of His Honour Judge Scarratt dated 15 September 2017, you are instructed to meet with the parties and the child, as set out in your letter dated 25 August, to prepare a report setting out a robust, clinically legitimate and reputable plan of clinical work for the sound and lasting advancing of contact between T and her father.”
  2. Leaving aside the rather peculiar terms in which the instruction is couched (parties to proceedings would hardly wish a report that was not robust, clinically legitimate and reputable), the term “Pursuant to the order of His Honour Judge Scarratt” at the beginning of the instructions to Mr Clowry is a potential cause of confusion. Whilst the letter of instruction limits the instructions to Mr Clowry to the preparation of a “robust, clinically legitimate and reputable plan of clinical work”, the permission given in the order of the learned Judge is in somewhat wider terms, namely “to prepare a report in respect of the time that T should spend with her father.”

 

 

Now the expert.   We remember that the Judge had said he’d gone off piste and his report was nonsense… well, he had been asked to attend, so the Judge got him in.  Oh God, this is hard reading.

 

  1. in the context of the District Judge having expressed “severe concerns” regarding the report of Mr Clowry, and the learned Judge having stated that his report was “nonsense“, that Mr Clowry had “gone off piste“, that he had “thoroughly blotted his copy book” and that the learned Judge would be putting the report aside, and despite strenuous objection from Ms Topping, the learned Judge decided to hear from Mr Clowry, who was invited into the courtroom. His opening gambit to Mr Clowry was as follows:
    1. His Honour Judge Scarratt: Afternoon. Just, just come and sit there for a moment will you. Everyone is thoroughly disappointed with this work you’ve done. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. It not what we asked for at all.”
  2. Notwithstanding the views expressed by the learned Judge during the course of the hearing, and his level disappointment stated directly to Mr Clowry, the learned Judge then proceeded to enquire of Mr Clowry when the work he had been instructed to undertake could be completed if his instruction was continued. Mr Clowry having stated his work would not be possible if T would not agree to see him, the learned Judge also put to Mr Clowry that forcing T to see a psychologist would not work, in respect of which Mr Clowry responded as follows:
    1. Mr Clowry: Well, with respect to the language I think if that were the attitude and the way in which it was manage, forcing putting great pressure on a child but I think encouraging a child would not, might be productive.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Well to be fair that’s exactly what the Guardian has done in a response, in a, in an email response. He has encouraged her, really, really encouraged her to go.

Mr Clowry: But, I would tend to see situations like that Your Honour not in terms of black and white. Sometimes in a preliminary meeting a child who has never seen psychologist or social worker might, perhaps if I saw the child with the mother, feel then on the basis of evidence having met the person reasonably inclined to continue. If the child is caught up in a very powerful adversarial situation there’s a high probability the child is going to reflect certain of the adult attitudes and opinions. If the child were enabled to meet the psychologist whether it be me or anybody else the child might then be prepared to reconsider. I don’t know, I don’t know the child.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: So you could, you could have a plan of work available by the end of next week could you?

Mr Clowry: Yes, indeed.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Provided the mother and [T] saw you in the week?

Mr Clowry: Yes indeed Your Honour”

  1. Whilst having heard from Mr Clowry the learned Judge told him that he was “released”, this appears to be a term of art as there is no indication that Mr Clowry was sworn, and no party was permitted to cross examine him. The status of the information Mr Clowry provided to the court is, accordingly, unclear. He did not give evidence and his report was, by common acclaim, considered deficient by all parties. However, at one point during the hearing, and despite the criticisms levelled at the report of Mr Clowry by the Children’s Guardian, Ms Topping was permitted to rely in her submissions on that self-same report as evidence that the father had not reflected on his behaviours, whilst almost in the same breath stating the report was deficient and could not be relied on.
  2. Within this context, it is also unclear what status the learned Judge attached to the report, and to the contribution of Mr Clowry at the hearing when considering his decisions with respect to the instruction of a further expert and with respect to whether to conclude the proceedings. However, immediately before giving judgment the learned Judge said:
    1. His Honour Judge Scarratt: Yes well, I’ll, on the basis no wants to say anything else I’ll, and having now heard from Mr Clowry about what he can and cannot do, I’ll make a decision.”

 

 

MacDonald J, hearing the appeal was very critical of the way counsel had dealt with their submissions. My mental picture is of a Chimps Tea party, where the tea was laced with PCP, re-enacting an episode of Jeremy Kyle, but that may be too harsh.   Like I said earlier, anyone can have a bad day, and this is best chalked off as just being one of those rather than be taken as being representative of how anyone involved generally conducts litigation.

 

  1. During the course of the unstructured and unfocused submissions regarding expert evidence, at times the Judge appeared to be dismissing the question of a further expert out of hand. At other times, the learned Judge appeared to indicate it was an issue he was prepared to decide. The precise ambit of the issue the parties are addressing in respect of expert evidence is only belatedly defined and no party ever got to the point of concluding their submissions on the question of further expert evidence, although Ms Cooper made a valiant effort to conclude organised submissions to the Judge in support of permission for a further expert or a short adjournment to allow the preparation of a properly constituted Part 25 application.

 

  1. At this point, discipline in the hearing appears to have broken down entirely. The father himself begins to make submissions to the learned Judge, Miss Cooper, Mr Persson and Ms Topping continue to make points with little order, structure or focus, and even Mr Gaye enters the arena at one point. All this occurred as the learned Judge continued to propound his view that a final order should be made at the hearing, reflecting the then current level of contact, and sought repeatedly to press the parties to agree to that course of action.
  2. Within the foregoing context, it is of particular note from the transcript that no party was ever able during the hearing to get to the stage of making submissions on the key issue before the court, namely the question of whether, if the court decided to proceed to conclude the proceedings, a final child arrangements order should be made and, if so, the nature and extent of the contact in any final child arrangements order. Whilst counsel were able, up to a point, to make submissions on the question of whether the learned Judge should proceed with the final hearing or adjourn it, the increasingly unstructured nature of the hearing meant that, as conceded by Ms Topping and Mr Persson before me, no party ever reached the stage of making submissions, nor did the learned Judge invite submissions, on what outcome with respect to contact was in T’s best interests if the learned Judge determined, against his initial instinct, that it was right conclude the proceedings then and there. This was the case even though Miss Cooper had made clear on behalf of the father that the matter was contested, and that the father would be seeking more extensive contact in any final order than that then taking place, and even though Ms Topping’s instructions from the Children’s Guardian remained that there should be no order as to contact and an order pursuant to s 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 with respect to the father for a period of 12 months.
  1. In allowing the appeal, it is difficult not to have a good deal of sympathy for the learned Judge. He sought to assist the parties by taking the matter at short notice into an already busy list after the final hearing had already commenced before a different judge. Having done so, the learned Judge tried to further assist the parties by attempting to cut through a protracted dispute between two parents in what, on any estimation, was a long running case involving a young person with her own strongly held views about the way forward.
  2. Within this context, I make one additional observation. As I have already pointed up, the transcript of the hearing demonstrates that the learned Judge was not assisted in his difficult task by the approach of the advocates in this case. Both the transcript of the hearing before the District Judge, and the transcript of the hearing before His Honour Judge Scarratt, record each of the advocates, although counsel for the father a good deal less so, regularly interrupting each other. The net effect of that approach was that, as I have observed, neither judge received properly structured submissions, in the proper order on the points that were in issue between the parties, and no issue was ever fully run to ground. It is quite clear from the transcript why the father chose to describe the hearing as having descended into a “shouting match“.
  3. I am satisfied that this unfortunate situation before the learned Judge materially contributed to the primary reason this appeal has been successful, namely that, before making a final child arrangements order, the learned Judge did not hear submissions on the key issues before the court at the final hearing of the need for a final child arrangements order and the appropriate level of contact between father and daughter if such an order were made.
  4. FPR r 12.21, deals with the order in which a court hears submissions or evidence at a hearing and confers on the court a discretion in that regard. FPR r 12.21 reflects the fact that properly sequenced submissions constitute a vital constituent of a fair hearing. The requirement for submissions to be made in a clearly defined order aims to ensure that each party has a fair opportunity to present their case on the issues that are before the court for determination. A failure by advocates to assist the court in adhering to this requirement is corrosive of that aim. In this case, the reception by the court of properly sequenced submissions was rendered extremely difficult by a concerning tendency on the part of the advocates simply to interrupt each other in an effort to advance their competing submissions. It should go without saying that this mode of advocacy does not assist the court and is to be deprecated.

 

The appeal was allowed, and sent back for rehearing.

 

  1. As I have set out above, the transcript of the hearing makes plain that, notwithstanding that the hearing was contested on the central issue of whether a child arrangements order was appropriate and, if so, what arrangements for contact were in T’s best interests, no party ever got, during the hearing, to the stage of making submissions on those key issues before the court. The increasingly formless and fractious nature of the hearing meant that no party made submissions on the need for an order or the appropriate level of contact before the learned Judge gave his judgment on those central issues, nor did the learned Judge invite such submissions. The substantive submissions made by counsel were limited to the procedural question of whether the learned Judge should deal with the final hearing or adjourn it.
  2. In the circumstances, and as conceded by Mr Persson and Ms Topping before this court, the learned Judge heard submissions on the issue of whether to proceed to determine whether to make a final child arrangements order but not on the issue of the merits of a final child arrangements order. Notwithstanding this, in his judgment the learned Judge determined both issues. Accordingly, even if one accepts that the learned Judge was operating within the wide ambit of his procedural discretion in dealing with the final hearing summarily on submissions, he dealt with the matter without hearing submissions on the merits. Even though Ms Cooper had made clear on behalf of the father that the matter was fully contested with respect to child arrangements, and that the father would be seeking more extensive contact in any final order than that then taking place, the father never got to argue that case at the final hearing, whether on submissions or otherwise, before the final order was made.
  3. The consequences of this situation are clear from the learned Judge’s judgment. In examining the judgment delivered by the learned Judge I have, of course, taken into account that it was delivered ex tempore at the end of an extremely busy list and in the context of the considerable burden of other responsibilities that routinely fall to be discharged by a Designated Family Judge at the end of the court day. I note that the learned Judge expressly states in the final paragraph of his judgment that, at “the end of a long and hard day“, he would have wanted to have time to hand down a judgment but that he felt it was important for the parties to know the outcome. One can only have sympathy with that view. Within this context, it is not the job of this court, with the greater time available to it, to undertake an overly fine textual analysis of the learned Judge’s ex tempore judgment.
  4. However, reading the transcript of the hearing and the judgment together, it is clear that the learned Judge was not able to rehearse the father’s substantive arguments on the merits for a greater level of contact in any final order, or indeed the substantive arguments of the Children’s Guardian that there should be no order for contact and an order pursuant to s 91(14) of the Children Act 1989, or the mother’s substantive arguments with respect to the nature and extent of contact moving forward, as he had not heard any of those arguments.
  5. In the foregoing circumstances, I am satisfied that there is force in the father’s complaint that the learned Judge proceeded to make a final child arrangements order without proper consideration of the arguments. Indeed, I am satisfied that, as is clear from the transcript and as conceded by Mr Persson and Ms Topping before this court, the learned Judge heard no substantive submissions on the merits of the father’s case, or indeed the case of the mother or the Children’s Guardian before making final orders. Within this context, the learned Judge moved to make a final child arrangements order in a case that remained contested without hearing submissions on the issues at the heart of the case.
  6. I accept that, in line with the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Re C (Family Proceedings: Case Management), a judge is fully entitled to deal summarily with a final hearing in an appropriate case. However, even where the court determines that it is appropriate to deal with the case in this manner, it is equally clear that in doing so, each party must first have a fair opportunity to put their case to the court before the court moves to make final orders. Within this context, even if he or she elects to determine the final hearing summarily following oral submissions, the judge must be careful to ensure, with the assistance of the advocates, that each party has had a fair opportunity to make their respective cases by way of submission on the issues that the court is required, albeit summarily, finally to decide. Issues that may often include, as in this case, whether to make a final order and if so, which order in the best interests of the child. In this case, such an approach was even more important where, as I have noted, the learned Judge did not have the benefit at the final hearing of final witness statements from the parties, nor a final report from the Children’s Guardian, and in circumstances where the expert report that had been considered by the court prior to the final hearing to be necessary to resolve the proceedings justly was deficient having regard to the terms of the letter of instruction.
  7. Within the foregoing context, I am satisfied that the fact that the father, and indeed the other parties, did not have a proper opportunity to put their case to the court by way of submissions on the question of whether a final child arrangements order should be made and if so, what order was in the best interests of the T, before the court moved to make a final child arrangements order, amounted to a serious procedural irregularity. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the appeal must be allowed on that ground alone.