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Category Archives: case law

Bad feng shui and bad judgment

 

I was watching Silent Witness last night (don’t @ me), and snorted at how dreadful the depiction of the District Judge was who ignored the obvious signs of domestic violence and tackled the case with all the sensitivity and panache of Jack out of On the Buses, just in pinstripes.  How ludicrously exaggerated, I thought, we are so far beyond that in our modern understanding.

 

And then I read the JH v MF appeal.

[Maybe it was an exceptionally bad day rather than a true representation of the Judge’s usual approach, but this is one of the most withering appeal judgments I have ever read]

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2020/86.html

This was a private law case involving allegations of domestic abuse and violence and the impact that they would have, if proved, on the father’s contact with his child. The mother was represented by counsel, the father was not. The Judge at first instance His Honour Judge Tolson QC, conducted cross-examination of the mother on the father’s behalf so that the father would not be asking her questions directly.   This is an issue which legal commentators, and the judiciary have been troubled by for some time, and the judicial approach here with the Judge asking the questions is in line with the guidance provided by the senior Courts.

 

The mother had asked for screens to be made available so that she could give her evidence without having to look at the father. That’s not at all unusual, and it is usually a request that is granted, albeit that there’s normally a lot of faff in actually producing the screens.  Here though, the Judge decided that the mother should give her evidence from the counsel’s bench, rather than the witness box.  The Judge then, without any request by the father, decided that father too should give evidence from counsel’s bench. That meant, in reality, that the father’s evidence was given with his McKenzie Friend sitting by his side.  [I note also that the Judge accepted in his judgment that he could not hear all of the evidence given by the mother]

 

The judge then proceeded to order that the Respondent, too, should give evidence from counsel’s row making reference to the feng shui” of the court room and the screens and saying that it was fair and “created some kind of balance” without any application having been made by the Respondent that he needed to give evidence in the same manner as the Appellant. Concerns raised by counsel were dismissed without reasons being given for this decision by the judge. The Respondent was then able to give evidence sitting next to his McKenzie friend who was, as a consequence, able to assist the Respondent in the answers he gave when the Respondent was being cross-examined. It follows that the Respondent was given an advantage and assistance denied to the Appellant. As was submitted by trial counsel in her skeleton argument and I accept “… it is plain and requires no citation that when a witness is giving evidence, they are ‘under oath’ and are to receive no prompting, assistance or advice during the midst of it.”

 

 

Ms Justice Russell DBE, hearing the mother’s appeal, ruled that this failing alone was sufficient to grant the appeal, but

…along with his conduct of this case any broad analysis of his judgment, and approach to the fact-finding is so flawed as to lead to the conclusion that it is unsafe and wrong. Counsel submits that the judge failed to apply the provisions on PD12J of the FPR 2010 and drew this Court’s attentions to the following definitions;

 

 

“domestic abuse” includes any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

  • coercive behaviour” means an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim
  • “controlling behaviour” means an act or pattern of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour:”
  1. It forms part of the Appellant’s case that the judge failed to apply these definitions, or at the very least, keep them in mind. That submission is accepted.

 

According to trial counsel’s notes the trial concluded at 16:30, and she, as for the Appellant, was unable to make the all the closing submissions she intended to in the time that was allowed to her which commencing at 16:45, not least as her oral submissions were repeatedly interrupted by the judge. The judge did not then call on the Respondent at all. The real risk of the appearance of a partisan approach in the judge’s conduct is self-evident. This was compounded when, after delivering his judgment at 17:55, the judge ordered a s7 report and invited the Cafcass Officer to consider Cafcass contact intervention, yet no evidence in respect of the need for this was given or considered during the trial, and the Appellant was denied any opportunity to address the court about the necessity for, or the imposition of such conditions. The judge then failed to give any reasons for so doing and further compounded his errors when, on 23rd August 2019, the judge directed Cafcass to investigate any child protection concerns in the Appellant’s care of C. Nothing in respect of this was raised at trial, there was no evidence (indeed the opposite was indicated in the safeguarding correspondence) before the court to support such a direction but the trial judge saw fit to impose such a direction, nonetheless

 

The judgment is heavily criticised.  There’s a startling passage in relation to text messages sent by the father to the mother (some at least during the course of the hearing) –  where the Judge describes as ‘sexting’ by the father a message which, well, is clearly not ‘sexting’.  [Apologies for the language, but I think it is necessary to see the bald words in order to form your own views]

 

  1. Secondly, after failing to deal with the text messages, sent by to the Appellant by the Respondent, during the hearing and on being addressed by counsel in respect of this failure on application for permission to appeal, the judge had concluded that graphic, sexually explicit and threatening texts such as “If you don’t shut up I will stick my cock up your ass” were consistent with “sexting” and were not “helpful”. It had not been the Respondent’s case that the texts were “sexting”, nor was this put to the Appellant during her evidence. Not only was the content of the texts likely to have been relevant in connection with any consideration of controlling and coercive behaviour, it may well have had relevance in connection with the complaints of sexual assault. Notwithstanding the relevance of the texts as evidence, it would seem that the judge wholly failed to understand that is the effect on the recipient that is pertinent when considering whether any message or communication is threatening and/or abusive.

 

The most troubling portions of the judgment relate to the trial Judge’s approach to the allegations by mother that the father had engaged in sexual intercourse with her against her will.  The way that Ms Justice Russell analysed those portions (as set out below) is that a very experience Family Court Judge had wholly miscategorised the issue of consent and had instead approached matters as though the mother was required to establish rape by showing that she had attempted to fight the father off and because she had not done so, there was consent.

 

[There are some High Court decisions over the last few years about experts being given a right of address before career-threatening or damaging findings are made. These comments seem to fall within that ballpark to me. ]

 

  1. The phrase “out-dated” is a euphemistic one on full consideration of the judge’s approach to the Appellant’s consenting to sexual intercourse in a physical position and manner which she, even on the judge’s assessment, found repugnant and was “sexual intercourse which was not, at the time, towards the [Appellant’s] taste or inclination.” …Paragraph 22)
  2. The relevant passages in his judgment which make most concerning reading are to be found in paragraphs 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28. I have not set them out in full detail nor should it be necessary to do so as it is clear that the judge’s approach towards the issue of consent is manifestly at odds with current jurisprudence, concomitant sexual behaviour, and what is currently acceptable socio-sexual conduct.
  3. The judge, having started by accepting that the Appellant “had difficulties in taking physical enjoyment from sex…” because of events in her past and had often told the Respondent to stop during intercourse in the past then went on to accept that on the first of the two incidents of penetrative sexual assault the Appellant had been reluctant to have sex, that during intercourse she asked him to stop and he did not and carried on; this appears to have been accepted by the Respondent to some extent as he said both that he stopped and later that the Appellant had not asked him to stop. Paragraph 23 reads “…the first occasion it is the mother’s own case that sexual intercourse began with her consent, and consent was only removed during intercourse when the mother told the father to stop — but he failed to do so. The difficulties do not end there because this is a mother who very often, and for all I know, always, found that she had difficulties in taking physical enjoyment from sex. She would, she tells me, often tell the father to stop during the times when intercourse between them was more frequent than it was in 2016. The difficulties arose, apparently, because of events in her past…” The judge then went on to comment both that the Appellant had not physically resisted and that she was upset afterwards but dismissed her distress in this way; “If the [Appellant] was upset afterwards, which the [Respondent] recognises, this was nothing unusual because of the difficulties I have mentioned.”
  4. At paragraph 24 of his judgment the judge dealt with the Appellant telling the Respondent to stop penetrating her in this way “…the sex in question took place with the mother kneeling on the bed and the father standing behind her. During intercourse she told him to stop, but he did not, and carried on at least for “a couple of minutes”, which is a description given, I think, to the police. It is part of the mother’s case that she took no physical step to encourage the father to desist. The father’s contention is that the sex between them on this occasion, which he recognises because it was one of very few occasions when the parties had sex during the year in question, was entirely consensual from beginning to end, and he was not told to stop. If the mother was upset afterwards, which the father recognises, this was nothing unusual because of the difficulties which I have mentioned.”
  5. Further in dealing with her consent the judge continued (at paragraph 25); “My concern about this occasion centres on the idea that the mother did nothing physically to stop the father. In particular, given the position in which intercourse was occurring, because the mother was not in any sense pinned down on this occasion, but could easily, physically, have made life harder for the father. She did not do so. I do not find that the father was in any way on this occasion so physically forcing her as to cause her not to be able to take preventative measures, nor, in fact, is that case alleged. Following the event, as I have already said, the mother took no immediate action to report the matter to the police, or indeed to anyone else. Her description, of course, does not indicate that the circumstances were such that she might in any way have been thought wise to seek medical advice.”
  6. This judgment is flawed. This is a senior judge, a Designated Family Judge, a leadership judge in the Family Court, expressing a view that, in his judgment, it is not only permissible but also acceptable for penetration to continue after the complainant has said no (by asking the perpetrator to stop) but also that a complainant must and should physically resist penetration, in order to establish a lack of consent. This would place the responsibility for establishing consent or lack thereof firmly and solely with the complainant or potential victim. Whilst the burden of proving her case was with the Appellant in any counter allegation the burden lay with the Respondent. Indeed it was the Respondent who had brought the case as the applicant in the Family Court, thus the burden of proof did not lie solely with the Appellant. Moreover the judge should have been fully aware that the issue of consent is one which has developed jurisprudentially, particularly within the criminal jurisdiction, over the past 15 years (of which more below).
  7. The judge’s view in respect of consent is underscored by his comment at paragraph 25 (as quoted above) when he said, “My concern about this occasion centres on the idea that the [Appellant] did nothing physically to stop the [Respondent].” The judge then went on to say that because the Appellant was on all fours on the bed, at the Respondent’s insistence this would have, according to this judge, made it easier for her to resist and “made life harder for the [Respondent]…” and that the Respondent had not, the judge found (again the evidence on which he reached this conclusion is absent from the judgment), been “so physically forcing her as to cause her not to be able to take preventative measures [sic]..”. The judge then comments that the Appellant did not take immediate action to call the police or anyone else and that her description, in the view of this judge, did not “indicate that the circumstances were such that she might in any way have been thought wise to seek medical advice.” In keeping with his approach thus far the judge had apparently concluded that it is necessary for victims of sexual assault to report the assault or make a contemporaneous report. Yet it is now explicitly accepted that many victims will not do so, out of fear or embarrassment which are based on their cultural, social or religious background and the concomitant pressures, mores or beliefs.
  8. The judge then considered the second incident when the Appellant says sexual intercourse took place without her consent at paragraph 26 of his judgment. “The second occasion, occurring some two months later, began with the parties watching television whilst in bed. The father suggested the television should be turned off. As I understand it, it is common ground that it was, and then the father, again, requested sex of the mother. This time the mother’s case is that she refused, and when intercourse began it was not with her consent. She says that she was wearing pyjamas. The father took the pyjamas off and had intercourse with her, again from behind. This was at no point, the mother says, with her consent. The father maintains to the contrary — that intercourse was initiated by both of the parties and was entirely consensual throughout. Again, he recalls the occasion of which the mother speaks. Here, my difficulty with the mother’s account centres on the removal of her pyjama bottoms. I should emphasise that father’s account is that in fact she was wearing a nightie. I do not see why the mother could not, should not, have made life difficult for the father in the circumstances in which she found herself by preventing the removal of the pyjama bottoms. There is no evidence of any kind that a struggle pursued, nor again is a case advanced that the father was being physically coercive on this occasion. Insistent in his requests, yes, but physically coercive, no.”
  9. The Respondent was once again penetrated by the Respondent from behind. The Respondent said she consented. The Appellant said she did not at any point consent to sexual intercourse taking place. At paragraph 26 (quoted above) the judge said, “…my difficulty with the [Appellant’s] account centres on the removal of her pyjama bottoms…I do not see why the [Appellant] could not, should not, have made life difficult for the [Respondent] in the circumstances by preventing the removal of the pyjama bottoms.” Again the judge’s conclusion on whether sex was consensual or not is wrongly predicated on the presumption that to establish non-consensual penetration the complainant should have physically resisted. Similarly, the judge said “There is no evidence of any kind that a struggle pursued, nor again is a case advanced that the father was being physically coercive (my emphasis) on this occasion” as can be seen below physical coercion or violence or the threat of violence is not considered a necessary element when considering consent or the lack of consent, thus the judge was wrong in his approach.
  10. This time (as the judge noted in paragraph 27 of his judgment) the Appellant did report a serious sexual assault to the Police. Paragraph 27 reads “The [Appellant] “was to report these events to the police at the end of August. But there may be some significance in the circumstances in which she did so because one of her friends, [P], in her written statement, appears to imply that the purpose of the visit to the police station at the end of August was to report father’s threats made to her [P}, and that it was almost incidental that the question of the mother being forced to have sex (the expression used in [P’s] police statement) came to be revealed. Moreover, the terms of [P’s] statement, again, can hardly be said to be heavily supportive of mother’s case as to the terms in which the mother was reporting what happened to her. [P’s] account contains the following sentence: ‘I asked her what had then happened and she told me that she had let the father have sex with her as it was easier than to keep saying no.’ That can hardly be said to support a coherent account of rape.”
  11. Thus the circumstances in which the complaint was made was impliedly, and to some extent explicitly, criticised by the judge because the Appellant had originally accompanied a friend to the police station to complain about the Respondent’s aggressive behaviour to that friend, and it was the friend who had raised the incident of sexual assault on the Appellant with the Police. The friend told the Police, as the judge quoted in his judgment (above), ‘“I asked her what had happened and she said that she had let the [Respondent] have sex with her as it was easier than saying no.”‘ This, the judge found, could hardly be said to support a coherent account of rape. This conclusion is obtuse, any decision of consent must include a coherent account (to borrow the judge’s own phrase) and consideration of the extent to which the complainant or victim was free to choose and to consent, or to paraphrase the relevant criminal statute (s74 Sexual Offences Act (SOA) 2003), that person has had the freedom and capacity to make that choice. It is arguable, at the very least, that the evidence before the judge was that the Appellant’s freedom and capacity to choose had been extinguished or at least gravely compromised.
  12. At paragraph 28 of his judgment, which reads “My findings on this occasion, as to both these occasions, is that the sex between the parties carried the consent of both. This was not rape. It may have been that at a point during both occasions of intercourse the mother became both upset and averse to the idea of the intercourse continuing. But if she did so, I emphasise this was something which was usual for her, the product of events in her past and her psychological state in not being able to take physical pleasure from sex. It was not a consequence of any action on the part of the father. Moreover, at no point during these occasions do I find that the mother withdrew consent or conveyed to the father any discomfiture that she was feeling about the intercourse continuing. I cannot even, on this evidence, find that the father was somehow insensitive to the mother’s position. I can accept that he would have asked for sex perhaps on a number of occasions before sex commenced, but that is as far as it goes. Given the nature of these allegations I have felt it necessary to set out these detailed findings in respect of it.”
  13. Thus, the judge had accepted that “at a point during both occasions of intercourse the [Appellant] became both upset and averse to the idea of intercourse continuing. [My emphasis]” but he continued to reach the conclusion that had the Appellant done so it was not as a consequence of any action on the part of the Respondent because it was “something that was usual for her, the product of her past and her psychological state in not being able to take physical pleasure from sex.” The judge went to say that “at no point do I find that the [Appellant] withdrew consent or conveyed to the [Respondent] any discomfiture that she was felling about intercourse continuing.” The judge failed to explain the reasons for his findings; as to why, if it was evident to the judge that the Appellant had become averse to sexual intercourse continuing it was not evident to the Respondent; and, secondly, why it was acceptable for the Respondent to insist on sexual intercourse knowing that it was distressing and unwelcome to the Appellant. The evidence that the judge had rehearsed thus far did would not support such a finding nor did he give any or adequate reasons for preferring the evidence of the Respondent, other than the bald comment in paragraph 13 that he had found him to be “the more convincing witness, giving his evidence in a straight-forward, forthright manner…” The fact is that this judge had largely relied on his view that the Appellant had not vigorously physically fought off the Respondent.
  14. Moreover, the judge did not consider or explain in his judgment why, as it was an accepted fact that the Appellant was unable to take physical pleasure from sex, there was no onus on the Respondent to establish that the Appellant was able to and was freely exercising her right to choose whether or not to participate in sexual intercourse. The logical conclusion of this judge’s approach is that it is both lawful and acceptable for a man to have sex with his partner regardless of their enjoyment or willingness to participate.

 

 

The Appeal Judge went on to give guidance to the Family Courts in general

 

  1. While a trial in the Family Court cannot, and must not, set out to replicate a trial or to apply, or seek to apply, Criminal Law or statute it cannot be lawful or jurisprudentially apposite for the Family Court to apply wholly different concepts or to take an approach wholly at odds from that which applies in the criminal jurisdiction when it comes to deciding whether incidents involving sexual intercourse, whether vaginally penetrative or not, and other sexual acts including oral penetration, penetration by an object or in other form were non-consensual. Non-consensual sexual intercourse was considered lawful within a marriage until as late as 1992 (Cf. R [1992] 1 AC 599) it has not been lawful in any other sphere for generations. There is no principle that lack of consent must be demonstrated by physical resistance, this approach is wrong, family judges should not approach the issue of consent in respect of serious sexual assault in a manner so wholly at odds with that taken in the criminal jurisdiction (specifically the changes in place since SOA 2003 and subsequent amendments). Serious sexual assault, including penetrative assault, should be minimised as an example of coercive and controlling behaviour (itself a criminal offence) although such behaviour may form part of the subordination of a potential victim’s will (see the guidance set out at paragraphs 19 and 20 above).
  2. To consider the relevant approach to be taken reference should be made to the statutory provisions in respect of consent; s 74 of the Sexual Offences Act (SOA) 2003 provides that “‘Consent’ (for the purposes of this Part – my parenthesis) a person consents if he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.” There are circumstances in criminal law where there can be evidential or conclusive presumptions that the complainant did not consent set out in ss75 & 76 which, respectively, concern the use or threat of violence by the perpetrator and the use of deception; neither of which preclude reliance on s74 (Cf. Blackstone’s B3.46 2020 ed.)
  3. To quote from Blackstone’s Criminal Practice [2020 at B3.28] where the absence of consent is considered it is said “the definition in s74 with its emphasis on free agreement, is designed to focus upon the complainant’s autonomy. It highlights the fact that a complainant who simply freezes with no protest or resistance may nevertheless not be consenting. Violence or the threat of violence is not a necessary ingredient. To have the freedom to make a choice a person must be free from physical pressure, but it remains a matter of fact for a jury as to what degree of coercion has to be exercised upon a person’s mind before he or she is not agreeing by choice with the freedom to make that choice. Context is all-important.” There can be no reason why this approach should not be followed in the Family Court, whilst applying a different standard of proof. The deleterious and long-term effects on children of living within a home domestic abuse and violence, including serious sexual assault, has been accepted for some years, as is the effects on children’s welfare, and their ability to form safe and healthy relationships as adults, if their parents or carers are themselves subjected to assault and harm.
  4. In respect of consent in the criminal jurisdiction, which should inform the approach in the Family Court, the authors of Blackstone’s set out at B3.29 “Consent covers a range of behaviour from whole-hearted enthusiastic agreement to reluctant acquiescence. Context is critical. Where the prosecution allegation of absence of consent is based on lack of agreement without evidence of violence or threats of violence, there will be circumstances, particularly where there has been a consensual sexual relationship between the parties, where a jury will require assistance with distinguishing lack of consent from reluctant but free exercise of choice.” The Court of Appeal Criminal Division considered that a direction along the lines of the direction of Pill J approved in Zafar (Cf. the Crown Court Compendium (July 2019), chapter 20.4, para. 4) may well be appropriate. It should be advisable for Family Court judges to remind themselves of this approach and direct themselves appropriately based on the relevant approach contained in Chapter 20.
  5. With further reference to B3.29 (Ibid) and the approach to take in making the distinction lack of consent from reluctant but free exercise of choice; “submission to a demand that a complainant feels unable to resist may in certain circumstances be consistent with reluctant acquiescence” (Cf. Watson [2015] EWCA Crim 559); or where a complainant’s free choice was overborne so that they did not have a free choice; an example of which was when a complainant gave into a perpetrator’s demands because she was scared that if she did not he would have sex with her by force.
  6. As a further example of the approach to be taken in respect of consent in civil proceedings in Archbold Criminal Pleading and Evidence 2020, Chapter 20, Part II, at A [20-23] reference is made to the case of Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority [2011] EWHC 2849 as “relied on in R. (F.) v DPP [2013] EWHC 945 (Admin); [2013] 2 Cr App R 21, DC, for the proposition that ‘choice’ is crucial to the issue of ‘consent’; and the evidence relating to ‘choice’ and the ‘freedom’ to make any particular choice must be approached in a broad common sense way; where, therefore, a woman consents to penetration on the clear understanding that the man will not ejaculate within her vagina, if, before penetration begins, the man has made up his mind that he will ejaculate before withdrawal, or even, because ‘penetration is a continuing act from entry to withdrawal’ (s.79(2) (§ 20-42)), decides, after penetration has commenced, that he will not withdraw before ejaculation, just because he deems the woman subservient to his control, she will have been deprived of choice relating to the crucial feature on which her original consent was based, and her consent will accordingly be negated.”
  7. A further and instructive distinction between consent and submission and the approach to be followed was drawn in R v Kirk (Peter & Terence) [2008] EWCA Crim 434: [2008] 3 WLUK 36, by Pill J at [92] where the expression “willing submission” had been used in directing the jury, it was said that the use of the expression was “not an easy one in this context. Willingness is usually associated with consent. However, we are satisfied that the jury would not, in the context of this very full direction, have been misled by the use of the word “willing”. This was not a case where it was alleged that submission had been achieved by physical force. It was willing in the sense that there was no attempt at physical resistance by the complainant and the judge used it in that sense. That leaves open the possibility that the circumstances were such that the complainant submitted to sexual intercourse rather than consented to it. That was the overall effect of the direction. We are satisfied that, having regard to the full direction given, the jury would not have been misled or distracted, by the use of the expression “willing submission”, from the question they were told they had to answer. It is not, however, an expression we would commend for use on other occasions.”
  8. The judge in the instant case should have considered the likelihood that the Appellant had submitted to sexual intercourse; he singularly and comprehensively failed to do so instead employing obsolescent concepts concerning the issue of consent.

 

For the reasons set out above the judgment was so flawed as to require a retrial; his decision was unjust because of serious procedural irregularity and multiple errors of law. The case is to be remitted for retrial by a High Court Judge or Deputy High Court Judge at the Royal Courts of Justice.

 

Recommendation

  1. Judges in the family courts are regularly required to make decisions and find facts in cases where there is domestic abuse; this will include cases where serious sexual assault is alleged to have taken place. Currently there is comprehensive training on the procedural aspects of such trials and the implementation of PD12J in particular. Judges who sit in the family courts are not, however, required to undergo training on the appropriate approach to take when considering allegations of serious sexual assault where issues of consent are raised. Such training is provided to judges who are likely to try serious sexual allegations in the criminal courts. In principle the approach taken in family proceedings should be congruent with the principles applied in the criminal jurisdiction. I have discussed this with The President of the Family Division, and he is going to make a formal request to the Judicial College for those judges who may hear cases involving allegations of serious sexual assault in family proceedings to be given training based on that which is already provided to criminal judges. This is a welcome development, a cross-jurisdictional approach to training on this important topic will be of assistance, support and benefit to all judges and will foster a more coherent approach

 

If you can’t remember the principles of an ABE interview, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing them?

 

Yet another High Court case about a flawed  set of Achieving Best Evidence interviews. It is more than a little dispiriting that 30 years on from the principles of ABE having been carefully crafted to do exactly what it says on the tin, Achieve the Best Evidence, I can’t recall a reported case where the Judge praises the quality of the ABE interview, but dozens where they have been awful.

 

In this case

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2019/75.html

EF, GH, IJ (care proceedings) [2019] EWFC 75 (06 December 2019)     

 

Three boys had made allegations of sexual abuse and physical abuse against their father and their paternal grandparents. Some of those allegations involved the abuse happening within secret rooms at the grandparents home.

That’s not the trickiest thing in the world to investigate to see if it checks out. Is there or is there not a secret room at the grandparents home?  Rather than checking that out, the officer instead conducted 23 ABE interviews (six each with two of the boys, and eleven with the third)

In giving evidence, the officer told the Court that if she had not retired and handed the case over to another officer (whom the Court exonerated from any blame) she would have continued to interview the children if they still wanted to talk.

 

  1. Katrine Andrews retired as a police officer in September 2018 although her last working day was 14th July 2018. She was the officer in charge of this case from October 2017 to the date of her retirement. Accordingly, for ease of reference in this judgment I shall refer to her as DC Andrews.
  2. A recurring theme of her evidence was that:
  3. i) she had a very heavy caseload and usually carried 17 to 21 live investigations in addition to this case;

ii) all of the other officers in the protection unit were, at that time, similarly overburdened with heavy caseloads;

iii) she did not approach any of her senior officers to seek additional help and/or support; and

iv) she considered she had undertaken her investigation into this case to the best of her skill in light of the heavy burden of work she had had to manage.

  1. In her evidence DC Andrews could not recall the Achieving Best Evidence principles. She could not recall the 4 phases of planning and preparation for conducting an ABE interview with a child, namely rapport, free narrative account, open ended questions and closure.

  2. She thought the interview conducted by PC Morris with EF on 21st September 2017 had been video recorded, even though she must have known there was no such facilities at the police station where she was based.
  3. She confirmed she had asked all three of the boys to complete a timeline outside the confines of an ABE interview. She considered it would take too long to undertake this exercise during an ABE interview. She seemingly had given not a moment’s thought or consideration of the risk of the boys’ accounts being contaminated if they prepared a timeline outside of a formal ABE interview. She told me there were ‘no problems’ with asking a child to prepare a timeline (outside of the confines of an ABE interview) before interviewing the child because it gives an interview structure.
  4. She told me that EF, GH and IJ appeared to be happy to talk, so she just let them talk. She said she was victim-led and she would not stop a child talking if the child wanted to talk.
  5. She was asked whether she considered 6 ABE interviews with EF, 11 with GH and 6 with IJ were manifestly excessive? I would not stop interviewing them, she said, until the children wanted to stop talking. I then asked her if she had not retired in June 2018 whether would she have undertaken further ABE interviews with them and, in terms, she said yes. She did not accept that her approach risked encouraging the boys to make allegations but, in a very troubling rider, she added ‘They knew what I was looking for’.

  6. DC Andrews did not seek the advice nor the approval of her senior officers to undertake this number of interviews with these three boys. Further, I could not discern from the investigation log:
  7. i) any evidence that a more senior officer had held supervision sessions with DC Andrews; or

ii) any senior officer had undertaken any review of the conduct of and the progress of the investigation.

  1. She was pressed time and again for why she had not taken any substantive step to investigate the case other than by conducting interviews with the children (e.g. a visit/search of the paternal grandparents’ home to discover if there were ‘secret rooms’ in the property). Every time she responded that she had planned to do so only when she had finished interviewing the boys.
  2. There is no reference to planning or preparation by the officer in the investigation log. She boldly told me that she never wrote down her planning or preparation whether in the log or elsewhere. Save for asking the boys to each write a timeline and for booking the video suite for their ABE interviews, I could not discern that this officer undertook any planning or preparation. DC Andrews told me she had asked the boys, when writing their timeline to recall the first and last incidents of abuse and then they were to choose the ‘worst’ ones in between. There is no reference to this conversation in the investigation log which the officer claimed resulted from having a heavy workload.
  3. She did accept she should have told the boys about writing the timeline rather than to have delegated the task to the mother.
  4. One matter the officer did find time to record in the investigation log was her observation that the boys appeared to find the experience of multiple and extremely lengthy ABE interviews ‘cathartic’.
  5. The officer asserted that the mother had told her in November 2017 that the boys were making allegations of physical and sexual abuse. This is curious because the evidence of the mother and of EF is that the first of the boys to make an allegation of sexual abuse was EF to SC on 27th December 2017. The conversation is not recorded on the investigation log because of work overload.
  6. When it was put to her that her investigation had serially breached the ABE Guidance, she denied it. When it was put to her that she had undertaken an incompetent and negligent investigation, she denied it and added ‘I got a lot of information out of them’.
  7. At the conclusion of DC Andrews’ evidence, I gave her fair warning that I would likely to be highly critical of her conduct of this investigation. I told her that if she wished to instruct solicitors or counsel to make submissions as to whether:
  8. i) I should not be critical of her conduct; and/or

ii) I should not name her in the judgment,

I would be prepared to receive and take account of the same. She chose not to do so.

 

Having waived that right to instruct solicitors, some negative findings unsurprisingly came the way of DC Andrews

 

  1. The role played by DC Andrews in the lives of this family is hugely significant. It was plain from her oral evidence and police investigation log that she had given no consideration to the ABE Guidance at any time during her involvement with EF, GH and IJ. Rather, she breached most aspects of the Guidance and of accepted good practice when interviewing children and young people.
  2. I refer to the following principal breaches:
  3. i) DC Andrews undertook no planning or preparation prior to any interview with the boys;

ii) the ABE interviews were excessively lengthy and instructed;

iii) there was little or no use of open questions;

iv) the boys were asked via their mother, and not by DC Andrews herself, to compile a timeline. She told them to think of the earliest allegation and then of the last and then to choose the ‘worst’ ones in between;

v) she had decided not construct a timeline with each of the boys during an ABE interview because it would have been too time-consuming;

vi) because she was victim-led and had to believe the boys’ allegations, she saw nothing wrong or inappropriate in undertaking 6 interviews with EF, then aged 15, 11 with GH, then aged 12, and 6 with IJ, then aged 10;

vii) there is no evidence of her undertaking the interviews of the boys or of the father with an open mind;

viii) she inappropriately praised the children during the course of the interviews;

ix) the ABE interviews of the boys proceeded on the basis of going through the boys’ timelines – in effect a tick box exercise;

x) there was no consideration of the context in which these allegations came to be made nor for the escalation in the same both in the seriousness of the allegations and expansion in the number of people against whom allegations were made;

xi) save for the most rudimentary enquiries, no enquiries were made by DC Andrews to indicate or prove whether the boys’ allegations were true or false, in whole or in part;

xii) DC Andrews gave no consideration to the impact of the therapeutic counselling two of the boys were receiving; and

xiii) she failed to seek the advice of superior officers and/or their permission to undertake what I consider to be a manifestly excessive number of unjustifiably lengthy ABE interviews.

  1. An element of common sense and good practice was only brought to this case when DC Hopkins took over as the officer in charge of the case in July 2018. He put a stop to any further interviews with the boys. For this decision he came under wholly inappropriate pressure from the mother and UV to undertake further interviews with the boys. It is to his credit that he resisted.
  2. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of DC Andrews’ role and the most egregious aspect of her conduct of this investigation was her comment in her oral evidence that the boys ‘knew what I was looking for’.
  3. It was submitted on behalf of the father that the police investigation was conducted negligently. I do not agree. It was conducted in an utterly incompetent manner which I find was harmful to the three children. DC Andrews’ conduct of the ABE interviews played a very significant role in the boys’ allegations increasing in number and severity and to include other paternal family members. One of the reasons EF gave for making false allegations was the role played by DC Andrews.
  4. I was advised by the legal department of the West Midlands Police that in 2017 and now, it was not the policy of the force nor the training given to the officers that children must be believed when they make allegations: the advice is to keep an open mind.
  5. The West Midlands Police do not, however, escape criticism. There is no evidence of DC Andrews receiving any or any effective supervision during the 11 months in which she was the officer in charge of the case. How she was permitted to conduct this investigation in such an incompetent and harmful manner for such a protracted time is beyond me and, in my view, inexcusable.

 

I would not for a second suggest that conducting an ABE is an easy task. I certainly couldn’t do it. It requires a huge amount of skill and expertise and training. It requires both planning and the ability to think on one’s feet and adjust your strategy to what is emerging or not emerging. You need to be mindful that the circumstances in genuine child abuse can often make for bewildering and confused accounts AND that there are circumstances that lead to children giving untruthful accounts, and be able to keep both possibilities in mind.  It is hard.  But we can and must do better.  Children deserve better. Their parents deserve better. Too often we see the attitude that the ABE principles are more honoured in the breach than the observance, and too little understanding of the fundamental reasons why they arose at all.  If someone is setting down to interview a child to see whether they have been abused, the Achieving Best Evidence framework is there to protect the child and to give the best possible chance of what emerges from that interview being the truth, whichever way it points.  We discard those principles or play around the edges of them at our peril.

Re B-S for Secure Accommodation BIG BIG BIG


 

 

It could easily be said that a big over-arching Court of Appeal analysis of Secure Accommodation has been long overdue, but it is here now. And just like B-S did (or did, then didn’t, but did but didn’t, depending on which subsequent Govt press release/Court of Appeal authority you read and when), this changes everything.

I’m sorry, this is LONG. The new test on secure is in large font or  para 98 of the decision http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/2025.html

 

If you represent LA’s who apply for secure orders, or represent parents whose children may be placed in secure, or guardians / children who are the subjects of such applications you NEED to READ this. The landscape changes completely.  There are brand new areas of proper challenge to the making of such orders, and they will be much more wide-ranging hearings than previously.

It is long, but read it.

To recap a bit for those who aren’t as invested as I am in the intricacies of Secure Accommodation, we’ve had three problems in this field and the law on this field.

 

  1. Is the making of a Secure Accommodation Order mandatory if the section 25 test is made out? The statute says so, but there are two different branches of authorities, one saying yes and one saying the other philosophy of the Act that the order must be better for the child than making no order still applies.
  2. To what extent is proportionality and necessity an issue? (Again, two different branches of authorities)
  3. Due to a massive shortage of spaces and beds, what are the circumstances in which it is okay to use inherent jurisdiction (magical sparkle powers TM) to make a non-approved secure unit look after a child and use the same sorts of powers as s25 offers?

And we can add now a fourth problem/ question that we didn’t know we had

 

4. Is secure binary? (i.e if the Court makes a secure accommodation order under s25, is it then up to the Unit to decide how to manage the child, or does the Court have a role in deciding what particular restrictions of liberty are authorised and which are not?)

 

The legal test for making a secure accommodation order is this:-

 

(a)that—

(i)he has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and

 

(ii)if he absconds, he is likely to suffer significant harm; or

 

(b)that if he is kept in any other description of accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons.

 

And the statute goes on to say :-

 

(3)It shall be the duty of a court hearing an application under this section to determine whether any relevant criteria for keeping a child in secure accommodation are satisfied in his case.

(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.

 

So the Act says :- if the LA apply for a Secure Accommodation Order, the Courts job is to consider whether the factual basis for saying that the s25(1) criteria are made out and IF SO to MAKE the order (there isn’t a judicial discretion element there. That obviously troubles people post Human Rights Act, because welfare, proportionality and necessity have become the fundamental underpinning mechanisms of all Family Court decision-making since the HRA and the authorities that have arisen from it. Everyone thought in the late 90s that s25(4) was going to be declared incompatible with the HRA but it just didn’t happen. And instead we just saw some cases saying ‘it is manadatory if the s25(1) criteria is made out’ and some saying ‘I can take into account the child’s welfare and whether this is a proportionate way of managing the child’s welfare’

(An argument about proportionality is that the s25(1) criteria are in and of themselves a proportionality test – you can’t lock a child up unless that test (which gives the reasons why they would need to be locked up) is met. The counter argument to that is that whilst that means the Court have to lock up every young person who meets the test IF they are asked to make a s25 order, the LA have children who meet the test but they decide not to lock up and manage the risk in other ways – and why is that decision resting solely with a Local Authority and not with a Judge? Why can’t a Judge decide that Child A properly belongs in the group of children who are at serious risk but can be managed without locking them up?)

Given that the decision ultimately is whether a young person is going to live in a home with locked doors and controlled access to their movements, it is very important to know which route we are taking – the strict statute, or the HRA-informed proportionality.

 

I’ll come onto the facts of the case and the decision later (assuming I keep up my enthusiasm), but I’m going to deal with these four questions first.

B (Secure Accommodation Order), Re (Rev 1) [2019] EWCA Civ 2025 (21 November 2019)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/2025.html

 

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal frame four questions (wording them differently to my four)

2.The appeal raises four important and overlapping questions on the interpretation of s.25.

 

 

 

(1) What is the meaning of “secure accommodation” in s.25?

 

(2) What are the relevant criteria for making a secure accommodation order under s.25?

 

(3) What part does the evaluation of welfare play in the court’s decision?

 

(4) When considering an application for an order under s.25, is the court obliged, under Articles 5 and 8 of the ECHR, to carry out an evaluation of proportionality?

 

 

The Court of Appeal decisions follow:-

 

What is ‘secure accommodation’?

In my judgment, “secure accommodation” is accommodation designed for, or having as its primary purpose, the restriction of liberty. As Wall J acknowledged, however, premises which are not designed as secure accommodation may become secure accommodation because of the use to which they are put in the particular circumstances of the individual case.

 

 

60.Unlike Re D, the present appeal does require the court to interpret the section with reference to a “real factual situation”. As Lady Black recognised, however, training the spotlight on the accommodation does not provide a complete answer to the question. She acknowledged that, while some types of secure accommodation will be readily recognisable as such, others will not. In some cases, it will not be easy to say whether the accommodation is or is not “secure”.

 

(oh good)

 

Is the child’s welfare paramount? (short answer NO)

 

68.The decision in Re M clearly establishes that the paramountcy principle in s.1 of the Children Act does not apply to applications under s.25. It has been followed by all courts hearing applications under the section and is binding on this court. There is, however, less clarity as to the extent of the evaluation of welfare which the court is required to carry out. There is a small but perceptible difference between the view expressed by Butler Sloss LJ and that of Hoffmann LJ. Both agreed that the court must apply the same criteria as the local authority and that the relevant criteria include welfare. Butler-Sloss LJ considered that the distinction between a reviewing power and a general duty to consider welfare was “a matter of words” but that “the court has the specific duty to determine whether any relevant criteria are satisfied” and that, in performing that duty, welfare is “of great importance”. Hoffmann LJ, however, thought that function of the court under s 25 is “merely to control the exercise of power by the local authority rather than to exercise an independent jurisdiction in the best interests of the child”.

 

 

69.Some might consider this to be a distinction without a difference. It should be noted that the third judge in the constitution, Sir Tasker Watkins, agreed with both judgments. In my view, however, there is a difference of approach in the two judgments. It is therefore unsurprising that in subsequent cases, courts have sometimes struggled with the issue of how to deal with cases where they perceive that, whilst the conditions in s.25(1) are satisfied, the placement proposed by the local authority would be contrary to the child’s overall welfare.

 

[By the time you get to the bottom of this, you might well think that unless there’s a ‘protection of the public’ element to the case, the distinction between the child’s welfare ‘not being paramount’ and what is described below looking very much as though the child’s welfare is paramount is wafer-thin]

 

What role does welfare have in the decision?

72.In my judgment, the “displacement of the court’s welfare role” as required by the decision in Re M extends only to the displacement of the paramountcy principle. It does not require the court to abdicate responsibility for evaluating impact of the proposed placement on the child’s welfare. On the contrary, as Butler-Sloss LJ said, the child’s welfare is plainly of great importance in deciding whether or not an order should be made. The local authority and the court must each consider whether the proposed placement would safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. In some cases, the child’s welfare needs will be served by a period in secure accommodation, particularly if supported by a comprehensive therapeutic programme. In other cases, the child’s welfare will not be promoted by such a placement. However, just as s.22(6) allows the local authority to exercise its powers in a way that does not promote the child’s welfare if necessary to protect the public, there may be cases where the court concludes that the child’s welfare needs are outweighed by the need to protect the public from serious harm. Welfare is therefore not paramount but is plainly an important element in the court’s analysis. It is one of the relevant criteria.

 

 

73.This interpretation of s.25 is fortified by the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force five years after Re M was decided in 1995

 

Proportionality – is it relevant ? (short answer, yes, the Court need to conduct an exercise before deciding whether or not to make a secure accommodation order)

 

 

 

 

88.In my judgment, an evaluation of proportionality must be carried out by the local authority before applying for an order under s.25 and by the court before granting such an order. Proportionality is one of the “relevant criteria” which must be satisfied before an order is made.

 

 

89.The ECHR, in particular Article 8, is part of the bedrock of the Children Act. As Baroness Hale observed in Re B [2013] UKSC 33, at paragraph 194:

 

 

 

“The Act itself makes no mention of proportionality, but it was framed with the developing jurisprudence under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights very much in mind. Once the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, not only the local authority, but also the courts as public authorities, came under a duty to act compatibly with the Convention rights.”

 

In exercising their duties and powers under s.25, local authorities and courts must comply with the ECHR and, in particular, Articles 5 and 8. Since the principle of proportionality is integral to Convention rights, it is incumbent on local authorities and courts not to apply for, or grant, orders under s.25 where, to adopt the phrase used by Lord Reed in the Bank Mellat case, the impact of the rights infringement is disproportionate to the likely benefit.

 

The 2014 statutory guidance refutes the well-established principle that secure accommodation is a last resort

 

 

“40. Restricting liberty of a child is a serious step that can only be taken if it is the most appropriate way of meeting the child’s assessed needs. A decision to place a child in secure accommodation should never be made because no other placement is available, because of inadequacies of staffing in a child’s current placement, or because the child is simply being a nuisance. Secure accommodation should never be used as a form of punishment.

 

  1. This does not mean, though, that restriction of liberty should only be considered as a ‘last resort’. Restricting the liberty of a child could offer a positive option. A decision to apply for an order under s25 of the Act should be made on the basis that this represents the best option to meet the particular needs of the child. The placement of a child in a secure children’s home should, wherever practicable, arise as part of the local authority’s overall plan for the child’s welfare.

 

The Court of Appeal say that the statutory guidance is WRONG

 

91.In these circumstances, it seems to me that the passage in the latest edition Guidance (quoted at paragraph 23 above), which refutes the proposition that restriction of liberty should only be considered as a last resort, is inconsistent with principle. To deprive a child of liberty in circumstances which were not a last resort would surely be disproportionate.

 

We have for a long time (prior to the 2014 guidance) had a weird divergence where LA’s were told that they could not ASK for secure accommodation unless it was a last resort, but the Courts were told they had to make the order if the criteria were met and were not required to find that it was a last resort. The Courts now DO have to make such a finding (implicit in para 91 above that in finding that secure is a proportionate order to make, such decision would be flawed in circumstances where secure was not the last resort)

 

 

 

Evaluation of welfare – Court must carry out an evaluation of how secure meets the child’s welfare needs before making an order – the evaluation CAN include the need to protect the public

 

The assessment of proportionality which the court is obliged to carry out as a public authority will inevitably involve an evaluation of welfare. In my judgment, this analysis applies equally to applications under s.25. Accordingly, the interpretation of s.25 proposed by Hoffman LJ in Re M – that the function of the court is to control the exercise of power by the local authority rather than to exercise an independent jurisdiction in the best interests of the child – and the approach suggested by Charles J in S v Knowlsey – that the court should assess welfare issues under s.25 on the basis that the local authority is the decision maker – are, in my view, incompatible with the court’s duty under s.6 of the Human Rights Act. On an application under s.25, the court must carry out its own evaluation of whether the order would safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. The intensity of that evaluation will depend on the facts of each case. In most cases, it is unlikely to involve a wide-ranging inquiry. The question for the court is whether, in all the circumstances, including the need to protect the public, the proposed order would safeguard and promote the child’s welfare

 

 !!!!!!HERE COMES THE NEW S25 TEST !!!!!!

Relevant criteria revisited

98.Having analysed the roles played by welfare and proportionality in the decision-making process under s.25, I conclude that, in determining whether the “relevant criteria” under s.25(3) and (4) are satisfied, a court must ask the following questions.

 

 

 

(1) Is the child being “looked after” by a local authority, or, alternatively, does he or she fall within one of the other categories specified in regulation 7?

(2) Is the accommodation where the local authority proposes to place the child “secure accommodation”, i.e. is it designed for or have as its primary purpose the restriction of liberty?

 

(3) Is the court satisfied (a) that (i) the child has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation, and (ii) if he/she absconds, he/she is likely to suffer significant harm or (b) that if kept in any other description of accommodation, he/she is likely to injure himself or other persons?

(4) If the local authority is proposing to place the child in a secure children’s home in England, has the accommodation been approved by the Secretary of State for use as secure accommodation? If the local authority is proposing to place the child in a children’s home in Scotland, is the accommodation provided by a service which has been approved by the Scottish Ministers?

(5) Does the proposed order safeguard and promote the child’s welfare?

 

(6) Is the order proportionate, i.e. do the benefits of the proposed placement outweigh the infringement of rights?

!!!! TEST ENDS!!!!

(In the rare circumstances of the child being aged under 13, Regulation 4 of the 1991 Regulations require that the placement must also be approved by the Secretary of State.)

99.If the relevant criteria are satisfied, s.25(4) obliges the court to make an order under the section authorising the child to be kept in secure accommodation and specifying the maximum period for which he or she may be so kept. In its submissions to this court, the ALC was rightly anxious to preserve the use of what it called “imaginative arrangements” – the arrangements characterised by Hayden J in Re SS as “the creative alternative packages of support” – and was concerned they would be squeezed out by too wide a definition of “secure accommodation”. The recasting of the interpretation of the relevant criteria under s.25 suggested in this judgment preserves the flexible approach advocated by the ALC. If the court determining an application under s.25 is obliged to conduct an evaluation of welfare and an assessment of proportionality, and in doing so applies the principle that a secure accommodation order should always be a last resort, the court will be under an obligation to consider alternative arrangements

 

 

What is the Relevant Date?

This doesn’t come up very often (or didn’t). The Court of Appeal say  (para 100) that the relevant date for establishing whether the s25 criteria (bundling up now proportionality and welfare evaluation including alternative arrangements) is met is the date of the application.

That inevitably means that where the child is in Secure (and has been for a period of months rather than 72 hours) as a result of a previous order, the evaluation of whether the s25 criteria is met is on the date of the application – the history will come into play, but the current position is huge.

 

Inherent jurisdiction – yes, with a pretty huge but

 

101.S.25 does not cover all circumstances in which it may be necessary to deprive a child of their liberty. As Lady Black observed in Re D, at paragraph 100:

 

 

 

“The children who require help will present with all sorts of different problems, and there will be those whose care needs cannot be met unless their liberty is restricted in some way. But by no means all of these children will fall within the criteria set out in section 25(1)(a) and (b), which are the gateway to the authorisation of secure accommodation. It seems unlikely that the legislation was intended to operate in such a way as to prevent a local authority from providing such a child with the care that he or she needs, but an unduly wide interpretation of “secure accommodation” would potentially have this effect. It is possible to imagine a child who has no history, so far, of absconding, and who is not likely actually to injure himself or anyone else, so does not satisfy section 25(1)(a) or (b), but who, for other good reasons to do with his own welfare, needs to be kept in confined circumstances.”

 

It is well established that a judge exercising the inherent jurisdiction of the court with respect to children has power to direct that the child be detained in circumstances that amounts to a deprivation of liberty. Where the local authority cannot apply under s.25 because one or more of the relevant criteria are not satisfied, it may be able to apply for leave to apply for an order depriving the child of liberty under the inherent jurisdiction if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if the order is not granted: s.100(4) Children Act. As I have already noted, the use of the inherent jurisdiction for such a purpose has recently been approved by this court in Re T (A Child) (ALC Intervening) [2018] EWCA Civ 2136. In Re A-F (Children) (Restrictions on Liberty) [2018] EWHC 138 (Fam), Sir James Munby P, in a series of test cases, set out the principles to be applied. It is unnecessary for the purposes of this appeal to revisit those principles in this judgment. Last week, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, published guidance, focusing in particular on the placement under the inherent jurisdiction of children in unregistered children’s homes in England and unregistered care home services in Wales.

102.Where, however, the local authority applies under s.25 and all the relevant criteria for keeping a child in “secure accommodation” under the section are satisfied, the court is required, by s.25(4), to make an order under that section authorising the child to be kept in such accommodation. To exercise the inherent jurisdiction in such circumstances would cut across the statutory scheme

 

(To make this clear – a Court cannot on an application under s25 where there is no bed, use inherent jurisdiction to place the child in a unit which is not approved as a Secure Unit and authorise restriction of liberty. They can do this if there isn’t a s25 application OR if they find the s25 criteria are not met but somehow it is still proportionate to restrict the child’s liberty – I can’t at the moment conceive of such a scenario but it is out there as a possibility)

 

 

Is secure binary? I don’t know, but… maybe not?

 

It is really a question of whether the proportionality and welfare evaluation is limited to ‘there being restrictions’ or looking at the individual restrictions. I honestly don’t know. This is the paragraph that comes closest to it

 

120….when a local authority takes a decision about a child under section 25 there must be some proper measure of proportionality as between the purpose or objective behind the proposed deprivation and both (a) the very fact of deprivation (ie the decision to place the child in secure conditions in the first place) and (b) if such a decision is properly taken (ie is proportionate) the nature and degree/extent of the deprivation (ie the extent of the actual restrictions imposed upon the child in secure conditions).

 

The Court of Appeal also remind us that article 8 of the HRA applies to making a Secure Accommodation Order

117…both Articles 5 and 8 are capable of applying to the deprivation of liberty of a person, including of course a child. Indeed, whenever a person is deprived of liberty (thereby engaging Article 5) that executive act will almost inevitably engage that person’s private life rights under Article 8. When an authority deprives someone of their liberty private life is by its nature curtailed. Lady Hale in Re D (A Child) [2019] UKSC 42 (Re D) at paragraph [3] made a similar point about the combined effect of Articles 5 and 8 as they applied to the rights of a child and those of parents.

 

 

I said that I’d quickly run through the facts of the appeal – basically a LA made a s25 application, there was no bed so the child was placed at a non-Secure unit (named “N”) and restrictions to the child’s liberty were authorised under inherent jurisdiction. The LA when a secure unit was found, applied for a s25 order to move the child from “N” to that unit. The Judge found that the test wasn’t met, because it was limb s25(1) (b) that if he is kept in any other description of accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons.    And the Judge considered that the child could be kept in N, which wasn’t secure accommodation, and so didn’t meet the test. And then went on to decide that it wasn’t in the child’s interests to be moved.

 

The Court of Appeal say that the Judge was wrong in deciding that N wasn’t secure accommodation (for reasons explained many pages ago) and that thus the criteria were made out. The Judge would have been entitled to decide that moving the child from N to another unit was not in the child’s interests but the Judge had not carried out the proportionality and welfare evaluation (that the Court of Appeal only just decided was necessary, so that’s harsh) to make that decision.

“And all the pieces matter…”

 

 

 

This is a Court of Appeal case where a Judge having heard a 3 day hearing about an alleged fracture to a 3 year old’s arm ended up giving an oral judgment at 4.30 pm on the third day, that lasted until 6.45pm.

S (A Child: Adequacy of Reasoning), Re [2019] EWCA Civ 1845 (31 October 2019)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/1845.html

 

(By the way, the Court of Appeal don’t title a case “Adequacy of Reasoning” and then conclude ‘yes, it was perfectly adequate’…)

 

The judgment did not explain the reasoning for the judicial findings and was sent back for re-hearing.

 

As the Court of Appeal say in the judgment

 

34.I would accept the submission that the judgment contains within it evidence that could have been gathered up and assembled to justify the findings contained in the judge’s clarification at [89]. I would also accept that a judgment must be read as a whole and a judge’s explicit reasoning can be fortified by material to be found elsewhere in a judgment. It is permissible to fill in pieces of the jigsaw when it is clear what they are and where the judge would have put them. It is another thing for this court to have to do the entire puzzle itself. In my view, there is so little reasoning underpinning the judge’s conclusions that we would have to do this in order to uphold her decision, and if we were to attempt it there is no knowing whether we would arrive at the same conclusion.

 

Thus giving me the opportunity to make a Lester Freamon Wire reference in the title, yay.

 

The Court were sympathetic to the pressures on the Judge

 

 

 

 

2.As we told the parties at the end of the hearing, this appeal must be allowed. In reaching that decision, we do not overlook the reality. Judges are encouraged to give extempore judgments where possible and appeals will not succeed simply because matters might be better expressed with the luxury of extra hours of preparation or because judgments may contain imperfections. What matters is that the parties know the outcome and the reasons for it. Where the essential evidence has been considered and the decision has been adequately justified, that will do. In this case however, it did not happen. Despite the judge’s efforts, the parties were at the end of the judgment unsure what she had decided about the two main issues in the case. Clarification was sought. It to some extent makes the judge’s intentions clearer but too many actual or arguable inconsistencies remain and important conclusions are inadequately explained. There will regrettably have to be a rehearing.

 

The Court of Appeal give Judges in a similar position an out

 

The questions that the judge therefore had to ask were these[1]:

 

 

 

 

(1) Had the local authority proved that the injuries were inflicted as opposed to being accidental?

 

(2) If the injuries were inflicted, who had the opportunity to cause them?

 

(3) Of those people, could one person be identified on the balance of probabilities as having inflicted the injuries (a conventional ‘known perpetrator’ finding)?

 

(4) If only two people (the mother and Mr C) could have caused the injuries, but the one responsible could not be identified it necessarily followed that there was a real possibility that each of them may have caused the injuries (an ‘uncertain perpetrator’ finding).

 

(5) Once these questions had been answered, had it been proved that the mother had failed to protect S from being injured or covered up what she knew about how he was injured?

4.Unfortunately the judge did not approach matters in this way.[2] Once she had decided to give the parties her decision that day, it would have been better if, rather than delivering a 30 page judgment under time pressure, she had simply set out and answered the necessary questions and given her essential reasons in a few additional lines. This is in any event a useful discipline, particularly where a party is unrepresented. Everyone knows exactly what has been decided and why. The full decision could follow, either then or at a later date.

 

It seems from my reading that it was fairly clear to see that the Judge thought the fracture was deliberately caused, and that the mother’s partner had been less than frank in his evidence and account, but having said that the Judge thought it was likely that the child was injured in the care of mother’s partner, Mr C, the Judge doesn’t really explain how she went on to find that she could not identify a perpetrator and found that it was either mum or Mr C.  Which explains why the mother appealed.

 

32.In Re N-S (Children) [2017] EWCA Civ 1121, McFarlane LJ said this:

 

 

 

“30. The need for a judge to provide an adequate explanation of his or her analysis and the reasoning that supports the order that is to be made at the conclusion of a case relating to children is well established. Not only is the presentation of adequate reasoning of immediate importance to the adult parties in the proceedings (in particular the party who has failed to persuade the judge to follow an alternative course), it is also likely to be important for those professionals and others judges who may have to rely upon and implement the decision in due course and it may be a source of valuable information and insight for the child and his or her carers in the years ahead. In addition, of course, inadequate reasoning is a serious impediment to any consideration of the merits of the judge’s decision within the appellate process.”

 

An important point arises that the Court of Appeal asked for a transcript of the hearing but that

the court tape was such poor quality that none of the evidence or judgment (except the evidence of Dr Watt, given by video link) could be transcribed.[3] The advocates agreed a note of judgment which was amended by the judge and handed down electronically on 12 June 2019.

No case to answer in care proceedings

 

This is a post-script to a judgment involving 25 children, in I think 15 linked care proceedings which had 49 parties, 4 Local Authorities and 21 silks. For most of the finding of fact hearing there were 100 people present in Court.

I’ll be writing about the full case later in the week, but Hedley J at the conclusion of the Local Authority case after a month of evidence, was invited by 19 of the 21 respondents to dismiss the allegations against them. Effectively an application of ‘no case to answer’ in care proceedings.

 

The allegations in the case all arose from the allegations of 3 children, two of whom gave evidence, and one who did not.

 

Re AA and 25 others 2019

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2019/64.html

 

  1. The essence of the applications depends on certain assertions of fact. There is no doubt that all the allegations in this case are based on the evidence given by those three girls. Two of them gave oral evidence and one did not. There is no external corroboration of their evidence and their evidence involves multiple allegations of perverted sexual abuse over many years, often conducted in group activity. There is no doubt that each of these three girls suffered an abusive background in their parental home, have been victims of emotional damage and suffer from educational deficits.
  2. There has been a prolonged police inquiry over very many months, which has resulted in a decision to take no further action, the Crown Prosecution Service having agreed with the police that the evidence available did not meet the evidential threshold for a criminal prosecution.
  3. The manner in which the allegations emerged has been the focus of much of the evidence, coming as it did from diaries which all three girls were encouraged to keep, followed up by long conversations with their foster carers and protracted and repeated ABE interviews, which were by far the longest that I have ever encountered in my experience, and one has to recognise that there are substantial arguments upon which a challenge to the reliability of the evidence can be advanced.
  4. It was against the whole of this background that I thought it right to entertain and consider these applications and submissions. They were spread over three days, including inevitably some preparation and reading time.

 

The Judge derived three questions to be answered

 

First, has the court the power at this stage to hear and determine an application to dismiss proceedings of its own motion under case management powers and/or in response to an application by a respondent that there is no case to answer or in some other respect?

Secondly, if the court has such a power, on what principles or basis should it be exercised? It is right to say that this particular question has never been considered because previous decisions made in the context of their own facts have never really fully determined the answer to question one, as the cases have been determined within that context of their own facts.

  1. The third question is: if the principles are wide enough to cover the circumstances of this case, should the court intervene in some or all of the 15 care cases that are being heard together here?

 

In effect

 

  1. Can I?
  2. If I can, how should I decide whether to?
  3. In this case, should I?

It is a beautiful judgment, right at the end of a very long judgment about findings of fact.

 

Can I?

 

  1. I have come to the conclusion that the correct modern approach to this is to be found in the case of Re T G (Care Proceedings: Case Management Expert Evidence) [2013] 1 FLR 1250.
  2. Paragraphs 24 to 28 are expressed in the typically trenchant language employed by the then President, Sir James Munby, and I have in particular in mind paragraph 27 where he says this:
    1. “In this connection, that is to say dealing with evidence, I venture to repeat what I recently said in Re C (Children Residence Order. Application Being Dismissed at Fact-Finding Stage) [2002] EWCA Civ 1489. These are not ordinary civil proceedings, they are family proceedings where it is fundamental that the judge has an essentially inquisitorial role, his duty being to further the welfare of the children, which is by statute his paramount consideration. It has long been recognised, and authority need not be quoted for this proposition, that for this reason a judge exercising the family jurisdiction has a much broader discretion than he would in the civil jurisdiction to determine the way in which an application should be pursued. In an appropriate case he can summarily dismiss the application as being, if not groundless, lacking enough merit to justify pursuing the matter. He may determine that the matter is one to be dealt with on the basis of written evidence and oral submissions without any need for oral evidence. He may decide to hear the evidence of the applicant and then take stock of where the matter stands at the end of that evidence.”
  3. “The judge in such a situation will always be concerned to ask himself: Is there some solid reason in the interests of the children why I should embark upon, or having embarked upon, why I should continue exploring the matters which one or other of the parents seeks to raise? If there is or may be a solid advantage for the children in doing so, then the enquiry will proceed, albeit it may be on the basis of submissions rather than oral evidence, but if the judge is satisfied that no advantage to the children is going to be obtained by continuing the investigation further, then it is perfectly within his case management powers and the proper exercise of his discretion so to decide and to determine that the proceedings should go no further.”
  4. I venture with becoming diffidence to add one further paragraph from that judgment, I having been a member of the constitution, and just refer to some words that appear at paragraph 82:
    1. “In a highly conflicted case where permanent removal and placement are serious possibilities, and that is increasingly the case with young children, it is only the judge upon whom the responsibility for case management should fairly rest. To leave it to the parties is to impose on them a burden potentially so onerous as to be unfair for especially on behalf of parents, no stone should be left unturned, however small it may seem. Of course, if that responsibility is to be discharged, it is essential both that the judge has had sufficient opportunity to master the case and also that judicial continuity is provided.”
  5. I cite that paragraph for two reasons. One, because it indicates that judicial case management is an art form rather than an application of scientific principles, and also because it seems to me that the court intended all its observations to apply right across family proceedings, even if the illustration in the language used by the President was actually taken from a private law case.
  6. As I say, I have concluded that that properly represents the modern approach to case management and, accordingly, I am satisfied that the court does have jurisdiction to bring proceedings to an end at any time before the conclusion of the final hearing. I am satisfied that the combination of statute and rules give the widest powers of control of case and trial management to the individual judge.

 

So yes, the Court CAN

 

(Honourable mention to the case of Re R 2009 ‘So long as the applicant sails on into the gunfire, I think the judge has the obligation to hear the case out. ‘  just for being a lovely metaphor)

 

Now we know the Court can, what are the general principles of whether they SHOULD?

 

What the thrust of this part relates to is that generally if the LA case has collapsed under them they will normally clock that and seek to withdraw or change tack OR the Judge will make eyebrows at them and suggest a short break to consider whether ‘any application might be made’, but the position up until now has been that if they ‘sail on into the gunfire’ the case continues.

The problem has always been that (a) parents are compellable witnesses and can’t simply refuse to give evidence as they would in crime  and (b) the burden of proof is on the LA to prove threshold is crossed. If they haven’t done that by the end of their case, are they allowed to simply proceed and hope that poor evidence from the parents does the job for them?

  1. if the court has a power, on what principles or basis should it be exercised?
  2. Mr Richard Pratt QC in his submissions suggested that its application would be exceptional and sparing, and given that such application has never succeeded, he is likely to be right on that, but the question is whether the court can be more specific in identifying the principles upon which any such power would be exercised. In order to do that, the court, in my judgment, needs to take a substantial step back from the current application and look at the very much wider canvas of judicial enquiry in proceedings under Part IV of the Children Act 1989.
  3. The authorities use a variety of language to describe that process. Some say it is sui generis in civil proceedings, some say it is quasi inquisitorial, and no doubt there are other expressions that can be garnered from the authorities.
  4. In order, I think, properly to understand what lies behind all this, and perilous though the expression so often has proved to be, it seems to me necessary to go back to basics and to ask: what is the purpose of proceedings under Part IV of the Act? It is, is it not, to determine whether any child or children are suffering or are likely to suffer significant harm, and, to paraphrase, that that harm accrues from a deficit in parenting, and, if so, then to protect and promote the welfare of those children using the principles set out in section 1 of the Act.
  5. It is extremely important to underline that in family proceedings the cost of a mistake either way is equally serious. If I make a finding in this case against a parent when I should not have made a finding, not only would that be a gross injustice to the parent, but it would disturb, upset and possibly frustrate the lives of children throughout the whole of their childhood, if not beyond. If, on the other hand, I were to fail to make a finding when I should have made a finding, it would be to expose children immediately returned to that person’s care to wholly unacceptable risk of abuse in the future. The cost either way is equally grave and that is an important factor to bear in mind when one is examining what the purposes of hearings under Part IV actually are.
  6. Moreover, although a determination under section 31(2) to consider whether the threshold criteria are satisfied does not have at its heart the paramountcy of the welfare of a child, these proceedings, like any other proceedings regarding children, always have the welfare of the child as a relevant consideration, and that, of course, must involve the welfare of every child who is subject to these proceedings, all 21 of them. I must consider and reflect on the promotion of that welfare even where the needs of the children are not only radically different the one from the other, but may actually conflict with one another, and that calls for very careful balances, of which this case may well provide a fairly vivid illustration.

 

 

 

  1. I return to the authorities and in particular to the case of Re S- A-K (children) [2011] EWCA Civ 1834, and, again, to some words of Lord Justice Thorpe, which are to be found in paragraph 7 of that judgment, and he says this:
    1. The protection of children in public law proceedings is primarily in the hands of other agencies, but when the case is brought into the judicial arena, the judge is an important partner in the process of child protection. Accordingly it is incumbent on any judge to dig deep, as deep as is reasonably practicable, before arriving at the conclusion that there is no danger to the child and that the child’s account of abusive experience is incredible, not to be believed. It is not a case in which the judge can say that the child is mistaken. A rejection of the local authority’s case inevitably carries the conclusion that the child had made a false allegation against her stepfather. That outcome should not be reached without the judge having the best available evidence.”
  2. Now, what does that mean in working practice in a trial under Part IV of the Children Act? In my judgment, it means that ordinarily any judge should hear all the available evidence, and that should include the evidence of all those with care of the children who are subject to the application.
  3. There is a very good reason for that, as is readily apparent from guardians’ reports in this case; they are the people who know the children best, they are the people who have the first responsibility for protecting the welfare of those children, and again, venturing my own experience in these matters, I have often found the evidence-in-chief of parents to be the most illuminating evidence in many a trial for good or ill, it has to be said.
  4. If this is so, that is to say that the judge should hear all the available evidence including that which I have described, it will be wholly unsurprising that applications of the sort made here are not usually made and do not succeed, and why it is said that they have no part in Part IV proceedings. But whilst that may be the case, it begs two questions, which it seems to me the court in good conscience should confront.
  5. First: are there any circumstances in practice then where the court will intervene or is this simply a power which is devoid of practical expression? Secondly: how does all that fit with the concept of the local authority having the burden of proof in relation to the establishment of the threshold established under section 31(2) of the Act?

 

Looking at this further

 

  1. …human rights and common justice require that the court should have this power for use as and when it may be necessary. Speculation about when and how it might actually be used is probably as unwise as it is potentially fascinating, and so one confronts the question about what are the implications of all this upon the obligation of the local authority to prove its case.
  2. The position in the criminal law is fairly straightforward. That is to say, except in those rare cases where the burden of proof is reversed, as occasionally it is, there has to be a sufficient case based entirely on the evidence adduced by the Crown. In civil proceedings, the problem does not arise in practice because any person seeking in civil proceedings to make a submission of no case to answer will normally be put to their election to call no evidence and, accordingly, the problems that were raised by Alexander v Rayson do not arise in practice.
  3. In family proceedings, that simply cannot be done. No person can be put to their election because they remain a compellable witness and one with an obligation to go into the witness box. Accordingly, since that cannot be done in family proceedings, in my judgment the proper time for the court to apply the burden and standard of proof is not at the conclusion of the local authority case but at the conclusion of all the evidence which the parties want to give and the court considers that it should hear, and therefore that time in this case has not yet arrived. That approach is wholly coherent with the essential and unique nature of family proceedings, whether described as sui generis, quasi-inquisitorial or whatever.
  4. Now, I should stress that none of this must be read as inhibiting in any way the duty of a judge to control proceedings and to give such indications as he or she might think right as to how a trial should develop. I am considering the specific circumstances of where there is a formal application formally resisted by other parties to the proceedings.
  5. If it be right then that the broad approach is that these powers will only be used where there is something that impinges on the integrity of the trial process or otherwise is seen as to amount to an abuse of the process of the court, the necessary scope in relation to the third question will be very limited.

 

 

So the Court can decide that there is no case to answer and can hear such an application but it is an application that is highly unusual, and the circumstances in which it would succeed would be narrow. The Judge also felt that it should be considered at the conclusion of the evidence (or at least the conclusion of the evidence that the parties want to give and that the Court considers that it should hear)

I think what might come about are applications that the LA haven’t established that threshold is crossed, my client would prefer not to give evidence unless the Court considers that it SHOULD hear from the parent, and if not, then we would move onto submissions.  The question of whether a Local Authority who are not over threshold, but not necessarily a mile away from it can get there with the parents evidence as the parents are compellable witnesses and adverse inferences may be drawn if they refuse to be compelled is a question for later litigation. At the moment, we don’t know (but it is PROBABLY yes unless or until the Court of Appeal say not)

It is not a surprise that the answer to the third question – should I do that in this case, was no.

 

Don’t turn around

 

I’m going to write about the appeal reported on Friday which revolved around judicial misconduct.  I’ve been beaten to it by both Pink Tape and Civil Litigation blog here http://www.pinktape.co.uk/rants/judicial-conduct-what-about-the-context/    and here  https://www.civillitigationbrief.com/2019/10/25/appeal-allowed-when-the-trial-judge-overstepped-the-line/  respectively.

 

So I’m not going to go into as much detail on the background as they do.  Their pieces are both very good, so read those when you’re done.

C (A Child) (Judicial Conduct) [2019] EWFC B53 (16 October 2019)    

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2019/B53.html

 

 

A District Judge (DJ Mian) in Birmingham decided a care case after a 5 day final hearing. The Judge granted an placement order for the child, M, who was 1.   M had an older sibling, N, who was already the subject of a Care Order (to a different Local Authority) and was in residential care though possibly moving to a grandmother in due course.

At the hearing, the parents accepted that they could not care for M.  The only options were adoption or placement with the grandmother.  The placement with the grandmother was complicated, because it depended in part as to whether N was going to go to live with her.

The judgment was 38 pages and very detailed. The Judge hearing the appeal, HHJ Rogers   (one of the most courteous barristers I’ve ever met, a really lovely man)  noted that the judgment was thoughtful and careful and

The legal exposition, read in isolation, could not possibly support an arguable case that there was a misdirection.

 

The appeal, however, was largely based on judicial misdirection that the Judge had really been deciding about the plan for M whilst thinking too much about the plan for N (a child with whom she was not charged with considering) and judicial misconduct.

In essence, the Guardian had been saying at final hearing, you shouldn’t rule out placing M with the grandparents just because N is going there, because N  has problems that might mean the plan to put him with grandparents never happens.

  1. In the course of the Guardian’s examination in chief the Judge intervenes (E222):
  2. “No, there are two things going on here and this is what has, forgive me, with the greatest respect, seems to have, confused the front bench completely. There are two things going on here. One is the actual plan for N and that is to return home. And there were several attempts to go behind that plan which I have fairly robustly drawn an end to on the basis that you cannot go behind that plan. There are three ways of looking at it. The second is the reality and, as I said to everybody, in particular the grandparents, they may be absolutely right that N never comes home. But because we have the plan for him nobody can say that with any certainty.”
  3. Mr Bainham submits, in my judgment, with great force that if the Judge herself acknowledged the uncertainty of the situation, it was wrong of her to assume the absolute position of the care plan without exploring the contrary and worse it was wrong of her to shut down and ultimately extinguish argument on the point. The explanation, he submits, is that the Judge became distracted by N’s position to the point where she felt it her responsibility to promote it over M’s. In my judgment, there are many examples in the evidence of the Judge’s approach becoming less focussed on M’s welfare than it should. At E230, the Judge intervenes in the questioning of the Guardian again and in a lengthy passage she speaks of “competing plans” and sets out forcefully the implications for N if his plan is overridden. Later at E242, still ostensibly in the course of the Guardian’s examination in chief and clearly exasperated the Judge says:
  4. “No. No. No. Oh my God, I am sorry. I am sorry. I am really sorry. I am going to try one more time and then we are just going to carry on with the hearing. I do not know how many ways in which to say this. I cannot interfere with N’s plan.”
  5. The difficulty with that interjection, as Mr Bainham submits, is that no party was suggesting the Judge could or should interfere with the plan. Simply she was being asked to bear in mind the reality that there was credible evidence (counsel refers to it in his Skeleton Argument in detail) that the likelihood was that the plan would never be implemented.

 

[By the time the appeal came about, the LA responsible for N had changed their plan from placement with grandparents to accepting that his needs were such he needed to stay in residential care – the outcome posited by the Guardian and rejected by the Judge had come to pass]

However, more than this, it appears that the Judge just became increasingly exasperated by the position of the Guardian and was unafraid of showing it.

 

  1. It is axiomatic that a trial should be fair. That is at the heart of our system, is common sense and is enshrined, in any event, in Article 6. Fairness does not mean that a Judge should indulge every point and should never intervene to clarify or curtail as appropriate. Care proceedings can quickly become unwieldy with large amounts of unnecessary or marginal material in documentary form. Issues are often imprecisely defined so that analysis becomes vague, repetitive or incoherent. It is the Court’s duty to identify the key issues and to focus attention on them. Oral testimony can easily become unfocussed with a mixture of fact, assertion and opinion. Time estimates can become quickly untenable if a firm hold is not maintained. In short, the need for firm case and trial management is not only desirable but essential.
  2. In every case there is a line which should not be crossed. It is difficult, in advance, to identify the precise position of that line but it may be easy to see when it has been crossed.
  3. The criticism of the Judge is really two-fold. Not only, it is said, she shut down consideration of a central issue rendering it impossible to have a fair hearing but, further, that her conduct of the hearing and her own demeanour in Court made the atmosphere so difficult that all of those involved in the process were prejudiced.
  4. I have already dealt extensively with the Judge’s erroneous approach, as I have found it, to the central issue. She effectively prevented a proper debate. By intervening as she did, she distracted everyone from the proper focus. Even if she had her misgiving about the relevance or practicality of the discussions, she should, in my judgment, either have held back expressing a concluded view until her judgment or resolved the matter, subject to appeal rights, at an interlocutory stage. What actually happened was the worst of all possible worlds as the point was debated over and over, mainly by the Judge and Ms Hobbs, with no satisfactory resolution.
  5. Of much more worrying effect are the criticisms of the Judge’s demeanour. I do not regard it as necessary or fruitful to read significant amounts of the transcript into this judgment. In her Grounds of Appeal Ms Hobbs refers expressly to the Judge’s improper conduct as being exemplified by “blasphemous words, shouting, storming out of Court and general intemperate behaviour”. In the course of her submissions and with reference to the transcript, she also referred to sarcasm, the Judge shaking with rage, the Judge turning her chair away from the Court and sitting with her back to everyone for several seconds, mimicking the advocate’s words and to intimidating the Guardian.
  6. I could analyse each of the matters referred to but need not as, sadly, I am satisfied they are all well-founded. I myself listened to the recording and heard, with dismay, the anger and tension in the Judge’s voice. I also heard her banging her desk. Her exchanges with Ms Hobbs were sharp and substantially inhibited counsel from doing her job.
  7. The Judge’s frustration, to use a mild word of description, seems to have stemmed from her view that the Guardian’s analysis was non-existent or deficient. The Judge felt that the Guardian had not grappled with the central issue of the case, namely the interplay of care plans. Whether this is right or wrong, Ms Hobbs submits that her treatment of the Guardian was unacceptable. The matter came to a head when the Guardian gave her evidence. The Judge permitted examination in chief but then effectively prevented counsel from conducting it. It was, in my judgment, wholly unsatisfactory and degenerated into a critique of the Guardian’s perceived failure of approach. Perhaps a good example of what went wrong is to be found at E245-247. Over the course of those 3 pages the Judge effectively cross-examined the Guardian as if she were representing another hostile party. In my judgment, there and in many places elsewhere the Judge went far beyond clarification or amplification and descended into the heart of the arena.
  8. In her judgment (A33, para 135), the Judge records the Guardian’s recommendation as a final care order and placement order. That is in contrast to paragraph 134 where she said she stood by her recommendations. In my judgment, it is clear that the Guardian was inhibited from explaining her position fully because of the Judge’s apparent hostility. In the end the Judge stated (A41, para174) that “I do not take into account the evidence of the Guardian”. Read literally that is a clear error. Even if she does not precisely mean what she appears to say, she plainly discounted the view of the Guardian. I am driven to the clear conclusion that, ironically, the quality of the Guardian’s evidence was severely diminished by the Judge’s own interventions.
  9. Family proceedings should not be unnecessarily adversarial. One important function of a Judge, in a quasi-inquisitorial jurisdiction, is to help the witnesses give their evidence in a clear and unflustered fashion. Of course, points can be questioned and tested but not, in my judgment, to an extent that a witness is unable properly to fulfil his or her role. This, it seems to me, is all the more so in care proceedings when a Guardian is trying to explain her professional view to the Court. Here, Ms Hobbs reported that the Guardian felt considerably stressed and upset to the extent that her answers towards the end of her evidence became flat and virtually mono syllabic. It seems to me that the transcript broadly bears that out.

 

Just to repeat the key passage here

 

“blasphemous words, shouting, storming out of Court and general intemperate behaviour”. In the course of her submissions and with reference to the transcript, she also referred to sarcasm, the Judge shaking with rage, the Judge turning her chair away from the Court and sitting with her back to everyone for several seconds, mimicking the advocate’s words and to intimidating the Guardian.

 

I think over the course of a long career in Court, everyone has the experience of inadvertently exasperating or irritating a Judge and it always makes you feel dreadful.  I had a time practising in the West Midlands, and there were certainly Courts in Birmingham where I would feel apprehensive, nervous and sometimes physically unwell before going in, knowing that the judicial style amongst certain Judges was overly robust  (for those who know, the words “Humpty Dumpty” will ring vividly in the memory) so advocates in Birmingham don’t tend to be thin skinned, but this is unspeakable and unacceptable.

 

[In another part of the country and a very long time ago, I’ve had a Judge throw volume 2 of Hershman’s at me during a hearing. It is quite a thick volume, in a hard cover.  Thankfully he missed and it hit my completely innocent opponent]

The grandparents, who were in person during the hearing, were rightly appalled by what was happening.

  1. Equally worrying is the letter that the grandparents sent to the Guardian before judgment was delivered which is reproduced at A53. I suspect the grandparents anticipated the probable outcome of the case, but I get no sense that the letter was written with any ulterior motive or to gain strategic advantage. The material passages read:
  2. “1. I would like to recognise and give thanks for the care and consideration we received from Judge Mian whilst dealing with us personally throughout the week. However, we found the rest of the hearing highly distressing.

3. I wish to object to the constant barrage of interruptions aimed at professional witnesses and barristers questioning them………This in my mind brings into question the impartiality of the proceedings.

4. The way the Children’s Guardian was questioned by the Judge for most of the day was in my view very wrong and particularly harrowing for both her and us. This seems particularly unprofessional.”

  1. This letter encapsulates the tragedy in this case. I have no doubt that the Judge was desperately trying to move a difficult case forward. I am sure she believed that the family members and the Guardian had missed the point about N’s care plan and hoped to persuade them to see the reality as she perceived it. I am also sure, as the Judge said more than once and as the grandparents seem to have appreciated, that she had nothing but sympathy for their position. Yet, by the insistence of her position and her apparent refusal to listen to the contrary arguments before making a reasoned judgment, she not only derailed the substance of the hearing but created an atmosphere where completing a fair hearing became impossible. She seems to have alienated even those whom she sought to praise and encourage.

 

Counsel for the Guardian had attempted, during the hearing to draw attention to the problem that was developing, but was given short shrift.  (Has anyone ever been given ‘long shrift’? I wonder idly)

 

The difficulties surrounding this hearing must have been obvious. It is of significance that they were mentioned explicitly. At E247 Ms Hobbs says “Madam, if I am frank, I am a little concerned about the atmosphere in the Courtroom. I really am and I do not know………”. The Judge intervenes; “Well, please do not be.” Later, Mr Bainham, although acting for the mother, informs the Judge on behalf of the unrepresented grandmother, who he has been told is highly distressed and will not re-enter the room, at E265

 

 

The Local Authority stance at the appeal was of interest

 

 Birmingham City Council (LA B) takes a more nuanced approach. But for the factual change of circumstances, to which I will turn, it would have been inclined to resist the substantive appeal. As to the procedural appeal, it indicated it preferred to make no detailed submissions, adopting a broadly neutral position. I expressed mild surprise at that stance but, upon reflection, having heard Ms Julyan SC explain the sensitivities and importance of the working relationship between LA B and the Court, I understand why it does not wish to associate itself proactively with the more severe criticisms of the Judge’s conduct of the case.

 

 

The appeal was granted, the Judge would have directed a re-hearing, but because the position with N had changed, by the time of the appeal the LA were no longer seeking a placement order for M and thus the plan became placement of M with the grandparents. So a happy ending.

Is a residential home a person? Or MIND THE GAP

 

The Court of Appeal just had to decide this point, and at first reading it seems an incredibly niche and technical point.  I suspect, however, if you live in the North of England, it isn’t.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/1714.html

 

            C (A Child) (Schedule 2, Paragraph 19, Children Act 1989) [2019] EWCA Civ 1714 (17 October 2019)    

 

In essence, because of either a shortage of residential children’s homes in England, or an excess of demand, or ones in Scotland being a better fit, some Local Authorities want to / have to place children in their care in residential children’s homes in Scotland.

That means that they butt heads with Schedule 2 para 19.   There’s a potential problem here  (NOTE that it is NOT a problem for Secure Accommodation in Scotland which has all sorts of its own problems, but not as a result of this particular problem)

 

  1. Schedule 2 to the 1989 Act contains a number of provisions dealing with “Support for Children and Families provided by Local Authorities in England. Paragraph 19 contains “Arrangements to assist children to live abroad”.
  2. Paragraph 19 provides as follows:
    1. 19(1) A local authority may only arrange for, or assist in arranging for, any child in their care to live outside England and Wales with the approval of the court.

(2) A local authority may, with the approval of every person who has parental responsibility for the child arrange for, or assist in arranging for, any other child looked after by them to live outside England and Wales.

(3) The court shall not give its approval under sub-paragraph (1) unless it is satisfied that—

(a) living outside England and Wales would be in the child’s best interests;

(b) suitable arrangements have been, or will be, made for his reception and welfare in the country in which he will live;

(c) the child has consented to living in that country; and

(d) every person who has parental responsibility for the child has consented to his living in that country.

(4) Where the court is satisfied that the child does not have sufficient understanding to give or withhold his consent, it may disregard sub-paragraph (3)(c) and give its approval if the child is to live in the country concerned with a parent, guardian, special guardian, or other suitable person.

(5) Where a person whose consent is required by sub-paragraph (3)(d) fails to give his consent, the court may disregard that provision and give its approval if it is satisfied that that person—

(a) cannot be found;

(b) is incapable of consenting; or

(c) is withholding his consent unreasonably.

(6) Section 85 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (which imposes restrictions on taking children out of the United Kingdom)] shall not apply in the case of any child who is to live outside England and Wales with the approval of the court given under this paragraph.

……

(9) This paragraph does not apply —

(a) to a local authority placing a child in secure accommodation in Scotland under section 25, or

(b) to a local authority placing a child for adoption with prospective adopters.”

The net effect of para 19 is that EITHER

(a) The child has to consent to being placed in Scotland   OR

(b) If the child doesn’t have sufficient understanding to consent, the Court can consent on their behalf IF the child is to live in Scotland with a ‘parent, Guardian, special guardian or other suitable person

So, in a situation where the LA wants to place a child in Scotland in a residential children’s home and the child doesn’t consent,  IS the residential children’s home  an “other suitable person”?  because if not, the placement can’t happen.

  1. On the first issue, (i), paragraph 19(4) applies only if the child is “to live … with a parent, guardian, special guardian or other suitable person”. As Floyd LJ observed during the hearing it is not easy to see how a child could live with a company or an unincorporated “body of persons”. For example, while a child can live in a residential home which might be owned by a company it would be difficult to argue that, as a result, the child was living with a person. Further, when this is added to the fact that the words “other suitable person” follow a list comprising natural persons, I do not consider it is possible to interpret this provision as meaning other than that it is confined, as decided by Sir James Munby P, to natural persons. Whilst I recognise that there might well be a practical need, as submitted by Mr Howling, this cannot counter the factors referred to above and such a need alone would not provide a legitimate basis for the proposed statutory interpretation.
  2. The result of this conclusion is that, when a child does not consent, and regardless of whether they do or do not have sufficient understanding, the court is not permitted to approve their placement in Scotland other than with a natural person. The consequence is that a local authority cannot “arrange for, or assist in arranging for, any child in their care”, who does not consent, to live in a residential home in Scotland (or, indeed, anywhere else outside England and Wales).

 

So (other than in Secure) an English or Welsh LA can’t arrange for a child in their care to live in a residential children’s home in Scotland UNLESS the child consents to that.   (I’m stressing a lot that this does NOT apply to Secure Accommodation, because obviously a child having to consent to that is just not going to happen. Parliament amended Schedule 2 para 19 to specifically take Secure out of this scenario)

 

There’s a hint in the next paragraph that there might at some later point be some Classic Dom TM argument to be made about the child really living with a person  (I suspect like all Classic Dom TM arguments so far, it won’t work if attempted)

 

  1. Given the limited submissions we heard on the history which might lie behind this particular provision and on the broader potential ramifications, I do not propose to address Ms Irving’s additional submission as to whether the term “other suitable person” might be further confined. All I would say is that a court would clearly need to establish who would have parental responsibility or, in broader terms, legal responsibility, for a child before that child could be placed outside England and Wales. One of the problems that has been a feature of some care cases (and still can be judging by the very recent judgment of Re K, T and U (Placement of Children with Kinship Carers Abroad) [2019] EWFC 59) is a regrettable failure to address at an early stage of the process the legal issues which require to be resolved to enable such a placement to take place in a manner which safeguards the child’s best interests.

 

The appeal was also constructed on what

Where the court is satisfied that the child does not have sufficient understanding to give or withhold his consent,

 

might actually mean.  Is it a straight Gillick-competence type test?  Or is it softer than that with the Guardian or solicitor for the child just advising the Court that on this issue, the child’s views are genuinely reflective of their settled position?   (I suspect you’d have to at least understand that if you say “I’m not going to live in Scotland” what that means for the other options. Note that unlike the provisions for parents consent to be overridden if they are withholding it ‘unreasonably’ for a child it is a straight key – if you CAN consent and you don’t, that’s the end of it. You can’t be placed in Scotland. )

 

  1. As to the second issue, (ii), we only heard very brief submissions because we had already decided that the legal point raised on behalf of the Guardian was correct. This is not, therefore, a case in which it would be appropriate to provide detailed guidance, if such is in any event required. I would, however, make the general point that the answer to the question of whether a child has “sufficient understanding” requires consideration of all the relevant information and evidence and involves a broad assessment of the child’s intelligence, maturity and understanding of the factors relevant, in the context of paragraph 19(4), to the proposed placement outside England and Wales.
  2. This need not be an extensive investigation or analysis but in my view, in the circumstances of this case, it required a more extensive consideration than that given by the judge. I fully accept that the judge was being given the opinion of a very experienced solicitor but there was also evidence from the Social Worker with which the judge needed to engage. It was a decision for the judge to make and not one which depended simply on the solicitor’s opinion. It might, further, have been better to wait until the analysis which the Guardian had been ordered to file had been provided

They add at the end

This may be a “gap” in the legislative framework similar to the situation that previously existed in respect of secure accommodation. I, therefore, propose that this issue be brought to the attention of the President of the Family Division for his consideration.

 

Relinquishing a relinquishment

 

There’s an unofficial competition in this blog for ‘the worst case of the year’ and although it is only October, I think it may be hard to find one worse in the next two and a half months.  It is an unwelcome award and nobody tends to give an acceptance speech for them, it is more “I’d like to blame the following for this…” than a sobbing Gwyneth, and certainly not a Sally Field “You…like me”

 

“Relinquish” in this context means the decision by a parent that they cannot care for their child and would want a Local Authority to arrange for the child to be adopted – consensual adoption would be another way of putting it. I don’t really care for the word ‘relinquish’ myself, but we don’t seem to have settled on a better word yet.

 

Anyway, this is a case in which parents who had four children found themselves with a fifth on the way (at a time when they appeared to be in the midst of a separation) and decided that adoption was for the best for the new baby.  They asked the Local Authority to arrange this and the appropriate steps were taken, and prospective adopters were found who were willing to foster the baby during the process.

 

So far, everything is fine.

 

The problem arose when the parents changed their mind about adoption, and what happened then.

As this is a judgment about a Welsh case, the numbering of some of the statutory provisions may be slightly different to the English ones, but once you square the number of the section of the relevant Act, the wording is the same.

Foster carers v A, B & A Welsh Local Authority [2019] EWFC B52 (27 June 2019)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2019/B52.html

 

The case was decided by Francis J

 

5                     It is important that I record from the outset that Mr Boothroyd, on behalf of the local authority, has made a complete, fulsome and obviously well-meant apology for the failings of the local authority in this case.  I hope that in due course the carers and the parents will be able to accept that apology, for without the failings of the local authority these proceedings would not, in my judgment, have been necessitated.  Whether, and if so, to what extent proceedings are later taken against the local authority is not a matter for me – or certainly not a matter for me at the moment.  I do tentatively suggest, however, that if any proceedings against the local authority are taken at a time when I am still a judicial office holder, it would be appropriate for such applications to be heard by me.

 

6                     I said at the outset of these proceedings, and it is worth me repeating now, that the human misery in this court is palpable.  From everything that I have read and heard, although I have heard no oral evidence, it seems obvious to me that the applicants and the parents are all thoroughly decent people who all wish the very best for A, with whom this court is concerned.

 

7                     In circumstances which I shall shortly relate, these two decent couples have found themselves pitted against each other in litigation which none of them could have wished for in their worst nightmares.  In short, the position can be described as follows, although I shall relate it in more detail shortly.  Because the birth parents already had four children between them, and because at the time when it was anticipated that A would be born they had personal difficulties and had briefly separated, they formed the conclusion, at least for a time, that it would be better for them, their children, and most particularly for A, if they were to relinquish her for adoption.  It is hard to think of a decision, as a parent, that is more difficult to make, but I am completely persuaded from everything that I have seen and heard that they decided to relinquish A out of love for her and the desire to do the best for her.

    …When the mother informed the local authority social worker of her decision to relinquish her unborn child, it was immediately accepted by that social worker as being for the best, and the local authority put in place proposed adopters from birth.  In my judgment, they had a duty to discuss this with the mother, in fact with both parents, in detail, before accepting the position rather than actively encouraging them to go through with the adoption.  The Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005, and the Welsh equivalent, pursuant to s.53 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 mandate the local authority to provide pre-birth counselling to the mother, which would include whether the mother could care for the child with support or whether there were members of the family who could care for her in the short or long term.  Following the birth, the social worker must counsel the mother to see if she still wanted to the child to be adopted.  At the first statutory review, consideration should be given to whether there still remains a chance that the child will return home.  The local authority must do whatever it can to ensure that the child is brought up within her birth family if at all possible.  Prospective adopters, who are selected to accept a relinquished baby from hospital, should be informed they will need to be robust because of the possibility that the parents may change their minds.

The child has lived with the prospective adopters since she was 3 hours old, and had recently had her first birthday.

 

Leading up to the difficulties, around three months after the birth of A

24                 On 25 September 2018, the mother met with the guardian to sign the relevant consents to relinquish A, but due to the mother’s reservations the guardian advised the mother not to sign the consents.  In my judgment, this event on 25 September 2018 is a critical event.  The following day the guardian sent an email, in which she recorded that she was unable to have the consent form signed as it was, and I quote, “Clear that the parents want A to be returned to their care.  They feel circumstances have changed since relinquishing.”  The guardian wisely advised the parents to seek legal advice.  I repeat that this was 25 September 2018, about nine months ago.

 

25                 A contact recording on 5 October 2018 notes, and I quote, “Whilst the mother was cuddling A she whispered to her, ‘I’m going to get you back’, before repeating, ‘Mummy is going to get you back.’”  On 8 October 2018, the social worker recorded that the mother said that she felt that giving A away was a mistake and that she was due to see her solicitor on Thursday.  There is a great deal more in the guardian’s chronology, but what is abundantly clear is that it was only a short time after the birth that the mother, and then, in due course, supported by the father, showed increased anxiety about her decision and increased reluctance to let A go.

 

It was clear by this stage that the mother was having significant doubts about A being adopted.

 

26                 It is evident, and Judge Garland-Thomas so found in the care proceedings to which I will shortly refer again, that in October 2018 the mother was informed by a local authority social worker that if she changed her mind an assessment would need to be carried out which would involve the other children.  This was as devastating for the mother as it was incorrect.  It was devastating because it terrified the mother and, I dare say, the father when she relayed it to him that further local authority involvement with their family would now ensue, with all the risk to the other children that they had been through already, as I’ve recounted above.

 

27                 It is completely evident to me that the birth parents became frightened that an inquiry would now follow into their capacity to care for the four children already at home with them — certainly three of them, one of them I dare say being above the relevant age.  The mother was understandably concerned about previous local authority involvement.

 

28                 Judge Garland-Thomas found that by March 2019 both parents had indicated, reluctantly, that they agreed that A should be placed for adoption.  Judge Garland-Thomas found, however, that on the way back from court on 3 April 2019, the mother disclosed that she did not agree with the plan and that she wanted A back in her care.  It was this comment of the mother’s that persuaded the local authority that they should issue care proceedings.  Judge Garland-Thomas found, and it is obvious to me that she was correct in this finding, that the placement of A shortly after her birth as a foster to adopt placement was not one which had any legal foundation.  It is accepted that the parents agreed accommodation under s.76 of the 2014 Act, but there was no compliance with other legislative requirements.

 

The parents withdrew their consent to adoption.  (it is not clear as to whether they formally withdrew their consent to section 20 foster care accommodation or were informed that they had the legal right to do this)

The Local Authority issued care proceedings for A.  That seems, to me, to be a sledgehammer approach but in the interests of fairness there probably wasn’t any other “legal” mechanism for resolving this.  (the Court can make all sorts of useful declarations under an Adoption application, but an adoption application could not be made).  I’d like to know more about what attempts were made to resolve matters via conversation and social work and possibly legal advice for the parents, but we just don’t know from this judgment.  So if the LA felt that a Court should make the decision as to whether A would go home to parents or stay with the current carers, that was the only legal route for doing so.  (The question of whether it was necessary for the Court to make such a decision is a different matter)

I’m also not sure about threshold, and it turns out that my uncertainty was echoed by two Judges.

 

32                 At the first directions hearing within the now issued care proceedings, it was evident that threshold was disputed.  The local authority sought to rely on the likelihood of emotional harm and neglect arising from the fact that A was relinquished at birth and there had been no contact between the parents and A since October 2018.  Judge Garland-Thomas found herself having to grapple with the relevant date for threshold.  It transpired that the local authority had pleaded three different relevant dates.  Their initial threshold document pleaded the relevant date was 4 July 2018, being A’s birth date.  On behalf of the local authority, this was abandoned by Mr Boothroyd at the hearing before Judge Garland-Thomas and the second threshold document dated 24 May 2019 pleaded the relevant date as 3 April 2019, the date on which the mother requested that A be returned to her care.  Later, in submissions, Mr Boothroyd on behalf of the local authority suggested that the only feasible relevant date could be the date on which the mother originally changed her mind, namely about 25 September 2018. 

 

33                 Judge Garland-Thomas found that it is clear to her that the only date which could possibly be the relevant date is A’s date of birth, 4 July 2018.  She found that the submission that the relevant date is either 3 April 2019 or possibly 25 September 2018 is not sustainable.  On each of those dates A remained in local authority care, where she had been since 4 July.  The judge found that any date other than 4 July 2018 is therefore an artifice seeking to place some blame on the parents for their change of stance.

 

I’m not at all convinced that a parent lawfully exercising their statutory right to change their mind about giving a child up for adoption (particularly when papers had not been signed) gives rise to a likelihood of harm to that child attributable to the care given by the parents not being what it would be reasonable for a parent to provide.

 

36                 The judge found, in paragraph 28 of her judgment, that it would be necessary for the local authority to show, on any of the dates proposed, that there is a lack of care being provided by a parent which gives rise to threshold.  The judge said that she was satisfied, and she so found, that the local authority cannot establish that A has suffered, or that she is at risk of suffering, significant harm attributable to the parents as at any relevant date.  The judgment of Judge Garland-Thomas, therefore, brings the public law care proceedings to an end.  The application for a care order has been dismissed and the care proceedings now will formally end today with the handing down of her judgment

 

There might be a scenario, when the reasons for relinquishing in the first place obviously and clearly give rise to a likelihood of harm if the child is at home with the parents, but just changing their mind isn’t it.

Judge Garland-Thomas, correctly in my judgment, concluded that when the local authority proceeded on the basis of a foster to adopt placement they did not have in place the legal framework to enable them to do so, and care proceedings should have been issued earlier than they were.  It was completely clear by at least 25 September 2018 that the parents were equivocating about their consent to adoption.  There is a duty on this local authority to support and assist parents in the position that these parents were in, and I have already set out the relevant Adoption Agencies Regulations that apply here in Wales.

 

38                 Instead of providing that support and counselling, the local authority actively encouraged the parents to proceed along the adoption route, and even, albeit implicitly rather than explicitly, allowed the parents to feel that failure to continue to relinquish A for adoption could give rise to an inquiry in relation to the other children.

 

39                 Mr Boothroyd on behalf of the local authority, has referred me to a famous but now somewhat old lecture given by Lord Mackay of Clashfern in1989, when he delivered the Joseph Jackson memorial lecture.  It is to be remembered that 1989 is the year of the Children Act, albeit it that did not come into force in 1990 or maybe even 1991.  During the course of that lecture, Lord Mackay said this,

 

“The integrity and independence of the family is the basic building block of a free and democratic society and the need to defend it should be clearly perceivable in the law.  Accordingly, unless there is evidence that a child is being or is likely to be positively harmed because of a failure in the family, the state, whether in the guise of a local authority or a court, should not interfere.”

 

40                 The lecture is to be found reported in New Law Journal vol 139 at p.505.  The quoted paragraph being at p.507.

 

41                 Mr Tillyard in sensitively but, if I may say so, in characteristically bold fashion, criticises the local authority.  He lists inter alia the following failings:

 

42                 1.  When the mother informed the local authority social worker of her decision to relinquish her unborn child, it was immediately accepted by that local authority to be for the best, and the local authority put in place the proposed adopters from birth.

 

43                 I agree with Mr Tillyard’s submission and so find that they had a duty to discuss this the parents in detail before accepting the position, rather than actively encouraging them to go through with the adoption.

 

44                 2.  The local authority should have permitted the mother time to reflect on her decision to relinquish A following the birth, rather than asking her to leave hospital within three hours of A being born.

 

45                 3.  The applicants, that is the carers, had not been approved as foster carers, and so A should not have been placed with them from birth.

 

46                 I wish to make it completely clear that in saying this I do not criticise the carers at all. I criticise the local authority.

 

47                 4.  Once A was placed with the carers, the local authority took far less interest in the mother’s welfare than they should have done.  It took them some three weeks before they even organised contact.

 

48                 5.  The local authority was placed on notice by the guardian in September 2018 that the parents’ consent was likely to be in issue.

 

49                 In my judgment, the local authority should have fully investigated this as soon as it became evident to them.  That was their clear duty.  The local authority told the mother that once she signed the papers for adoption in September or October there would be a final contact session.  The mother was not aware, because nobody told her, that she could have requested ongoing contact.

 

50                 It is clear that, had the local authority carried out its statutory duties pursuant to statute and regulation, from at least 26 September 2018, these proceedings would not be happening. It is overwhelmingly likely that had that action been taken last September, as I have said just over nine months ago, the parents would have been rehabilitated with A and the carers, however sadly, tragically and reluctantly, would have conceded this.  It is almost beyond belief that we are now some nine months later.  Who can possibly blame the carers now for bringing the applications that they do, both within wardship proceedings and for seeking leave to bring the adoption application?

 

 

As a side note, the Judge noted that the mother and father, who stood shoulder to shoulder and had absolutely no conflict between them were represented separately.  This does seem to have become simply the de facto norm position rather than anyone turning their mind to an actual conflict or the genuine possibility of a conflict.  The Judge made remarks which may have wider significance

51                 The mother and the father have each been separately represented in these proceedings before me.  I questioned the need for this; not out of any sense of criticism, but because it seems to me that they stand together shoulder to shoulder in this application.  Of course, as I have recounted above, there was a time when they were separated and that separation appears to have been a significant part, although not the only reason, for the decision to relinquish the baby.  I can well understand that that led people to think that they should be separately represented, however, when questioned about this the best answer that I was given as to the reason for separate representation is that this is what normally happens in public law care proceedings.

 

52                 As I have said, I do not intend to and do not criticise either of the birth parents nor any of the legal representatives for the decision for separate representation.  I do, however, tentatively suggest that if it is obvious to advocates that two parties to proceedings have identical cases, ambitions and evidence, attention should be given to the possibility of single representation.

 

Moving on

 

instead of accepting the facts, the local authority proceeded, as I have said, as if consent was still forthcoming.  I am the first to recognise that local authorities work under intense pressure of work and in circumstances where funding has been persistently and repeatedly reduced.  The pressure on local authority social workers and lawyers is often intolerable.  However, the local authority should not, and cannot, make the mistakes of the kind that have been made by this local authority in this case.  I have already used the words “human misery” above, and I repeat those words now in the sense that the human misery caused by the failings of this local authority are almost too much to bear.

 

55                 Moreover, and in any event, the cost in pure monetary terms of these proceedings, and of any likely proceedings that may in due course be brought against the local authority, will far outweigh any possible savings that could have been made by the inadequate attention that was given to this case.  It is not my task in the course of this judgment, least of all when I have heard no oral evidence, to blame individuals.  Whether this is the failure of one or two individuals in the local authority, or a systemic failure is not something that I can or should comment on in this judgment.  I can only hope, however, that there will be a thorough review by those at the top of the legal department of this local authority to consider what failings were made, and how steps can be put in place to make sure that they can never be repeated.

 

56                 It is clear to me that the carers of A are thoroughly decent people, who have thought of her arrival into their lives as the fulfilment of a dream.  To have that dream taken away from them, as these proceedings invite, is to heap upon decent people misery of a kind that is completely unacceptable.

 

57                 For the birth parents who have pleaded for the return of their child for many months, they have had to endure many months of misery, litigation, and what can probably only be described as hell.  It is, if I may say so, a tribute to the birth parents and to the carers that they have sat in court in close proximity and they continue to offer each other support.  I can only express the hope that one day A will realise that she has not two, but four, wonderful adults in her life.

 

 

The carers were asking the Court to deem that they had the right to make an adoption application, or failing that, to grant them leave to make an adoption application. That was the only legal route they had, if they wanted A to remain with them.  The Court was against that, without criticising them for pursuing it.

 

    Mr Momtaz properly recognises that if A was placed with the carers as foster carers rather than prospective adopters, as I find to be the case and he has properly conceded, then he must apply for leave for them to make an adoption application.  He contends that they should be given leave.  In para.30 of his first skeleton argument he identifies the correct principles as follows:

 

  1. The welfare of the child was a relevant, but not the paramount, consideration.
  2. Another relevant consideration is whether the proposed application has a real prospect of success.
  3. He refers me to the judgment of Wilson, LJ, as he was, who indicated his view that the requisite analysis of prospects of success will almost always included the requisite analysis of the welfare of the child.

 

74                 However, I am clear that this does not permit me, and still less does it encourage me, to draw up some sort of balance sheet between the competing debits and credits of these two decent couples.

 

75                 It is of course the case that A has bonded with her carers, who, as I have repeatedly said, have provided her with an unquestionably good level of love and care.  Within the context of her own young world, I have no doubt that A regards the carers as her parents.  Mr Tillyard submits, and I accept, that I have to weigh this against the rest of A’s life.

 

76                 What is the right of this court to terminate A’s right to family life with her family – by which I mean her birth parents and siblings?  The right of the state to interfere in A’s young life does not, in my judgment, exist.  Judge Garland-Thomas has dismissed the care proceedings and there are no longer any public law proceedings on foot.  The carers, as I have said, are temporary foster parents.  So to describe them will appear to them, I know, to be the deepest of insults.  I do not describe them in this way in any pejorative or critical sense, I am merely using the language of the statute to define the legal position: they are foster carers, and the birth parents are the birth parents.

 

77                 Mr Momtaz concluded his excellent written submissions with a short but, I am certain, correct proposition that the applicants, the carers, only want what is best for A.  He then says that they want the court to be able to make an informed and balanced decision as to her welfare.  The fatal flaw with Mr Momtaz’s submissions, in my judgment, is that I do not get to that welfare stage.

 

78                 Mr Momtaz asks why A should be introduced to the care of her biological parents.  In my judgment this is the wrong question.  The correct question is why A should be prevented from being in the care of her biological parents, when this is precisely what her biological parents want.  I do not for a second question the proposition that what the carers want is what is best for A.  The phrase “what is best for” is emotive and implies all sorts of subjective tests.  I am driven to make my conclusions based on the law.  The law is that adoption is a process of last resort unless consent from the parents is forthcoming.  Everyone in this case recognises that the consent of the parents is not forthcoming now, if it ever was.  There is no material evidence on which I could base a finding that the consent of the parents should be dispensed with.  My task is to find whether the carers have a reasonable prospect of success in their adoption application.

 

79                 With the care proceedings having been dismissed, there is no basis on which I could find that the birth parents are other than, to use the language of family lawyers, good enough parents

 

 

And the application was dismissed, meaning that plans were put in place for A to return to the care of her parents

 

81                 I am driven to the conclusion that the carers have no reasonable prospect of success in their adoption application.  Indeed, I am driven to the conclusion that it is bound to fail.  Accordingly, there is no basis on which I can give them permission to make the application.

 

82                 This leads me to the most painful and difficult debate as to how now to reintegrate A into her birth family.  With exceptional kindness, love and understanding, the carers have offered, even in the face of the prospect of losing their application, to do all that they can to help to integrate A into her birth family should they lose this application, as it is evident to them that they now have.  Should they change their mind in relation to this, nobody, least of all me, would criticise them.  If, however, after a period of contemplation following this judgment, they feel able to continue in this offer, then I know that the birth parents and this court would be grateful to them.

 

83                 It may even be, and I express this very sincere hope, that they can play a part in A’s life as she grows from the toddler that she now is into the girl, and the woman, that she will become.  That is, of course, not a matter for this court but a matter for the four individuals who have patiently listened to this case for some three days.

 

84                 In my experience as a judge in the Family Division I have rarely, if ever, seen such decent accommodation by individuals, of the horrible circumstances in which they all find themselves, and I end where I started by thanking all four of them, and express the hope that the goodwill seen by me in this court will continue, not just in the days and weeks to come, but in the years and decades to come.

 

85                 Accordingly, I therefore dismiss the application for leave to bring an adoption application, and I will dismiss the wardship proceedings.

Author not liable for any wince-related injuries

This case is ‘about’ an application for an injunction to protect a person who was considered to be vulnerable but who had capacity to make their own decisions, but it is really ‘about’  the Local Authority sending 1400 pages to everyone on a Friday for a final hearing that started on Tuesday, with said documents undermining / flatly contradicting the evidence the LA had filed, so it has some broader implications.   I think most people reading this will have had the experience of suddenly being dumped with a huge stack of papers that appeared at the last minute, even if they weren’t quite as voluminous and devastating as this.  It is a salutary lesson that if you do ruin someone’s weekend by doing this, they are going to be highly motivated to make you pay hard for it.

 

London Borough of Croydon v  KR 2019

 

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2019/2498.html 

 

 

It is telling that the LA had to withdraw the case after the two social workers  gave evidence.

 

 

 

Read and wince

 

I had witness statements from Ms Jones, KR’s social worker; Ms Bamfield, ST’s social worker, and two witness statements from KF. I also had a short statement from KF and ST’s son, DF. I heard oral evidence from Ms Jones and Ms Banfield. I also had in the court bundle 1400 pages of background documents. I understand that these were sent to KR and ST’s lawyers on Friday, i.e. 3 working days before the trial started. Some of them had been previously disclosed, but it is almost impossible to tell which ones. Very few had been exhibited to the LA’s witness statements. The vast majority of these documents will necessarily never have been seen by KR or ST because they come from the LA’s records. Some of these documents paint a materially different picture from that in Ms Jones’ witness statements, particularly in respect of the degree to which ST was obstructing the carers from CSL accessing the property and at least checking on KR. They also paint a different picture of the degree to which KR was at risk.

 

 

 

17.          There are a number of points of concern to me about these documents. Firstly, it is not acceptable that they were only disclosed, at least in this form, so shortly before trial. The hearing date had been set down since 21 May 2019, and the late disclosure meant the bundles were both unmanageable, and in reality, unreadable. Secondly, the disclosure appears to have been in the form of simply putting all these documents in the court bundle without any attempt to agree the bundle. Again, this is not acceptable, at the least attempts must be made to agree a bundle, and the bundle should be limited to documents which will be necessary for the judge to consider.

 

 

 

 

18.          Thirdly, and most importantly, I am seriously concerned about the discrepancies between what some of these background documents show and what was said in the evidence to the court, particularly in the first witness statement of Ms Jones, which was the basis of the without notice order. This case commenced with an application for an injunction without notice. It continued through a series of interim injunctions where the judges necessarily had very limited time to examine background documents, even if they had been exhibited, which in key instances they were not. It is trite law that when a without notice injunction is applied for there is a duty of full and frank disclosure and there is in any event a duty on any claimant not to mislead the court. This is just as true in proceedings like this as in the Commercial Court or Queen’s Bench. Indeed it is relevant, and I will return to this below, that the injunction sought was not just draconian it was deeply intrusive into the private lives of two adults with capacity. I will refer below to the European and domestic caselaw on the importance of the State not interfering into individuals’ marriage. In those circumstances the obligation for full and frank disclosure is as important if not more important, than in any other form of litigation. I appreciate local authorities are hard pressed, and poorly resourced, however the importance of ensuring the Court is possession of all the relevant facts at a without notice injunction application cannot be overstated.

 

 

 

19.          The starkest example of the failure of the evidence presented to court to properly reflect the true factual position is as follows. In her first witness statement dated 20 March 2019, filed to support the without notice application, at para 12 Ms Jones said;

 

 

 

 

“A new care agency started to work with KR three times a day 9:00. 12:00 and 17:00 and this has worked well intermittently. This is the first agency that has been able to persist with the situation and from 3-week period of recent records ST allowed the carers in on average 3 calls a week out of a potential 39 recorded calls see exhibit DL5. The carers go to each visit and if ST shouts and turns them away they go to the window and check on KR, they report that he may wave from his bed and they then leave and return for the next visit. When asked, KR states that he wants the carers to continue and that he wants to go out with his carers when the hoist is fitted.”

 

20.          This is a paragraph that would cause any judge deep concern about the safety of a seriously disabled man who was on the face of the evidence being isolated from his carers on a very large number of occasions. Surprisingly, the bundle I was given did not actually contain the exhibits to the witness statements, but I was handed DL5 in court. That was a note which was produced at a meeting that Ms Jones had had with the manager of CSL. What this note made clear was that twice every week CSL had produced no information about the number of visits, and whether ST had prevented access or not. This immediately undermined the evidence referred to above that on average ST had only let in the carers three times each week. There were 6 wholly unaccounted for visits, where there was no evidence that ST had refused access. Ms Jones could not explain why there were two unaccounted for days. Further on close scrutiny during cross examination it became clear that the average of access only being allowed three times a week was not even sustainable on the days on which there was information.

 

 

 

21.          There was also a paragraph in Ms Jones’ first witness statement which said that the MARAC professionals meeting had agreed that there was a “very real risk of accidental fatality”. However, when the minutes of the meeting were examined in Court (after the disclosure referred to above), they did not support this sentence.

 

 

 

22.          I am sure that Ms Jones was not seeking to mislead anyone, but there was a lack of attention to the background documents, and a failure to present the full picture which is very concerning

 

 

I’ve drafted my views about the beginning of paragraph 22 about 8 times, and can’t find a safe way of expressing what I think. So I’ll say nowt.

 

What responsibility do CAFCASS have towards children who AREN’T the subjects of proceedings?

In this family case, an argument arose as to whether the father had committed a sexual act with a child, AB, who was not in the family and was not part of the proceedings. Consideration was given as to whether AB should give evidence in the family Court – the father disputed the allegations.

 

The Court gave directions to undertake a Re W exercise – the Court asks for evidence to be gathered about the merits and risks of the young person giving evidence. Where the young person is a child the subject of proceedings, it is the Guardian who speaks with the child and prepares a report about the ability of the child to give evidence and their views and the impact upon them. The Court then hears argument and decides whether the child should give evidence and if so whether any special arrangements are to be put in place.

 

Here, the Court made a direction for CAFCASS to do the work, and CAFCASS objected, so the Court then directed the social worker to do it.   (The Local Authority raised that this was an issue of public importance – Guardians are well placed to obtain the wishes of children and do the Re W assessment and are more neutral than the LA whose job it is to prove the allegations, and the case was listed for consideration before Keehan J in the High Court.

A County Council v Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) [2019] EWHC 2369 (Fam) (20 September 2019)

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2019/2369.html

 

The Submissions of the Local Authority

  1. The local authority submitted that the court does have the power to make the direction given in this case in respect of a non-subject, non-party child and that Cafcass would not be acting outwith its statutory functions. The issue is a matter, it is said, of the statutory construction of s.12 of the 2000 Act and of the relevant rules in the FPR.
  2. In support of this submission the local authority rely on four aspects of the statutory and FPR provisions, namely:
    1. i) s.12(1)(b) provides that it is a function of Cafcass to “give advice to any court about any application made to it in [family] proceedings”;

ii) r.16.20(2) provides that “the children’s guardian must also provide the court with such other assistance as it may require”;

iii) paragraph 6.1(b) of PD16A provides “obtain such professional assistance as is available which the children’s guardian thinks appropriate or which the court directs must be obtained”; and

iv) paragraph 6.6(f) of PD16A provides the children’s guardian must advise the court on “any other matter on which the court seeks advice”.

and that in terms, the Court has the power to direct CAFCASS to do anything that would assist the Court or on which the Court wants advice.

The Submissions of Cafcass

  1. It was submitted that the opening words of s.12(1), “in respect of family proceedings in which the welfare of children…is or may be in question” confirm the parameters of the role of Cafcass is limited to the subject child or children. Further, it was submitted that the subsections of s.12 of the 2000 Act should not be read disjunctively. The reference in s.12(1)(c), “make provision for the children to be represented in such proceedings”, emphasises the point that the role of Cafcass is limited to the subject child of the proceedings.
  2. The point is forcefully made that it is the function of local authorities’ children services departments, and not Cafcass, to be responsible for the safeguarding of children generally. The duty of Cafcass to safeguard children is owed to those who are the subject of family proceedings.
  3. The general nature of the powers and duties of Cafcass was noted by the Court of Appeal in R and Others (Minors), R (ota) v The Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service[2012] EWCA Civ 853. McFarlane LJ, as he then was, observed,
      1. “On its wording and in its immediate statutory context, the natural reading of s.12 is that it is concerned with establishing a general framework of operation for CAFCASS, not with creating duties owed to individuals. The purpose of the section is to lay down the principal functions of the body established by s.11. By s.78, those functions include both powers and duties. By paragraph 9 of schedule 2, they are to be performed in accordance with any directions given by the Lord Chancellor (for Lord Chancellor now read Secretary of State – see note at paragraph 28 above). All of this is very general in nature. So too is the wording of the functions themselves. That is true not only of the functions in subsection (1), to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children”, “give advice to any court …”, “make provision for the children to be represented …” and “provide information, advice and other support …”, but also of the duty in subsection (2) to “make provision for the performance of any functions conferred on officers of the Service …”. There is nothing in any of this to suggest a legislative intention that all or any of the duties created by s.12 are owed to the individuals for whose benefit the functions are to be performed. On the face of it, these are general public law powers and duties. Nor was our attention drawn to anything within the other parts of the CJCSA 2000 that might suggest a different view.”
  4. The Court of Appeal considered the approach of the court in undertaking a Re W assessment in Re E (A Child)[2016] EWCA Civ 473. At paragraph 61 McFarlane LJ, as he then was said,
      1. “It is plainly good practice for the court to be furnished with a written report from the children’s guardian and submissions on behalf of the child before deciding whether that child should be called as a witness. This court understands that it is, however, common-place for guardians to advise that the child should not be called to give evidence on the basis that they will or may suffer emotional harm as a result of doing so. Where such advice is based upon the consideration of harm alone, it is unlikely to be of great assistance to the court which is required to consider not only ‘harm’ but also the other side of the balance described in the Guidelines, namely the possible advantages that the child’s testimony will bring to the determination of truth.”
  5. As in the case of Re B, the court in Re E was not considering the position in respect of a non subject child nor the role of Cafcass, if any, in relation to such a child.

 

CAFCASS were arguing, in effect, that the powers of the Court to make directions for CAFCASS to do things were limited to the children who were the subjects of the proceedings.

 

I think you can tell from the first paragraph of the discussion that CAFCASS are going to win this, and indeed they do.   Cue every Local Authority lawyer falling off their chair in amazement.

 

Discussion

  1. The interpretation of s.12 of the 2000 Act and the relevant rules contended for by the local authority, see paragraph 23 above, would effectively place no limit on the work or the role a court could direct Cafcass or an officer of the Service to undertake. Counsel for the local authority conceded this point but submitted that ‘common sense’ must be applied to limit the scope of what a court may require of Cafcass. I do not find this, to put it mildly, to be an attractive nor a persuasive submission: rather it undermines the local authority’s contention. I cannot accept that Parliament intended to create a statutory national body to advise and assist the court in family proceedings, and to represent the children who are the subject of those proceedings, without any restriction or limit on its function and roles. Still less would Parliament have intended that the restrictions or limitations on the role of the service would be determined by applying common sense.
  2. The advocates were agreed, that according to the best of their respective researches, there is no reported authority on the interpretation of s.12 of the 2000 Act in respect of the scope of the function of Cafcass.
  3. In respect of whether the subsections of s.12 should or should not be read disjunctively, I note that:
    1. i) the words ‘or’ do not appear after subsections (a), (b) or (c); and

ii) neither does the word ‘and’ appear after subsection (c).

It is in my judgment, however, significant that s.12(1) reads “it is a function of the Service to” followed by subsections (a) to (d). If the subsections had been intended by Parliament to be read disjunctively, I would have expected the word ‘functions’ to appear in s.12(1). The use of the word ‘function’ in the singular leads me to conclude that subsections of s.12(1) are not to be read disjunctively but instead are to be read conjunctively. Since one part of that function is to ‘make provisions for the children to be represented in the proceedings’, I am persuaded that the function and role of Cafcass pursuant to s.12 of the 2000 Act is limited to the subject child or children of the proceedings.

  1. Furthermore, I agree with and accept the submission made on behalf of Cafcass that the opening words of s.12(1), “in respect of family proceedings in which the welfare of children…is or may be in question” should be interpreted to mean that the role of Cafcass is limited to the subject child or children of those proceedings.
  2. I am reinforced in coming to this conclusion by taking account of the following matters:
    1. i) the appointment of the children’s guardian in public law proceedings under Part IV of the 1989 Act (‘specified proceedings’ as defined by s.41(6)) and the assistance it may be required to give to a court are subject to rules of court (s.41(10) 1989 Act);

ii) the appointment of a children’s guardian in public law proceedings is limited to a child who is the subject of the proceedings and is a party to the same (r.16.3 FPR);

iii) similar provision is made in respect of the appointment in private law proceedings (r.16.4 FPR);

iv) the FPR make separate provision for a child who is not the subject of the proceedings but is a party to the proceedings, namely the appointment of a litigation friend (r.16.5 FPR); and

v) the powers and duties of a children’s guardian whether in public law or private law cases set out in rr.16.20 & 16.27 and paragraphs 6 & 7 of PD16A must be read in the context of and in the light of the requirements of rr.16.3 and 16.4 FPR, namely the appointment is made in respect of the subject child.

  1. I am in no doubt that a children’s guardian, appointed to represent a child in public or private law proceedings, may be required to advise the court on the subject child’s relationship with a non-subject child (eg a step-sibling) and the impact on the same depending upon the orders made by the court for the future placement of the subject child: see FPR r.16.20(2) & PD16A paras 6.6(f) & 7.7. Similarly, a children’s guardian may be required to enquire into and advise the court about a wide range of matters and about a diverse group of people (eg relatives, friends and connected persons etc). This could include advising the court on the benefits/disadvantages of a non-subject child being called to give evidence in the proceedings. What is key, however, is that the objective and focus of these enquiries and of the advice is, and must be, establishing the welfare best interests of the subject child.
  2. It is quite a different matter to seek to appoint an officer of Cafcass, whether a children’s guardian or otherwise, to work with and advise upon a non-subject, non-party child. I have not been referred to any statute nor to any relevant rule of court which makes provision for such an appointment in these circumstances. I am satisfied such an appointment is outwith the statutory function and role of Cafcass.
  3. Conclusion
  4. I, therefore, conclude that the court has no power to require Cafcass to appoint an officer of Cafcass, whether a children’s guardian or otherwise, to undertake any work with or play any role with AB.
  5. The preparatory work directed by the judge ought properly to have been undertaken by a social worker from the local authority and/or a social worker from A City Council or, as was ultimately directed, by an independent social worker. The young person, if called to give evidence, would have been the local authority’s witness on whose testimony it relied in seeking to prove relevant facts which, if found to be proved, would have satisfied the threshold criteria of s.31(2) of the 1989 Act.
  6. I have not taken account of the potential adverse consequences for Cafcass, in terms of workload, if I had concluded the court had the power to make directions in respect of a non-subject child. Given, however, the increase of the workloads for all concerned in the child protection and family justice systems, now is not the time to consider widening the scope of the functions of Cafcass with its current resources