RSS Feed

Category Archives: costs

Keehan as mustard ? Costs order against Lord Chancellor

 

Just when you think you’ve seen it all regarding Human Rights damages claims tacked onto care proceedings and costs, Keehan J delivers this curveball.

 

Re H (A minor) v Northamptonshire CC 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/282.html

 

And we’re now seeing two High Court Judges waving to each other from opposite sides of the Grand Canyon on this. On one side, Keehan J is doing everything possible to make sure that the parents get their damages un-gulped up by the Legal Aid Agency and the stat charge, and on the other, Cobb J is saying that Parliament set up the stat charge in this way and if they’d intended to make an exception for the stat charge applying on care proceedings so that all the damages got swallowed up, they’d have done that. And that damages aren’t always the answer anyhow.

(Keehan J is playing a Lord Denning type role here, in manipulating and coaxing the law into shapes like a Venetian glassblower to get to the morally right outcome. I think myself that Cobb J is right in law, but who knows until the Court of Appeal tell us?)

 

The stat charge is tricky to understand here, so here’s an analogy.

Larry goes to a restaurant. As he is leaving, he steps on a woman’s foot. He shouldn’t have done it, he was being careless. He apologises, and offers to buy the woman a drink. She’s happy with that solution. The restaurant manager, however, says  “This woman ate a 3 course meal here for free tonight because she had a voucher, but that cost me money. So if you want to pay for a drink for her, that’s fine, but you have to give me all of the money that her food would have cost. If you don’t want to do that, you can just give me the money for the drink, but she get no drink and no money”

 

(Parents get free legal aid in care proceedings, even if they are millionaires. But if they win any money from a ‘connected’ case – even if that is damages for being badly treated, that money goes FIRST to pay back the legal aid agency not just in the case where they won the money but ANY legal aid they’ve had. Even though it was ‘free’. Only if there’s anything left does the parent get anything.  Because the legal costs in the care proceedings will usually dwarf the damages (just as a 3 course meal is more expensive than a drink), the only way that the parent can get any money is if the costs are paid too. And that’s tricky, because the law on costs is very clear that there are limited circumstances in which that is possible.

 

(The Kirklees blog spells all of that out, but I thought people might welcome an easier solution)

 

In this case, the parents had encountered a breach of their human rights, relating to section 20 abuse (but even this now, may be overtaken by the Court of Appeal guidance in the Hackney case where they suggest that failure to follow the guidance on s20 isn’t automatically a human rights breach). The LA made an offer to settle, and the parents lawyers understandably wanted to know, before they accepted or refused it, whether the parents would get that money, or whether it would be swallowed up by the Legal Aid Agency.

The LAA initially told them that the stat charge would bite and gobble up all of the damages. They then changed their mind, faced with being told that they’d be joined as a party to the High Court proceedings to fight that out.

It was submitted by the Lord Chancellor that HRA damages should be assessed without regard to the fact that the claimant is legally aided. I agree and accept that the assessment of the quantum of damages in a HRA claim should be made without regard to the fact that the claimant is legally aided. Where I part company with the Lord Chancellor is in respect of the submission that the impact of the statutory charge on the extent to which the claimant will receive any part of the damages awarded is irrelevant to a court assessing damages and then considering whether to make consequential orders for costs. I emphatically disagree.

 

(This is the exact opposite of Cobb J’s conclusion in the Kirklees case)

A very cunning scheme was devised, making use of CPR  rule 46.2  (That noise you hear is every family lawyer in the country shuddering at the mention of the Civil Procedure Rules. It gives us the same visceral reaction as the idea of standing up and addressing the Stade Francais in our schoolboy/girl French)

 

“46.2.— Costs orders in favour of or against non-parties

(1) Where the court is considering whether to exercise its power under section 51 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (costs are in the discretion of the court) to make a costs order in favour of or against a person who is not a party to proceedings, that person must—

(a) be added as a party to the proceedings for the purposes of costs only; and

(b) be given a reasonable opportunity to attend a hearing at which the court will consider the matter further.

(2) This rule does not apply—

(a) where the court is considering whether to—

(i) make an order against the Lord Chancellor in proceedings in which the Lord Chancellor has provided legal aid to a party to the proceedings;

(ii) make a wasted costs order (as defined in rule 46.8); and

(b) in proceedings to which rule 46.1 applies (pre-commencement disclosure and orders for disclosure against a person who is not a party).”

 

 

And the scheme here was complex (and I don’t think anyone will ever get away with it again, so I’m not going to spell it out in detail) –  the parents get the damages, the LA pay the costs. The Court then ordered the Lord Chancellor to pay MOST of the LA’s costs, to compensate them for the fact that it is only the Lord Chancellor failing to waive the stat charge in this case (which she has the statutory power to do) that led to the LA having to pay the costs.

There’s very little in law that I enjoy more than the Lord Chancellor losing in Court – a pleasure I did not get tired of during Chris Grayling’s wondrous tenure, and though Liz Truss hasn’t been in post long, she hasn’t really done herself any favours, so this is a fun read (though very very technical)

But I don’t think it is an entirely safe decision.

 

Firstly,

 

  • The local authority is forcibly critical of the second email sent on behalf of the LAA by Mr Rimer on 22 December. Mr Tyler submitted that the position of the LAA as set out in that email, namely that the statutory charge would apply to any damages awarded to H in respect of costs incurred under his public funding certificate in respect of the care proceedings, was clear and unequivocal. In his and Mr Mansfield’s skeleton argument it is asserted:

 

“48. The LAA has inappropriately – almost certainly unlawfully – sought to recoup the cost of the provision of the ‘non-means, non-merits’ legal aid available for the claimant from the award of damages to which he is entitled due to the breaches of his human rights.

49. Only at the eleventh hour – and when faced with the prospect of a High Court trial on the issue – has it adopted an approach which is correct in law.

50. In so doing, it has caused the unnecessary attenuation of both the HRA and the care proceedings.”

 

 

Okay, those are submissions and not the judgment, but I don’t think you can properly conclude that the LAA was unlawful in following the LASPO provisions. The provisions are stupid and ugly and unkind and mean-spirited, but they are lawful provisions. There isn’t (yet) a section 6 challenge that the LASPO provisions in this regard are themselves incompatible with the HRA. It would be interesting to see the outcome if someone takes it that far – LASPO is far from beloved as a piece of legislation.

The point, I presume is making use of Keehan J’s previous side-step of the stat charge by claiming that the HRA proceedings ‘are not connected’ to the care proceedings.  I am afraid that I am with Cobb J on that – there may be occasions when the damages case is genuinely ‘not connected’ to the care proceedings, but these clearly were.

 

Glad you're back George

Glad you’re back George

 

 

But more importantly

 

  • Ms Stout’s principal submission was that the court had no power, on the facts of this case, to make an order for costs. She relied upon the provision of the CLA(C)R 2013 and in particular on Part 3 and regulations 9(1), 9(2) and 10. In a case where one party is legally aided (i.e. the claimant) and one party is not legally aided (i.e. the local authority) she contended that the effect of regulation 9(2) was that an order for costs could only be made against the Lord Chancellor if all the conditions set out in regulation 10 are satisfied.
  • It is common ground between the parties that the conditions of this regulation are not satisfied in this case.

 

So not possible to make the costs order against the Lord Chancellor, because the power to do so sets out a condition that has to apply and the condition doesn’t.

That wasn’t the end of it though

  • I regret I do not accept the submission that the court does not have the power to make a costs order against the Lord Chancellor in this case. I so decide for the following reasons.
  • The provisions of s.26 LASPO only apply where costs have been awarded against a legally aided party. In these circumstances the order for costs “must not exceed the amount (if any) which it is reasonable for the individual to pay having regard to all the circumstances …”: s.26(1) LASPO. A s.26(1) costs order “means a costs order against a legally aided party where cost protection applies”: reg.2(1) CLA(C)R 2013. The phrase ‘cost protection’ means “the limit on costs awarded against a legally aided party in relevant civil proceedings, set out in section 26(1) and (2) of the Act: reg.2(1) CLA(C)R 2013. All of these provisions are based on a costs order having been made against a legally aided party. In this case, of course, no order for costs has been or will be made against the claimant.
  • The only possible basis on which the Lord Chancellor’s submissions on this issue could succeed is if I interpret s.26 LASPO and the CLA(C)R 2013 to mean that it applies if there is the ‘potential’ for a costs order being made against a legally aided party. The clear wording of the section and the regulations simply do not permit such an interpretation.
  • Regulation 9 of CLA(C)R 2013 is headed ‘Effect of this Part’. Regulation 9(1) provides that ‘This Part applies where cost protection applies’. If I insert the clause set out in Reg 2(1) for the definition of ‘cost protection’, reg.9(1) would read ‘This Part applies where the limit on costs awarded against a legally aided party in relevant civil proceedings set out in section 26(1) and (2) of [LASPO] applies’. Cost protection does not apply in this case and thus the provisions of Part 3 of the CLA(C)R 2013 do not apply in this case, most especially regulation 9(2).
  • It is plain that regulations 9 and 10 apply in respect of the Lord Chancellor as the funder of legal aid to a party to civil proceedings. Reg.10 only applies where ‘proceedings are finally decided in favour of a non-legally aided party’. It is designed to provide recompense to that party, in specified and limited circumstances, where there is a shortfall between the costs incurred by that party and the limited costs which the legally aided party is ordered to pay, in consequence of which the non legally aided party will suffer financial hardship. Once again those circumstances do not arise in this case.
  • I am completely satisfied that

 

(a) the CLA(C)R 2013 has no application or relevance to this case; and(b) they do not preclude the court from making a costs order against the Lord Chancellor in appropriate circumstances, still less do they provide the Lord Chancellor with a ‘blanket immunity’ against an order for costs as a third party or otherwise.

 

 

Keehan J summoned up the spirit of JPR Williams and  David Duckham and jinks and weaves to make his side-steps work. It is beautiful to watch.  But I think there’s a forward pass in there somewhere.

 

 

Human rights, damages and costs – important case

Not sure this is the last nail in the coffin of HRA damages claims piggy-backing on care proceedings, but the bag of nails certainly isn’t full any more.

Be grateful it is nails. As the LA is Kirklees, I've been trying to think of a Shatner reference...

Be grateful it is nails. As the LA is Kirklees, I’ve been trying to think of a Shatner reference…

 

The High Court have given judgment in Re CZ (Human Rights Claim:Costs) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/11.html

 

The fact that there was a breach is impossible to deny and the LA accepted it. (Even looking at the recent steer from the Hackney authority that failure to follow guidance does not amount without more to an actionable claim, this one goes far beyond that)

12.CZ was born by emergency caesarean section at X Hospital on 6 November. It was a traumatic birth and CZ was for a short time placed on the Special Care Baby Unit (‘SCBU’). The baby was slow to feed, and showed temporary normal post-birth weight loss. That said, no child protection concerns were raised by the staff on SCBU nor on the ward to which he was discharged.

13.On 10 November 2015, the Local Authority received a referral from the X Hospital maternity ward; concerns were raised regarding the long-term parenting capacity of this mother and father. It was suggested that the mother had no family support, and that the father was expressing unorthodox views about the need for sterilisation of bottles, and the benefits of formula milk. It was nonetheless noted, in the referral, that the paternal grandmother of the baby was being supportive to the couple and was planning to move in with them at least in the short-term after discharge from hospital.

14.On the following day, 12 November 2015, the maternity ward staff reported to the social worker that CZ had put on weight, but that they remained concerned about the feeding plan and wished to monitor him further. The social workers did not visit on this day.

 

15.On 13 November 2015, the social worker visited the hospital at about lunchtime and was advised by staff that CZ had again gained weight; the staff had no further concerns about the baby, who was reported to be well enough to be discharged. This was, indeed, planned for later that day.

The LA made an application on 13th November 2015 on short notice to Court for an ICO. The parents did not attend that hearing. The LA assured the District Judge three times that the parents had been informed of the hearing. They also assured the District Judge that the parents agreed with the plan for the child to be placed with grandparents. A Guardian did not attend (the LA emailing CAFCASS minutes after the hearing apologising for forgetting to notify them)

 

It turned out that the parents had NOT been informed of the hearing. They had been told by the social worker that the LA planned to start care proceedings but not that there was a hearing imminently and when it was. Whilst the mother had agreed s20 accommodation, the father had not.

At a hearing on 20th January 2016, the parents through their solicitors gave notice that they wanted to challenge the ICO. At a hearing on 27th January 2016, the LA attended and set out that they did not consider that the threshold criteria was met any longer and sought to withdraw their application. The proceedings ended and the child returned to the parents.

The HRA claim was made on the basis of breaches of article 6 and article 8.

33.The Local Authority concedes that I should make the following declarations:

  1. i) It breached the parents and child’s right to a fair trial, pursuant to Article 6 ECHR when it failed to inform them and/or Cafcass of the urgent hearing which was held at 3p.m. on Friday 13 November 2015; this breach is compounded by the fact that the Local Authority repeatedly informed the court that the parents had been so notified;
  2. ii) Between 13 November 2015, and, at the latest, 7 December 2015 (the next hearing date), the Local Authority breached the rights of those named above to a family life as enshrined in Article 8 ECHR. The parents did not live in the same household as their son for that period albeit they enjoyed extensive contact to one another. The child was placed with the paternal grandparents in their home.

These concessions were made at an early stage of the process, and were shared with the court on 14 July 2016,

 

Cobb J ruled that :-

41.In this case, I am satisfied that the breaches of the Claimants’ ECHR rights were serious, a view which I expressed in the presence of the lay parties at the hearing. This was plainly not an exceptional case justifying a ‘without notice’ application for removal of a baby from the care of his parents (see Re X (Emergency Protection Orders) [2006] EWHC 510 (Fam), and it is questionable whether there was a proper case for asserting that CZ’s immediate safety demanded separation from his parents at all: Re LA (Children) [2009] EWCA Civ 822. The failure of the Local Authority to notify the Claimants that the hearing was taking place on the afternoon of 13 November was particularly egregious; misleading the District Judge no fewer than three times that the parents knew of the hearing aggravates the culpability yet further. This infringement will rightly be subject of a declaration of unlawfulness (see above), and to a very great extent this represents the essential vindication of the right which they have asserted.

42.The separation of a baby from his parents represents a very substantial interference with family life, and requires significant justification. In this case, my assessment of the seriousness of the interference has been moderated by two facts: first, because the actual arrangement effected under the interim care order, with CZ living with the paternal grandmother for the period while the parents enjoyed virtually unrestricted contact, was a variation of a plan which the parents had formed with Health Professionals prior to and following the birth in any event, namely for the paternal grandmother to reside with them for that period, and secondly, because once the parents and Cafcass obtained legal representation and were able to consider the situation with legal advice, none of them sought to challenge the living arrangement immediately and did not in fact do so until 20 January 2016.

 

 

The fundamental issue here was that the damages sought amounted to just over £10,000 and because they arose out of care proceedings, in order for the parents and child to receive a penny of those damages those representing them also sought costs orders not only for the HRA claims but for the care proceedings.

 

That is because the statutory charge bites on the damages, not only for the HRA claim costs (which is sensible) but for the care proceedings (which is hard to explain, but it is clear that it does).

section 25 LASPO 2012; this statutory provision reads:

 

 

 

 

“25 Charges on property in connection with civil legal services

(1) Where civil legal services are made available to an individual under this Part, the amounts described in subsection (2) are to constitute a first charge on—

(a) any property recovered or preserved by the individual in proceedings, or in any compromise or settlement of a dispute, in connection with which the services were provided (whether the property is recovered or preserved for the individual or another person), and

(b) any costs payable to the individual by another person in connection with such proceedings or such a dispute.

(2) Those amounts are—

(a) amounts expended by the Lord Chancellor in securing the provision of the services (except to the extent that they are recovered by other means), and

(b) other amounts payable by the individual in connection with the services under section 23 or 24″.

 

The total costs were £120,000.   (To be fair, Cobb J has included the LA’s costs within that calculation, and the LA would be paying their own costs in any event. So the costs are really £80,000)

You do not have to be a hot-shot civil lawyer to suspect that spending £80,000 to recover £10,000 is not a viable proposition.

Cobb J considered this case in a very detailed way and said some very important things.

 

  1. The cunning solution in P v A Local Authority [2016] EWHC 2779 (Fam) http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2779.html , a case in which Keehan J found a way of facilitating the grant of the award of damages to the Claimant in such a way that it was unaffected by the LAA’s statutory charge. On the facts of that case, the applications under the HRA 1998 and under the wardship were quite separate and unconnected; he said this: “P’s claim is and was always based upon his Art. 8 Convention right to respect for his private and family life. The claim had nothing to do with the declaratory relief granted to P in the wardship proceedings” [71] (emphasis added).

Did not work here, and would not work in the majority of the HRA claims that we are concerned with, since they did arise out of the care proceedings or a prelude to them (s20)

 

 

  1. The fact that s25 LASPO meant that the statutory charge swallows all the damages does not mean that the Court is pushed into HAVING to make an award of costs to ensure that the claimant gets something.58.I reject the Claimants’ arguments on this first basis for the following reasons:  i) I do not accept that the very wide discretion afforded to me under section 8(1) has to be condensed to one option only (i.e. to make a substantive award of costs) simply in order to achieve a ‘just’ outcome under section 8(3);ii) If it had been the intention of Parliament that damages awarded under the HRA 1998 would be exempt from the statutory charge, it would have provided for this in the revised Statutory Charge Regulations (2013); it did not; iii) Most awards of damages would be likely to be reduced to some extent by the incidence of assessment/taxation of the litigant’s own bill. While this may not apply so harshly to publicly funded litigants, it seems to me that the Claimants could not be insulated against the eventuality that the shortfall in any assessment would in itself lead to the obliteration of a modest award of damages;iv) The award of non-pecuniary damages under section 8(3) is intended to reflect the Court’s disapproval of infringement of the claimants’ rights, in providing “just satisfaction” to the claimant; it is not intended to be, of itself, a costs award. I would regard it as unprincipled to increase the award of damages by a significant sum (which on the instant facts could be approximately seven-fold) to reflect the costs of the proceedings. Parliament has devised a legitimate mechanism for the recovery of the costs incurred from those who benefit from state-funded support to pursue their litigation, and however unfairly it may operate in an individual case, it must be respected;
  2.  
  3.  
  4.  
  5.  
  6.  
  7.  
  8. He tackles the principle of financial damages over and above the declaration of breach of human rights.  39.In deciding (i) whether to award damages, and/or (ii) the amount of an award, I must take into account the principles applied by the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the award of compensation under Article 41 of the Convention (Article 41, though not incorporated into English law, deals with ‘just satisfaction’). It is not necessary for me to review the significant European or domestic case-law on this point, more than to identify the following extracts from speeches and judgments on the point which have guided my views:  i) The Court of Appeal (Lord Woolf CJ, Lord Phillips MR and Auld LJ) in Anufrijeva v Southwark London Borough Council [2003] EWCA Civ 1406, [2004] QB 1124, [52-53], and [57-58]: “The remedy of damages generally plays a less prominent role in actions based on breaches of the articles of the Convention, than in actions based on breaches of private law obligations where, more often than not, the only remedy claimed is damages. … Where an infringement of an individual’s human rights has occurred, the concern will usually be to bring the infringement to an end and any question of compensation will be of secondary, if any, importance” [52/53].
  9.  
  10.  
  11.  
  12. 38.An award for damages for infringement of Convention Rights is warranted where the court concludes that it is “necessary to afford just satisfaction to the person in whose favour it is made” (section 8(3) HRA 1998). There is no specific formula or prescription for what amounts to “just satisfaction”, but in considering the issue, statute requires me to consider “all the circumstances of the case” including any other relief or remedy granted (including the grant of a declaration, and I suggest a formal apology) and the consequences of any decision of the court.

 

I interject here, to say that this is not the way that damages claims under the HRA in care proceedings has been developing, and it is a noteworthy reminder.

 

 

“Our approach to awarding damages in this jurisdiction should be no less liberal than those applied at Strasbourg or one of the purposes of the HRA will be defeated and claimants will still be put to the expense of having to go to Strasbourg to obtain just satisfaction. The difficulty lies in identifying from the Strasbourg jurisprudence clear and coherent principles governing the award of damages….”

 

 

And then quoting from the Law Commission:

 

 

“Perhaps the most striking feature of the Strasbourg case-law, … is the lack of clear principles as to when damages should be awarded and how they should be measured”. [57/58]

 

  1. ii) Lord Bingham in Regina v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) ex parte Greenfield [2005] UKHL 14, [2005] 1 WLR 673 at [9] and [19],

 

 

“The routine treatment of a finding of violation as, in itself, just satisfaction for the violation found reflects the point already made that the focus of the Convention is on the protection of human rights and not the award of compensation.” [9]

 

 

“The Court [in Strasbourg] routinely describes its awards as equitable, which I take to mean that they are not precisely calculated but are judged by the Court to be fair in the individual case. Judges in England and Wales must also make a similar judgment in the case before them.” [19]

 

iii) Lord Reed in R (o.t.a. Faulkner) v. Secretary of State for Justice [2013] UKSC 23 at [13](4)/(7):

 

 

“(4) [T]he quantum of awards under section 8 should broadly reflect the level of awards made by the European court in comparable cases brought by applicants from the UK or other countries with a similar cost of living

 

 

(7) The appropriate amount to be awarded in such circumstances will be a matter of judgment, reflecting the facts of the individual case and taking into account such guidance as is available from awards made by the European court, or by domestic courts under section 8 of the 1998 Act, in comparable cases”.

 

  1. iv) And in a passage which directly chimes with the facts of this case, Wilson LJ in Re C (Breach of Human Rights: Damages) [2007] EWCA Civ 2, [2007] 1 FLR 1957 at [64]

 

 

“… the European Court generally favours an award of damages in cases in which local authorities have infringed the right of parents under Article 8 to respect for their family life by shortcomings in the procedures by which they have taken children into care or kept them in care, whether temporarily or permanently” [64]

40.I further take account of the Practice Direction issued by the President of the European Court of Human Rights (2007; re-issued September 2016) on ‘just satisfaction’:

 

 

 

 

“The purpose of the Court’s award in respect of damage is to compensate the applicant for the actual harmful consequences of a violation. It is not intended to punish the Contracting Party responsible. The Court has therefore, until now, considered it inappropriate to accept claims for damages with labels such as “punitive”, “aggravated” or “exemplary”.” [9]

 

 

“It is in the nature of non-pecuniary damage that it does not lend itself to precise calculation. If the existence of such damage is established, and if the Court considers that a monetary award is necessary, it will make an assessment on an equitable basis, having regard to the standards which emerge from its case-law.” [14]

 

 

“Applicants who wish to be compensated for non-pecuniary damage are invited to specify a sum which in their view would be equitable. Applicants who consider themselves victims of more than one violation may claim either a single lump sum covering all alleged violations or a separate sum in respect of each alleged violation”. [15]

 

It is convenient to cite here also what is said in the Practice Direction (at [17]) about costs and expenses (to which I make reference at [58(vi)] below):

 

 

“The Court will uphold claims for costs and expenses only in so far as they are referable to the violations it has found. It will reject them in so far as they relate to complaints that have not led to the finding of a violation, or to complaints declared inadmissible”.

 

And thus that damages are not a natural consequence of an identified breach – the claimant must specify what damages they seek and why they are sought. Why are the breaches such that only an award of damages will provide ‘just satisfaction’?

 

(I will return to this, because if the damages are just going to the LAA because of the stat charge, HOW CAN the claimant really argue that the award is to provide ‘just satisfaction’? On the face of it, all that is achieved is punishing the public body by making them write a cheque to the LAA, and that’s specifically ruled out by para 9 of the Practice Direction…)

 

Note however, what Wilson LJ said in Re C, quoted above, that the ECHR does make damages awards where the breaches have caused a parent to lose their child, “whether temporarily or permanently”

 

  1. Awarding costs of the care proceedings due to egregious conductCobb J ruled that the LA had conducted part of the proceedings in a way that triggered a justification for a costs order under the Supreme Court guidance in Re S and Re T, but not the whole of the proceedings, and the costs order should be limited to that.
  2. 67.In relation to the costs of the CA 1989 proceedings, the Claimants have failed to demonstrate in my judgment that the Local Authority behaved “reprehensibly” or “unreasonably” otherwise than in the circumstances in which it launched the proceedings and conducted the hearing on 13 November. This had ramifications (i.e. the placement of CZ away from the parents’ care) until 7 December. In my judgment, applying ordinary costs principles, the Claimants would be entitled to the costs of the CA 1989 proceedings for the limited period from 13 November to 7 December 2015.
  3. The Claimants litigation conduct had a bearing on the costs award in relation to the HRA claim – not making efforts to try to settle the case and not responding constructively to offers had a bearing on this.          
  4. On ordinary costs principles, I am of the view that the Claimants should be entitled to recovery of their costs of the HRA 1998 proceedings from the grant of certificates up to and including 14 July, but no further.
  5. vi) On the information available to me, the Claimants have not complied with the direction which I made (on 5 October 2016) to make open proposals for settlement in a timely way, or at all.
  6. v) So far as I can tell, there was no response to the offer made on 15 July 2016;
  7. iv) Further ‘without prejudice’ offers were made on the days either side of the Case Management hearing on 14 July, without any meaningful response. On the 14 July itself, at court, Ms. Irving QC made an open offer. On 15 July 2016, the offer was increased to £2,500 on an open basis, together with the HRA 1998 costs; the Local Authority proposed a further ’round table’ discussion but this fell on deaf ears;
  8. iii) The mother and Children’s Guardian did not respond positively to the request to provide costs schedules at an early stage or an order to the same effect, and none of the Claimants complied with my direction for the provision of open offers of settlement;
  9. ii) The Claimants were invited from 22 February 2016 to indicate a ‘settlement amount’ in relation to any prospective HRA 1998 claim, but they did not apparently (i.e. from the correspondence – including that marked ‘without prejudice’ – which I have now seen) do so;
  10. i) They failed to respond constructively to the Local Authority’s efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement; from an early stage (i.e. February 2016: see [45](i) above), through until July and beyond, the Local Authority was making appropriate overtures to sort out this dispute, but the Claimants were ostensibly unreceptive;
  11.  
  12. 66.On the facts of this case, the Claimants have succeeded in their HRA 1998 claim, and ordinarily therefore they could look to the “unsuccessful” party (Local Authority) to pay their costs under Part 44.2(2)(a); however, I consider that the Claimants’ litigation conduct is such that they have forfeited this entitlement. In particular:
  13.                 In any evaluation of costs whether under the CPR 1998 or the FPR 2010, I am obliged to have regard to the parties’ litigation conduct, and whether costs are reasonably or not reasonably incurred. The Claimants’ approach would require me to ignore or forgive any reckless, wasteful or profligate manufacture of costs in order to ensure that the Claimants receive their award; this cannot be right. In this case, as will be apparent from my comments below, the Claimants did not conscientiously attempt to settle their claims, whereas I am satisfied that the Local Authority did make genuine efforts to do so
  14. A suggestion was made to multiply the child’s damages by 3, and award the total damages to the child, so that only the Child’s public funding certificate had the stat charge arise, and thus make only costs order to cover the child’s certificate in full.

 

Mr. Taylor further submitted that I could award an aggregate damages award of £11,250 (£3750 x 3) to the child, and order the Local Authority to pay all of the costs of the Children’s Guardian; in that way, (i) this would reduce the financial outlay for the Local Authority than the alternative route contended for by the Claimants, and (ii) at least one of the parties would actually benefit from a damages award. Ms. Irving QC indicated that if the Court approved it, the Local Authority would not contest this approach. The LAA was, sensibly, consulted about this proposal, and rejected it for the contrivance which it undoubtedly is. I could not in any circumstances sanction this approach. I have awarded damages to each of the three Claimants; the figure awarded is what I regard as “necessary” to give “just satisfaction” to each of them. The proposal outlined undermines the principles on which I have resolved the claims.

 

 

 

 

Decision

 

75.I shall make the declarations proposed and conceded, set out in [33] above.

 

76.I shall award each of the three Claimants £3,750 by way of damages, to be paid by the Local Authority, under section 8(3) HRA 1998. It is, I acknowledge, regrettable that because of the costs order I propose to make, the Claimants are unlikely to receive these sums.

 

77.I shall make an order that the Local Authority makes a contribution to the publicly funded costs of the Claimants, limited to the following periods:

  1. a) 13.11.15-7.12.15 (all Claimants: CA 1989 proceedings);

 

  1. b) From the date on which the LAA granted extensions to the Claimants’ existing certificates (issued for the CA 1989 proceedings) for them to pursue HRA 1998 claims to 14.7.16, excluding the costs incurred by those who attended on behalf of the mother and the child at the meeting arranged by the Local Authority on 17 March 2016 (save as provided for herein, all Claimants: HRA 1998 proceedings).

78.That is my judgment.

 

Quantum-wise, a sum of damages of £3,750 per party, for the child being removed under an ICO hearing where the parents had not been given notice and the Court was misinformed that (a) they had and (b) they consented to the plans, where the LA withdrew the proceedings just months later because threshold was not met, compared to some of the very high s20 damages awards makes interesting reading. Cobb J was very specifically addressed on quantum and the principles to be applied and this case (together with the Hackney case) sets down a considerable marker that there is unlikely to be sufficient diamonds in the mine to justify the digging costs save in a highly exceptional case.

To escape the stat charge and ensure that the client receives any of the compensation, either the costs will need to be very small, or the damages very large, or a better case for a costs order than this one….

 

When I’m sixty-four (bundles)

 

A permission to appeal hearing in the Court of Appeal. Where the parents did not have legal aid and

 

(A) There were Court orders that said that they couldn’t have a copy of the judgment ; and

(B) There were sixty four Court bundles  (and even whittling it down for the appeal there were still 27 just to decide the permission application)

 

Re A and B (Children) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/1101.html

 

 

 

The impact of confidentiality on the appeal process

 

  • For sound reasons, which are not challenged in the course of these two applications for permission to appeal, Theis J imposed a highly restrictive regime aimed at maintaining total confidentiality as to the content of her fact finding judgment and the subsequent welfare determinations that she made. In short terms mandatory orders are in place which prevent any of the lay parties from having a copy of the judgments, or any part of them, in their possession at any time. The solicitors acting for the various parties, and indeed the other professionals in the case, were required to retain any copies of the judgments securely in their possession and not to pass a copy of a judgment, or any part of it, to any of the lay parties.
  • The three applicants for permission to appeal no longer have the benefit of legal representation funded by Legal Aid. They appear before this court as litigants in person. The difficulties that they face as litigants in person attempting to challenge the judge’s highly detailed and sophisticated analysis of the factual evidence is, sadly, compounded by the fact that Mr A and Miss B in particular and, to a lesser extent, Mrs A are said to suffer from learning difficulties.
  • I considered the applicants’ applications for permission to appeal on paper soon after they had been issued. The difficulties facing each one of the three applicants was plain. The suggested “Grounds of Appeal” put forward with respect to each of the two applications was, understandably, in the most general and superficial terms. The challenge for this court and for the parties was to consider how each of these three individuals, with their limited intellectual resources and acting as litigants in person, could possibly present an effective application for permission in circumstances where they were denied personal access to copies of the judgment. The applications were therefore listed on notice to the local authority for hearing before me on 19th May 2016 so that attempts could be made to enable each of the applicants to present their proposed applications for permission through a process which was as fair and as effective as could be achieved within the parameters set by the confidentiality orders made by Theis J.

 

That would make it impossible for the appellants to run their case. For those reasons, the Court and the other parties helped the appellants to liaise with the Bar Pro Bono Unit.

However, the sheer volume involved made that difficult  – doing legal work for nothing is one thing, but reading 64 bundles of evidence  is quite another (that by the way amounts to reading 21 books as long as War and Peace or The Stand. Or reading the entire Harry Potter series SEVEN times. No, I wouldn’t do that for nothing either. They did eventually find someone, but given that they were doing all of this reading for free, in between their paid job it took a little longer)

 

 

 

28th July 2016 hearing

 

  • Unfortunately, the timetable leading to a hearing on 7th July slipped, despite the apparent best efforts of all concerned, and the matter was listed once again before me on 28th July. At that hearing a number of matters were apparent. Firstly, despite the genuine endeavours of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, to whom I am most grateful, it had not been possible to engage a barrister who was willing and able to take on the very substantial task of familiarising themselves with the details of this case. To put the matter in perspective, Theis J had no fewer than 64 lever arch files of documents for the fact finding hearing and this court has already been provided with 27 lever arch files of material simply to support the decision at the pre-permission stage.
  • It was also apparent that the limited time that had been available to the applicants at their respective solicitors’ offices had been insufficient for them to engage with the detail of the judge’s judgment so as to be able to identify potential grounds of appeal.
  • In the event the court was therefore obliged to adjourn the matter further on the basis that the applicants would have additional time to consider the judgment at the various solicitors’ offices and the hope was that they would be supported in that process by an advocate or other support service. On that basis the case was adjourned until September.

 

9th September 2016 hearing

 

  • The final hearing of the permission to appeal applications took place before me on 9th September 2016. By that time the paperwork submitted by the applicants indicated that they had each spent sufficient time with a copy of the judgment to enable them to draw up a list of grounds of appeal. That the applicants and the court were able to achieve that state of affairs is undoubtedly due to a good deal of hard work on their part and, at the same time, a good deal of support and goodwill shown to them by their former solicitors and the advocates who have assisted them. So far as the former solicitors are concerned, I do not anticipate that the facilities and staff that they have made available to the applicants will be remunerated in any way and I am therefore particularly grateful to them for their contribution to this process which, without their help, may well have failed to achieve its target of enabling the applicants to engage with the detailed substance of Theis J’s decision.
  • It is also right to record that throughout this process the court has been very significantly assisted by the thorough, calmly presented and well informed submissions of Miss Sally Stone, counsel for the local authority. Having undertaken the professionally taxing role of presenting the local authority’s case before Theis J, Miss Stone was well placed to assist this court in understanding the various issues raised by the applicants. I am also grateful to the legal services department of the local authority who have provided the court with very well prepared bundles to support this process. That the applications for permission to appeal have taken over six months to determine is, understandably and rightly, a source of great frustration to those who are required to focus upon the welfare of the children. Despite that high level of professional frustration, Miss Stone has presented the local authority’s case in careful and measured terms, as opposed to taking a confrontational stance towards the applicants, in a way which has displayed insightful professionalism of the highest order and which is in the best traditions of the family Bar. Both the local authority and the children’s guardian submit that there are no arguable grounds of appeal.
  • At the conclusion of the 9th September hearing I announced my decision which was to refuse permission to appeal to all three applicants on all grounds. I reserved this judgment in order, firstly, to explain the reasons for that decision and, secondly, to do so in the form of a judgment which will be publicly available so that the details of this process can be made known. In order for the judgment of this court to be public, but at the same time in order to protect the confidentiality of the content of the proceedings before Theis J, it is necessary for this judgment to do no more than refer to the detailed allegations and the circumstances of the family members in the most general of terms. In the event, as I shall explain, because my conclusion is that the potential grounds of appeal do not really engage with the scale of the findings made against these three applicants by Theis J, it is not necessary to descend to fine detail in explaining my reasons for determining the applications as I have done.

 

The appeal itself is not that absorbing – you can read about it in the linked judgment if you wish, but this case really does throw up in a very sharp way just how daunting the task of appealing is for litigants in person and how much fairness in our system is now depending on amounts of goodwill and charity that just wouldn’t be expected in any other line of work.

If you imagine that three bundles is about average (some High Court cases go more than that), then the barrister advising these parents did the equivalent in man hours of working twenty cases for free. Can you concieve of us expecting a heart surgeon to do twenty operations for free? The Pro Bono Bar Unit and the people who help out do remarkable and extraordinary work and it is worth thinking about someone giving up their free time to do the equivalent of twenty normal cases for absolutely no money. Worth thinking about that the next time you read a Daily Mail piece on fat cat legal aid lawyers.

 

 

Human Rights claims and statutory charge – an answer? Sort of

In the words of Erik B and Rakim

 

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’ta left you, without a strong rhyme to step to

 

But now, to paraphrase the one-hit wonder gangster rapper from Leicester,  “Return of the Pack – oh my god, Return of the Pack, here I am, Return of the Pack, once again, Return of the Pack, Pump up the world”

 

Which is a more heavy rap-related intro than intended, but basically, now I’m back, to show you…

 

P v a Local Authority 2016

High Court y’all.  Keehan J in da House.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2779.html

This one is actually a Keehan J shout out to the old skool, if by old skool, you mean (and I do),  the return of a case from March 2016

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/03/11/child-in-care-wanting-parents-to-have-no-information-or-involvement/

 

That was the case where the young person did not want his adoptive parents to know anything about the process of gender reassignment, and the LA went to Court to ascertain whether that was in conflict with their duties under the Children Act 1989 to consult with parents when they are looking after a child.

Unfortunately, this happened

 

Background

 

  • In September 2015 P moved to a local authority unit for semi-independent living. Although there were concerns about his mental well being and general welfare, P settled in to this accommodation. He was and is a vulnerable young person with a history of repeated episodes of self harm, taking overdoses and extremely poor mental health.
  • On 11 January 2016 an employee of the local authority disclosed personal information about P, including his forename and transgender status, to third parties who are friends of P’s adoptive parents. P was originally told that the address of the unit where he was living had also been disclosed: this later appears not to have been the case.
  • The impact of this wrongful disclosure on P was immediate and dramatic. He felt unsafe at the unit and left. He first stayed with his girlfriend and then at a number of residential units provided by the local authority. P’s mental health was very severely compromised: he made a number of suicide attempts and there were several episodes of self harm.
  • In more recent months P’s mental health has stabilised. I was very pleased that he was well enough to attend the last court hearing on 26 August 2016.
  • Although the local authority promptly told P of the disclosure of his personal information, I regret that it was slow in (a) giving P a full account of what had happened and (b) giving P a full and unreserved apology. In February the then Director of Children and Family Services wrote a letter of apology to P and offered to meet with him to answer any questions he may have had. P did not take up the offer of a meeting.
  • The member of staff who made the wrongful disclosure was suspended by the local authority and a formal investigation was undertaken pursuant to the council’s disciplinary policy. I do not know the outcome of that process.
  • Regrettably, and notwithstanding that P is a ward of this court, the local authority did not bring this breach of P’s privacy to the attention of this court. The matter was raised with the court by P’s lawyers.
  • The local authority, very sensible and rightly, decided to concede it had, by the inexcusable actions of one of its employees, breached P’s Article 8 rights to respect for his family and private life. They agreed to pay P damages in the sum of £4750. I am satisfied that in light of the very considerable distress suffered by P and the immediate adverse impact on his mental health, this appears to be an appropriate level of damages to be awarded to P.

 

That all seems straightforward. The LA messed up, and they agreed a sum of compensation to pay to P and P was content with that sum, and the Judge felt it was the right amount.

So why is this even a thing?

Well, it is because the Legal Aid Agency (having by the way refused to give P funding to make a claim for damages) wanted to take that £4750 and use it to repay the legal aid that P had had in the original wardship proceedings. This is called the Statutory Charge, and it comes up most often in divorce cases about money. The point there is that if you get legal aid (or ‘free’ legal representation paid by the taxpayer and you win money out of the case, you have to pay the legal aid back out of that money. ) That makes sense with divorce. It doesn’t make a lot of sense here.

It was P’s legal rights that were breached, and the £4,750 is compensation for that breach. Obviously he should get the money.

 

But no, the statutory charge bites on the compensation and P would get nothing.

That’s because of our dear old friend LASPO, the Statute that keeps on giving (if by giving you mean stealing pennies from the eyes of corpses)

 

  • Its current statutory basis is set out in s. 25 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’) which provides:

 

“Charges on property in connection with civil legal services

(1) Where civil legal services are made available to an individual under this Part, the amounts described in subsection (2) are to constitute a first charge on—

(a) any property recovered or preserved by the individual in proceedings, or in any compromise or settlement of a dispute, in connection with which the services were provided (whether the property is recovered or preserved for the individual or another person), and

(b) any costs payable to the individual by another person in connection with such proceedings or such a dispute.

 

And the killer words her are “in connection with”  – basically the Legal Aid Agency position is that the statutory charge bites (and thus they can take the compensation and take all of the legal aid costs spent on other stuff and P just gets anything left over) if there’s a connection between the cases at all.

There’s one exception in the LASPO Act (none of which apply to compensation from Human Rights claims) and the Lord Chancellor has power to exempt the statutory charge in certain cases

 

 

  • The Lord Chancellor has authority to waive the statutory charge, in whole or in part, where she considers it equitable to do so and two conditions are met.

 

Those conditions are:

(a) the Director was satisfied, in determining that a legally aided party qualified for legal representation, that the proceedings had a significant wider public interest; and

(b) the Director in making the determination took into account that there were other claimants or potential claimants who might benefit from the proceedings:

see regulation 9 of the CLA(SC)R 2013.

 

  • The phrase ‘significant wider public interest’ is defined as being a case where the Director of the LAA is satisfied that the case is an appropriate case to realise real benefits to the public at large, other than those which normally flow from cases of the type in question, and benefits to an identifiable class of individuals, other than the individual to whom civil legal services may be provided or members of that individual’s family: see regulation 6 of the Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulation 2013 (the ‘LA(MC)R 2013’).
  • The LAA asserts that the two conditions set out in regulation 9 of the CLA(SC)R 2013 must be satisfied at the time the application for funding is made and the Director makes the determination that the application qualifies for funding. The purpose of the waiver is to allow legal aid to be granted for a single test case without disadvantaging the applicant should he or she fail to secure damages and/or all of their costs.

 

 

The Lord Chancellor and the Legal Aid Agency were both represented in these proceedings and were clear that Reg 9 had not been sought at the time the application for funding was made (of course it hadn’t, because the breach hadn’t happened at that point)  and so it couldn’t now be applied.

Their very reasonable solution was that P would get his damages, provided that his solicitors, silk and junior counsel agreed to waive all of their fees from the wardship case (i.e having represented P in a very complex and legally difficult case and got everything that he wanted and advanced the law in a way that will help others in similar circumstances, they should not get paid for any of it)

 

 

  • In taking a broad and pragmatic approach leading counsel for the local authority submits that the adverse consequence of the statutory charge, that P will receive not a penny in damages, is unfair and makes no sense. I have a very considerable degree of sympathy with those sentiments.
  • In this context I deprecate the stance taken by the LAA that the issue of P receiving any of the awarded HRA damages would be alleviated if his leading counsel, junior counsel and solicitor simply waived their professional fees for acting in this matter.

 

 

The Judge mooted the idea that if there was a break between the two cases (this is my solution so I’m interested in it)  i.e

  1. The solicitors and counsel deal with the wardship or care proceedings on legal aid

2. Separately and without charging for it, they write to the LA about human rights breach and ask for compensation

3. LA settles the HRA claim (and possibly pays the costs of step 2 into the bargain)

 

Then why is the money recovered as a result of step 2 ‘in connection with’ step 1?  And why should the LAA get their money back from step 1 if step 2 is nothing to do with it, and no legal aid money was spent in getting step 2 achieved?

I think this is a damn good point (immodestly, because I’ve been saying it for ages). The LAA unsurprisingly disagree

 

 

  • The principal supplementary submissions of the LAA may be distilled into the following 10 points:

 

(a) it was common ground between the parties at the hearing on 26 August 2016 that any damages recovered in relation to the breach of P’s Article 8 rights (the ‘HRA claim’) would be damages recovered in the wardship proceedings;(b) the creation of new proceedings avowedly for the purpose of avoiding the statutory charge would not be an appropriate use of the court’s powers. It would be wrong to seek to bring about the disapplication of the statutory charge by changing the previously contemplated approach to the scope of this judgment or disapplying certain rules of civil procedure.

(c) The issues raised by the court about the application of the statutory charge cannot be resolved in a factual vacuum.

(d) Even if P’s damages were awarded in freestanding proceedings which were not funded by the LAA, the statutory charge would still apply to those damages if they were recovered in “proceedings in connection with which the [civil legal] services were provided.” The language of ‘in connection with’ is obviously very wide. I was referred to the case of Cassidy v. Stephenson [2009] EWHC 1562 (QB) where Holman J. held that money recovered from the settlement of professional negligence proceedings brought as a result of a failed clinical negligence (which was funded) was not property recovered in a dispute “in connection with which” the legal services for the clinical negligence claims were provided.

(e) The propositions set out in paragraphs 7 to 10 of the email of 20 October 2016 are correct, save that the LAA is not privy to the full background to this case (eg the local authority’s response to P’s letter before action).

(f) The HRA claim cannot be said to be ‘wholly unconnected’ to the subject matter of the wardship proceedings. The LAA asserts that:

“As the LAA understands the position, the Court considered P’s circumstances and the extent to which information about him and his whereabouts should be disclosed in the inherent jurisdiction proceedings. The HRA Claim arose, as the LAA understands it, as a result of conduct by the LCC that was not consistent with the way in which that issue was resolved, with the Court’s assistance, in these proceedings. It was therefore reliant on matters determined in RA’s favour in the wardship proceedings, for which funding for civil legal services was provided.

Civil legal services were provided for the wardship proceedings, in which RA was made a ward of the Court, and restrictions were imposed on disclosure of information in relation to RA. It was the fact that LCC acted contrary to the resolved position that has given rise to the HRA Claim. The LAA funded the wardship proceedings, including for a declaration that there had been a breach of the injunction imposed by the Court. “

(g) It would be artificial to say than any recovery of damages was not made in the wardship proceedings.

(h) Even if the award of damages was made or approved outwith the wardship proceedings, the damages were still recovered in proceedings in connection with which “legal services were provided” (i.e. the wardship proceedings). The LAA relies on the assertion by P’s counsel that the authorities state that HRA claims should be brought within wardship proceedings viz. Re L(Care Proceedings: Human Rights Claims) [2003] 2 FLR 160.

(i) The answer to the question posed in paragraph 15 of the email of 20 October 2016 is “yes” there are reasons why the court should not permit the issue of a freestanding HRA claim. Such a device would be inappropriate and would not result in the disapplication of the statutory charge because, as asserted above, the damages would be recovered in (unfunded) proceedings which were “in connection with” the (funded) wardship proceedings.

 

 

The Judge decided otherwise and ruled that in this case steps 1 and 2 were not ‘connected with’ each other and the statutory charge did not arise on the compensation payable to P. Hooray!

 

 

 

  • It is appropriate for me to deal with each of those points in turn. First, the court is neither bound nor fettered in its determination of the legal issues or the factual matrix of a case by the submission of counsel. In any event counsel were afforded the opportunity to agree or disagree with the alternative analysis proposed by the court and to make submissions. P and the local authority have decided to agree with my propositions and questions. The LAA have had a full opportunity to respond and I can discern no procedural or substantive unfairness in the course I have adopted.
  • Second, to characterise the alternative analysis the court has suggested is ‘avowedly for the purpose of avoiding the statutory charge’ is quite wrong. Rather my objective is to secure, if at all possible, by any legitimate and lawful route P’s receipt of the damages he maybe awarded for the breach of his Article 8 Rights by an organ of the state.
  • Third the factual matrix of this case should be well known to all parties including the LAA. The same is comprehensively set out in the parties’ written submissions and in a detailed chronology prepared on behalf of P. I do not accept the court is considering the legal issues in this case in a factual vacuum.
  • Fourth, with reference to paragraph 64(d) above, I accept the phrase “in connection with which the [civil legal] services were provided” can be given a very wide interpretation. I was not referred to any authority to support a submission that I must give it a very wide interpretation.
  • Fifth, with reference to paragraph 64(e) above, I do not understand the submission that the “LAA is not privy to the full background to this case.” For the purposes of this judgment I have not taken account of nor have I been furnished with material not available to all counsel, save perhaps for one matter which I refer to in the next paragraph.
  • Sixth, with reference to paragraphs 64(f) and (g) above, the LAA appears to have proceeded and proceeds on the basis of a fundamental misunderstanding of the order I made in August 2015: see paragraph 46 above. I did not make an injunction or other order prohibiting the local authority from disclosing personal or private details about P to other persons, save against the local authority disclosing information to P’s adoptive parents: see paragraph 8 above. I made a declaratory order that the local authority was relieved of its statutory duty to give information about P to or to consult with P’s adoptive parents about P or his welfare. The LAA has proceeded and proceeds on the following assumptions:

 

(a) that I made an injunctive order against the local authority;(b) that the employee of the local authority breached the terms of that injunction;

(c) and that P’s claim against the local authority was based on a breach of that injunction.

None of the foregoing assumptions are factually correct. The LAA’s mistake does explain the funding decision of 8 February 2016, set out at paragraph 38 above, to permit P to bring a claim for a declaration for breach of an injunction.

 

  • P’s claim is and was always based upon his Art. 8 Convention right to respect for his private and family life. The claim had nothing to do with the declaratory relief granted to P in the wardship proceedings. This court was not notified of that alleged breach (now admitted) by an employee of the local authority which it should have been because P is a ward of this court and because of the adverse consequences of the wrongful disclosure on P. Furthermore the wrongful disclosure, insofar as it is relevant, was made to third parties and not to P’s adoptive parents. The local authority asserts that the third parties did not, in fact, pass on the disclosed information to P’s adoptive parents.
  • Seventh, with reference to paragraphs 64(h) and (i) above, in light of the correct factual matrix set out above I am not satisfied that the (unfunded) HRA claim in which damages are sought could be said to be “recovered in proceedings in connection with which legal services were provided” (i.e. the funded wardship proceedings). I go further, I am wholly satisfied that the damages resulting from the HRA claim are not “recovered in proceedings in connection with which legal services were provided”. There is no legal or factual connection between the wardship proceedings and P’s HRA claim.
  • The mere fact that P’s counsel in submission referred to the case of Re L(Care Proceedings: Human Rights Claims) [2003] 2 FLR 160 which advises that HRA claims may or should be made in existing proceedings, does not require this court to conclude that P must or may only make a HRA claim in ongoing wardship proceedings. No claim form was issued. The HRA claim and the quantum of damages were settled before a claim was issued. As referred to in paragraphs 58 and 59 above, rr. 21.10 and 8 of the CPR set out the appropriate procedure when a settlement is reached concerning a child or young person prior to the issue of proceedings.
  • I can discern no legal impediment or other reason why I should not permit P by his solicitor to issue a claim form as required by r. 8.2 of the CPR and upon that basis, in due course, proceed to approve the agreed award of damages to P in respect of his HRA claim in those proceedings. The approval of damages can be submitted by email and be dealt on the papers without the need for a hearing. I am confident that the local authority would agree to pay the costs of that process incurred by P’s legal team.

 

Conclusions

 

  • I am bound to find that the Lord Chancellor, by the director of the LAA, has no discretion or power to waive the statutory charge, if applicable, in this case. The preconditions set out in regulation 9 of the CLA(SC)R 2013 must be satisfied at the time the determination of funding is made and a decision to waive the statutory charge must be made at the same time. That did not happen in this case and thus the preconditions are not satisfied.
  • I do not understand why the CLA(SC)R 2013 regulations placed that limitation on the time when a decision whether to waive the statutory charge must be made. I am not aware of any public interest or policy reasons for the same. It is regrettable that the discretion to waive the statutory charge is so fettered.
  • The manner in which the LAA has made determinations on public funding in these proceedings is extremely unfortunate. In some aspects the decisions are plainly wrong and/or unreasonable and in others the reasoning of the LAA is difficult to understand, if not incomprehensible.
  • In my view it would be extremely regrettable if P were to be denied the benefit of the damages awarded to him as a result of the considerable emotional distress and harm to his mental well being he has suffered as a result of the wrongful conduct of an organ of the state.
  • In light of the fact, however, that the LAA refused to fund a HRA claim for damages it appears me that the damages to be awarded to P under the Part 8 procedure were recovered in a claim that did not have the benefit of a public funding certificate. Further I am wholly satisfied that any damages awarded to P in Part 8 proceedings were not recovered “in proceedings in connection with which [civil legal] services were provided.” Accordingly, however erroneous or muddled the LAA’s decision making was on this issue, in my view, for the reasons I have given above the statutory charge is not and cannot be applicable to P’s award of damages.

 

 

Is this the end of it? Not really. Whilst the Judge here paints a route-map for others to follow, there are two major differences from other HRA cases notably the s20 damages cases.

 

  1. The HRA breach happened AFTER the Court hearing and not really in connection with the Court hearing at all. P’s rights would have been breached by what the rogue member of staff did, whether or not there had been a Court hearing. (The Court hearing made it sharper and more vivid and allowed P to easily tap into legal advice from his legal team whom he already knew, but the breach was a breach regardless. It was  a breach of his article 8 rights, NOT as the LAA mistakenly thought a breach of a Court injunction)
  2. The LAA had been asked to fund a damages claim and had refused. That is a material factor in the Judge being able to rule that there was no connection between the two cases.

 

(On the plus side for children and parents, this case probably makes it more likely that the LAA will STOP refusing to fund such damages cases, since if they do, they leave the door open to not being able to recover their original costs out of any winnings, but that in turn means that they will argue that this case doesn’t have broader application)

 

I suspect this is an issue that only the Court of Appeal or Parliament can resolve. It simply can’t be right that where a child or parent has their human rights breached by the State and compensation is paid that they will not get a penny of it. Equally it can’t be right that where the HRA claim is accepted and settled swiftly, that the LA get hit with costs of care proceedings which would be massively more than the legal costs of dealing with the HRA claim itself (and that is a collision course with Supreme Court decisions in Re S and Re T about where costs orders can be made in care proceedings)

Not for the first or last time, the answer is that LASPO is badly drafted and poorly constructed and unfair to real people, and it needs to be reworked.

 

section 20 and human rights damages (£17,500 award)

 

Kent County Council v M and K (section 20 : declaration and damages) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/28.html

 

The judicial trend for curbing the worst excesses of section 20 continues (see for example  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/10/21/fast-and-the-furious-tunbridge-wells-drift/ )

Apologies to the people of Kent, I know some of you are readers, and it is nothing personal, I just report the cases as they happen.

In this case, there was NO issue as to whether the original section 20 consent was lawful (the parents had capacity, and the principles laid down by Hedley J had been properly followed), but the drift and particularly here the failure to issue care proceedings in a timely fashion were what led to the human rights claim, and later damages.  Most of the s20 drift cases involve very young children – in fact infants, but this one involved an older child whose difficulties were significant and got worse over time.  This one is unusual in that it was not the parent complaining that drift and delay had impacted negatively on them, but the child arguing that although the mother had granted valid s20 consent and was not seeking rehabilitation of the child, the LA’s failure to issue care proceedings had harmed the child.

 

 K was placed in the care of the LA pursuant to section 20 Children Act 1989 (CA 1989) on 14 December 2011, the LA issued these proceedings on 16 November 2015. The HRA claim is put under three headings: the failure of the LA to assess K; failure to meet K’s needs and the failure to issue court proceedings. The LA deny this claim. K’s mother supports the claim. 

 

Just shy of four years of s20, that does seem like a long time – from a child’s perspective it is a massively long time, more than a fifth of their total years of childhood.

The Judge sets out the background prior to proceedings being issued. It is long, but I’ll put it in full, because it shows clearly the missed opportunities for the case to be seized and the drift put right. Many many LAC reviews.

  1. K was accommodated by the LA, pursuant to s 20 CA 1989, on 14 December 2011. Prior to that she had been living with her aunt, as her mother was unable to cope with her care. K has a younger sister who remains in her mother’s care. Her father has taken no active part in her care, or these proceedings.
  2. The LA had had prior involvement with K. They had completed a core assessment in April 2011 when K was living with her aunt. The assessment recorded the need for M to address her own mental health needs, K’s relationship with her M was difficult which ‘will certainly impact on her emotional and behavioural development’, and ‘[K] may well need some intervention from the primary mental health team to support her with the difficult feelings and interactions she has with her mother and sister’. The recommendations in the assessment included M to give parental responsibility to the aunt.
  3. On 5 December 2011 K’s aunt informed the LA that she was unable to continue to care for K. K’s mother, M, gave her consent to K being accommodated by the LA by telephone that day. There is no issue that this was a valid consent.
  4. The documents show a placement plan was formulated on 14 December, providing that the period of accommodation pursuant to s 20 was for an initial period of four weeks, pending the convening of a family group conference (FGC), to consider whether any alternative family placements could be explored. This plan recorded ‘It is a concern that [K’s] emotional needs has not been addressed in an appropriate way during her short life’. This care plan was signed by M.
  5. At the Looked After Review (LAC Review) on 6 January 2012, it records K needing a referral for therapy/counselling and a referral had been made to the Lenworth Clinic (next meeting 25 January). The care plan is recorded as being ‘Eventual return to birth family’. And under the ‘Assessment’ sub heading, it states a core assessment ‘to be updated’. Under ‘Emotional and Behavioural Development’ it states K is ‘known to CAMHS and plan is that once [K] is settled fully they will start working with her’. These LAC Review minutes are signed by M.
  6. On 11 January 2012 the family met at the FGC, and all agreed that it would be better for K to stay in foster care as none of the family were able to have K live with them. M signed this document, signifying her agreement to this plan.
  7. At the next LAC Review on 27 March 2012 there is a record of a meeting at the Lenworth Clinic on 25 January 2012, an acknowledgement that K needs a referral for therapy/counselling. It records the referral to the Lenworth Clinic and notes ‘no work will be undertaken with her until current foster placement would be confirmed for long term’. The acute difficulties between K and her M at contact are noted. Importantly, this record notes the change in care plan for K to long term foster placement with foster carers, but acknowledges K has not been informed. It records the core assessment has been completed (although no updated core assessment has been produced) and notes it recommends that it would be ‘advisable to convene a legal planning meeting for the [LA] to seek advice regarding [K’s] care status and issue of parental responsibility’. This advice is repeated in the care planning section, where it records ‘legal advice needs to be sought re long-term fostering as permanency for [K] and Parental Responsibility issue’. This topic is recorded in the decisions and recommendations section as ‘Legal advice to be sought re Parental Responsibility Issue By whom – Social Worker and her manager Timescales – 27/04/12′. This document is not signed by M.

 

 

Quick break in the background – the chronology there shows that by April 2012, there had been a decision that there needed to be a legal planning meeting to discuss the child’s legal status and plans for the future. In the next section we learn that some form of meeting with legal happened in June 2012.  We know that care proceedings were not issued until November 2015. Let’s continue.

  1. The advice from CAMHS of K being unable to benefit from individual therapy until she is ‘firmly ensconced within a family unit’ is confirmed in a letter copied to the LA from the Lenworth Clinic. The LA urge CAMHS to reconsider their position in a letter dated 2 May, stating that K is ‘settled down and doing exceptionally well in the foster placement’. In June CAMHS respond to say they have sent the foster carers a questionnaire and when it is returned the referral will be discussed further.
  2. K’s placement broke down on 5 July, in circumstances where her behaviour was so difficult the police had to be called.
  3. At the next LAC Review on 12 September 2012 there is reference in the record of the meeting to a legal planning meeting on 25 June 2012, but no other detail about this meeting has been disclosed. As regards the CAMHS referral it notes K has moved placements and another questionnaire will be sent to her new foster carer. The record repeats that K needs a referral for therapy/counselling and notes the concerns regarding K’s emotional well-being caused by her wish to live with her mother, why her sister lives with her mother and she can’t, and her mother’s inconsistent behaviour at contact. It continues ‘[K] has been emotionally and psychologically affected by her experiences. She does require psychological support as soon as possible…It is hoped that once this [questionnaire] has been received by CAMHS appointments will be set up’. Under the section entitled ‘Legal’ it states ‘A legal planning meeting needs to be pursued with regard to care proceedings’. There is reference to the core assessment and care plan to be updated. Under ‘Decisions and Recommendations’ is recorded ‘Care proceedings to be pursued in order to give this child some stability and long-term placement. The referral to CAMHS to be pursued and the questionnaire to be completed by the previous and present foster carer.’ M did not sign this record.
  4. On 27 September the LA were informed by the Lenworth Clinic that as K was no longer placed in their catchment area they were referred to the CAMHS resource in the area of the new foster placement.
  5. The next LAC Review was on 5 December 2012. There is a repeated reference to a legal planning meeting on 25 June 2012. As regards the CAMHS referral there is reference to Ms A (the LAC Mental Health Specialist in CAMHS) requesting a meeting with the foster carer, which was still outstanding. The record notes ongoing concerns about K’s emotional well being, that she struggles in her relationship with M and M being unable to empathise with K and what she is going through. K has been ’emotionally and psychologically affected by her experiences’ and requires psychological support as soon as possible. The record of the meeting refers to the care plan, stating that the case is twin tracked ‘but the mother is clear that she could not care for her daughter and will therefore not consider rehabilitation home. Given the situation, the local authority needs to pursue long-term plans for [K]‘. M does not sign these minutes.
  6. In April 2013 there is a letter from Ms A to the LA setting out the CAMHS meeting with the foster carer and the social workers. It is accepted by Ms King, for the LA, that K was not present.
  7. The LAC Review meeting on 16 May 2013 refers to the CAMHS meetings being with the foster carer, but then records K ‘has been emotionally and psychologically affected by her experiences. She is currently receiving psychological support via [Ms A] at CAMHS’, later on referring to Ms A as now ‘working with [foster carer] and [K] to advise on strategies to manage behaviours and support the placement’. The CAMHS referral has been noted to have been ‘actioned’. M does not sign the minutes, but is recorded as having been seen on 21 March.
  8. On 16 July 2013 there was an emergency breakdown of the foster placement, there was an alleged assault by K on the foster carer requiring a late night home visit by the LA.
  9. The LAC Review meeting on 5 September 2013 refers to K attending the meeting. The record notes there had been no updated core assessment, no life story or direct work done with K and that this had left her ‘confused and unclear why she could not remain in the care of her mother. This is further exacerbated by a younger half-sibling remaining in the care of [M].’ It continues ‘LA do not hold PR for [K] and no other family members have been identified. The LA needs to give further consideration to this given [K’s] young age and potential difficulties in the future if they do not hold PR…The LA have not been able to safeguard [K’s] emotional well being given the breakdown in placements and the fact that Permanency has not yet been achieved for her…She [K] has previously had intervention and support from CAMHS – it was unclear as to whether this is being offered at present….Legal: Section 20. LA will need to give this further consideration in view of securing stability and security for [K]’.
  10. In January 2014 there is a signed letter from M confirming her consent for the foster carer to sign for day trips abroad and emergency medical treatment. This is followed in February 2014 with a health consent form signed by M.
  11. There is a report from an educational psychologist, following a consultation with K on 6 November 2013 regarding her behaviour at school which is reported to have improved.
  12. Undated LAC Review minutes indicate a meeting took place in January 2014. There is reference to Ms A working with K in January 2013, which it is accepted is incorrect as no direct work was done with K. The minutes refer to Life Story work being started, but not completed. There is no entry in the box regarding consideration of any new legal orders. Under the section entitled ‘Is this the preferred placement option for this child/young person?’ it says ‘No’, when asked why, it states ‘It is preferred that [K] return to a Local Authority Foster Placement’, when asked about alternative plans it states ‘An assessment is being undertaken to fully identify [K’s] needs’.
  13. In May 2014 there is a letter from SM (Senior Systemic Psychotherapist CAMHS) to the social worker confirming the four professional meetings and their conclusion that ‘the uncertainty about her future is affecting [K’s] emotional well-being and since [the foster carer] is similarly unable to provide reassurance to [K] this is having an impact upon [K’s] attachment to the [foster carer] and the [foster carer’s] attachment to [K]. [the foster carer] must, by virtue of not knowing, withhold some aspects of ”normal’ family life as such as planning for the future. It could be that this is, in part, why [K] believes she may still return home, and why she has seemed confused in her thinking. Other issues notwithstanding, it would seem that [K] is positioned between two families and needs to know who she is going to live with long term. It must be borne in mind that multiple moves (such as have occurred for [K]) can only increase her sense of loss and reduce her hope that there is someone and somewhere she can feel safe and secure. It is not surprising that she displays very challenging behaviours, she must feel enraged and despairing.’
  14. At around this time M writes a letter to K, to explain why she can no longer care for her.
  15. In the LAC Review minutes for 18 June 2014 K is noted as attending. They note that the LA have not pursued to change the legal status for K as work was being undertaken with M and she is supporting the care plan. It notes that the social worker has ‘undertaken and completed much overdue life story work’ which M has supported so K has a clear message she is not returning home. Under ‘Legal’ the minutes record ‘[K] remains accommodated under s 20. Whilst Mum continues to give consent and work with the LA in care planning for [K] there are no indications to change this.’ In July 2014 M gave her consent for K to go on holiday with the foster carer. In another record of this meeting it notes ‘[K’s] emotional and physical behaviour continues to be of concern within the placement and this is felt to be due to the level of uncertainty she still has in regards to her placement due to being told she may be moving placements/is staying and the confusion this has caused her….a plan of permanency has not been agreed for the IFA placement due to Kent’s current policy on IFA placements..’.
  16. In September 2014 the foster placement broke down due to K’s disruptive behaviour and in October she moved to her fourth placement.
  17. At the LAC Review on 20 November 2014, which K attended, the minutes confirm that individual support from CAMHS has yet to be offered. As regards the care plan meeting the need for permanency it records ‘Yes – if stability of Placement is achieved. Consideration also needs to be given to [K’s] Legal Status which is s20 and has been since December 2011’. A little further on under ‘Legal’ it records ‘IRO has asked that LA give consideration as to how her Legal Status could be more secured.’ Under ‘Decisions and Recommendations’ the minutes note that the social worker is to request senior managers to write to CAMHS to secure appropriate level of service including a definite date for State of Mind Assessment. Also the social worker is to raise with managers K’s legal status and advise IRO of outcome. One record of this meeting refers to concerns about the increased use of restraint and sedatives in her previous foster placement, with no further reference to how this was dealt with or whether M was informed.
  18. A file note dated 7 December records discussions with the out of hours social worker. K had told the foster carer that ‘she could go back to her mum any time’. The record ends with the following ‘K needs to be spoken to urgently by her social worker tomorrow as she needs to feel validated and listened to and clearly needs an explanation about her current status in care and why she is not in her mother’s care. It seems she has some unrealistic expectations about return to her mother’.
  19. On 5 January 2015 there is an out of hours file note with the foster carer seeking to end the placement due to K’s behaviour. K moves to her fifth placement on 16 January.
  20. A file record on 18 March 2015 notes that CAMHS have not yet made any contact with the foster carer, although the school have made contact for K with another project.
  21. In around June 2015 the LA make a referral to Great Ormond Street CAMHS where they note K has ‘been passed around services for the last 18 months with no real support or assessment in place. The [LA] feel this in unacceptable for K and she needs a professional team to take responsibility for completing an assessment and putting a plan in place to address her needs’. The referral records it has the support of the service manager, Ms Ransley.
  22. K’s behaviour deteriorates again and the police are called. She moved to her sixth placement on 10 June 2015 for one night, before being placed with Mr and Mrs M her current carers on 11 June 2015. They are her seventh foster carer in four and a half years.
  23. The LAC Review minutes for the meeting on 7 July 2015 record the attendance of Ms Ransley and K and M’s apologies. The referral to GOSH is noted. Under ‘Legal’ it records ‘[K] remains accommodated under s20. Discussions have been ongoing outside of the CIC Reviews with LA regarding this. NB Subsequent to this Review Service manager advised via email that Care Proceedings will be filed in first week of September’.
  24. A psychological report dated 6 August 2015 details the number of moves K has had and recommends a referral to GOSH, which had already taken place.

 

 

This is very tricky. On the one hand, this child was clearly uncertain about her future and getting very mixed up by it. On the other hand, the Local Authority had a mother who was genuinely consenting to the child being in foster care and accepting that she was not able to care for her. There’s at least an argument that in keeping this outside of care proceedings, although the length of s20 was unusual, the LA were observing the least interventionist approach which is the spirit of the Children Act 1989. Bear in mind that the Court can only make an order if it is better for the child than not making one, and here we had a mother who was working with the Local Authority and in agreement with the foster placement and accepting that she could not resume care of K.  I can understand the LA doubt about whether an application for a Care Order could have resulted in a Care Order being made, given that mum was working with the LA and giving valid s20 consent.   It is the unusual position of it really being the child who was unhappy with the s20 rather than the parent.

 

It was the Guardian, on behalf of K, making the Human Rights Act claim. Here are the Guardian’s arguments as to why there was a breach of K’s human rights.

  1. On behalf of K it is submitted that when K was received into care in 2011, at the behest of the LA, they were already aware from their own core assessment in April 2011 of her considerable difficulties in her relationship with her mother, and that she may need some intervention from the primary mental health team. Despite this knowledge in their own assessment the LA failed to;
    1. (i) Update her core assessment for over 2 years, despite repeated recommendations at LAC Reviews to do so.

(ii) Seek a psychological assessment of K’s family. The LA had recommended this should be done at a meeting in January 2005.

(iii) Seek a psychiatric or psychological assessment of K until 2015, despite that being recommended in LAC review meetings from March 2012. It is acknowledged she did see an educational psychologists in November 2013, but this concerned her behaviour at school. Some of the LAC reviews appeared to proceed on the basis that she was seeing someone from CAMHS, but the report dated 6 August 2015 from the trainee psychologist VT makes it clear she had not met K.

(iv) Life story work, although repeatedly recommended in LAC reviews did not start until over 2 years after she was received into care.

  1. In her statement the Guardian deals with the lack of assessment in the following way; ‘If such an assessment was sought many years ago work could have been done on the mother/child relationship which may have prevented the need for [K’s] permanent accommodation. In any event work could have been carried out on attachment and behavioural issues and therapeutic intervention could have assisted [K’s] development which suffered by this not happening…This is an assessment that the LA could have commissioned itself, if CAMHS would not agree to undertake it’. Mr Hall rejects any suggestion in the LA evidence that they recognise, with the benefit of hindsight, they may have acted differently. He submits the need for assessment was obvious from the time K was placed with foster carers in 2011. K’s attachment difficulties with her mother needed urgent assessment, and then effective support put in place. That was repeatedly recommended, but not done.
  2. Turning to his second heading, Mr Hall recognises that it is inter-linked with the failure to assess. In the record of the LAC review meeting on 5 September 2013 the LA candidly recognise they have ‘..not been able to safeguard [K’s] emotional wellbeing given the breakdown of placements and fact that permanency has not been achieved for her.’
  3. There have been 7 placement breakdowns, often at short notice and in upsetting and distressing circumstances for K. The records have many references to the extent the placement breakdowns have caused K emotional harm. In their referral for a psychological report in 2014, some three years after K has been in the LA’s care, the reason for a different picture at school emerged. As the record of the meeting notes ‘…[K] has learnt to cope by withdrawing emotionally and functioning independently whilst maintaining control over her environment. This works well at school and when she first enters into a new placement. However, this coping strategy breaks down at home as she starts to settle and get close to the foster carer…’ To illustrate this Mr Hall relies on the report to the LA review in January 2014 concerning K’s third foster placement with Mr and Mrs T. The social work report for the review notes that K was happy and beginning to form an attachment to the foster carer, but as it was an agency placement the LA, as a matter of policy, were unable to sanction this placement as a long term placement. The report notes that this lack of certainty in the placement was impacting on K’s emotional well-being. This view was endorsed in a letter dated 15 May 2014 from CAMHS and it went further in stating ‘It must be borne in mind that multiple moves (such as have occurred for [K]) can only increase her sense of loss and reduce her hope that there is someone and somewhere she can feel safe and secure. It is not surprising she displays very challenging behaviours, she must feel enraged and despairing.’
  4. Between December 2011 and February 2016 Mr Hall submits the LA have not ensured K has received appropriate therapy; had they done so the Guardian considers K’s family life is likely to have been very different. At the LAC review on 4 February 2015 it was recorded ‘…It is imperative that therapeutic support is offered to [K] to enable her to become more stabilised to reduce the risk of further placement breakdowns’.
  5. Under the third heading, the failure of the LA to issue court proceedings, Mr Hall also recognises is linked to the first two. He submits on the LA’s own records K suffered from instability from spending so long in foster care, with only her mother having parental responsibility and no clear direction. K’s current social worker Ms A sets out in her statement in support of these proceedings ‘It is envisaged that a care order will also support [K] in terms of feelings of security and stability, as she has historically struggled to understand the decisions made by her mother, and therefore she will know that there will be a level of oversight to her care planning’.
  6. Mr Hall submits if proceedings had been issued there is every likelihood they would have made a difference. The repeated failures by the LA to follow through their own decisions would have been subject to effective scrutiny, by the guardian, her legal representative and the court. The issue was repeatedly flagged up by the LA from March 2012, but not followed through. Had K been represented in court proceedings, there would have been proper oversight, the plans would not have been allowed to drift and assessments would have been undertaken when required. Whilst K’s mother did not raise any complaints at the time about how K was cared for by the LA, she had not been able to provide consistent and predictable care for K before 2011, K’s mother had her own mental health difficulties, she was inconsistent in her attendance at LAC reviews and her contact was gradually reduced to the extent she was only seeing K once during each school holiday. Mr Hall submits it is difficult to see how she could be regarded as someone who was proactively exercising her parental responsibility in relation to K.
  7. As regards any suggestion by the LA that s 20 is not time limited and/or is not always a prelude to care proceedings Mr Hall submits the LA’s own records point in the other direction. In particular,
    1. (i) On 12 September 2012 the LAC review records that a legal planning meeting needs to be pursued with regard to care proceedings noting ‘care proceedings to be pursued in order to give this child some stability’ and long-term placement’.

(ii) On 16 May 2013 the LAC review records that the LA are to review current legal status within next 3 working weeks and advise IRO of outcome.

(iii) 5 months later on 5th September 2013 the records note the LA does not hold PR for K and ‘the LA needs to give further consideration to this given [K’s] young age and potential difficulties in the future if they do not have PR…the LA have not been able to safeguard [K’s] emotional wellbeing given the breakdown of the placements and the fact that permanency has not been achieved for her’.

(iv) 14 months later on 20 November 2014 the LAC review notes ‘IRO has asked that LA give consideration as to how her legal status could be more secured…Sally to raise with managers [K’s] legal status and advise IRO of outcome’.

(v) 4 months later on 4 February 2015 the LAC review records similar concerns being expressed by the IRO as to K’s legal status.

  1. The LA issued care proceedings on 16 November 2015. Mr Hall submits the fact that care proceedings were finally issued conclusively responds to any suggestion by the LA as to their necessity. Otherwise, he asks rhetorically, why did they issue them? He submits that the failure to issue the proceedings soon after K was placed in care has denied K the opportunity to be properly assessed and access appropriate support at a much earlier stage as, he submits, it would be inconceivable that a court would have permitted care plans to be made without a proper assessment of K’s needs. As a result K has lost the opportunity to have the input of a Guardian, a legal representative and planning for her care to be properly and robustly based on sound assessment.
  2. Mr Hall submits the detrimental effect on K of the LA’s failure to secure emotional, practical and legal stability for her is clear from the LA records and the Guardian’s evidence.

 

The point here on the delay in issuing care proceedings that it is not merely the making of a Care Order that is achieved within care proceedings – having judicial and Guardian scrutiny of the care PLANS is a vital part of the process and if this had happened, K would have had a better care plan much sooner and suffered less disruption and harm in care.  The journey through care proceedings, says the Guardian, is just as significant as the ultimate destination.

 

What did the LA say?

 

  1. Ms King on behalf of the LA does not dispute the LA records. She submits there is no issue about the validity of the consent given by K’s mother, either at the start or during K’s placement with foster carers. She submits neither statute nor any guidance stipulate s 20 is a short term measure only. In this case, unlike the reported cases, there was not any dispute about the LA’s care plan for K. So, she submits, the starting point is very different and distinguishes this case on the facts.
  2. Ms King submits the documents show there was considerable involvement by K’s mother, such as the number of written consents provided by her for the foster carers to sign forms for her, the letter she wrote to K about why she was placed with foster carers. The submission on behalf of K that they should have issued care proceedings earlier does not amount to a breach of her article 6 and 8 rights.
  3. She submits there is no evidence of a failure to plan for permanency in that the LA investigated the options with the family first, when this was not possible their plan for K was to be placed with long term foster carers. They acknowledge the high number of placements, but state being within care proceedings was unlikely to have made any difference to the efforts made by the LA to secure a permanent placement. Ms Ransley, the service manager for the area at the relevant time, states ‘Providing children with stability within foster care is often a challenge (this is irrespective of their legal status) and this sadly was the theme for [K]. [K] experienced numerous foster care breakdowns within both the in house provision and the commissioned private foster care sector, which is regrettable but not unusual within a care system which operates a 30 per cent disruption rate. Finding the right match where it clicks, can often evade even the most meticulous professional.’ Ms King submits no link has been established that the situation would have been any different if care proceedings had been issued earlier than they were.
  4. Ms King refutes the submission that the LA failed to assess and/or provide therapeutic support for K. She submits the papers demonstrate the appropriate referrals were made to CAMHS but CAMHS concluded they should provide a service to the carers, not directly with K until she was settled in her placement. Whilst Ms Ransley in her statement acknowledges the LA’s frustration with the position taken by CAMHS that is the service provided to meet the mental health needs for children by the NHS, which is what the LA commissions for children in their care. Ms King relies on the fact that the Guardian has not sought an independent assessment within these proceedings.
  5. Ms King submits the submission on behalf of K that as a result of the LA breaches K’s welfare has been harmed, is speculative. Given the harm K suffered prior to coming into care and the extent to which that has been the root cause of her placement breakdowns and the uncertainty over CAMHS support due to placement uncertainty, such harm as might be found proved cannot be attributed directly to the failings of the LA to the extent of a breach of K’s article 6 and 8 rights.
  6. Finally, Ms King submits K’s mother has exercised her PR in a way regarding K’s accommodation that was and is consistent with her welfare. There were no alternative carers for her and K had an IRO. Ms King states in her written skeleton argument ‘Whilst the LA accept that it is better for [K] that a care order is made so that her position as a child in care is formalised by way of an order which signals permanency and confers PR onto the LA, none of those advantages mean the LA has acted unlawfully and/or breached [K’s] Article 6 rights. Her mother exercised her PR in a free and informed manner. Her mother decided that [K] was best looked after by the LA. She was entitled to take that decision and the LA was entitled to act on it’.

 

I think that those are good points – somewhat weakened by the number of placements and the child being at times sedated in care, which is a very unusual set of circumstances, but on the whole, the Local Authority had a decision to make as to whether care proceedings would achieve something for the child that could not be achieved without it.  I have certainly had cases (with the child not having such a bumpy ride in care) where with an adolescent in a settled foster placement I have advised against care proceedings where the parents are giving long-term and capacitous section 20 consent with no prevarication.  For a significant part of that four year period,

We know from the headline though that the LA lost here, so let us cut to the chase.

 

Discussion and decision

  1. There is some force in the submission made by Ms King that the facts in this case are different than those in many of the reported cases concerning the misuse of s20. A common feature of those cases was an issue over the parent’s consent to their child being accommodated and the lack of agreement with the care plan; neither of those matters featured in this case.
  2. Ms King builds on that position as, whilst acknowledging what the President said in Re N (ibid) about s 20 having a role as a short term measure, she seeks to rely on the fact that there is nothing specific in the section, or guidance, to found that view.
  3. The difficulty with Ms King’s position is that the documents produced by the LA paint a picture of
    1. (i) A mother who has to a large extent abdicated her parental responsibility to the LA. Whilst she has some involvement in the decision making after K is placed with foster carers, the fact that she doesn’t seek to challenge the LA inactions in the context of what is taking place demonstrates her inability to exercise her parental responsibility proactively for the benefit of K.

(ii) The LA on the documents decided repeatedly there should be a further/updated core assessment, mental health assessment/therapeutic support and legal advice about K’s status; but the same documents demonstrate repeated failures to follow through these decisions.

(iii) Repeated and worsening placement breakdowns, which were deeply damaging to K’s emotional well-being.

  1. Whilst there is no time limit on providing s 20 accommodation in the statute, each case has to be considered on its own facts, with active consideration being given as to whether proceedings should be issued. In this case care proceedings would have helped significantly to provide the stability and security that K so clearly needed. K would have had the benefit of a guardian and legal representative to give her an effective voice regarding the LA failures and enabled the LA to share PR with M. As the LA accepted in the middle of 2015 K had been ‘passed around services for the last 18 months with no real support or assessment in place’. This is hardly a ringing endorsement by the LA of their own care planning for K.
  2. A common thread in the records is the harm being caused to K by the lack of security and stability any of her placements (other than the current one) were able to offer her. The evidence demonstrates K was acutely aware that her mother could remove her at any time.
  3. I am satisfied that the LA have acted unlawfully, in my judgment their actions have been incompatible with K’s article 8 and 6 rights. I have reached that conclusion for the following reasons:
  1. (1) The failure by the LA over a period of over three years to conduct or update the core assessment done in April 2011 meant the LA had not properly assessed K’s needs during the period she was placed with them from December 2011 to November 2015 to provide a secure foundation for care planning for her, in order to protect her article 8 right to family life. The care plan for long term fostering lacked any detailed foundation that such an assessment would have given it.

(2) The LA’s failure to secure appropriate mental health assessments and/or therapeutic support meant her continued placement breakdowns over that period were unsupported. Reliance on inconsistent CAMHS referrals together with the repeated misunderstanding of what CAMHS support was being provided permeated the decision making and the delay in seeking an assessment until 2015, when a referral was made to GOSH. This all contributed to the increased risk of repeated placement breakdown.

(3) The suggestion that the LA were not able to commission independent private providers on an ad hoc basis does not stand up to scrutiny. In her statement Ms Ransley states ‘Commissioning independent, private providers on an ad hoc basis does not happen. Local Authorities only generally fund these types of arrangements within care proceedings’. Yet this is what the LA did when they made a referral to GOSH in July 2015, prior to issuing proceedings. No explanation is given as to why this could not have been done earlier, other than an acknowledgement in Ms Ransley’s statement that ‘this should have happened sooner with hindsight.’

(4) The repeated failure by the LA to act on its own decisions for over three years to seek legal advice to secure K’s legal position, including consideration of the issue of proceedings and the advantages that would bring for K, together with the LA having PR through a care order. On their own admission in the evidence the LA filed in 2015 in support of the care proceedings, a care order would provide the stability that K clearly required. The delay of over three years in doing so is not justified in any way. That delay meant K was denied access to an independent guardian and her own legal representation, in circumstances where the LA were not implementing their own decisions about her and the only person with PR was not exercising it in a proactive way. K’s article 6 and 8 rights were compromised by this significant delay.

(5) Whilst K’s mother was entitled to exercise her PR for K in the way she did, that does not absolve the LA from actively considering whether it should secure its legal position in relation to the child concerned. Here K’s mother was, at most, after November 2011 reactive rather than proactive in exercising her PR. She responded to requests from the LA and attended some, but not all, meetings. Probably due to her own vulnerabilities she was not in a position to challenge the actions, or inaction, by the LA in relation to K.

(6) Reliance by the LA on the unlimited term of s 20 simply cannot be justified in a factual vacuum. The circumstances in this case demanded for K’s article 8 and 6 rights to be protected, for the LA to secure their legal position regarding K. The LA’s own records repeatedly make decisions of the need to get such advice, those decisions were repeatedly not acted on and when they were care proceedings were issued, nearly three and a half years after they should have been. It is unattractive for the LA to now submit that there was no obligation on them to issue such proceedings. The President’s words in Re N (ibid) could not be clearer.

(7) I am satisfied that if proceedings had been issued earlier the assessments that the LA failed to do are more likely to have been ordered by the court. Reliance by the LA on the fact that within these proceedings the Guardian has not sought any further assessment is a realistic recognition by her of the current position, that with a settled placement and a report from GOSH further assessment is not justified. That does not absolve the LA from responsibility of its failure to issue proceedings earlier, as it should have done, over three years ago.

(8) I agree that in considering this application the court should guard against making decisions with the benefit of hindsight. In her statement Ms Ransley observes ‘With the benefit of hindsight criticism can be formulated. Is the service and support provided to [K] optimal, [K] has been given what all children in care are, but for [K] like 30 percent of young people, her experience has been sub-optimal due to issues inherent in the care system. These issues are experienced by children subject to an order and those who are not.’ What this does not acknowledge are the facts of this case; the unacceptable delay in issuing proceedings, the consequent uncertainty which increased the risk of placement breakdown and the failure to properly assess and support K.

 

The Judge assessed the appropriate level of damages for K as being £17,500.

 

Statutory charge

 

The statutory charge is not very exciting, but I need to talk about it here, because it is important. The statutory charge is the term given where as a result of  free legal representation, someone obtains money through a Court order, and has to use that money to repay the cost of their legal aid. It usually occurs in divorce, and makes a lot of sense. If someone racks up a legal aid bill of £20,000 and as a result of their divorce gets £250,000 it makes perfect sense that the legal aid should be repaid out of that money, rather than the taxpayer footing the bill.

Up until fairly recently, this didn’t affect people in care proceedings. Legal aid for care proceedings is non-means non-merit  (which means that even a millionaire would be entitled to free legal advice and representation) and parents didn’t get any money back at the end.  But now that Human Rights compensation for bad behaviour by a Local Authority is a thing, the change to the Statutory Charge which means that it applies to such compensation is a big deal.

£17,500 of compensation for K is a decent amount of money, and intended to be compensation for what she has gone through in her life as a result of the human rights breaches the Court has found. But before she gets any of that money, she has to pay back the legal aid agency for the cost of her care proceedings AND the cost of her human rights claim.  That’s probably going to leave her with nothing.

Many of us were hoping that you could box off the human rights claim separately, which would be much less, and possibly an amount of money that the Court might order the Local Authority to pay. A human rights claim probably costs about £2,000, compared to the £10-20,000 of care proceedings  (remember that the legal aid bill covers barrister’s fees and expert fees too).

So, here are the options that the Court has :-

  1. Make no orders about costs, and know that almost the entire compensation package goes to the legal aid agency rather than the child or the parents.  Michael Gove is the person who benefits, not the person who actually suffered the human rights breaches.
  2. Make an order that the Local Authority pay the costs of the care proceedings AND the human rights claim. That means that the LA are paying out double the amount of compensation. It also makes it difficult to fit with the Supreme Court’s decision on costs in care proceedings, which are that there shouldn’t be costs orders unless the LA’s conduct WITHIN the proceedings has been egregiously bad. The conduct here is BEFORE the care proceedings, so there’s a strong chance that the LA would appeal. That racks up the costs even more, potentially swallowing up ALL the compensation, since really only the Supreme Court can decide how this affects their previous decisions.
  3. Make an order that the LA pay the costs of the human rights act claim. That’s a well-founded costs order and doesn’t cause legal problems. However, it is a small amount compared to the costs of the care proceedings, and may still end up with the child getting only a small amount of compensation.

 

 

The Judge in this case took the third option.

Costs

  1. Mr Hall seeks an order for the LA to pay the costs of the proceedings. He submits the HRA claim has succeeded, the court should be mindful of the impact of the statutory charge and in the circumstances of the case the court should make an order for the LA to pay the cost of the proceedings.
  2. Ms King resists this application. She submits the court should not depart from the general position in family cases that costs are not usually awarded in family proceedings (see Re S (A Child) [2015] UKSC 20 paras 15 and 29). She submits the LA have not taken an unreasonable stance. In any event, the LA should not be responsible for the cost of the proceedings, merely as a device to avoid the full impact of the statutory charge. She submits there are discrete costs concerning the HRA application.
  3. I recognise the financial pressures on the LA and that it is unusual for the court to make a costs order in care proceedings. Against that I have determined that the HRA claim succeeds, I rejected the submissions of the LA and made an award of damages. In the circumstances of this case, where the breaches continued for such a long period of time, I have reached the conclusion the LA should pay K’s costs of the HRA application only, but which will include the full costs of the hearing on 29 March 2016, as the only reason that hearing could not proceed was due to the late disclosure by the LA on that day of relevant documents. I will make no order for costs as between M and the LA.

 

 

 

I do have a fourth solution, but it is hard to use when a human rights act claim has already actually been made. Effectively, if a lawyer believes that the client has had their human rights breached and that compensation might be payable, they open up a brand new pro bono file. This is kept ENTIRELY separate from the care proceedings. Ideally another lawyer deals with the case so there’s no overlap at all.  Not a penny of publicly funded/legal aid money is spent on that file, so any compensation achieved is nothing to do with legal aid at all. The money would only go to legal aid if the care proceedings ended with a “Lottery order” about costs (that’s an order that says in effect, K had free legal aid and would only have to pay for it if she came into a huge sum of money, say a lottery win. These are NEVER made in care proceedings, because legal aid for them is non-means, non-merit – even a millionaire qualifies)

Ideally, under this pro bono file, the lawyer writes to the LA a pre-action protocol letter setting out the alleged breach and giving a figure that their client would be prepared to settle for. If the case settles, the costs are minimal and could be bundled into the settlement. The client gets the money, the lawyer gets paid for the work they’ve done, the LA don’t incur a costs order of tens of thousands.  If the case doesn’t settle, the lawyer has to decide whether to run it as effectively no-win no-fee, or to make an application for public funding knowing that the stat charge will bite on their client.

None of this should be necessary BECAUSE the Statutory Charge just plain and simple should not apply to human rights compensation cases, and particularly not to ones that arose out of care proceedings. Making someone pay out of their compensation for care proceedings that a millionaire would have got for free, and they only have to pay a penny BECAUSE their human rights were breached is just plain unfair and wrong. I don’t see that changing until the Press get outraged about the unfairness of it  or Michael Gove gets JR-ed on it.  Or perhaps a LA appeals a costs order for the entireity of the costs and the Minister gets added as an intervenor on the appeal.

 

 

*Addendum, solution number 5.

 

Judge smiles very clearly and obviously at counsel who had been making the HRA claim and invites them to withdraw it. If so, delivers judgment and says within it that IF had been asked would have found breaches and IF asked about quantum, would have said £x. Pauses after judgment, gives parties a small adjournment for discussions to see if any applications need to be made arising from the judgment, or whether for example an offer might be made an accepted. If Judge told that nothing arising, simply makes no order for costs. Stat charge doesn’t bite because no order for compensation made, and any compensation was achieved in that short adjournment for which nobody charges the Legal Aid Agency a penny for their time. If Judge is told that an application to revive the HR claim is made, then so be it, the LA will likely feel the full force of a costs order because they were too dumb to take a hint.

Wasted costs orders against everyone!

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. It raises some massive points of financial implications for solicitors, particularly when agreeing to take on a case involving medical or police disclosure.  It places on them a financial risk that might very well not be worth taking, given the narrow margins on which businesses are currently operating. The Judge did not, it seems to me, take proper account of the public policy implications of this decision.

A public law case was listed for a 2 day finding of fact hearing. The Local Authority had been ordered to obtain police and medical disclosure. It appeared that some things which clearly by close reading of other documents were known to exist within the police possession had not found their way into police disclosure. When this came to light, the hearing had to be adjourned.

The Court then embarked on an exercise to see who was responsible and considered the making of costs orders.

Re L (Case Management : Wasted Costs) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2016/B8.html

 

What makes it quite remarkable is that in most wasted costs cases what happens is that one side is assessed to be responsible for the mix-up or failure, and the other parties get their costs paid by them. Here, the Judge determined that whilst the Local Authority was chiefly to blame, all of the parties had to bear some of the blame.

 

Non-compliance with case management directions – who is at fault?

 

  • In this case,[2015] 1 FLR 1092 case management orders were made promptly (on day 14) for the disclosure of medical records and police records. The medical records were disclosed promptly save for the photographs. The failure to disclose the medical photographs was not identified by any party until 20th January 2016.
  • The police responded promptly to the disclosure order but failed to disclose the audio recordings of the parents’ police interviews. The first approach to the police for ‘further disclosure’ was made by the local authority on 14th October. The first time the lack of this material was raised by any other party was in an e-mail from the mother’s solicitor to the local authority on 2nd November.
  • Who is responsible for these failings? Is the failure to disclose the medical photographs the responsibility of the hospital or of the local authority for not going back to the hospital to ask where the photographs were, or of the other parties for not raising this issue either with the local authority or with the court? Is the failure to disclose the audio recordings of the parents’ police interviews the responsibility of Leicestershire Police (who were ordered by the court to disclose ‘witness statements, interviews, photographs and medical reports in respect of the injuries’), or of the local authority (to whom the police were ordered to make disclosure and upon whom was laid the obligation of disclosing the police material to the other parties), or of the other parties for their delay in raising this issue either with the local authority or with the court?
  • Leicestershire police were ordered to make disclosure to the local authority. The local authority was ordered to disclose to the other parties the material received from the police. It was also ordered to obtain and disclose medical records. Is the scope of the local authority’s duty limited to forwarding on to the other parties the material received from the police and the hospital? In my judgment, it is not so limited. The local authority is not providing a postal service. It is under a duty not only to disclose what it receives but also,

 

(a) to consider with care the material received from the police and hospital;

(b) to satisfy itself that the disclosure complies with the terms of the relevant case management direction; if it does not comply then,

(c) to identify any documents or categories of document that appear to have been omitted;

(d) to contact the police/hospital promptly seeking immediate disclosure of the missing documents; and if disclosure of the missing documents is not made promptly then,

(e) to inform the court and seek urgent directions; and

(f) to keep the other parties informed.

 

  • Whilst the primary duty for obtaining and disclosing police and medical records rests with the local authority, it is clear from the rules to which I have referred that the other parties also have a responsibility. They, too, are under a duty to assist the court in the process of active case management and to inform the court of any non-compliance. With respect to police and medical disclosure there is a duty,

 

(a) to consider with care the material disclosed by the local authority;

(b) to satisfy itself that the disclosure complies with the terms of any case management direction relating to that disclosure;

(c) to identify any documents or categories of document that appear to have been omitted;

(d) to inform the local authority promptly with respect to any gaps in the disclosure; and, if the missing documents are not provided promptly,

(e) to inform the court and seek urgent directions.

 

  • In my judgment it is clear from the rules and authorities to which I have referred that these duties exist. They are a necessary part of the process of enabling and assisting the court to comply with its duties to further the overriding objective and to complete care cases within 26 weeks.
  • In the circumstances of this case I am satisfied that the responsibility for the failure identified rests primarily with the local authority. However, I am equally satisfied that the solicitors for the parents and the guardian also bear some responsibility.

 

Well, that’s all lovely in an ideal world, but do solicitors have the time to inspect each and every document with a fine-toothed comb, particularly in a case where counsel are instructed? They certainly don’t get paid for such a task.

So what happens then? Well, one sensible approach would be for the LA to pay some of the costs but not all of them, given that there were failings on the part of the other parties. That’s not what happened here.

 

The Court was actually considering punishing the solicitors involved by disallowing a share of their costs. The Legal Aid Agency were strongly suggesting that this was not a power open to the Court unless they were carrying out their function of assessing the public funding certificates by way of taxation (which would come at the end of the case)

 

Disallowing costs payable to a legally aided solicitor

 

  • Navigating one’s way around the labyrinthine complexities of the current legal aid scheme is a significant challenge. For present purposes it is necessary to have regard to the Legal Aid Agency’s Standard Civil Contract 2013 specification: General Rules (section 1-6) (July 2015 amendment), to the Standard Civil Contract 2013 specification: Family category specific rules (section 7) (July 2015 amendment), to the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 and to the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) (No2) Regulations 2014.
  • The solicitors for the legally aided parties contend that disallowing part of a standard fee payable to a legally aided solicitor pursuant to the provisions of s.51(6) is not simply inappropriate but that it is not possible. The basis of that submission is that the standard fee for legal representation is a fixed fee payable irrespective of the amount of work undertaken (subject to the right to ‘escape’ from the standard fee to which I referred earlier). It follows, therefore, as a matter both of logic and of law, that so far as concerns the costs of any solicitor entitled only to the standard fee there cannot have been any ‘wasted costs’. In this case, even if a solicitor entitled only to the standard fee undertook work on 20th, 21st and 22nd January which would not have been necessary had the failure of police disclosure been identified at the time it arose, that solicitor will receive no extra payment for that work but will simply receive the fixed fee to which he or she would in any event have been entitled. A letter to the court from the LAA supports that argument,
  • The position would appear to be different so far as concerns the costs of a solicitor who ‘escapes’ the standard fee. As I noted earlier, that solicitor is entitled to be paid for the work undertaken on an hourly rate basis (the hourly rate being that prescribed in the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 as amended). In those circumstances it is clear that the argument set out in the previous paragraph does not apply. Even if the court does not have the power to make a wasted costs order against a solicitor entitled only to the standard fee (a proposition about which I am doubtful) there would seem to be no reason why the court could not make a wasted costs order against a solicitor who ‘escapes’ the standard fee.
  • However, the LAA raises a second issue and that relates to its power to act on an order made by the court under s.51(6) disallowing all or part of a legally aided solicitor’s entitlement to remuneration. In its letter to the court, the LAA asserts that,

 

‘The court could only disallow a solicitor’s costs under their contract with the LAA where the court is performing a detailed assessment pursuant to that contract (see paragraphs 6.37 – 6.38 of the Standard Contract Specification…) However, you could make observations to help the assessing authority (whether that is the LAA or the Court) in its assessment.

‘Where legally aided work falls under one of the Standard Fee Schemes, the LAA usually would have no choice but to pay the standard fees, unless the claim is not true, accurate and reasonable. The nature of the standard fee scheme is that in some circumstances a legal aid provider may receive a relatively high payment for not necessarily doing a large amount of work, whilst in the circumstances of a different case, the same standard fee may be considered to be relatively low. However, if you do make any observations on the amount of costs claimed and suggest that some costs should be disallowed, the possibilities, within the fixed fee scheme would be as follows:

1. Claims can ‘escape’ the fixed fee where, if paid at hourly rates the solicitors would be paid more (i.e. for Legal Representation, where costs on an Hourly Rate basis would exceed twice the Standard Fee, the solicitors would be paid at hourly rates). If in the circumstances of this case the solicitors have escaped the fixed fee and are to be paid at hourly rates, any disallowance (or recommended disallowance) of costs on assessment could reduce the amount payable to the solicitors;

2. The costs of the case can be disallowed in full, which would lead to a nil payment to the provider irrespective of the fixed fee scheme;

3. If the solicitors have breached some term of the contract, such as the requirement to carry out all contract work in a timely manner and with all skill and care, and as a result caused the LAA a loss (for example if a further hearing were required because of the solicitor’s default which has led the LAA to make further payments), then the LAA could set off the loss it has been caused against any payment due to the solicitors (i.e. the fixed fee they would be due to receive)’

 

  • Paragraphs 6.37 and 6.38 of the Standard Contact Specification provide that:

 

Court assessment

6.37 Except where:

(a) it is or may be necessary for the court to carry out a detailed assessment of costs payable to the Client by another party to the proceedings; or

(b) having regard to interests of the Client and public funds, the weight or complexity of the case and all the other circumstances, we consider it appropriate to direct that the costs be subject to detailed assessment,

your Claim for payment for Licensed Work will be assessed by us.

6.38 A direction under Paragraph 6.37(b) may relate to an individual case or to any class of case, identified by the level of costs to be assessed or otherwise. In cases where costs are to be subject to assessment by the court, detailed assessment proceedings must be commenced within the time specified in the Civil Procedure Rules.

 

  • If the LAA’s submissions are correct then that would seem to represent a significant narrowing of the scope of s.51(6) in a case involving a legally aided solicitor. It would mean that although under s.51(6) the court could order a legally aided party’s solicitor to pay another party’s wasted costs, the court would have no power to disallow any wasted costs incurred by that same solicitor.
  • I note that neither the Standard Civil Contract 2013 specification: General Rules (section 1-6) (July 2015 amendment), or the Standard Civil Contract 2013 specification: Family category specific rules (section 7) (July 2015 amendment) refer to the court’s powers under s.51(6). With all due respect to the LAA, it seems to me that the key to understanding paragraphs 6.37 and 6.38 of the Standard Contract Specification is to be found in the heading: ‘Court assessment’. Those paragraphs deal with the question ‘who should assess my costs’. Section 51(6) addresses a completely different issue. Section 51(6) provides a power to penalise a solicitor as a result of whose conduct ‘wasted costs’ are incurred (whether another party’s costs or his/her own costs).
  • It is my preliminary view that the court’s power to make a wasted costs order is not confined in the way suggested by the legally aided solicitors and by the LAA. However, I am satisfied that in this case it is possible to dispose of the wasted costs issue without determining those points. That said, in my judgment the LAA’s arguments do raise important issues which need to be authoritatively addressed.

 

This disallowing of costs to a publicly funded solicitor can easily move a case from barely profitable to making a loss for the firm. Not to mention the absolute headache with the Legal Aid Agency in recovering the money. Does anyone actually benefit from this at all? Haven’t we just spent a huge amount of money arguing about this issue? Not to mention any costs of a potential appeal, given the wider implications for solicitors across the country?

In a concluding paragraph, the Judge bemoans the increase in demand by additional care proceedings on the Court service and that no additional resources have been provided, whilst ignoring that the very same thing applies to all of the other parties to the case.

 

Conclusion

 

  • Statistics show that in recent months, nationally there has been a significant increase in the number of new care proceedings issued. Cafcass statistics show that over the ten months from 1st April 2015 to 31st January 2016 the number of new care proceedings issued was up by almost 13% on the previous year. During that same period The Family Court in Leicester experienced a 39% increase in new care cases – three times the national average. That increase in workload has not been matched by any increase in court resources. I make that point simply to underline the fact that court time is a precious resource. The court can ill-afford contested hearings being vacated because of the failure of one or more of the parties to comply adequately with the obligations placed upon them by the rules and by case management orders made by the court.
  • In this case I am satisfied that the solicitors for all four parties are responsible for the errors identified. All four were responsible for the wasting of court time and for the wasting of costs. I have identified wasted advocacy costs incurred by the legally aided parties amounting to £5000. I shall make a wasted costs order against the local authority requiring it to pay 50% of that sum, £2,500. I have also identified that the local authority has incurred wasted advocacy costs of £1950. I shall make wasted costs orders against the solicitors for the legally aided parties jointly to pay 50% of those costs (£975 i.e. £325 per solicitor).

 

Of course there were failings here, and it would have been markedly better had the Local Authority involved raised with the Court and the parties their concerns that the police disclosure was incomplete and missing important documents. Was this, however, a proportionate response to the difficulty? I am sure that all lawyers have experience of arriving at Court for a final hearing with time and money spent in preparing a case only to find that the case is double-listed or insufficient time is available – the parties in those cases – of which there were very very many, did not attempt to demand that the Court Service pay their wasted costs.

 

I note that the Judge here refers to the Norgrove report on Family Justice.  Perhaps it is useful to bear in mind this passage of the report.

 

Our recommendations are intended to restore the respective responsibilities of courts and local authorities. But to change the law does not tackle the root cause
of the difficulties. This stems we believe from a deep rooted distrust of local authorities and unbalanced criticism of public care, as discussed in paragraphs
3.21 – 3.26 above. This in turn fuels dissatisfaction on the part of local authorities with the courts, further damaging relationships.
3.46.The result is that the relationship between local authorities and courts can verge on the dysfunctional. For the system to work better it is not acceptable for each
group to sit on the sidelines and criticise the other. A failure in one part of the system must be seen to be a failure of all. Courts and local authorities, and other
professionals, should work together to tackle this at a national and local level.
The report was published in 2011.  When one reads the judgments over the last few years, 2011 starts to look like a golden era of co-operation and trust between the different stakeholders in Family Justice. I would gladly roll the clock back to 2011 in that regard.

[I would also deprecate the habit in this judgment of the use of (sic) for what are clearly utterly minor typographical errors in emails sent by the Local Authority – emails are documents which are typed in haste, particularly when trying urgently and desperately to resolve a pressing problem and (sic) is an uncalled for dig. I also note that the Judge did not apply the same (sic) standard to emails received from counsel, which had similar minor typographical errors.  I also note that this case was listed for a fact finding hearing despite the allegations being substantially short of the Court of Appeal guidance as to when a separate fact finding hearing should be heard…]

 

 

 

The ‘evidence of domestic violence within 2 years’ Regulation found unlawful

I am struggling to think of a piece of legislation that has had as many successful challenges to the legality of Regulations issued under it as the much-beloved LASPO  (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Prosecution of Offencers Act 2012)

The particular Regulations here are Regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012

LASPO sets out that being a victim of domestic violence can be a reason for the provision of free legal representation.  The sense of this is that where someone has been the victim of domestic violence, it would be abusive and damaging for the State to make them face the perpetrator in Court without a lawyer to represent them.  [Note that this provision still only applies within financial limits – below a specified income and capital the State should pay for that, above that and the individual would have to pay for it themselves, regardless of whether the legal representation is actually genuinely affordable on that income]

There is, of course, an entirely separate debate about whether someone who is accused of perpetrating domestic violence should be entitled to free legal representation to defend the allegations (at least until the Court has determined the truth of the allegations), but that’s beyond the scope of this case.  [For my part, I think that LASPO should have provided for that, but it doesn’t]

Regulation 33 sets out that in order to show that you are a victim of domestic violence, you need some documentary evidence of that to get legal aid, and that the evidence must be within the last 24 months.

This 24 month rule was challenged.  [Note that although the application was brought by a group lobbying for women’s rights, men of course can also be the victims of domestic violence and abuse, and this case applies to men as well]

Rights of Women, R (on the application of) v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice [2016] EWCA Civ 91

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/91.html

 

Whilst the judgment is fairly long and involves some rather nuanced discussions about Padfield unfairness versus Wednesbury unreasonableness, the case can be condensed into these short passages

 

  1. Ms Lieven submitted that the evidence shows (as practitioners in the Family Division know from their own experience) that there are many situations in which victims of domestic violence find themselves at the receiving end of legal proceedings not merely more than 24 months after incidents of domestic violence have occurred but more than 24 months after it is practical to obtain the kind of verification required by regulation 33. Examples of such cases are:-

    i) the perpetrator may have been in prison; once he (it is almost always he) is released, he may initiate proceedings for child contact or divorce and financial settlement; regulation 33(2)(a) can only be relied on if the conviction preceding the prison sentence is a relevant conviction for a domestic violence offence and if it is unspent; if the sentence is a fine or a community order, the conviction will be spent after only 12 months from the date of conviction or from the last day the order is to have effect;ii) there may have been a non-molestation order (or other form of injunction) which has kept the parties apart for 2 years but has expired before legal proceedings are begun;

    iii) a similar period of separation may have occurred for other reasons such as the receipt of a police caution or other police involvement; criminal proceedings may have been instituted which do not result in a conviction; such non-convictions occur for many reasons other than that the alleged perpetrator is innocent;

    iv) there is no time limit for the initiation of proceedings for child contact; a refusal of child contact does not prevent a re-initiation of proceedings which can therefore be served again on the victim of domestic abuse after the expiry of the two year period. Additionally, the court can direct, pursuant to section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989, that no such proceedings shall be begun without permission of the court for a period until the expiry of the two year period in which domestic abuse could be verified in accordance with the Regulations; if the Court also directs that any application for permission is not to be served on the respondent, a victim of domestic abuse may receive no notice of prospective proceedings within the relevant period in which she may otherwise take steps to obtain verification;

    v) The main priority of any victim of domestic violence will be to make immediate arrangements for her personal safety and that of her children; this may take a considerable time particularly if the abuse was prolonged or the marriage was originally a forced one; any proceedings sought to be brought by the victim for divorce or financial relief may well be more than 24 months after any practical ability to obtain verification has passed;

    vi) although the definition of domestic violence extends beyond physical abuse to psychological or emotional abuse, the verifications required by regulation 33 are much more easily satisfied where there has been physical abuse than where there has been psychological or emotional abuse. This means that even though signs of psychological or emotional abuse may persist longer than sign of physical abuse, there is considerable difficulty for the victim in obtaining the necessary verification after any lapse of time; and

    vii) victims of financial abuse will not be able to obtain any of the verifications required by regulation 33 at all. (The only answer Mr Sheldon could give to this last point was the inadequate one that victims of financial abuse could always be expected to show evidence of psychological abuse).

  2. This is a formidable catalogue of areas of domestic violence not reached by a statute whose purpose is to reach just such cases. But does it go so far as to show that the 24 month requirement has no rational connection with the statutory purpose?
  3. In my judgment it does. There is, as Ms Lieven submits, no obvious correlation between the passage of such a comparatively short period of time as 24 months and the harm to the victim of domestic violence disappearing or even significantly diminishing. No doubt the 24 month requirement serves the purposes of the statute as the Divisional Court considered them to be but as I have said those purposes are not the only purposes of the statute. Once it is accepted that part of the statutory purpose is to ensure that legal aid is available to (at any rate the great majority of) sufferers from domestic violence, one has to ask why it is that so many of them are excluded by virtue of the 24 month rule. Mr Parsons’ assertion that “the time limit provides a test of the on-going relevance of the abuse” does not justify the many excluded instances or the lack of any opportunity for victims of domestic violence to explain why it would be unjust to apply the time limit to their particular case. It operates in a completely arbitrary manner

 

And then

 

I would therefore allow this appeal and, subject to any further argument about the detail of the form of order, in principle declare that regulation 33 is invalid insofar as it

a) requires verifications of domestic violence to be given within a 24 month period before any application for legal aid; and

b) does not cater for victims of domestic violence who have suffered from financial abuse.

A cynical person might say about LASPO that Parliament when considering this Act were rightly very troubled by the original legislation and the lack of protection for certain vulnerable groups, which was why some safeguards were inserted into the final version of the Act, and that the Legal Aid Agency and Ministry of Justice have systematically attempted to erode those safeguards by Regulations (which have been successfully challenged) and guidance on implementation (which has also been successfully challenged).

In effect, Parliament agreed to trade in the car that they owned for a greatly inferior but still safe model to save cash, and agreed to let the Minister have a copy of the car keys, in case he or she needed to tune up the car or valet the inside at any time (the power to make Regulations).

 Then the Minister snuck off in the night, used the keys and removed the brakes, seatbelts, speedometer, and airbags that would make the inferior car still safe to drive.

The Courts have ordered these safety measures to be reinstalled. But so far, each individual bit of ministerial pilfering has had to be dealt with one at a time. I hope that MPs are keeping up to date with the bad-faith approach to LASPO and will approach any future legislation with a much more cynical eye on giving Ministers the car keys in the future.