RSS Feed

Category Archives: inherent jurisdiction

Not being allowed to see an expert report

 

I’ve read this case half-a-dozen times now, and I still don’t entirely get it.

 

NCC v AH and DH 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4845.html

 

Dramatis personae

 

NCC is the Local Authority.   (It isn’t a very cryptic disguise of whom they might be)

AH is a woman, who has some mental health problems and for a time was considered to lack capacity and be a person at risk from :-

 

DH her husband.

 

The application

(a) an application by DH for disclosure to him of any reports and/or letters by Dr. McInerney and the report of Dr. Khouja dated 29th July 2011;

(b) an application by AH for disclosure to her of the said reports and of her Social Services records (it being acknowledged by all parties that she would share them with DH); and

(c) applications by AH and DH for their costs, or a proportion thereof, incurred in both sets of proceedings to be paid by the local authority.

These applications arise from a set of proceedings under the Inherent Jurisdiction and a set of proceedings under the Mental Capacity Act in the Court of Protection.  Both seem to have arisen because AH made allegations about her husband’s behaviour towards her which were believed (but which appear to have been more a result of her mental health problems).   NCC considered that AH was a woman that they owed duties towards, as a result of Re Z (Local Authority: Duty) [2005] 1FLR 740, especially at para.19.

 

In my judgment in a case such as this the local authority incurred the following duties:

i) To investigate the position of a vulnerable adult to consider what was her true position and intention;ii) To consider whether she was legally competent to make and carry out her decision and intention;

iii) To consider whether any other (and if so, what) influence may be operating on her position and intention and to ensure that she has all relevant information and knows all available options;

iv) To consider whether she was legally competent to make and carry out her decision andintention;

v) To consider whether to invoke the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court so that the question of competence could be judicially investigated and determined;

vi) In the event of the adult not being competent, to provide all such assistance as may be reasonably required both to determine and give effect to her best interests;

vii) In the event of the adult being competent to allow her in any lawful way to give effect to her decision although that should not preclude the giving of advice or assistance in accordance with what are perceived to be her best interests;

viii) Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the commission of a criminal offence may be involved, to draw that to the attention of the police;

ix) In very exceptional circumstances, to invoke the jurisdiction of the court under Section 222 of the 1972 Act

 

 

A psychiatric report was directed in those proceedings, from a Dr McInerney. It appears that within the proceedings, the Official Solicitor (on behalf of AH) and Local Authority, took the view that the Court should take the unusual step of not disclosing that report to DH, on the basis that there were things AH had said about his behaviour which might put her at risk if DH were to see it.  [That’s quite unusual, we’ll come back to it later]

The Official Solicitor and LA also told the Court that they did not rely on Dr McInerney’s report and wanted a second opinion, from a Dr Khouja.  DH  of course, had not seen it, so it was rather hard for him to say whether he did seek to rely on it, or whether a second opinion was necessary.  (One can make an informed guess that if it said things that the LA and OS agreed with, they wouldn’t have been asking for a second opinion, so DH would probably have agreed with what was said)

[It is also worth noting that DH had to pay a share of the costs of Dr McInerney’s report, although he never got to see it or know what it said. He didn’t have to pay a share of the costs of Dr Khouja’s report]

Dr Khouja was directed to file two reports, one on capacity (which DH DID get to see) and one”considering the recent Social Services assessment of AH, and he may also include in that supplementary report, any matter or opinion which he would wish to report upon, but he is of the view should be withheld from DH pending judicial determination of any disclosure issues.”  which DH didn’t get to see.

Dr. Khouja concluded that AH did not lack capacity in respect of any of the matters which he had been instructed to assess. This led to Bodey J’s order of 11th November 2011. By consent, NCC were given permission to withdraw both sets of proceedings. The Official Solicitor was discharged as litigation friend to AH although he remained as an interested party for the purposes of the disclosure application.

 

So, the proceedings were withdrawn, because AH had capacity to make her own decisions about whether she wanted to be with DH or not, and it wasn’t the role of the State to intervene on her behalf.

DH, having gone through all of this and having had to pay for all of his own legal costs, was understandably unhappy, and wanted to make a series of complaints about what had happened.  In order to inform his complaints and no doubt to bolster them, he wanted to see both of the expert reports that had been withheld from him. And he was also asking that some of his costs be paid.

 

Law on non-disclosure

 

The law is that generally, a document filed at Court should be seen by all parties, and the burden is on the party seeking non-disclosure to establish why that general rule should not be followed.

The substantive law is set out in the House of Lords case of Re D (Minors) (Adoption Reports: Confidentiality) [1996] AC 593 [1995] 2 FLR 687. The test is:

“(1) It is a fundamental principle of fairness that a party is entitled to the disclosure of all materials which may be taken into account by the court when reaching a decision adverse to that party…

(2) … the court should first consider whether disclosure of the material would involve a real possibility of significant harm to the child.

(3) If it would, the court should next consider whether the overall interests of the child would benefit from non-disclosure, weighing on the one hand the interest of the child in having the material properly tested, and on the other both the magnitude of the risk that harm will occur and the gravity of the harm if it does occur.

(4) If the court is satisfied that the interests of the child point towards non-disclosure, the next and final step is for the court to weigh that consideration, and its strength in the circumstances of the case, against the interest of the parent or other party in having an opportunity to see and respond to the material. In the latter regard the court should take into account the importance of the material to the issues in the case.

(5) Non-disclosure should be the exception not the rule. The court should be rigorous in its examination of the risk and gravity of the feared harm to the child, and should order non-disclosure only when the case for doing so is compelling.”

[Although Re D here deals with a child, the principles are much the same. The argument was that disclosing to DH an expert report in which AH was presumably making allegations to the expert about abuse might put her at risk.  The counter argument to that is that as a consequence of these proceedings, DH might have to live apart from his wife as a result of such allegations but they were being made in a way that concealed from him what they were.  ]

Moylan J’s judgment does not really deal with this, although to be fair, the decision to not disclose the documents at that earlier stage had already been taken and presumably there is a judgment weighing up those factors at that time.  Instead, he looks at the duty of disclosure being that the documents are disclosed in order to allow a person to participate effectively in the hearing  –  in order to have a fair trial.

  1. Turning now to the legal framework, the expert evidence in this case was obtained for the purposes of these proceedings and pursuant to court orders. The court has power to provide to whom such evidence is to be disclosed and to whom it is not to be disclosed, including a party to the proceedings: see, for example, Re B (Disclosure to Other Parties) [2001] 2 FLR 1017.
  2. The experts overriding duty is to the court. Both proceedings in this case were heard in private. The reports are, therefore, confidential to the court, as described by Sir Nicholas Wall, President, in A County Council v. SB, MA & AA [2011] 1FLR 651. At para.34, he said:

    “In my judgment, ‘confidentiality’ in this context means that the information contained in the papers filed with the court for the purposes of the proceedings is confidential to the court. It is for this reason that, with very few exceptions, the court papers cannot be disclosed to people who are not parties to the proceedings without the court’s permission; and publication outside the proceedings of information relating to the proceedings is in most cases a contempt of court unless permission for it has first been given by the court”.

  3. As a result of being confidential to the court, and to the proceedings, a report cannot be used by any party for any collateral purpose or purpose unconnected with the proceedings without permission from the court. There are a significant number of cases which address the factors which the court will take into account when deciding whether to give such permission.
    1. Turning now to disclosure, the general rule is that a party is entitled to the disclosure of all evidence which any party proposes to adduce to the court. As Lord Dyson said in Al Rawi & Ors. v. The Security Service & Ors. (Justice & Ors. Intervening) [2012] 1 AC 531, at para.12:
      1. “Trials are conducted on the basis of the principle of natural justice. There are a number of strands to this. A party has a right to know the case against him and the evidence on which it is based. He is entitled to have the opportunity to respond to any such evidence and to any submissions made by the other side. The other side may not advance contentions or adduce evidence of which he is kept in ignorance”.
    2. It can be seen from this passage that disclosure is made for the purposes of the proceedings and to ensure that any trial is fair.

 

But of course we know that during the proceedings, those documents were kept from DH. There were allegations being made about him that he was kept in the dark about.  When it emerged that AH had capacity, and wanted to remain in a relationship with DH, the proceedings were withdrawn.

Should he now be entitled to see those reports?   (after all, they are about AH, and she has capacity to say whether she wants him to have them – and she does)

  1. Given the determination of the substantive proceedings, I can identify no grounds on which disclosure of the reports should be ordered. They were prepared for the purposes of the proceedings. They were not disclosed to DH and AH pursuant to orders made during the course of those proceedings. There is no freestanding entitlement to disclosure once proceedings have concluded. Disclosure is part of the process by which the court ensures that a fair trial is effected. It is self-evident that, following the determination of proceedings, disclosure of evidence is no longer required for the purposes of the proceedings or in order to effect a fair trial.
  2. It is self-evident in this case that disclosure can no longer be sought for the purposes referred to in DH’s Solicitor’s letter of 18th March 2010, namely to enable the evidence to be tested within the proceedings. Rather, disclosure is sought by DH and AH for collateral purposes, namely to challenge, what they refer to as, the “toxic” comments in the reports. This, they contend, is necessary to enable them to clear their names. They also want to report Dr. McInerney to the GMC, and possibly to take libel proceedings.
  3. None of these appear to me to provide, in the circumstances of this case, any ground for ordering disclosure. I cannot envisage any court giving permission to DH and/or AH to use the reports for the purposes of any such step. Now that the proceedings are at an end, there is no justification in seeking to challenge the contents of reports prepared for, and only for, the proceedings. I can, therefore, see no basis on which DH and/or AH could now successfully seek to challenge the orders made during the course of the proceedings.

 

That seems to me to be a rather curious way of looking at things. It ought not to matter what DH wants to do with the documents, and whether you think he ought not to do it. This was a report about AH, and we now know that she has capacity to decide for herself whether she wants it to remain confidential or whether she wants her husband to see it, and she does.  I can see that the Court approach is to draw a line under the proceedings and for everyone to move on and forget the whole thing, but once AH has capacity, she is no longer a vulnerable person who needs the protection of the Court. The decision not to disclose the reports at the time were taken in the context that it was believed that she lacked capacity and needed that protection.

The next bit is even more suprising.

Finally, given the clear risk of satellite litigation, I propose to order that neither the Official Solicitor nor the solicitors instructed by the Official Solicitor should disclose the non-disclosed documents or the Social Services records, insofar as they have them, to AH. If this were to happen, it would undermine the effect of my judgment and proposed order.

 

Well, it makes sense. The Court order could easily be circumvented by a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998, for disclosure of the records that are held about AH and DH.  This is, however, the Court making an order that a Local Authority need not comply with their statutory obligations under primary legislation if a request were made.  Not only that, it is an order about primary legislation where the first port of call in a dispute or challenge is not actually the Court but to the Information Commissioner.  Does the Court even have jurisdiction to do this?

 

[Well, of course the answer to that is going to be that the original application was under the inherent jurisdiction, and we can all chant the answer “the powers are theoretically limitless”]

 

I can’t actually establish under the DPA what section you would use to refuse a section 7 request.  It doesn’t fit any of the non-disclosure provisions in Schedule 7 of the Act.

 

My best argument would be that in making that order, the Court has effectively determined (though without giving a judgment as to why) that this is satisfied

The Data Protection (Subject Access Modification) (Social Work) Order

2000:

this provides that personal data held for the purposes of social work

are exempt from the subject access provisions, where the disclosure to the

data subject would be likely to prejudice the carrying out of social work, by

causing serious harm to the physical or mental health, or condition, of the

data subject, or another person.

 

For law geeks, there’s a really obvious way of getting the reports, but obviously it would be wrong of me to spell it out here.

 

You won’t be surprised, having read the rest of this, that Moylan J didn’t allow the application by DH for costs.

 

  1. Turning next to the issue of costs, I am satisfied on the evidence that AH was given no assurance that her costs prior to the appointment of the Official Solicitor would be paid. I accept the evidence of Ms. Hardman and Mrs. Ord to that effect, which is supported by the records produced from AH’s own solicitors. Additionally, AH herself says that she was not in a fit state at the relevant time and was not taking things in.
  2. Secondly, in respect of proceedings in the Court of Protection, I can identify no justification for departing from the general rule that there should be no order as to costs. There is nothing in NCC’s conduct which would justify my departing from that rule. The proceedings have concluded without any determination. I am satisfied that NCC have acted properly throughout, in accordance with their obligations. There is no point at which they should have decided, as submitted by DH and AH, to discontinue the proceedings earlier than they did, namely following the receipt of Dr. Khouja’s report.
  3. I am also not persuaded that I should make any separate order in respect of Dr. Khouja’s costs. These were part of the costs of the proceedings to which the general rule applies.
  4. Thirdly, in respect of the costs of the proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction, I am also persuaded that NCC acted properly throughout in bringing the proceedings, in that, in so doing, they were acting in accordance with their obligations in respect of vulnerable adults. As the letter from DH’s solicitor dated 18th March 2010 makes clear, it was accepted that AH had said things to social workers which would lead professionals to have concerns. The letter specifically states that:

    “Our client accepts that the premise of the proceedings is that the local authority believes that his wife’s descriptions of how he has treated her may be true”.

    I can identify no point at which NCC should have decided to discontinue those proceedings earlier than when they did.

 

Thus DH had to pay for legal representation, in order for NCC to go to Court and argue that his wife lacked capacity and needed protecting from him, even though it turned out in the end that she didn’t, and had to pay for a share of an expert report (which probably would have helped his case if he’d seen it) which he wasn’t allowed to see and will never see. The whole of this case was based on allegations which he hasn’t seen and none of which were proved.

 

This one is probably far too legally complex for our friend over at the Telegraph, but it certainly is one that might warrant the “Kafka-esque” label that he routinely affixes to cases.

Inherent jurisdiction – extending an injunction past 18th birthday

 

Regular readers will probably know that I feel uncomfortable about phrases like “the powers of the inherent jurisdiction are theoretically limitless” and that cases are developing which extend the previous usage of the inherent jurisdiction a bit further, and then those cases are relied on next time around to push it a little further still.  It is mission creep, and it makes me nervous.

In this case, Baker J  (who makes my Top Five Judge list, comfortably), had to decide on a mother’s application to extend an existing injunction that prevented a father contacting his daughter or coming near her, past the child’s 18th birthday. In effect, for the rest of her life.

Re SO (a Minor) 2015

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed145192

 

I am somewhat puzzled that the child was not represented in these proceedings, as the orders were all about her, and she was nearly 18 and thus presumably in a position to have a view even if it was felt unsuitable for her to attend Court.

The rationale behind wanting to protect the child was decent. The father had been convicted of offences of arranging to have the mother killed, and continued to deny those offences. One can see why the Court would want, while SO was a child to protect her from her father.  He is palpably not a nice man. I can absolutely see why the mother would be genuinely very fearful of him and genuinely want to protect herself and her child from him.

The issue for me, whilst not really having any sympathy for the father in this case, is whether the State, in the form of the Court should be making orders protecting SO from things as an adult on someone else’s request rather than SO making an application to the Court for protection.

 

The injunction sought (and made) was in these terms, and I think that these are orders that could easily have been made by way of SO making an application for a non-molestation order if she decided she wanted that protection.

“It is ordered that

(1) the respondent, whether by himself or instructing, inciting or encouraging any other person be restrained until further order from

(a) using or threatening violence or attempting the same against the applicant or S;

(b) intimidating, harassing or pestering the applicant or S;

(c) coming within a 50 miles radius of, entering or attempting to enter, any property at which he believes, knows or suspects the applicant or S to be present or living or of any educational establishment or place of work at which he believes, knows or suspects the applicant or S may attend or work;

(d) communicating or making contact with the applicant or S by letter, telephone, Skype, text message, email, any means of electronic communication, or through any social networking sights including Facebook, save through the offices of Messrs Thomson, Snell and Passmore, the applicant’s solicitors;

(2) any person on whom this order served, or who is aware of its terms, is restrained until further order from making disclosure to the respondent, or to any other person on his behalf, which would in any way identify the current whereabouts of the applicant or S, from identifying to the respondent the name or identity under which the applicant and S may be known or is currently living and/or registered;

(3) the applicant and/or her solicitors are authorised to disclose this order and any other information relating to these proceedings to:

(i) the police in the United Kingdom;

(ii) the Home Office, and any agency acting on its behalf, and any relevant government authority in Scotland;

(iii) the Department of Community Services in Australia and

(iv) the Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police Force and any other relevant police authority and state correctional services, whether publically funded or privately managed.

An obvious question arises about the Australian element, and that might be a reason why not to use the statutory power of a Non-Molestation Order – because there might be problems with enforcing that if the father was living in Australia.  But hold on, it appears that everyone involved was living in Australia

Meanwhile the mother and S, in respect of whom of a series of non-molestation injunctions have been made within the wardship proceedings dating back to an order of Black J (as she then was) dated 14th June 2000, themselves moved some years ago to Australia, living at an address which, it was assumed, was unknown to the father. S has flourished in her mother’s care in Australia and has now embarked upon tertiary education, following the conclusion of the schedule 1 proceedings in the course of which I made a substantial order for her financial provision. Nonetheless, both the mother and S have continued to live under the shadow of the threats by the father to the safety of the mother and, indirectly, S.

[I’m somewhat mystified as to why a High Court injunction in England is the best route to protect an 18 year old girl living in Australia. It is legally permissable because:-

(4) When, as here, the court has jurisdiction at the start of wardship proceedings on the grounds that the child is habitually resident in England and Wales, that jurisdiction continues until the conclusion of the proceedings, notwithstanding the fact that the ward has become habitually resident elsewhere. That is sufficient to provide jurisdiction in this case for the making of the orders sought by the applicant. In addition, the court may have jurisdiction on the grounds that the ward is a British national. In either case, the question is, as Baroness Hale observed in Re A whether it is appropriate to exercise the jurisdiction in the particular circumstances of the case. ]

You will note from the terms of the order, which the High Court made “until further order”  (i.e possibly for the rest of the lives of those involved) that it would prevent the father replying to any attempt by his daughter to contact him.  I’m not sure if she would ever want to, but it seems odd that if she initiated contact he would be unable to respond.  Actually, SO would be in breach of this order if she contacted her father and told him her address or new name…

As a matter of law, I think that Baker J was right to rule that he had the power to make such an injunction on an adult  (I just think that the law that has laid those foundations is wrong, and built on a gradual move away piece by piece from the spirit and intent of the inherent jurisdiction. All of the individual decisions have been the Court doing what they thought was best for a person, but autonomy means that where a person has capacity they and they alone have the right to decide what is best for them. )

Let’s look at, for example, the case that set the Inherent Jurisdiction for adults hare running in the first place.

Re SA 2006  http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed1678  when the issue of Forced Marriage was just becoming apparent and there was not yet a statutory mechanism to protect people from it. The inherent jurisdiction had been used to prevent a minor from being forcibly married, and in Re SA Munby J (as he then was) had to decide whether that protection could continue into adulthood.

“It would in my opinion be a sad failure were the law to determine that [the court] has no jurisdiction to investigate and, if necessary, to make declarations as to T’s best interests to ensure that the protection that she has received belatedly in her minority is not summarily withdrawn simply because she has attained the age of 18.””

But in the same judgment, this passage appears

“There is, however, in my judgment a common thread to all this. The inherent jurisdiction can be invoked wherever a vulnerable adult is, or is reasonably believed to be, for some reason deprived of the capacity to make the relevant decision, or disabled from making a free choice, or incapacitated or disabled from giving or expressing a real and genuine consent. The cause may be, but is not for this purpose limited to, mental disorder or mental illness. A vulnerable adult who does not suffer from any kind of mental incapacity may nonetheless be entitled to the protection of the inherent jurisdiction if he is, or is reasonably believed to be, incapacitated from making the relevant decision by reason of such things as constraint, coercion, undue influence or other vitiating factors.”

 

There’s no evidence here that SO lacks capacity to make decisions for herself about whether she wants to see her father or be contacted by him, or whether she might want to apply for legal orders to protect herself.  I am struggling to see why the Court should use its inherent jurisdiction to make an order that affects the rest of SO’s life when she has not applied for such an order.

 

{I can see why the desire to protect her from something that most people would just as being an unhealthy or unpleasant influence leads to the order being made, but it is not the job of the State to protect adults with capacity from unpleasant events. If SO wants to be left alone by her father and he is not likely to acquiesce to her wishes, then there’s a statutory remedy – non-molestation order. If she applies for it, the State in the form of the Court makes a decision about whether the order is justified. But here the State is deciding for someone who has capacity and is about to become 18 something that will have an impact on her life because it thinks that is what is best for her. I can also see why the mother and the Court felt that the father was so dangerous and toxic that they didn’t want to put SO through the risks of making her own application.  }

 

28. In my judgment, it is imperative that this court makes the order within the wardship jurisdiction, or alternatively under its inherent jurisdiction to protect vulnerable adults, extending the protection provided hitherto beyond S’s 18th birthday. In the circumstances of this case, it is essential that, in order to ensure the protection is extended for S, the mother is also kept within the ambit of the injunction.

 

There is nothing in the case to suggest that SO herself is  a vulnerable person, that there are any inherent characteristics in her that are vulnerable – the reason she is ‘vulnerable’ is because of external things not because she herself has any inherent vulnerability.  She is not a vulnerable person, she’s a person who happens to be vulnerable because of external factors. It might seem a trivial distinction, but I don’t think that it is.

What prevents that line of thinking becoming that the State has the power to forcibly remove a woman from a violent partner? She has capacity to decide that she wants to be with that awful man, but she is ‘vulnerable’ because of the risks that he poses, so  can the inherent jurisdiction  decide that it would be best for her to be protected from that man? The powers are theoretically limitless – if she is considered vulnerable….

A twenty year old decides to have a relationship with a fifty year old who has had some criminal convictions including drug use. Her relatives disapprove and think that she’s vulnerable to getting used and ending up being broken hearted. Is she vulnerable? Can the State be asked to make injunctions to protect her?

A sixty year old man with a large fortune falls in love with a twenty five year old. The family are worried that he is being taken for a ride and that this girl is a gold-digger. Is he vulnerable?

It isn’t problematic or unreasonable in this case to say that SO is vulnerable and needs protection, but the concern is that this case becomes cited in the next case along to make inherent jurisdiction orders about adults who have capacity to decide things for themselves, and then that next case gets cited in the one after that, and so on.  It feels like the classic slippery slope scenario.  As a matter of law now, the inherent jurisdiction is a theoretically limitless power, but should that be the case?

At the very least, when the Court is using such a theoretically limitless power, shouldn’t there be a very detailed analysis of proportionality and necessity, considering article 8 of the Human Rights Act?

With the profoundest respect

 

Firstly, apologies. I know that to lawyers, using that title is the equivalent of me going into a Wetherspoons pub, finding the drunkest person there, giving them a lot of amphetamines and telling them that (a) you were the person who stole their wife back in 1984 and (b) that they should go around your house and shout what they think of you through your letterbox.

 

Non-lawyers may not be aware of the lawyer code which is “with respect” = You absolute moron, you’re wrong.  “with great respect”  = ffs do you have anything between your ears, you are utterly wrong , “with the greatest possible respect”  –  I am going to have to get Malcolm Tucker to concoct a sentence which truly construes how annoyed I am with you and how wrong you are.  I honestly didn’t even know it went up as high as “with the profoundest respect”

 

So why am I dropping the P-R bomb on y’all?  Well, because that phrase appears in a judgment, and it is used by a High Court Judge, and he is using it about the Court of Appeal.

 

The Judge is Mostyn J (who has had a busy autumn), and the case is Re D 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/3388.html

 

I wrote about Mostyn’s initial decision here https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/01/08/brussels-sprouts-ii-this-time-its-jurisdictional/

I’ve written about the particular Court of Appeal decision here (and you can see that I may have been somewhat bored by it, because a lot of it ends up being co-written by Snoop Doggy Dogg – apposite given post 500)

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/02/21/and-i-aint-talking-bout-chicken-and-gravy/

 

The gist of it, very quickly.

The father in the case was found to present a massive risk to children. I don’t think anyone (even Ian from Forced Adoption) could dispute that he would be a bad person to be around children. The real meat of the case was whether mother could separate from him and stay away from him.

The background this case is to be found in my fact finding judgment of 30 November 2012 to be found in section A at page 53. I do not repeat it here. Suffice to say that I found the father, Stefan D, to be guilty of truly bestial conduct. I recorded his conviction in the year 2000 in the Czech Republic of offences of the utmost seriousness involving the gross abuse and exploitation of women and girls. I found how, after his arrival in the UK, he meted out appalling domestic violence to his wife, Daniella D. I found how he engaged in serious criminal activity, largely centred around illegal drugs. I described how I was satisfied that he had seduced his 16 year old stepdaughter by plying her with drugs; how he had had unprotected sex with her; and how she became pregnant by September 2011 when she was only 17 years of age. I recorded how this sexual congress took place in the family home to the knowledge of the other minor children there, B and K. I recorded how he was even having sexual intercourse in the same time-frame with his wife as he was with his stepdaughter. I found that the statutory threshold in section 31 of the Children Act had been comprehensively crossed, both in respect of past harm and the risk of future harm.

Care proceedings, mum and dad were both Czech, and had gone back to live in the Czech Republic. The baby was in care in England and the care plan of the Local Authority, shared by the Guardian was for adoption.  Mostyn J had to decide a Brussels II application, and in doing so, he raised an important philosophical question – if the outcome of the case would be radically different in another country (because England has non-consensual / forced adoption and the Czech Republic does not) should that be taken into account? Mostyn J did take it into account and decided that the case (and future of the child) ought to be transferred to the Czech Republic.

 

That was appealed, and the Court of Appeal in Re M (A child) 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/152.html decided that Mostyn J was wrong, that you decide Brussels II on the facts of the case and you give no regard at all to how another jurisdiction might decide the case.

Here are the 3 questions to be answered

” … as Art 15(1) makes clear there are three questions to be considered by the court – here The Hague court – in deciding whether to exercise its powers under Art 15(1):

i) First, it must determine whether the child has, within the meaning of Art 15(3), ‘a particular connection’ with the relevant other member state – here, the UK. Given the various matters set out in Art 15(3) as bearing on this question, this is, in essence, a simple question of fact. For example, is the other member state the former habitual residence of the child (see Art 15(3) (b)) or the place of the child’s nationality (see Art 15(3) (c))?

ii) Secondly, it must determine whether the court of that other member state ‘would be better placed to hear the case, or a specific part thereof’. This involves an exercise in evaluation, to be undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular case.

iii) Thirdly, it must determine if a transfer to the other court ‘is in the best interests of the child.’ This again involves an evaluation undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular child.”

 

I wish to emphasise that the question of whether the other court will have available to it the full list of options available to the English court – for example, the ability to order a non-consensual adoption – is simply not relevant to either the second or the third question. As Ryder LJ has explained, by reference to the decisions of the Supreme Court in Re I and of this court in Re K, the question asked by Article 15 is whether it is in the child’s best interests for the case to be determined in another jurisdiction, and that is quite different from the substantive question in the proceedings, “what outcome to these proceedings will be in the best interests of the child?”

 

 

So they told Mostyn J that the English Court would decide the case, overturned his decision and sent it back to him for determination.

 

I have never had the experience of going back into a case where the Court of Appeal have told the Judge he was wrong and then gave him the case back – it must be a somewhat trying situation. We now see from Re D, just how exasperating a Judge might find that experience.

 

[In the interests of fairness, I’ll throw my hat in the ring – I think Mostyn J first time got the right decision for the wrong reasons, and I think that the Court of Appeal had the right reasoning but reached the wrong decision, so I can see why there’s some rancour there.  ]

 

What follows is all genuinely from Re D (at least all the stuff in bold – a Judge thought of this, wrote it down and published it. For real – underlining is by me, for emphasis)

 

 

  • The reason I am conducting this hearing today in September 2014 is because I have been ordered to do so by the Court of Appeal. My decision of 18 December 2013 was that a Czech court would be better placed to hear this case and in consequence of that decision I issued a formal request under Article 15 of Brussels II Revised Council Regulation No 2201/2003. That formal request sought the agreement of the Czech court to hear this case to its conclusion. My decision of 18 December 2013 was overturned by the Court of Appeal on 21 February 2014 and that is to be found in section A, page 167.
  • It is necessary for me to make reference to aspects of the judgments of the Court of Appeal, if only to clarify matters. The Court of Appeal decided that my decision was flawed as I had allowed the consideration of ED’s Czech nationality to dominate my thinking to the exclusion of any proper consideration of the second and third questions formulated in AB v JLB [2009] 1 FLR 517 (see paragraph 45 of Lord Justice Ryder’s judgment). It was said by him at paragraph 31 of his judgment that the practical considerations which I had identified at paragraph 40 of my judgment of 18 December 2013 were equally matched by the merit of judicial continuity. Notwithstanding that equal balance which I had ultimately decided in favour of a transfer request, Lord Justice Ryder held at paragraph 46 that the issue should have been decided in favour of a continuance of the case here. In his judgment Lord Justice Lewison suggested that in making my decision I had given expression to some kind of secret agenda or inherent hostility to the making of a care order with an adoption plan.
  • In my defence I would say this:

 

(1) If in fact I gave too much weight to the matter of nationality as a connecting factor under the first question it cannot be disputed that it certainly had to be given some weight. However, the Court of Appeal decision affords this factor no weight at all. Instead it merely balances the factor of judicial continuity with the practical considerations and, notwithstanding that they were found to be evenly balanced, my decision to seek a transfer was overturned. This is very hard to follow.

(2) I certainly, in my paragraph 29, was not operating any kind of secret agenda but was merely emphasising the draconian and momentous nature of care and placement orders and faithfully recording and following the views of the senior judiciary in Re B [2004] 2 FLR 142 at paragraph 101, per Mr Justice Munby (as he then was); Re B [2013] 1 WLR 1911, a decision of the Supreme Court; and Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, a decision of the Court of Appeal.

(3) The conduct of this trial has shown how the Court of Appeal’s perception of an equal balance of judicial continuity and practical considerations was, with the profoundest of respect to them, wrong. No material from the fact finding hearing has featured in this case other than my judgment. My judgment has been treated as the alpha to omega of the past proceedings. Unquestionably another judge could have conducted this hearing in exactly the same way that I did. I did not reach for any unwritten nuances or impressions as referred to by Lord Justice Ryder at paragraph 27. In my previous judgment I stated that the advantage of me conducting the hearing would be marginal. With the benefit of actual experience I would say that I have had no such advantage. By contrast, even though Lord Justice Ryder thought in his final sentence of paragraph 31 that, “In a world where the use of information technology is a commonplace the physical location of a professional witness is rarely likely to be decisive” the experience of this case showed that this too was a misplaced view.

 

 

The technology all broke down (I have sad real-life experience of how awful it can be to be involved in video-link evidence overseas, and it is like the course of true love in that it never runs smoothly)

 

The video link to the Czech Republic frequently froze visually leaving me only with sound. I lost the chance in this case in respect of the three crucial witnesses from the Czech Republic to assess their demeanour. All the vital evidence from the Czech Republic had to be professionally translated. The translator gave a heroic performance but the exercise was completely unsatisfactory leaving me again unable, because of translation, to judge these important witnesses’ demeanour. The father also gave his evidence by video link or for much of the time only by audio link, again translated. It was very difficult for me to judge him in the way that I am required to do so.

 

 

  • In my judgment of 18 December 2013 I said at paragraph 40 (this is page A165, the final two sentences):

 

“But beyond these lofty expressions of principle are the simple practical facts that the parents are in the Czech Republic. Baby LD is in the Czech Republic and any proceedings in the Czech Republic will be conducted in the first language of the parents.”

Those practical facts loomed very large in the hearing before me. Those practical facts, or rather my inability to give expression to those practical facts, impeded the trial significantly. Notwithstanding that I had been found by the Court of Appeal to have erred, I am convinced that this case was at all times better tried in the Czech Republic. And had it been tried in the Czech Republic then no placement order, as contended for by the Local Authority and supported by the guardian, could have been made, as that order, in common with almost all other countries in the EU, with the exception of Ireland and Croatia, is beyond the powers of the court in the absence of parental consent.

 

 

The Judge discusses the expert witnesses from the Czech Republic who gave evidence via this flawed video-link. When you see that one of them said in writing that the mother could ‘definitely’ protect the child, you might have your antennae for “you’re going to collapse in cross-exam” twitching, and you’d be right

 

 

  • The next three witnesses were taken over the often malfunctioning video from the Czech Republic and they were the psychotherapist, Leona Hozova, the father and the social worker, Pavla Polakova. I will take the two professional witnesses first. Their written material was laconic indeed but it is not for me to criticise what may well be the usual practice for making professional reports in the Czech Republic. If it is the usual practice then as one who has to read these reports I can see a lot to commend it. Leona Hozova, a psychotherapist employed by the Domino Organisation, a well-known organisation in the Czech Republic, has provided three short statements at section C159, 193 and 195. I quote from the most recent dated 29 May 2014. It is so short that I can read it in full:

 

“From a position of a psychotherapist working with the family, I can respond within my competence as follows:

Ms M, dob 23.04.1994, is capable of recognising a danger and she is definitely able to protect her children, in this case her son ED, dob 27.06.2012. Ms M is an exemplary and loving mother. She is able to bring children up and to create them a relationship in harmony. From an attachment point of view, she is able to create safe and strong bond between her and her children. In a case of any possible danger she would be the first one to protect and defend her children.

At this time Ms M exhausted from the whole situation, psychologically very tired. This whole situation is very difficult for her and her family. Despite this she is still able to function as a mother without any problems and to carry out her child’s needs. During our consultations with Ms M we do not only talk about her psychological state, but we work together on developing her parental competency and smooth care of her child.

As a family psychotherapist I do not find any reasons to take Ms M’s child away, she is a caring and loving mother.

In terms of the psychological help which I am providing to the parents, so far I did not find any pathological elements in the behaviour of the father of Stefan D, dob 25.10.1972. Mr D is able to look after the daughter LD, dob 13.09.2013, without any problems and with love even at times when Ms M is away in England. Mr D is psychologically very broken from the whole situation, delaying of the whole matter has broken him psychologically. As a psychotherapist I can not express my opinion regarding his personal life and his actions at the time before our psychotherapeutic sessions.

Recommendation:

I recommend ED to be returned to his parents.

If it was not possible due to some particular reasons, then I recommend to place ED to foster care in the Czech Republic into a foster family who is experienced with foster care and who would live near to the parents, the reason is the most effective complying with ED’s needs and to enable ED’s contact with his biological parents.

I recommend to continue in regular psychotherapeutic consultations with the parents (both individual and in pair) and in strengthening their parental competence, further on in company of a family advisor who mainly focus in children in the family and in their care.

This opinion has been given on request of the High Court in London, England.”

 

  • In her oral evidence she confirmed that the mother and father had punctiliously attended all psychotherapeutic appointments. However, under cross-examination and significantly she accepted that she was not convinced, notwithstanding the mother’s assertions, that she would in fact ever leave the father, notwithstanding that in her assessment the mother was full of love and was a very careful mother to baby LD. She was satisfied that the mother authentically loved the father but she was of the view that that love was a search by the mother for a substitute father figure, a substitute for the father who abandoned her when she was a young child. She confirmed that she had spoken to both parents about the findings made by me in my fact finding judgment of 30 November 2012 but the father had told her unambiguously that they were not true. He told her that he rejects my findings of domestic violence meted out to his wife, Daniella D, although, in contrast to what he told me at the fact finding hearing, he accepted that he was actually and properly guilty of the criminal offences in respect of which he was sentenced in the Czech Republic in the year 2000. Similarly, but not nearly to the same extent, the mother told her, the psychotherapist, that she did not accept my detailed findings in which the relationship was begun and conducted.
  • Miss Hozova told me that in the Czech Republic there would be available foster parents who could look after ED and that such foster parents had full experience of caring for Roma children. Under cross-examination she accepted that she had tried hard to open up the topic of the father’s past conduct as found by me but that he simply would not co-operate. In a very significant statement for my purposes she stated whilst being cross-examined:

 

“For as long as he does not accept the findings there are considerable risks in placing ED with him and the mother.”

 

 

The Judge weighed up the evidence very carefully and rejected the proposals made by both sides (the mother seeking return of the child, the LA and Guardian seeking adoption)

 

 

  • These are my conclusions. First, I reject the proposal by the mother that these proceedings be dismissed and ED be returned to her and the father in the Czech Republic. That is manifestly not in his interests. Such a placement back with his parents would be replete with far too many risks in circumstances where the father categorically rejects the majority of the previous findings made in this case. He plainly cannot confront his demons until he has identified his demons. The same is true to a lesser extent in relation to the mother. If these parents were living here it is inconceivable that ED would be returned to them. That they are in the Czech Republic surely makes no difference. If a corollary of this finding by me is that I must conclude that baby LD should not be with her parents while deep professional work is done the first base of which is a full acceptance of the wrongdoing the father has done both to Daniella and to the mother, then I do not shrink from expressing that corollary.
  • I now turn to the choice urged on me by the Local Authority and supported by the guardian. In Re B-S at paragraph 19 the President, Sir James Munby, stated:

 

“It is to be remembered, as Baroness Hale pointed out in Down Lisburn Health and Social Services Trust and Another v H and Another [2006] UKHL 36 at paragraph 34 that the United Kingdom is unusual in Europe in permitting the total severance of family ties without parental consent.”

 

  • In this case Janet Kavanagh in her second statement dated 14 June 2013 has adduced certain research extolling the merits of adoption. At paragraph 22 she said this:

 

“The benefits of successful adoptions are well-evidenced: the overview of evidence research by Coram and Barnados (Exhibit 2) shows adopted children have good psychological outcomes and more stable placements than children brought up in care. “Adoption by contrast (with long-term fostering) is associated with lower disruption rates and placement stability confers a reduction of problems over time and growth of attachment” (Social Care Institute for Excellence in their scoping review of research of looked after children, Exhibit 3). Moreover the Adoption Research Institute (Exhibit 1) goes so far as to state that said that, ‘Adoption should be considered for every child who can not return home’.”

 

  • The proposition of the merits of adoption is advanced almost as a truism but if it is a truism it is interesting to speculate why only three out of 28 European Union countries allow forced or non-consensual adoption. One might ask: why are we so out of step with the rest of Europe? One might have thought if it was obvious that forced adoption was the gold standard the rest of Europe would have hastened to have adopted it. The relevance of this aspect of the case is surely obvious. This case, as I have demonstrated, could very easily have been tried in the Czech Republic. It was a fortuity that it was not. Had it been so tried there the orders sought by the Local Authority could not have been made. I accept, of course, that I must apply the law of England exclusively but in so doing the unique irrevocability of the orders sought has to play a prominent part in my judgment.
  • Therefore I turn to the two intermediate choices and ask myself if either of them will “do.” Only if neither will “do” will it be appropriate to make the order sought by the Local Authority. In my judgment a special guardianship order in favour of the current foster parents would be the preferred solution. I will not spring such an order on them or on any of the parties here pursuant to the Children Act 1989 section 14A(6)(b) and I cannot in fact envisage such an order being made of the court’s own motion other than by consent. Only if the foster parents apply for a special guardianship order will such an order be made. I invite them to decide within 14 days of today if they will apply for a special guardianship order. If they do I urge them to apply promptly so that a report under section 14A(8) can be prepared.

 

[You may remember the Court of Appeal case I recently discussed where the foster carers WERE putting themselves forward and the Court of Appeal said the Judge was not wrong to reject them – here they weren’t, but the Judge was trying to persuade them to do so]

 

I think that this is an important case – not for setting precedent – this won’t be relied upon in other cases and if it was attempted to be, I am confident that the Court of Appeal would have little hestitation in correcting Mostyn’s views here. But it frames an important philosophical debate – do the Court of Appeal really mean ‘nothing else will do”  – or do they mean “the other options must be considered and if adoption is the decision the Court must explain why they have been rejected”  – and Mostyn J raises the other major issue – are WE right in allowing forced adoption (together with two other countries in the EU, or are the other 25 countries right to have rejected it?

How long will it be before this is litigated, at length in the ECHR?  Y v UK set down the marker that Re B  and then Re B-S followed  [some observers, myself included think that ‘nothing else will do’ was an attempt to get English adoption law back in line with the ECHR view of it], but has there actually been a sea-change in the sort of cases that warrant adoption or have we all just swapped one set of ‘judicial window-dressing’  (draconian order) for a fresher one ‘nothing else will do’ ?

 

I have to say that it feels sometimes on the ground that we have just swapped our incantations for a newer form of words, rather than the radical re-think on adoption that Re B-S looked like a year ago.

 

What was Mostyn J’s plan if the current carers did not offer themselves up as Special Guardians? Well, here’s where it gets interesting. And remember, the Court of Appeal had said no to transferring this case to the Czech Republic under Brussels II.

 

If the foster parents do not signify that they will seek a special guardianship order I then will turn to consider the choice of a placement with Czech foster parents. If I were to do this it could not be under a care order. It is trite law confirmed by a decision of the House of Lords that once a care order is made all subsequent decisions concerning placement of the child are delegated to the Local Authority without interference from the court. The only role the court has thereafter is in relation to contact. Therefore if I were to go down this route it would have to be outside the care proceedings; those proceedings would have to come to an end and wardship proceedings would have to be commenced. The order placing ED with Czech foster parents would be a judgment made in wardship proceedings and such a judgment would be enforceable under Articles 21 and 23 of Brussels II Revised and under Article 23 of the 1996 Hague Convention. However, the judgment could only be enforced in the Czech Republic provided that Article 56 had been complied with (see Article 23(g) of Brussels II Revised).

 

I.e, I’ll make a wardship order and place the children in foster care in the Czech Republic.

 

The LA and Guardian expressed some doubts on that, given that the agencies of the Czech Republic had been leaning more towards rehab to mother’s care.

 

 

  • If therefore there is no signification by the foster parents to seek a special guardianship order within 14 days I direct that the central authority, OILPC, be notified that this court is contemplating a placement of ED with Czech foster parents and ask them to set in train the identification of such foster parents in accordance with the terms of the letter which I have just read out. If foster parents have been identified by the Czech central authority pursuant to the procedure set out by 1st November 2014 the matter must be restored to me to consider the suitability of those foster parents. If they are suitable then I will make the order in wardship that ED be placed with those foster parents and such an order and judgment will explicitly provide that the question of contact or indeed discharge from foster care will be made by the Czech court.
  • In principle I consider that foster care in the Czech Republic is a preferable solution to the irrevocability of a care order and placement order although, in my judgment, it is not as preferable as a special guardianship order. My reason is that in this case the ethnicity factor and parental link I regard of critical importance and which must have the capacity of being preserved and should not be irrevocably severed on the facts of this case. I reject the argument made for the Local Authority by Mrs Rowley, and by Mr Veitch for the guardian, that this solution is replete with risks because the Czech court might return ED to his parents. If I might respectfully say so it is a highly chauvinistic, almost neo-colonial sentiment. If the Czech court does return ED to his parents it will be after a full hearing with the child represented by a guardian. Plainly there can be no serious suggestion made that the Czech court would not, in any hearing, properly promote the interests of ED. Only if both of these intermediate choices prove to be impossible will I be satisfied that nothing else will do and in those circumstances I would make on the evidence the care order and placement order.
  • I accept entirely that the solution I have proposed and which I order will involve further delay in achieving finality for ED. I accept that the avoidance of delay is an almost canonical prescription in this kind of proceedings. However, bearing in mind that I am making arrangements which will affect the whole of ED’s life I do not believe that the most profound consequences of that decision should be sacrificed on the altar of the avoidance of delay.

 

So, to suggest that the Czech authorities might return the child to mother’s care is highly chauvinistic and almost neo-colonial…

 

Let’s see what the Czech authorities had to say (AFTER the judgment was handed down. Again underlining mine for emphasis)

 

 

  • On 29 September 2014 this court received a letter dated 23 September 2014 from Mr Zdeněk Kapitán, the Direct of OILPC. This was written and received well after I had orally given judgment. The letter reads as follows:

 

“The Office for International Legal Protection of Children, as the Central Authority of the Czech Republic under the Council Regulation (EC) No 2201 /2003 of 27 November 2003 concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, repealing Regulation (EC) No 1347/2000 hereby states its position regarding the case of the child mentioned above.According to the information available to the Office, the child is currently removed from the care of his parents and is placed in the foster care.

As our Office is highly concerned about the best interest of the minor who is the Czech national we respectfully ask the Court to consider, while deciding in the Care Order proceedings the following rights of the Child arising from the international conventions named below that are binding for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Firstly, the Office would like to point out at the Article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights that regulates the right to respect for private and family life, the Office hereby highlights the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “ECHR’) in respect of the Article 8 of the Convention. In particular the ECHR constantly rules that “the fact that a child could be placed In a more beneficial environment for his or her upbringing will not on its own justify a compulsory measure of removal from the care of the biological parents, there must exist other circumstances pointing to the effective ‘necessity’ for such an interference with the parents’ right under Article 8 of the Convention to enjoy a family life with the child” (T v FINLAND, § 173)

Furthermore, the ECHR declared that “although the essential object of Article 8 is to protect the individual against arbitrary action by the public authorities, there may jn addition be positive obligations inherent in an effective ‘respect’ for family life. Thus. where the existence of a family tie has been established, the State must in principle act in the manner calculated to enable that tie to be developed and take measures that will enable parent and child to be reunited” (KUTZNER v. GERMANY. § 61).

Secondly, the Office draws the attention of the Court to the Article 8 and Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child under which the States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her family relations and shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will unless the certain conditions are met.

Finally, the Office understands that the habitual residence of the above child is in the territory of the United Kingdom and that the Court shall have the jurisdiction in the matter. Nevertheless if the Court considers that it is in the best interest of the child to proceed under the Article 15 and/ or the Article 56 of the Regulation, the Office supports such proceedings and is very open to offer the Court its further assistance in proceedings under the Article 15 and / or the Article 56 of the Regulation.

In conclusion, the Office appeals to the Court to take into consideration the aforesaid and not to interfere with the right to respect for family life unless it is necessary and justifiable.

This statement is to emphasize the importance and priority of the work with the biological family over the very extreme measure of separating the child from his parents and placing him into foster care. Accordingly, we are of the opinion that in case the parents are not able to take care of the child, the members of wider family should be always considered as potential carers.”

 

I might be highly chauvinistic and almost neo-colonial, but I read that as the Czech authorities dropping a pretty big hint that if the child is in their control, they view foster care as the last resort and a very extreme measure.

 

Now, one could of course argue – this is a Czech mother, a Czech father, a Czech baby – let the Czech Republic get on with it and make their own decisions, it is really their baby to make decisions about.  Except… that’s exactly what Mostyn J decided first time out and the Court of Appeal rejected that.

 

We don’t know yet what has actually happened. Here is my guess – either the LA and the Guardian began drawing up an appeal claim straight away OR a lot of pressure was put on the current foster carers to take up the offer of Special Guardianship to avoid further ligitation.

 

I’m not a huge fan of how Mostyn J has necessarily gone about this, but it is a real practical issue on the ground – we are having more and more babies in England and Wales whose parents are from other parts of the EU, those countries being ones who don’t have non-consensual adoption – should we be spending huge amounts of taxpayers money litigating these cases in England, or should the decisions about the children be taken in the parents country of origin?   (It gets ludicrously tricky if mum and dad are from different countries within the EU, of course)

 

The ECHR’s already tough line on non-consensual adoption was in a case where the UK was making decisions about the children of its own citizens – might they take an even tougher line when the first case of a foreign national’s children goes before the ECHR?  The Italian C-section case drew a lot of overseas attention – and if we have 3 countries within the EU who support non-consensual adoption and 25 who don’t, the UK government may not be preaching to the converted if a case of that kind comes up before the ECHR.

 

 

What is wardship?

 

I suspect that there will be a few people, including some journalists, who want to understand what Wardship is today.  (If it is okay, I’m going to try not to say too much about Aysha King specifically today, because the case is now before the Court and hasn’t been decided – the case is now in the High Court, a wardship order has been applied for and the Judge Mr Justice Baker has adjourned the case until Monday, to give the parents time to get lawyers and put their own position before the Court. But I will touch on what these things might mean for the King family at various points)

 

What is wardship?

 

If you aren’t a family lawyer, the only time you’ll have come across someone being a Ward is Dick Grayson being Bruce Wayne’s ward. (which seemed to involve very little in the form of care and nurture and much more in the form of dressing up garishly and fighting armed goons)

Wardship is quite an old phenomenon whereby a High Court Judge makes decisions about what is best for a child and no significant steps can be taken in relation to that child without the Court approving it. They were very common pre Children Act 1989 and were at that stage a creation of common law (i.e the law about Wardship was invented and adapted by Judges, rather than having been a law invented by Parliament and set down in an Act)

 

In fact, pre Children Act 1989 they were often a route for children being taken away from parents and placed into the care of a Local Authority.  (there was a power in the Family Reform Act 1969 to let them do just that, so the power kicked around for twenty years)

 

{Edit – am grateful to David Burrows for advising me that the child becomes a ward of Court on issue of the application, though the Court can of course decide whether that continues once they hear the case}

 

What are the powers of Wardship?

Wardship is part of the High Court’s Inherent Jurisdiction, and as long-term readers will know, the High Court is very fond of using the Inherent Jurisdiction as authority for doing just about anything, and often use the phrase “the powers of Inherent Jurisdiction are theoretically limitless”

 

The Practice Direction 12 D is quite helpful in explaining Wardship

https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/family/practice_directions/pd_part_12d
1.1
It is the duty of the court under its inherent jurisdiction to ensure that a child who is the subject of proceedings is protected and properly taken care of. The court may in exercising its inherent jurisdiction make any order or determine any issue in respect of a child unless limited by case law or statute. Such proceedings should not be commenced unless it is clear that the issues concerning the child cannot be resolved under the Children Act 1989.
1.2
The court may under its inherent jurisdiction, in addition to all of the orders which can be made in family proceedings, make a wide range of injunctions for the child’s protection of which the following are the most common –

(a) orders to restrain publicity;
(b) orders to prevent an undesirable association;
(c) orders relating to medical treatment;
(d) orders to protect abducted children, or children where the case has another substantial foreign element; and
(e) orders for the return of children to and from another state.

 

[You can see that (c) and (e) are pretty relevant to Aysha’s case]

Let’s look at it this way – the Children Act is like Batman – there are all sorts of powers and tools and gadgets in there, but they are all prescribed and laid out. You know if you bump into Batman that he has fighting prowess and Batarangs and Shark Repellent. But he can’t suddenly fly or shoot laser beams from his eyes or lift up a train. There are limits to Batman’s capabilities and we know what they are.  The Inherent Jurisdiction is more like Superman –  he can do pretty much anything you can think of (including, if you rely on the movies, flying around the world backwards to turn back time…  LET IT GO, Suesspicious Minds, get over it)

 

And just like Superman, Inherent Jurisdiction has huge power, but it also has Kryptonite

 

What can’t be done under wardship?

 

When the Children Act 1989 was being devised, there were people who wanted to get rid of wardship altogether, but they were finally persuaded to keep it, but to put into the Children Act 1989 a limit to its power.

 

s100 Children Act 1989 Restrictions on use of wardship jurisdiction.

(1)Section 7 of the M1Family Law Reform Act 1969 (which gives the High Court power to place a ward of court in the care, or under the supervision, of a local authority) shall cease to have effect.

(2)No court shall exercise the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction with respect to children—

(a)so as to require a child to be placed in the care, or put under the supervision, of a local authority;

(b)so as to require a child to be accommodated by or on behalf of a local authority;

(c)so as to make a child who is the subject of a care order a ward of court; or

(d)for the purpose of conferring on any local authority power to determine any question which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child.

(3)No application for any exercise of the court’s inherent jurisdiction with respect to children may be made by a local authority unless the authority have obtained the leave of the court.

(4)The court may only grant leave if it is satisfied that—

(a)the result which the authority wish to achieve could not be achieved through the making of any order of a kind to which subsection (5) applies; and

(b)there is reasonable cause to believe that if the court’s inherent jurisdiction is not exercised with respect to the child he is likely to suffer significant harm.

(5)This subsection applies to any order—

(a)made otherwise than in the exercise of the court’s inherent jurisdiction; and

(b)which the local authority is entitled to apply for (assuming, in the case of any application which may only be made with leave, that leave is granted).

 

 

English please?

 

(i) The Court can’t use wardship to put a child in the care of the Local Authority.  That is important because otherwise it would let Judges put children into care even where the threshold criteria for making Care Orders wasn’t met.    [For Aysha’s case, that means that even if the Court make a wardship order, that does not amount to the child coming into care]

(ii) The Court can’t make a wardship order and then say “Local Authority, you make the decisions, I’ll leave it to your discretion”  – if there’s a wardship order, the High Court have to make the individual decisions

(iii) The Court can’t use wardship to do something that could be achieved by any other power in the Children Act   (i.e if you can get the job with Batman, Superman won’t be able to show up and help even if you prefer Superman)

 

Also, although this is not spoken of very often, all of the Human Rights Act provisions apply to wardship cases – so there is the article 6 right to fair trial and the article 8 right to private and family life which means that wardship can only be made if it is PROPORTIONATE and NECESSARY.    [There’s an intriguing section of the Supreme Court judgment in Re B, where Lord Neuberger is talking about article 8’s “necessary” test and says that for those purposes he adopts Lady Hale’s formulation of “nothing else will do”   – that doesn’t seem to have been picked up on generally yet to the extent that it was picked up on for Adoption cases]

 

Who can apply for wardship?

 

As you can see from the Kryptonite section, the Local Authority can apply, but ONLY if they can satisfy the Court that there is reasonable cause to believe that failure to apply would be likely to cause significant harm to the child. That is not an easy hurdle to cross – particularly since if that test applies they would have remedies under the Children Act 1989  (Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order, Recovery Order)

They can also be issued by a connected person, generally a parent  – and that’s usually where there’s a fear of abduction of the child to another country or an attempt to get the child returned.

Wardship applications can, and have, been issued by hospital Trusts seeking a declaration from the Court about medical treatment for a child, and that’s probably what has happened in Aysha’s case.

It is theoretically possible that the police could apply, but I’ve never come across such a case.  They might be reluctant to do so, since making the child a ward of Court means that the child can’t be interviewed without approval of the Court.

 

When does wardship run out?

 

It runs for as long as the Court want it to last, but the longest it can last is until the child is no longer a child. There aren’t any formal applications to discharge or revoke a Wardship order, but in practice, a person would seek a hearing before the High Court to persuade the High Court that wardship was no longer needed.

 

What about getting free legal advice?

 

This is a tricky question. If there’s an application for care proceedings, then the parent automatically gets what is called “non means, non merit” public funding  – what does that mean? Well, it means that a parent gets free legal advice and representation to fight the case even if they are a millionaire  (non means) or even if someone looking at the case would think that their argument is poor (non merits)

The next tier of public funding is those matters set out in Schedule 1 of LASPO http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/schedule/1/enacted  which can get public funding if they meet a means and merit assessment. Wardship is NOT in there.

Eep. What now?

Well, the final tier is Exceptional funding under s10* of LASPO.  If you are a lawyer, you are already wincing. This allows the Legal Aid Agency to grant free legal advice to exceptional cases where not having free legal advice would breach a person’s human rights.  Hardly ANY of these have been granted.

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/four-family-law-applications-for-exceptional-case-funding-have-been-granted-between-april-and-june-2014#.VAXrAGOgktV

In the last year, of 821 applications, 8 were granted. And only 4 for family cases.

 

Even if you could get public funding on exceptional circumstances – well the bad news is that that is still means tested.  What does that mean? Well, it means that if you have capital over £8000, you can’t get free legal representation.

(If you are wondering, yes, the Legal Aid Agency would treat all of the King family’s savings, and any donations for the treatment fund as capital.  It is not money that they would disregard or ignore. At the moment, this case is a police/nhs scandal, but it is about to become a legal aid scandal too)

 

What are your options if you CAN’T get free legal advice?

 

You could represent yourself. Not ideal in the High Court, dealing with life-changing and complicated things.

You could arrange a McKenzie Friend. There are some good and helpful ones, but a stand-alone wardship case is really very difficult.

You could contact the bar pro bono unit  (there are lawyers who will represent you for free.  http://www.barprobono.org.uk/

Or you could instruct lawyers paying privately and hope to win the case and get a costs order against the applicant. Cost orders aren’t easy, since if the applicant made the application in good faith and has not behaved dreadfully, it isn’t as simple as just “If there’s no wardship order the other side will have to pay costs”   – having said that, in a case like this, where the parents would be spending money that they want to spend on treatment, there might well be a sympathetic consideration of any costs application.

 

 

 

*{corrected, from s11 LASPO, my mistake. Thanks to David Burrows for spotting it}