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Category Archives: judicial spanking

Social worker on the naughty step


 

 

 

This is a decision of a Circuit Judge, so not binding, but illuminating as heck.

M and N (Children : Local authority gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence) [2018] EWFC 40 (1 June 2018)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/40.html

 

It revolves around an investigation into a child who was two months old and how they sustained bruising to the neck and a fracture to the clavicle.

The social worker interviewed the parents, took handwritten notes and later produced a typed note. The LA case was that neither of the explanations for the injury offered by a parent (a trip and fall whilst carrying the child, or a bump in a car) accounted for the injuries, and the experts agreed.

 

On later enquiry within the care proceedings it emerged that the handwritten notes were used to produce that typed note two weeks later

 

 

  1. Social worker, (SW1), was charged with investigating the matter on behalf of the local authority. SW1 spoke with the mother on 22nd September when she was given the seatbelt explanation. On 25th September, the Monday, SW1 visited the parents’ home and met with the mother and the maternal grandmother. At this meeting, she was given specific details of the fall explanation. On 26th September, the following day, SW1 visited M at her school. Each of these meetings need further expansion but before doing so, I must comment on the way the meetings were recorded.

 

  1. During her evidence SW1 referred to her formal recording of the meetings which was set out in case notes and notes prepared for the purpose of the local authority section 47 report. Both sets are very similar as there was clearly a lot of copying and pasting from one to the other. Significantly, the formal notes were largely made up on 9th October, some two weeks after the meetings took place. When questioned by Miss Mallon about the potential for these notes being inaccurate because of the delay, the social worker was adamant that they were accurate as she relied on her memory, supported by her handwritten notes taken at the time. The cross-examination was highly relevant as there was a material dispute as to what was said during the meeting on the 25th.

 

The handwritten notes were duly requested and produced. Were they good? My good friends, they were not. Did they show an accurate record mapping clearly onto the typed version? My good friends, they did not.

 

 

  1. The handwritten notes had not previously been disclosed by the local authority and did not form part of the bundle. At the conclusion of SW1’s evidence, the court asked her if the notes existed and if they could be produced. It transpired the notes did exist and they were produced the following day and circulated. The contemporaneous notes comprised seven pages of handwritten material. It is difficult to overstate how unprofessionally prepared these notes were. They were largely undated, they failed accurately to recall who was present, much of the handwriting is illegible, they were in large part disjointed and had to be translated by SW1 who gave further evidence but despite their unsatisfactory condition, the notes were illuminating.

 

  1. Until the notes appeared, no plan of the living room of the family home had been prepared. The notes, however, contained a sketch plan of the room with a faint line which the social worker confirmed denoted the path M was taking when it was alleged that she had tripped falling on to N. The path is clearly towards N’s head and right shoulder. It is entirely consistent with the evidence given by the mother and the grandmother and suggests a graphic explanation for how M could have placed her knee on N’s right shoulder causing bruising to her neck but not to the remainder of her torso.

 

  1. The significance of this is twofold. Firstly, the fact that the mother was denied this crucial contemporaneous recording of what she said four days after the event was to deny her the opportunity of supporting her version of events with crucial evidence and left her to rely on her memory many weeks after the event. Secondly, it deprived the experts of corroborative evidence to explain how the neck could have been bruised but not the body.

 

  1. 16.             The handwritten notes contained a record of SW1’s meeting with M. They are as illegible and disjointed as the other notes but start with the words, “Naughty step”. SW1 was unable to explain why these words appear and could only speculate. The note contains a record of the child saying something and then correcting herself and concludes with the words, “Said never tripped/fell on to N/mat”.

 

  1. 17.             As a result of this meeting, it is claimed there is formal record supporting the local authority’s case that M has denied falling on to N. This has been taken up by the experts who have used this in support of their opinion that the event did not happen. This is not a criticism of the experts as they are entitled to assume M was interviewed in a professional manner. Unfortunately, she was not. During the social worker’s evidence she said that she had been ABE trained. If this is the case, I have grave reservations as to the quality and effectiveness of that training.

 

Ticket for one to the Burns unit please. Oh, that’s a deep burn.

 

 

Two tickets to the gun show

 

 

 

  1. On the third day of the five day hearing the local authority took stock of the evidence and, quite rightly, concluded that there was an unrealistic prospect of establishing threshold and asked the court for permission to withdraw its application. The court ordered the local authority to make its application formally by way of C2, supported by a child-in-need care plan. These have been filed and the children’s guardian has had the opportunity to consider the way forward.

 

 

 

  1. My analysis is as follows. If N had been injured by her seatbelt, she would have woken up and cried. She did not. It is medically implausible that this event caused the injury and, in my judgment, it did not.

 

  1. There is unanimity between the experts who attended court that N could have been injured in the way she was by M’s knee landing on her clavicle. I accept the evidence of the mother and the grandmother that this event occurred precisely as they say it did, that M was walking back to N who was lying on her changing mat, that M tripped, that M’s knee was the first part of her body to make contact with N and it did so directly on to her right clavicle. The break was caused by this mechanism. I am entirely satisfied that this was an unfortunate accident and that neither parent was in any way responsible for its occurrence.

 

  1. The local authority was right to apply for leave to withdraw its application but we now have a dreadful situation where both children have been separated from their mother and in N’s case her father’s unsupervised care for over six months. The parents have separated and it is unknown how much the stress of these proceedings has contributed to that. M, who we are told cannot understand why she has to live with her great grandmother, must now be told at some point and in the most sensitive way possible that the reason was because her parents had been accused of harming her sister when, in fact, the injury was actually caused by M herself. There is a significant amount of work to do to put this family back together again.

 

  1. The local authority has prepared a care plan and I am content that the care plan meets the children’s needs. Having considered the children’s welfare and in doing so having had regard to the welfare checklist, I am satisfied that it is in the best interests of both children for the proceedings to be withdrawn and give leave accordingly.

 

That’s all desperately sad – what a cost this family has paid for the failure of the social worker to properly record her notes, transcribe them accurately and grasp the importance of what was in them.

 

Judicial comment on gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence

 

  1. I cannot leave this case without making comment on the manner in which the local authority has conducted itself. I have three main areas of concern. Firstly, the gathering and recording of evidence by the social worker was, in my view, wholly inappropriate. The local authority was investigating an allegation of serious child abuse where it was thought possible that an 8-week-old baby had been seriously injured by one or other of the parents.

 

  1. 34.             In discharging its duties, the local authority could and should, in my view, have kept proper notes in a professional way which would have served as a coherent, contemporaneous record and this did not happen. To compound the problem, the notes were not made up into formal case notes until several weeks after the event, leaving much room for error caused by the inadequate contemporaneous notes and failing memory. If the local authority thought it appropriate to obtain evidence from a 4-year-old child, and it clearly did, it should have followed the ABE guidelines. Failure to do so renders any evidence obtained from the child to be of no value.

 

  1. Secondly, I have concerns over the failure of the local authority to present a full picture to the experts. If Dr. Elias-Jones had known the explanation given by the parents days after the event in the manner that it was given to the social worker, this would have changed his opinion. This is clear because when he did understand it, his opinion changed but unfortunately this was four and a half months after he filed his report. Dr. De Soysa in his report dated 27th September, which will have been read by the other experts, reports:

 

“SW1 had interviewed M with regard to this incident. SW1 informed me that M had no recollection of this event.”

 

  1. There is reasonable scepticism as to whether a 4-year-old should have been interviewed at all. However, if she had been interviewed appropriately, and by that I mean in accordance with the ABE guidelines, the outcome may have been very different. It may be that she would have given an accurate account of events which would have meant this whole case could have lasted days rather than six months. One can only speculate. In any event, to have given an account of events of what M said was, in my judgment, irresponsible as the experts could not be expected to question the basis upon which this information had been obtained.

 

  1. My third and final area of concern is on the matter as to whether the parents and the children have had the benefit of natural justice in this case and thereby whether their Article 6 rights have been breached by a local authority which is, of course, an instrument of the State. These proceedings are borne out of a serious allegation of child abuse which, if found, would have had a profound effect upon the parents and the way they would be able to care for their children in the future.

 

  1. 38.             I have already given my comment upon my interpretation of the local authority’s duty of care on gathering evidence but I feel obliged to comment on the local authority’s failure to disclose material evidence in advance of being required to do so during the final hearing. It is clear that the content of the social worker’s contemporaneous notes was material in securing the sea‑change in the professional opinion of Dr. Elias-Jones. The parents should not be expected to have to go on a search to obtain such important evidence which supports their case.

 

  1. 39.             The local authority should have made this evidence available to the parents and their advisors at the earliest opportunity. It is again speculation as to what effect this would have had on the length these proceedings have taken but it is, in my judgment, worth speculating. For the future, the comments I have made highlight, in my view, that there may be significant areas for improvement in the training the local authority gives to its social workers, particularly in the areas of gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence in care proceedings

 

If you’re a social worker, now would be a very good time to find your handwritten notes, and have a serious hard look at whether the typed ones capture everything.  If you’re a local authority lawyer, ask your social worker on any NAI/CSA case to let you have their handwritten notes. If you’re a parent solicitor or representing a Guardian, ask for those notes.

 

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Local Authority unlawfully caring for child for four years (section 20 abuse)

 

Herefordshire Council v AB 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/10.html

 

This is the case referred to in my earlier blog posts, and in this news story in the Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/16/council-kept-boy-9-in-care-for-whole-of-his-life-judge-reveals?CMP=share_btn_link

 

The Guardian piece is not overselling it.

 

  This judgment concerns two unconnected young people who have been accommodated pursuant to the provisions of The Children Act 1989, section 20 (the 1989 Act) for a very considerable period of time.  Their treatment by Herefordshire Council (‘the local authority’) represents two of the most egregious abuses of section 20 accommodation it has yet been my misfortune to encounter as a judge.

May as well open with the key bit

 

In the case of one of the 42 children accommodated by the local authority referred to above, the mother withdrew her consent for her child to be accommodated in 2013.  The local authority not only did not return the child to her mother’s care, it effectively did nothing in terms of care planning for the child.  Thus, for four years the local authority unlawfully had care of this child. 

 

That wasn’t the only example.

 

On 28 March 2010 CD’s mother gave formal written notice to the council of the withdrawal of her consent to CD being accommodated.  In response, the local authority (1) did not return CD to her care, but (2) advised her to seek legal advice if she wished CD to be returned to her care.  The director has acknowledged that this was a misuse of the local authority’s powers and it should have made immediate arrangements to return CD to his mother’s care.  It is, however, far worse than being a misuse of powers.  The local authority acted unlawfully and unlawfully retained care of CD until at least February 2013 when it appears from the chronology that the mother was engaging with the local authority and agreeing to CD remaining in care. 

 

The Judge, Keehan J, made orders that the Director of Children’s Services file statements explaining what had gone wrong with these two children and to set out all of the children that were in section 20 accommodation with details.

 

  1. I required the Director of Children’s Services to file and serve (i) a statement explaining the events and lack of planning in respect of CD and GH, and (ii) a statement detailing the circumstances of each and every child accommodated by this local authority pursuant to the provisions of section 20.
  2. The latter document made very grim reading.  Excepting CD, GH and three other children who are now the subject of public law proceedings, the local authority is accommodating 42 children.  Of these 42 children, the local authority have now recognised that 14 have wrongly and abusively been the subject of section 20 accommodation for a wholly inappropriate lengthy period of time and/or should have been the subject of legal planning meetings and/or care proceedings at a much earlier time.

 

My mathematical skills are not perfect, but that’s about a third of the children that they were accommodating that were being wrongly and abusively accommodated.

 

Gulp.

 

  1. Mr Chris Baird was appointed the permanent Director for Children’s Wellbeing for this local authority (otherwise known as the Director of Children’s Services and hereafter referred to the as ‘the Director’) on 10 November 2017.  It is right that I record at an early stage in the judgment that he (a) has readily and timeously complied with all directions made by this court for the filing and serving of statements and letters (b) has been completely frank and open about the past failings of this local authority (c) has provided a ready explanation of the steps he has taken or will take to remedy past mistakes, and (d) has chosen to attend court hearings in person.
  2. Later in this judgment, I will be roundly critical of egregious failings of this local authority in relation to CD and GH but also in relation to the 14 children to whom I have referred above.  Nevertheless, it is important for me to recognise and acknowledge that Mr Baird and the new senior management team at this local authority have taken and will take steps to ensure that such dreadful failures in the care of and planning for children and young people in its care will not occur in the future.  I have every confidence in the sincerity and commitment of this director to improve very significantly the planning for and provision of services to the children and young people for whom it is responsible.

 

 

Very decent of Mr Baird not to throw his predecessor under the bus.

 

(I also note with pleasure the use of the word ‘timeously’ which I was naming to a friend as one of my favourite words just last week)

 

  1. In February 2017, I sent a letter to the Director of Children’s Services of each of the 22 local authorities on the Midlands circuit with the consent and approval of all of the circuits’ designated family judges and of the chairs of the circuits’ ten local family justice boards.  One of the principal topics addressed was the use of section 20 accommodation.  I offered the following guidance:

“The use of section 20 by a local authority to provide accommodation to children and young people is perfectly legitimate if deployed in appropriate circumstances.  It is a useful tool available to local authorities.  I offer the following as examples of the appropriate use of section 20 but I emphasise these are examples only and not an exhaustive list: (a) a young person where his or her parents have requested their child’s accommodation because of behavioural problems and where the parents and social care are working co-operatively together to resolve the issues and to secure a return home in early course; (b) children or young people where the parent or parents have suffered an unexpected domestic crisis and require support from social care to accommodate the children or young people for a short period of time; (c) an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child or young person requires accommodation in circumstances where there are no grounds to believe the threshold criteria of section 31 of the Children Act 1989 are satisfied; (d) the children or young people who suffer from a medical condition or disability and the parent or parents seek respite care for a short period of time; or (e) a shared care arrangement between the family and local authority where the threshold of section 31 care is not met yet, where supported, this intensive level is needed periodically throughout a childhood or part of a childhood. 

“In all of the foregoing, it is likely the threshold criteria of section 31 of the Children Act 1989 are not or will not be satisfied and/or it would be either disproportionate or unnecessary to issue public law proceedings.  It is wholly inappropriate and an abuse of section 20 to accommodate children or young people as an alternative to the issue of public law proceedings or to provide accommodation and to delay the issue of public law proceedings.  Where children and young people who are believed to be at risk of suffering significant harm are removed from the care of their parent or parents, whether under a police protection and emergency protection order or by consent pursuant to section 20, it is imperative that care proceedings are issued without any delay.”

 

  1. This guidance, which was given by me in my role as the Family Division Liaison Judge of  the Midland Circuit, has neither legal effect nor greater significance than, as was intended to be, helpful advice to the respective directors, their senior staff, their social workers and the local authority’s child care solicitors. 

 

 

We shall see whether the Supreme Court agree with that formulation – they might well do.

 

CD was accommodated on 14th October 2009.

 

On 28 March 2010, the mother wrote to the local authority formally to withdraw her consent to CD remaining accommodated by the local authority pursuant to the provisions of section 20.  The local authority did not act on this withdrawal of consent and, instead, advised the mother to seek legal advice if they wished CD to be returned to their care.  I shall return to this issue later in the judgment. 

 

 

To make it absolutely plain, once mother does that, the LA have to return the child to her care or obtain an order from the Court authorising them not to do so.  They can’t just pretend she didn’t say it.  It is particularly rich to suggest to the mother that she seeks legal advice, when the LA obviously weren’t doing that themselves, or at least weren’t following it.

 

If the LA had asked me at that point what the legal status of the child was, I would have sent them this image

 

And, if you want to make provision for the damages claim that’s about to follow, you may want to locate “Treasure Island”

 

  1. A further LAC review was held on 29 April 2010.  That review recommended that the local authority should take steps to address CD’s legal security and permanence.  A legal planning meeting was held on 4 August 2010.  The legal advice given was to issue care proceedings to gain greater clarity around the parties’ views and timescales to secure permanence for CD as early as possible and for CD to have a voice in the proceedings through his guardian and solicitor.  Nothing was done.
  2. A further LAC review held on 18 November 2010, during which CD’s independent reviewing officer raised concerns about the delay in achieving permanence for CD and reiterated that the legal advice given needed to be followed.  Nothing was done.
  3. Two further legal planning meetings were held on 16 February 2011 and, following the completion of an updated assessment of CD’s needs again, on 30 March 2011, there was agreement at that latter meeting to initiate care proceedings.  At a further LAC review on 6 April 2011, no further recommendations were made as a clear decision had been made on 30 March. 
  4. On 5 May 2011, the decision to initiate care proceedings was retracted by the then Assistant Director of Children’s Services who stated she was not, “agreeing to issuing proceedings and considered that seeking a care order would not make a significant difference to CD’s care given he had been accommodated for some time”. 
  5. This decision was fundamentally misconceived and fundamentally wrong.
  1. The next LAC review was held on 28 February 2013 where it was agreed that CD should remain looked after until his 18th birthday.  There had been a query about his legal status.  The decision was made that he remained accommodated pursuant to section 20, noting that CD’s mother was engaging well with the arrangements.  A further LAC review was held on 16 July 2013.  No changes were recommended to CD’s care plan.  The same approach was taken at the next LAC review on 9 December 2013 but there were discussions about the possibility of CD’s foster carers applying for a special guardianship order. 

 

There are a string of further LAC reviews, all thinking that the section 20 was okay  (basing that presumably on the Feb 2013 view that “Mother was engaging well with the arrangements”), then

 

There was a further LAC review on 3 April 2017.  On 5 September 2017, legal advice was sought at a legal gateway meeting.  It was recognised that CD had been accommodated under section 20 since 2009.  Somewhat surprisingly, the section 20 accommodation arrangement was deemed appropriate.  Thereafter, the decision was made to issue these public law proceedings. 

 

GH was accommodated on 9th July 2008 – the LA relying on the purported consent given by his mother, who was fourteen.

 

  1. At a LAC review held on 4 March 2014, there was a change of plan by the local authority.  The local authority decided to take GH’s case to a legal planning meeting.
  1. It was decided at the legal planning meeting that care proceedings should be instigated. The care plan of the same date stated that the local authority is considering the need to obtain a full care order. Nothing, however, was done

Well, at least they decided after nearly six years to issue care proceedings. Job done.

 

  1. In June 2016 a comprehensive review was undertaken of all section 20 accommodation cases by this local authority.  A LAC review was then held in respect of GH on 8 December 2016 where it was reported that legal advice regarding the continuing use of section 20 had been sought.  The decision was made that (i) an application for a care order needed to be initiated, and (ii) the local authority needed to gain parental responsibility due to GH’s complex health needs and the fact that he might need to move to a new placement in the near future. Nothing was done.

 

Okay, so having decided after six years that they needed to do something, they didn’t do anything for a further two years, then reviewed it and realised that they needed to do something. Then did nothing.

 

A further legal gateway meeting took place in March 2017.  The case was escalated by the independent reviewing officer to the Children with Disabilities Team at regular intervals between May and July 2017.  The independent reviewing officer then raised the matter with the Head of Service for Safeguarding and Review, who in turn escalated it to the relevant Head of Service in July.  It was not until 22 September 2017 that this application for a care order was in fact made. 

 

 

Oh boy.

 

  1. I have never before encountered two cases where a local authority has so seriously and serially failed to address the needs of the children in its care and so seriously misused, indeed abused, the provisions of section 20 of the Children Act 1989.  By happenchance alone, as it appears to me, both children have remained in the care of quite extraordinary and superlative carers who have met their respective needs extremely well.  I offer the warmest of thanks and congratulations to CD’s foster carers and to GH’s foster carer.  For periods of at least eight years they have each cared for the two boys without any parental responsibility for either of them.  Both sets of foster carers have in many ways been failed by this local authority, but their commitment to CD and GH respectively has been undaunted and unfailing. 
  2. Nevertheless, serious and long lasting damage has resulted.  Contact between CD and his mother had never properly been considered nor promoted.  The mother is not without blame on this issue.  It led however to an extremely unfortunate event recently where the mother and CD inadvertently came across each other in public and the mother did not recognise her son.  CD was dramatically affected.  What child could reasonably cope with their mother or father not recognising them?
  3. In respect of GH, his mother was so young when he was born that she needed the greatest possible advice, support and consideration.  She was not given any of the foregoing.  The local authority, as referred to above, did not even consider whether she was capable of consenting to GH’s accommodation.  Thereafter she was frankly side-lined.  As she grew older and matured, little, if any, consideration was given as to whether she could then care for GH or whether she could and should play a greater role in his life.  I have a very real sense that her role as his mother, albeit, or perhaps because, she was so very young, was simply overlooked and ignored.  Fortunately, with the issuing of these proceedings it has been possible to secure the placement of both children.  In respect of CD with his current carers as special guardians.  In respect of GH, to secure his placement with ZA but then to consider where his interests lie in a future long-term placement.  It has also enabled CD’s foster carers to be invested with parental responsibility for him.
  4. I have been seriously critical of the actions and inactions of this local authority.  I do not, despite the explanations offered, understand how or why this local authority failed these two children so very badly.  Nevertheless, I am satisfied that the appointment of a new director and a new management team, who are alive to the past failings in these and in other cases, will lead to an improved service for the children and young people who are now or hence forward will be placed in the care of this local authority.

 

 

The Local Authority argued that they should not be named in this judgment.  Given that the title of the case is Herefordshire Council v AB 2018,  how do you think that application went?

 

Publicity

  1. I have indicated to the parties at earlier hearings that I was minded to give a public judgment in respect of both cases.  It was submitted on behalf of the local authority that I should anonymise the names of all parties, including the local authority, because the adverse publicity would be damaging to the council.  I subsequently received a letter from the director bringing to my attention Hereford’s struggle to recruit solicitors and social workers and that “adverse publicity for the local authority does count in the minds of some prospective employees and it would be unfortunate if our historic failings were to turn people away.”  The contents of this letter, which had been disclosed to all of the other parties, caused me to consider once more whether it was necessary for me to name the local authority in this case.  After long and careful reflection I have concluded that it is.  I decided that a public judgment which named the local authority was necessary for the following reasons: (a) the President has repeatedly emphasised the importance of transparency and openness in the conduct of cases in the Family Division and in the Family Court; (b) the public have a real and legitimate interest in knowing what public bodies do, or, as in these cases, do not do in their name and on their behalf; (c) the failure to plan and take action in both of these cases is extremely serious.  There were repeated flagrant breaches of guidance from the judges of the division and of standard good practice; (d) it is evident that this case emanates from the Midlands Circuit.  Not to identify the relevant local authority would unfairly run the risk of other authorities on this circuit coming under suspicion; and (e) the President and the judges of the division have always previously taken a robust approach on the identification of local authorities, experts and professionals whose approach or working practices are found to be below an acceptable standard. 
  2. The director is understandably concerned about the potential adverse consequences of a public judgment.  I fully understand those concerns, but, for the reasons I have given above, I do not consider these concerns should lead me to anonymise the local authority.  In my view these concerns are addressed, or at least ameliorated, by the court making it clear, as I do in paragraphs 11 and 12 above and in the paragraphs below, that the criticisms set out in this judgment relate to the past actions of this local authority and that there is now a new director and leadership team in place who are committed to change and to improve the care and provision of services to the children and young people in its care.

 

To be fair, even as someone who practised law for ten years in the Midlands, I had no idea that Hereford was considered to be in the Midlands circuit, so it wouldn’t have been on my suspect list had the Court just said “a Local Authority in the Midlands”

Geography is not my strong suit.  I have yet to establish what my strong suit is, other than snark.

 

Hereford will now be waiting to see what the Supreme Court decide in Hackney about human rights claims arising from section 20 misuse.  These are very bad ones.  If HRA claims are still going after Hackney, expect this to break all records.

Words fail me. (But I spend a long time telling you, via words, why) #verywellthenIcontradictmyself

Apply the handkerchief or scarf as directed by these fine gentlemen

Before you start this piece, could you briefly find some cloth? A scarf, or a clean tea-towel or anything of that ilk will do. Please tie it so that the bottom rests under your jaw and there is a knot at the top of your head – much like a cartoon character who is suffering from a toothache.

 

 

 

Why?

 

Because this case is so jaw-dropping I want to be sure that your jaw bone doesn’t actually leave your head.

 

Ready?

 

Here we go.

 

It is the original judgment from the case that went to the Court of Appeal because the social worker and police officer involved considered that the findings made against them by the Judge were career-threatening and that the process of making those findings was unfair.

 

The Court of Appeal said that the social worker and police officer needed to have been placed on notice that such strong findings were going to be made and have the chance to make representations about them beforehand, so THOSE findings were overturned. The social worker later made an application to sue the Lord Chancellor for judicial failings on the basis of vicarious liability.

 

On that basis, and in short, the complaint relates to the judge’s finding that SW and PO, together with other professionals and the foster carer, were involved in a joint enterprise to obtain evidence to prove the sexual abuse allegations irrespective of any underlying truth and irrespective of the relevant professional guidelines. The judge found that SW was the principal instigator of this joint enterprise and that SW had drawn the other professionals in. The judge found that both SW and PO had lied to the court with respect to an important aspect of the child sexual abuse investigation. The judge found that the local authority and the police generally, but SW and PO in particular, had subjected C to a high level of emotional abuse over a sustained period as a result of their professional interaction with her

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/11/20/judge-making-findings-about-a-witness-fair-trial/

 

 

This is the judgment, with the most dreadful findings about the social worker and police officer snipped out. Do not for one second think that this makes the judgment dull or removed of any controversy. There’s so much in it, it makes the mind boggle as to what was taken out.

Re W (fact-finding) [2014] EWHC 4347 (Fam) (17 October 2014)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4347.html

 

(I’m not sure why it has taken 3 years to publish this – it was certainly held up until 2016 pending the appeal – I do understand that the Judge has passed away, which probably caused difficulties in editing the previous judgment, since normally the Judge who wrote it would do that)

 

 I thus hope that no court ever again has to see and hear what this court has seen and heard during the past weeks.

 

This was a care case involving five children, the main subject was C, who was a teenager. C had made serious sexual abuse allegations against three of the adults in the family.

 

There was a finding of fact hearing, and the evidence in the finding of fact hearing lasted 19 days. There were ten parties to that hearing, nine of whom were represented by silk and junior counsel.

 

 

 

 

  1. From a conventional beginning in front of HHJ Davies at the Luton County Court, the case has taken unprecedented twists and turns with the intervention of the Court of Appeal, a re-hearing in front of myself, and the collapse of that re-hearing after three days in the most dramatic manner. This occurred when a key social worker in the case contacted me directly by email through the court office to allege ‘corruption and malpractice’ within the local authority in relation to this particular case as well as other cases.

 

Is your jaw bandage still in place? I worry about you all, you know.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Following what was effectively a whistle-blower email sent to myself, the local authority sought to abandon the fact finding hearing and withdraw all allegations, saying that it could no longer rely on the key social worker as a witness of truth. The local authority’s counsel, Mr. Bain, withdrew from the case for professional reasons. Fresh counsel were then instructed; they withdrew the application by the local authority to abandon the proceedings, and thus these have continued ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The proceedings have been surrounded by suspicion and mistrust, for reasons which have become obvious. These emotions have been shared, it must be said, at times by the court, and have been exacerbated by serious problems about disclosure. Despite strict orders made by the court for full disclosure by the local authority, these have not been complied with in full. Indeed, more than 1,300 pages of important material were disclosed to the court during the current hearing, and 1,000 pages of these were disclosed only in the second week of this hearing, after Mr Geekie for the local authority organised a search of its premises following a social work assistant’s evidence. This failure to disclose added some three days to the case. Disclosure continued even into the fourth week of this hearing. Furthermore, many important documents have been shredded or are still missing.

 

 

 

  1. According to the lead social worker there were six, not four, ABE interviews of the child, C, as contended by the police and the local authority. Indeed, there is even the suggestion that an alleged meeting on the 30th September 2013, reported by social workers to have happened, may not have taken place at all. The court therefore has the unenviable task – unparalleled in the history of this particular tribunal – of deciding how many ABE interviews there were, and whether one meeting ever occurred.

 

I’ve seen many cases where Courts had to decide whether an ABE interview was conducted properly, where they had to decide whether leading questions were asked, whether it is reliable. I’ve never before heard of a Court having to decide HOW MANY ABE’s there were.

 

So much has gone wrong in this case. In fact, almost everything that could have gone wrong has, almost to the point of defying credulity. In consequence the court has no choice but to undertake the arduous task of scrutinising all aspects of the case very carefully. This judgment will therefore be longer than would normally be the case. This is for several reasons:

 

 

 

  1. a) Reaching the complex truth requires a detailed analysis of all that happened;

 

  1. b) In view of what they have suffered, those accused of serious abuse deserve nothing less;

 

  1. c) The consequences for individuals beyond the parties in the case, for example within the local authority and the police, may be profound;

 

  1. d) It is unlikely that any other will have the time or resources to trawl through the immense body of papers in the way the court has done, and thus what has been uncovered must be recorded fully;

 

  1. e) Lessons need to be learned so that what happened in this case never happens again.

 

  1. I am most grateful for the assistance given by all counsel in the case, both leading and junior, who have ably assisted the court in its unenviable task. I include in this commendation not only all those who appeared in front of me during the current hearing but also Mr. Giles Bain, who appeared for the local authority during the earlier part of these proceedings.

 

 

C had made allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Findings of fact were made by HH J Davies and those were overturned on appeal.

 

The Judge notes, dryly

 

 

 

  1. The reasons for the successful appeal are not relevant in this hearing save in one respect which I shall address shortly. Suffice it to say that the learned judge had before her four ring binders of documents when she heard the case. I have 18 ring binders. More importantly, relevant evidence was not placed before the learned judge and such evidence as was placed in front of her, as I shall determine in due course in this judgment, was highly incomplete and wholly inadequate.

 

So there was then a re-hearing, before His Honour Judge Arthur, sitting in the High Court. Here’s where it begins to go spectacularly wrong (as opposed to merely disastrously wrong)

 

 

33……On 31st January 2014 SW left the local authority employment. In the four months that followed I, who was now seized with the case, was asked by the local authority to give various directions, including directions for SW to provide a statement.

 

 

 

  1. By April, 2014 it became obvious to all that SW was reluctant to give a statement. On 14th May the court asked Mr. Bain, counsel for the local authority, to take instructions as to why that was, and in particular to inform the court whether there was anything in the circumstances in which she had left the local authority employment which had a bearing on the proceedings, and which might affect her credibility. Counsel faithfully relayed his instructions from the social work assistant sitting behind him, namely that SW had left in entirely amicable circumstances. ‘They were all sad to see her go, and asked her to stay working for the local authority.’

 

 

 

  1. In April 2014 the court permitted fresh matters to be included in the schedule of allegations to be proved. These related to evidence not before the court in June 2013. The first was that the mother had hit C with a rolling pin. The second listed general allegations of neglect by the parents of the younger children.

 

 

 

  1. On 27th May 2014 the final hearing began. On the third day of that hearing, on 29th May, the court suddenly received a ‘whistle-blower’ email from SW, directed to myself personally, in which she alleged corruption, malpractice and bad work practices by the local authority in respect of both C and T, and in respect of other matters too.

 

 

 

  1. On 30th May, having taken instructions, counsel for the local authority confirmed that the local authority no longer relied on SW as a witness of truth. It would robustly challenge some of her assertions in her email, and in the circumstances was no longer seeking further findings. It sought leave to withdraw their application for such findings to be determined. Unsurprisingly, the parents consented to this course of action, but the guardian for the younger children, who was absent from court, was not able to give instructions himself. In due course the guardian objected to the course proposed by the local authority.

 

 

The hearing collapsed on day 3 with LA counsel having to withdraw for professional reasons.

Something peculiar happened late (in week four) into the second attempt at it (this actually being the third attempt at the fact finding overall, as HH J Davies had already done one, overturned on appeal)

 

 

 

 

 

  1. In September 2014, in the fourth week of the hearing, to the surprise of all, counsel for the local authority suddenly put two very serious, entirely new allegations to the father in cross-examination. The first was that the father had been grooming “another child” A for sex, and secondly that C had conceived two babies while living at home. As the determination of these allegations would add little or no extra time to the proceedings, because they were so serious, and because the court believed they might assist in the assessment of the credibility of the witnesses, the court insisted the allegations should be articulated in the correct form and added formally to the schedule of allegations to be proved.

 

 

 

  1. At the conclusion of the evidence I invited all parties to set out, prior to written submissions, any concessions made by any party in relation to the evidence. In respect of the local authority, I asked them to set out any concessions about whether allegations were being pursued or not. The local authority was the only party to respond and did so with the following concessions:

 

 

 

  1. a) The local authority no longer sought to rely on any statement made by C in the three ABE interviews held in January 2014. This was subsequently clarified to include anything she said at the police station before or after the interviews, or in breaks, save, astonishingly, for comments about pregnancies and babies she may have made during a break in, or after, the interview on the 31st January, 2014.

 

  1. b) The local authority no longer pursued the allegations that the mother was aware of the abuse of T and chose to ignore it, and that the mother remonstrated with T on the 13th March, 2013. The local authority also abandoned the allegations of neglect of the three younger children.

 

  1. c) The local authority had already put in train preparations for a Serious Case Review of their conduct of the case. This would take place regardless of what findings were made.

 

I have not seen that Serious Case Review. I imagine that Luton are going to be receiving many many telephone calls from the Press wanting to see it.

 

There had been retractions from another child, T about the allegations. A LOT of retractions. Ten in all.

 

The Court of Appeal (in the appeal from HH J Davies) had given this advice about retractions

 

Re W (Fact-Finding Hearing: Hearsay Evidence) (2013) EWCA Civ 1374, (2014) 2FLR 703 at paragraph 25.

 

  1. Furthermore:

“The retraction of a complaint normally requires careful and specific consideration and this case was no exception. Obviously the fact that a complaint is subsequently retracted does not prevent a judge from accepting that it is in fact true but it gives rise to questions which must be addressed sufficiently fully and directly in the judge’s reasons so that one can be confident that the fact of the retraction has been given proper weight in the judge’s conclusions about the subject matter of the retracted allegation” [para 28].

 

 

The Judge comments on the SW evidence about the retractions (including the retractions made by another child, T)

 

 

 

  1. She was reminded that by 8th March T had retracted her supposed allegation. SW’s response was instant and dismissive, “It’s perfectly normal for victims to retract. We know it is common from victims”. Later she said, “I agree with the Court of Appeal that we should take retractions seriously”. From her demeanour, however, the court did not infer that she was in any way convinced by what she was saying. She further accepted that she had asked C whether she was worried about what had happened to T also happening to her. She saw nothing wrong with this question:

 

 

 

 

“It was in accordance with social worker practice… It is a practice all good social workers use… The fact that the court sometimes does not catch up with research is very unfortunate.”

 

 

The Court made these general comments about the SW evidence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credibility of SW – court’s findings

 

  1. She was at times truculent and downright rude to counsel and to the court and sometimes quite threatening and menacing. She variously accused counsel for B of raising his eyebrows at her in an inappropriate manner (he was in fact doing no such thing), loudly demanded to know the names of all the counsel in court, said that she had ‘clocked what you lot are up to’, and accused the court and counsel of trying to prevent her having her say when, in fact, wholly proper efforts were being made to curtail seemingly unquenchable outpourings. She was dismissive and disdainful of correct social work practice and the way the court operated. She was liberal in blaming others for things that had gone wrong. Apart from blaming the court (by inference both HHJ Davies and the Court of Appeal), she blamed the police, other members of the local authority, teachers at C’s school, the school itself for obstructing her, (this was wholly unfounded), counsel for the parents and counsel for the guardian.

 

In the light of that, it is rather commendable that counsel for B was able to control his eyebrows. Mine would have been on the ceiling.

 

SW’s evidence – general matters

 

 

Her current memory of events

 

  1. She explained that she had been very reluctant to give evidence. In her tenth and last statement she had said that she could not trust the local authority case notes in view of the time lapse. She had resisted making that statement as she did not think she could usefully add anything, for now she could no longer recollect any details but, as the case had progressed, some matters had come back to her as she was questioned and shown documents, and so things had become more alive for her. Even so, she said that all the events with which the court was concerned took place over two years ago and she had not retained memories of the case in the same way she would have done if she was still the social worker. This is something she repeated many times during her evidence.

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure of her own notes

 

  1. She was referred to the email of the local authority’s in-house counsel, Miss Manassi, on 28th February of this year which asked for her notes and said that a comprehensive statement would be needed from her. She was referred to the current President of the Family Division’s words twelve years ago, “Professionals should keep comprehensive notes. Social workers should routinely exhibit notes to statements”. SW said that, contrary to this, she had shredded all her notes. In fact, she had tried to shred all her notes on a daily basis when she worked for the local authority. She could not keep them because they might be stolen from her car or lost and she had no desk in the office where they could be kept. “I shredded notes because I did not need them”.

 

 

 

  1. Furthermore, in February 2014, Dawn Smith, her supervisor at Luton Borough Council, had told her to delete all her own records including all texts and emails from T. She deleted, she thought in all, about 500 texts to and from T. She was ordered to delete or shred all this material. She did so, she accepted, knowing that the proceedings were still underway and that a retrial of the sexual abuse allegation for C had been ordered, and that in relation to these T’s own allegations of sexual abuse against the father were relevant.

 

 

 

  1. She was reminded of one text in particular. T had alleged that SW had sent her a text telling her not to be in denial. Ms Lynne Jackson, the psychologist, had reported that this text had, in fact, been read out to her by T. SW said this:

 

 

 

 

“I knew all about this allegation of unprofessionalism and that T was saying this and other things too. I remember thinking whether I should delete this trail but I was told to”.

 

  1. In any event, she said she had never sent T this text.

 

 

 

  1. We have not heard from Dawn Smith. So whether or not SW was generally ordered to delete all her records, texts and emails still remains to be decided. Further investigation is needed. But the court notes that it seems very surprising that SW should have deleted a trail of texts which would have exculpated her from this particular accusation. (For the avoidance of doubt, I make no findings that any member of staff obstructed the Local Authority.)

 

[So I should make it clear that SW was alleging that she had destroyed all her emails and texts because the manager had told her to, but the Court didn’t hear evidence from the manager about this and didn’t make any findings. I have a little bit of sympathy about the handwritten notes- social workers don’t have paper files any more, and most of them don’t have their own desks any longer. Everything is on computer and workers hot-desk. Whilst the President did say 12 years ago that handwritten notes should routinely be exhibited to SW statements, there are not many Judges who would thank social workers for doing that. There’s no way that one can do that and comply with the 350 page limit. I would suggest that handwritten notes, particularly of conversations with children or adults about allegations ought to be scanned and kept, if they are not contemporaneously typed up]

 

Interviewing a child

 

  1. She was aware that, with a child who has learning difficulties, the interviewer has to be very careful of suggestibility. She said she herself would have been outraged if anyone had asked C leading questions, “One should be sensitive of this” she said emphatically. She was reminded that, according to Miss G, she had hundreds of conversations with C, some of which referred to sexual abuse or abuse allegations. SW assumed that Miss G would have had the appropriate training about how to talk to children who had made allegations. The school should have given her advice about this. The social workers were quite disappointed with the school about a lack of training and had to discuss giving general training to the staff at the school or arranging for that to take place.

 

 

 

  1. SW was very strident when giving evidence about how allegations of child abuse should be dealt with. She said, “Research shows that we must be more direct with children in abuse cases”. This was accepted in her social work team at the local authority. Dr. Van Rooyen, a psychiatrist in the instant case, too had said they have to be ‘more direct’ with the child. She said, “I suspected that she meant we had to talk to C and perhaps initiate conversations”. She then seemed to contradict this by saying, “We had to wait for C to speak, we know”.

 

 

 

  1. She repeatedly referred to research by Keir Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosecutions. “His work should be accepted by the court”, she said. Her tone and demeanour made it clear that she was very critical of the courts. Later she said the social worker should keep an open mind in investigations like this. She hoped that she herself had kept an open mind. When asked whether it was her working hypothesis that C and T were sexually abused, she said that C’s behaviour especially was indicative of abuse but she repeated, she hoped she had kept an open mind. Her actual words which follow are important. Her tone was distinctly barbed as she uttered them:

 

 

 

 

“I do not know whether C was abused or not. As her voice in social care I am directed by our research at the local authority even though the court may not be… C’s behaviour led to a very strong correlation with sexual abuse. The first time she presented as a victim of sexual abuse was on 17th December.”

 

  1. When asked what was indicative of sexual abuse on that occasion she answered:

 

 

 

 

“C’s behaviour. I was hearing all sorts of things from the school and what she had done… It’s the skill of a social worker to ascertain what is the likely cause of her behaviours.’

 

 

 

Use of the word “disclosure”

 

  1. She said:

 

 

 

 

“I was told this judge doesn’t like the use of the word ‘disclosure’ for allegations by children. I understand that courts in general don’t like the use of the word ‘disclosure’.” She had not read the Cleveland report of 1987 and did not know if it criticised the use of the word “disclosure” by professionals.

 

(It does disappoint me that a social worker dealing with a sexual abuse investigation would never have read the Cleveland report, but I can’t say hand on heart that I’m astounded by it. I do think there’s a general lack of understanding that ‘allegation’ should be used instead of ‘disclosure’ and why that is – broadly that disclosure as a word is perjorative – it implies truth. I can disclose that I ate your Jaffa Cakes (because it is true), I can’t disclose that I walked on the surface of Mars. So if I say that Mr X punched me, you don’t know whether it is true until the Court have decided it – it is an allegation at that point, not a disclosure. )

 

There was a very peculiar exchange about SW’s first meeting with C.

17th December 2012

 

  1. I must examine the events of this day very carefully, for they set the tone for what was to follow and go to heart of the case. This was the day of SW’s first meeting with C. The case had been closed by the local authority a couple of weeks before following earlier complaints by C. On the 14th December, as we know, the school told the local authority that C was still unhappy and did not want to go home. When she was allocated the case, probably on Friday 14th, SW skimmed through the electronic file provided to her by the local authority. She would have done this as quickly as possible, she said. (The court notes that this file was in fact just seven pages – a very short file indeed, and would not have taken long to read fully.) Part of this short file comprised the handover notes of Fiona Johnson, the previous social worker. These were reported as follows:

 

 

 

 

  1. a) C had alleged being hit, though the school believed there were no marks ever left on her. According to her, everyone seemed to cause her upset. The family upset her and all the family hurt her, except for D. Her brothers, especially B, beat her up.

 

  1. b) Other children had all been spoken to and all had said that they had never been hit by the parents.

 

  1. c) C had reported no major health issues.

 

  1. d) There were no concerns about A.

 

  1. e) All the other children were happy at home.

 

  1. SW appears not to have accepted this. ‘I wondered if C was unhappy, did it mean that the other children were unhappy.’ On skim-reading the notes, ‘I wondered if something was going on.’ Although, she accepted that there was nothing in the notes to this effect, it was her impression on reading them that this was Mrs Johnson’s impression too. So she had gone to the meeting believing that there was more she needed to understand about C’s self-harm, and about the pictures and drawings which she had drawn and made at the school. She had no idea of what this might be. She was asked whether she had any suspicions and there was a noticeable pause before she answered, “No” but she then added, “But we can partner certain behaviours with certain types of abuse”.

 

 

 

  1. On the second page of the seven pages of files notes handed on from Mrs Johnson, there is mention that, “The child has a bit of a fixation with Miss G”. The note also referred to Facebook entries which needed to be dealt with. SW said she did not recall this entry or how she had dealt with it. At any rate she had not known whether the fixation comment was correct or not. She was quite dismissive in giving evidence about this topic, the court noted from her demeanour. It is obvious that she did not think, and has never thought, it to be of any relevance whatsoever.

 

 

 

  1. SW duly met C at school in the presence of Miss Z on the 17th December, 2012. The child was anxious and ‘difficult to engage in so many ways”, she elaborated. She found the meeting very difficult. Sometimes her head was down, she was kicking the chair, her head was behind her ‘hoodie’, she was challenging and unwilling to talk about anything. Most of the time she was ‘a shrinking violet’. She seemed frightened and anxious and unwilling to talk and engage. There were very long silences. Nonetheless SW that she wanted to engage. In spite of this, the meeting took what the court considers a quite extraordinarily long time. According to SW, it started at 12 noon and ended at 3:30 or 4 p.m. (The note she wrote in her car afterwards was timed at 3:30 p.m.) During those 3½ hours she had left the room to contact the child abuse unit at Luton Borough Council and in particular Mr Graham Cole, the head of legal services there. And of course a lot of time, she repeated, there was, silence. As her evidence progressed, the court’s impression was that she trying to row back from her original time estimate. Eventually she said that the interview was perhaps ‘1½ hours, maybe shorter, maybe longer’. C had been given the chance to leave the meeting several times. Once she did leave but returned of her own volition. In this meeting it was difficult to understand what C said. Miss Z would say what C had said and C would either nod or shake her head. She soon realised that C hated to be asked to repeat what she had said. Neither she nor Miss Z took a note during the meeting, “It would be an abnormal thing for a social worker to take notes when interviewing a child other than during an ABE interview.’

 

 

 

  1. At 3.30pm, in her car, she made notes of the meeting. It was her practice to note down as soon as possible the important points of an interview note, which appears to two pages, is one of the few handwritten notes by her before the court:

 

 

 

 

“Very difficult meeting”, “Comes in when no one is there”, “Does stuff, bad stuff”, “Really bad things”, “Secrets”, “Where’s mum? Downstairs, out”, “Have you tried to talk to her about it? No point”, “Not allowed to talk about it”, “Couldn’t expand”, “Hits me. Kicks”, “Notice leg was sore, limping a little. Said dad had kicked/hit her last Sunday”, “Wouldn’t show me”, “Appeared very frightened/frozen”, “Didn’t want anyone to know what she’d said”, “Wanted to go into foster care”, “Hate family, hate mum, hate him”, “Gets beaten up at home – brothers, dad”, “Doesn’t feel safe at home”, “Does not feel there is anyone she could turn/talk to at home”, “Said she wanted to die”, “Does stuff he shouldn’t”, “Happened more than once”.

 

  1. A crucial element in this case revolves around what SW said in her statement of 20th December, 2012 about the interview three days before. The relevant part of the statement reads as follows:

 

 

 

 

“[C] disclosed sexual abuse by her father during this meeting. She told me that her father comes up to her room and does really bad things. Through discussion it was established that she clearly understood that there were areas of her body that no one should touch and this is where her father touched her. [C] found it extremely hard to expand on this although did manage to share that her father told her that she must not tell anyone and that the bad things would happen if she did. It was also established that [C] knew about her body, her sexual organs and other people’s. After ensuring I was confident [C] knew what sexual abuse was, she confirmed that this is what had been happening to her.”

 

  1. When it was pointed out to her that the handwritten notes make no mention of sexual abuse, SW caused, it must be said, considerable consternation in court in all quarters by asserting that there was a page missing from her notes. There was definitely a third page, she remembered. She remembered the Local Authority solicitor, Ms Abana Sarma’s collecting this document. She was most concerned that this page was missing because this page dealt with the sexual abuse allegations made by C on 17th December. Furthermore, this page had been before HHJ Davies at her fact finding hearing in June, 2013.

 

 

 

  1. She was referred to a number of documents from the court bundle. First was a police note of 17th December which states, ” [C] did not disclose sexual abuse”. Then she was referred to the transcript of HHJ Davies’s judgment at the end of the 13th June, 2013 hearing, which made mention of the content of the two pages long since disclosed, but none of the contents of the apparently now missing third page. Furthermore, the transcript of that hearing shows that the father’s counsel cross-examined SW on the discrepancy between the note of 17th December interview which did not record sexual abuse being mentioned and her later assertion that C had alleged sexual abuse at the interview. Indeed, when SW was specifically questioned about the fact that her notes did not include any mention of sexual abuse, she did not refer to any missing page. She was again referred to the transcript of evidence given at the earlier hearing when she was specifically herself asked under oath whether in the discussion of 17th December C had elaborated on “bad things” and she had answered, “No, not at this point”. Nonetheless, she said, she would not agree that C only went as far as saying “bad things”, although she did not recall what other words C had used. It was two years ago.

 

 

 

  1. Mr. Geekie, for the local authority now rose and said that the local authority was totally unaware of any missing third page of notes. Indeed, he said the whole of the fact finding trial was conducted on the basis of the two pages of notes only. This accorded with the memory of all those counsel for the other parties who had been present at that earlier hearing. If that was not enough, it was pointed out by the Local Authority’s solicitor, and agreed by counsel who had been present at the earlier hearing before HHJ Davies, that the bundles that the court was using at the current hearing were those used then, merely brought up to date by the addition of further documents. The court bundles then and now, did and do not include any third page of notes.

 

 

 

  1. In spite of being faced with what might have been thought an especially daunting body of evidence, SW was not to be budged. She repeated that she had given the third page of notes to Ms Abana Sarma of the local authority, that it was definitely referred to during HHJ Davies’s hearing, and that the missing page had stated that C had alleged sexual abuse. She could see the second page in her mind’s eye. There were several entries on it. Furthermore, it was shown to the police at the strategy meeting shortly after 17th December 2012, even though the police record of what happened on that date says that no sexual abuse was alleged by the child.

 

 

 

  1. When further questioned, she accepted that pages one and two of the notes before the court were consecutive, and were a complete document, so the third page could not have been the middle page of the three. The missing page was, she said, a second note written at a different time in the interview. This was despite her earlier evidence that she had not taken notes during the interview, and that it was her practice never to do so during interviews. She said she had discussed the contents of the third page with the police and her team manager. She then said belligerently, “I want to know why the second page is missing”.

 

 

 

  1. She then added that, apart from words, she relied on the non-verbal signals from C; the self-harm, the fact that she walked out of the interview, the hiding behind the hoodie, the fact that she started and stopped saying things and the fact that she wanted to go into care. She said this:

 

 

 

 

“Because of her words, in my professional opinion I felt she was the victim or at risk of sexual abuse. It is important that a social worker should be brave enough to say this.”

 

  1. She was then rude to counsel saying, “I’ve clocked where you’re going a long time ago” and then to me, “I hope this court does this case justice”.

 

 

The Judge had to make findings about this

 

Findings about the 17th December interview

 

  1. As for SW’s contention that C alleged sexual abuse to a total stranger on this occasion, this is plainly mistaken. The police note of the same date specifically records that no sexual abuse was alleged. The application for an Emergency Protection Order dated the 20th December and signed by the Local Authority’s Head of Legal services does not say that sexual abuse was actually alleged, only that C’s remarks ‘were suggestive of sexual abuse’. The notes made by SW after the conversation make no mention of sexual abuse. Her contention that a page of notes is missing, and that this page was before HHJ Davies in the earlier hearing, is simply ludicrous, for this would have meant that all counsel and solicitors, not to mention HHJ Davies, must have, unless through quite startling collective amnesia, willfully colluded in ignoring vital evidence during the hearing, and that the learned judge deliberately omitted mention of it in her judgment. It is also ludicrous to suppose that, when writing her notes in her car, SW wrote down relatively trivial allegations, but omitted to record the infinitely more serious accusation of sexual abuse.

 

 

 

  1. The reality is that when one stands back and looks at what happened, one can see just how serious this situation was and is. Based in part on, the Local Authority now sought and obtained the peremptory removal of C from her family on the 20th December 2012, and the following day sought and obtained an Interim Care Order. In each case the tribunal notes show that the decision was made, in part, on the basis that C had alleged sexual abuse. The removal of children from their parents, especially without notice, is one of the most draconian actions any court can take. It strikes right at the heart of basic human rights, on family life; it is frightening and traumatic for the children involved, and profoundly distressing for parents and other family. Sadly, the courts are required from time to time to sanction such removal, but only when safety and urgency requires it. In making such urgent orders, the courts must rely on the accuracy of Local Authority evidence. Whilst they cannot know whether any allegation is true or false, the courts are entitled to be told the truth by Local Authorities as to whether such an allegation has been made at all. The Family Court and the child-care justice system cannot function if Local Authorities do not tell the truth about this, for justice will inevitably be perverted.

 

 

 

  1. Responsibility for this cannot be laid wholly at the feet of one social worker. Others in the Local Authority must share responsibility, although, as I have said, on the evidence before it, the Court cannot and will not apportion this to particular individuals. The court freely acknowledges that all Local Authorities’ resources are over-stretched, and that social-work professionals are often alarmingly over-worked and under time pressures. Nonetheless, there should have been proper, efficient supervision of SW. Furthermore, the application for an EPO did not record an actual allegation of sexual abuse, whilst an application of the same date for an ICO did. With proper supervision and scrutiny this discrepancy should surely have been picked up by senior professionals at Luton Borough Council

 

 

After the first finding of fact hearing, and knowing that there was an appeal pending, the SW went to see the child to talk about the findings that had been made. It gets worse

 

Telling C about HHJ Davies’s findings of the 22nd June 2013

 

  1. SW visited C immediately afterwards to tell her of the findings. This was on the advice of CAMHS. C said that ‘he did it to A too’. SW had known then that there was going to be an appeal, but C was desperate to know what had happened and she was worried that C was at risk of suicide. The note of that meeting reads as follows:

 

 

 

 

“I then began by telling her that the local authority, us, had, as she knew, concerns about a number of things but we had asked the court to make a judgment/decision on these. I asked C whether she knew what those concerns were, she nodded but I decided to go through these. I said from what you have told me so far and from what I have learned from working with you and your family, I have been concerned that you are a victim and have suffered sexual abuse. C looked at me eyes moist but intently listening, she nodded. I said the concerns were also that the person who caused this to you was your father. C starred very intently at me nodding again and I carried on. I said the judge decided that after hearing all of the information that it was mostly likely to have been him. C remained staring at me, eyes a little more moist and said, ‘It was’. I then said the judge also found/decided that this had happened to T. I clarified this and said that the judge decided it was more likely than not that your father had also sexually abused T. C remained looking intently at me. C then said, ‘He did it to A too. She told me and I promised to keep it a secret, you need to talk to A. I said that we would and could she tell me a bit more. C said, ‘I promised I would keep it a secret'”.

 

 

  1. She herself has always been adamant that it never happened. The court is wholly satisfied that she was never abused by her father. It follows, therefore, that either C herself was making up the allegation to please SW in the light of the learned judge’s findings, or SW was making it up. On the balance of probabilities, the court is satisfied that SW was, as usual, putting words in the child’s mouth and then pretending they had come from the child.

 

That’s an incredibly damning finding, and one that clearly survived the Court of Appeal decision. The SW was, as usual, putting words in the child’s mouth and then pretending they had come from the child. Incredibly damning.

 

On the total number of ABEs

How many ABE interviews were there in January 2014?

 

  1. SW’s initial evidence was that there were six ABE interviews of C in all. One was on 4th October when “C said nothing” and another five in January 2014. When she returned to complete her evidence a few days later, she disclosed further documentation she said she had found at home, as well as her mobile phone she brought to court her 2014 diary and some loose sheets of paper she said she had found in the 2013 diary. She had not brought her 2013 diary with her to court as she did not think it was necessary.

 

 

 

  1. It was interesting that some of the loose pages of typed notes do not appear in or are cross-referenced to the documents previously disclosed by the local authority. She was asked how she had typed these notes. She said she would ‘audibly’ type notes on the local authority’s Care First system and sometimes this would go down and so she would type the notes on a standard word document format and transfer them later onto the system. Many times she was asked by the local authority to type up her documents on her own computer. She complained about being required to do this by the local authority to their legal department. When she did type documents at home, she never saved them. She would scan them and then ask someone else to scan them into the system back in the office. She would have expected all the loose pages found by her to be on the local authority’s Care First system. She typed up the notes of every substantial meeting with C and would expect them all to be on the system. She did not know why these notes were not on the system.

 

 

 

  1. She referred to her 2014 diary and to a number of entries in it. These contain the words, “C ABE on…” and then five dates …’ 23rd 27th, 28th, 29th and 31st January’. There are question marks next to the 27th, 28th and 29th January. She explained that the question marks were because the social workers were not sure whether C wanted to go through with the interviews. She still believed that C had done five ABE interviews in January, and six in all if the October ABE interview was counted, for that was what her records showed. She said, “My memory was that it went on for several days in January… I am ‘sure’ it was six interviews in all”. For the avoidance of doubt, there were no times when they took C to a police station and an interview did not take place.

 

 

 

  1. She later was referred in due course to her a file note of 12th December, 2013 which reads as follows, “C has now completed five ABE interviews, disclosed rape by father and V. She has also said she has been pregnant twice”. The date of 12th December 2013 does not make sense in the context of the timescale, the court notes. As to the substance of the note, SW commented that the reference here to five ABE interviews, “accords with my recollection. I recall five that week”. She then changed her evidence, something she did very frequently whenever she was in the witness box, saying that there had been, in fact, one attempted ABE interview that week in January and one aborted ABE interview. Added to those ABE interviews for which we have recordings and transcripts, that made six ABE interviews in all.

 

 

 

  1. It shows the extraordinary nature of this case that the court has had to consider whether C was ABE interviewed three or five times in January 2014. The evidence of the police officers, SWA ‘Y’ and Miss G collectively suggest that were but three. SW believes there were five. I prefer their collective memory. Accordingly I find that there were four ABE interviews only

 

It won’t surprise any reader to know that that the ABEs were very flawed – with leading questions, pressure, questions about things that weren’t alleged, the child being praised for giving answers that the questioners wanted to hear, disappointment from professionals where the child wasn’t making allegations (those being described as ‘failed ABEs)

 

And on the number of times C was interviewed about her allegations

Findings about the January ABE Interviews

 

  1. Save with one exception, the local authority does not rely on anything said in these interviews.

 

 

 

  1. It is submitted by Mr. Storey that C underwent literally hundreds of interviews. This is partly based on Miss G’s agreement that she had hundreds of interviews/discussions herself with C. The court is satisfied that this is, in fact, an exaggeration. The court must be cautious not to confuse spontaneous remarks made by a child or short informal chats with formal questioning. Nonetheless, doing its best, the court is satisfied that the child has had no fewer than 33 interviews about abuse with one or other social worker between 17th December 2012 and 31st January 2014. By “interviews” I mean either formal interviews or detailed question and answer discussions which went beyond the odd throwaway mark, or the odd question and reply. In addition, there appear to have been five similar discussions of a detailed nature with school teachers, seven with a foster carer and, of course, with Dr. van Rooyen and one with PO. On top of this, there were four ABE interviews. This makes, if the court’s mathematics is correct, an alarming total of 51. 12 of them were conducted wholly by untrained interlocutors in the form of the foster carer and the school teachers, and the rest were professionals whose ability to follow guidelines seems to have been non-existent. In addition, there can be no doubt that there were many, many other informal unreported conversations at school, in the foster home and when social workers brought C to and from school, which happened ’99 per cent of the time’.

 

 

 

  1. Furthermore, the court’s criticism is directed not only to those who conducted the interviews, but to those who sat outside and saw and listened to what happened: the social workers and teachers in the room next door. As professionals working in the field of childcare, they should have intervened to stop the 28th and 31st January interviews. They did not.

 

 

 

  1. Quite apart from the content of the interviews which were recorded, it is thoroughly reprehensible what was said before, during breaks and after the recorded parts was either inadequately noted, or not noted at all. The court is wholly satisfied that relevant matters were discussed at the police station at these times. All the professionals seemed to have operated on the false premise that what was said outside the interview room did not count.

 

 

As has been mentioned earlier, at around week four of the finding of fact hearing, an allegation was made that C had been pregnant twice. By the end of the hearing, the Local Authority were not relying on anything said by C in her ABE or other interviews other than this.

 

Findings about the 31st January pregnancy allegations

 

  1. It is incomprehensible to the court that the local authority, having conceded that no reliance should be placed on what was said by C during the three January ABE interviews, in the talks before it, in breaks or afterwards, should seek to rely on one short interchange about pregnancies, which took place during or immediately after the 31st January interview. How can a few words only, during or at the end of one of them, be exempted? It seems to the court illogical and perverse.

 

 

 

 

  1. The evidence about this episode is far from complete. Nonetheless, the court is satisfied that either during a break or at the end of the 31st January ABE interview, C made drawings and said things which led the police and the social workers to believe that she was alleging that she had been pregnant twice when she was much younger, and had either born two babies or lost them for one reason or another. Their names were Jack and Rose. She had also been given the morning-after pill. We do not know precisely what C said because the note-taking was hopelessly inadequate. The allegations were and have been taken seriously, for allegations that C conceived twice were added to the schedule of findings to be sought during the currency of the present hearing. Yet these allegations seemed, as was put to IO ‘W’, to have disappeared into the ether until they were unearthed late in the day.

 

 

 

  1. These allegations were very, very serious. So why was it that the first the court and the parties knew of this issue was during the hearing? Why did no social worker or police officer ever mention it? Why does it appear in no statements? The answer, regrettably, must be, not because the allegations were made outside a formal ABE interview, but because the local authority and the police realised only too well that they were ludicrous. They simply could not be true. They did not fit in with C’s medical records or the age when she attained puberty.

 

One of the other children, T, gave evidence

 

 

 

 

  1. T in her oral evidence disputed much of SW’s evidence about this meeting. She was particularly adamant that on 1st February 2013 she had never mentioned sexual abuse by the father. They had not really talked about this at all. Furthermore, she had never told SW that she had reported the abuse to her mother. “This was wrong!” Nor had she ever said that her mother had sent her off to live with her Aunt B, because of the abuse, nor was SW’s note accurate when it recorded that T had said that Aunt B had not believed her until she caught it out actually happening. “I did not say these things”.

 

 

 

  1. T then denied that she had ever told SW that the sexual abuse was the reason why she did not get on with her parents and why she would not leave her children with them. The reason she did not get on with her parents was, “because they always have a go at me’. She clarified this by explaining that her parents had not approved of her sleeping with a boyfriend from school. When she had left home she did it not because she was forced to and because she wanted to. Furthermore, she had, indeed, left her children in the mother and father’s care on many occasions. Indeed, she had not had a conversation with SW about her own children at all.

 

 

 

  1. During this part of her evidence, the court noted that T spoke with particular conviction. The court accepts her version of what was said, not least because the pattern here is similar to what happened on the 17th December.

 

 

 

  1. T did not like this. SW was aware of that. On 5th February 2013 she rang T, “To tell her that she did not have to do anything she did not want to”. This was in response to a telephone call from the mother to the Local Authority earlier that day. The next day, 6th February, the Local Authority received a typed letter signed by T. The key passage of that letter is as follows:

 

 

 

 

“SW from the children’s social services department in Luton keeps ringing me and keeps trying to contact me regarding me to make a statement about my dad, F, saying he had molested me at a young age to which of my knowledge none of this has happened. I am not willing to make a statement as it would be a false allegation. In my eye SW is dealing with my sister’s case, C, as she has no success in that one she is trying to manipulate and intimidate me to make a statement which I will not do. I would like SW to have no contact with me.”

 

  1. For reasons I shall give later, I am satisfied that this letter did genuinely reflect T’s feelings. Furthermore, I am wholly satisfied that T did not make any allegations of sexual abuse on the 1st February 2013.

 

 

 

I could do an entire post about the flaws in the ABEs, to be honest, but there’s just so much in this judgment. I will end with the concluding remarks

 

 

 

 

Concluding observations

 

  1. One can only pray that the adults, and children, may recover from their unimaginable ordeal, though I fear that they will carry the scars of their suffering for the rest of their lives. As for C, with her underlying problems, the damage may well be irreparable. So much now needs to be done to see what damage can be repaired and how family relationships can be restored.

 

 

 

  1. This court has no jurisdiction over C beyond this fact-finding. But that cannot prevent my emphasising how urgent it is that her case be re-opened. The existing care order was made on the basis of incomplete evidence. The parents’ approach in not opposing the order was adopted in ignorance of the true facts. This injustice must be rectified.

 

 

 

  1. The court cannot entrust the care of children to those who abuse or fail to protect them. That applies to local authorities as much as to family members. Parties must have faith in those who care for their children.

 

 

 

  1. The local authority have already undertaken to commence forthwith a Serious Case Review, and rightly so. But it must go further.

 

 

 

  1. This situation poses grave dangers for family justice. Valuable court time is taken up weighing such breaches against the evidence and of course, there is the risk that not only may false information be garnered in interview, but that genuine allegations may be so contaminated that they cannot be relied upon. Those who permit their employees to question children and vulnerable witness must therefore be certain that not only have they received the standard training but they understand what it means in practice.

 

 

 

  1. This case has taken up an inordinate amount of the court’s time, but rightly so in the circumstances. Yet the cost to the public purse in one form or another will be immense. There has been a significant disruption of court lists, with other cases being delayed. Family justice cannot perform the vital task it does in protecting children without honesty, objectivity, transparency and fairness. I thus hope that no court ever again has to see and hear what this court has seen and heard during the past weeks.

 

 

High Court admonishes Guardian, psychiatrist and (to a lesser and interesting extent) Child’s Solicitor

Re F v H and Another 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/3358.html

This was a knotty and horrendous private law case in which parents separated and mother made a series of grave and utterly unfounded allegations that the father had sexually abused the child. She persuaded a series of doctors to undertake intimate examinations of the child and later left the country with the child when the Court hearings were going against her. The Family Court then placed the child with the father and directed that there should be a psychiatric evaluation of the mother to see if there was any prospect of contact taking place.

The judge said that “the court cannot envisage a situation whereby it could be considering looking at direct contact again other than where she has received extensive psychological therapeutic help.” The decision of the judge in respect of the need for the 1st Respondent to receive treatment prior to contact taking place or to any reintroduction of her mother was based on the welfare of B and the evidence of the 1st Respondent’s behaviour. It was wholly justified.

During the period where mother was awaiting criminal trial for the child abduction, she continued to make a series of allegations about father to professional agencies, all unfounded. Mother received a four month sentence for the child abduction offence, suspended for six months.

When the psychiatric report finally emerged, it wasn’t terribly useful, since the psychiatrist had decided to do the report without reading the judgment from the family Court about her behaviour that had led to the need for the report… And he believed everything that the mother said and recommended strongly that the FATHER was the one who needed a psychiatric assessment.

Safe to say that Ms Justice Russell was unimpressed by that approach.

28.There was no psychiatric assessment of the 1st Respondent so that on the 20th March 2017 when there is a further hearing before the judge this issue remained outstanding as the reports ordered by the court on 29th February 2016 and 25th May 2016 have not been produced. In March 2017, the Court again “made it clear” that this is 1st Respondent’s last opportunity to cooperate with a psychiatric assessment and she did not attend the next appointment arranged for her, her application would be dismissed and a s91(14) (CA) order would be made for a period of two years.

29.Finally, on 25th May 2017 the 1st Respondent was seen by a psychiatrist, Dr Oyebode, who filed a report on 5th June 2017. For reason that are far from clear to this court and to the court below Dr Oyebode conducted his assessment of the 1st Respondent without reading the court documents provided to him, including the judgments; instead he read and relied on the documents given to him by the 1st Respondent and the report of Dr Beider (who had not seen the documents or had access to them at all). Thus, his assessment was partisan, based on the 1st Respondents version of the history of events and on psychiatric evidence obtained outside the family court proceedings and without the permission of the judge.

30.Moreover, not only had Dr Oyebode had not challenged the 1st Respondent on the basis of the court documents or judgement (because he had failed to read them) he also accepted her assertion that the 1st Respondent had made no further allegations since 2014; this was patently untrue as she had made allegations in 2016 and sought to defend the criminal case on the basis of duress and necessity. He neither referred to or considered the 1st Respondent’s behaviour which led the court to make non-molestation injunctions against her. In direct contradiction of the judgment of the court he reached the conclusion that the 1st Respondent was a capable mother who had genuine concerns for her daughter’s welfare. He suggested that the Appellant undergo psychiatric treatment, having accepted the 1st Respondent’s version of events. Quite rightly the judge, at the hearing on the 9th August 2017, described Dr Oyebode’s report as offering the court no assistance and as being “completely flawed”.

That psychiatric assessment being worthless, the case then took a significantly wrong turn.

31.At a further hearing before the judge on 21st June 2017 B was joined as a party to the proceedings and on 5th July 2017 Catherine Callaghan (a Cafcass officer) was appointed as her guardian. Ms Callaghan was provided with some limited papers, consisting of parents’ last statements and Dr Oyebode’s report on 7th July 2017. She met the Appellant and B briefly on 19th July 2017. The guardian spent some two hours with the 1st Respondent on 26th July 2017. She did not receive the court papers, which include the judgments, until 28th July 2017. She could not have been, and was not in, a position to challenge the 1st Respondent’s version of events when she met her; and her views at the time would have be based on what she knew then, which included the flawed and inadequate report of Dr Oyebode. The Guardian did not see the parties or the child again. Although she had had sight of the case papers before preparation of her position statement this was not until after she had seen the parties and her meetings with them to place in ignorance of the circumstances of this case.

32.At six o’clock in the evening of 8th August 2017 the guardian’s solicitor sent her position statement to parties which included the recommendation that there should be direct supervised contact for the 1st Respondent with B. I shall return to her position below; but she had not prepared any analysis or report for the court, which considered the welfare of the child with reference to the statutory provisions contained in s1 of the CA 1989; nor did she explain to the court what form the contact would take; any details of the explanation of what was to happen, and by whom, would be given to the child. She did not proffer any advice to the court as to what would happen if, on the receipt of competent psychiatric assessment of the 1st Respondent, it was found that the risks to B of further harm was considered to be high, without some prior professional intervention. The judge did not hear any oral evidence.

33.The next day on 9th August 2017 the judge, in what she described as a finely balanced decision, which from her judgment, was a decision based largely on the oral submissions made on behalf of the guardian, acceded to the application made on the instructions of Ms Callaghan and made an order which provides for direct contact between B and the 1st Respondent supervised by the guardian herself. The judge stayed the order for direct contact until 30th August to allow for the application for permission to appeal to go before the High Court. In her short judgement, the judge set out her reasons for reaching the decision that some supervised contact should go ahead which, as previously observed were based largely, if not wholly, on the guardian’s recommendations.

34.The precondition for any reintroduction of contact, which the judge had repeatedly reiterated, was not only that the 1st Respondent’s mental health had to be assessed, but also that there should be some treatment with her commenced to avoid repetition of her previous harmful behaviour towards B. Following the oral submission of the guardian (who is not qualified to assess the 1st Respondent’s likely psychiatric or psychological response to any reintroduction to B) the judge reversed the decisions she had made previously. The decisions she had previously made were properly based on the evidence before the court that there should be prior assessment and treatment (as set out above) there was no evidence before the court which supported a reversal of that decision. Moreover, as a result of the inadequacies of the psychiatric report, on 10th August 2017 an agreed letter of instruction was sent to Dr Datta to carry out a further assessment of the 1st Respondent. This letter, agreed by the parties, contained the instruction that the “Mother continues to be of the view that [B] is not safe in her father’s care.”

Ms Justice Russell sets out in detail why the Judge was wrong to have resiled from her earlier position that contact could not be countenanced until there had been a proper psychiatric evaluation of the mother, and largely blames the Guardian for persuading the Judge to do so, and moreover, to have fallen into much the same trap as the psychiatrist – in conducting investigations and reaching conclusions without having properly engaged with the source material.

The father, obviously, appealed and that is how the case came before Ms Justice Russell.

37.The history of this case has been set out at some length as it forms the background to the decision the judge made on 9th August 2017. When viewed as a whole the harm caused to this child by her mother was significant. Not only was she found to have repeatedly subjected to intimate examinations, solely at the behest of her mother, she was prevented from having uninhibited relationship with her father as an infant. On any view, the repeated invasive intimate examination, as found by the judge and set out in her judgment, were in themselves abusive and any long-term effects on B, along with any emotional trauma that may have been at the time, has never been investigated or assessed.

38.The guardian has seen this child on one occasion for a brief period yet she has seen fit to reach conclusions as to the child’s resilience and current psychological and emotional status and ability to deal not only with the re-introduction of her mother but also with the possible, if not probable, cessation of contact should that prove to be necessary. There is no analysis of how she reaches these conclusions, no details of her qualifications to do so and no application of the welfare checklist in reaching her conclusions. Consequently, the judge was wrong to rely on them and to effectively reverse her previous decisions on what amounts to flimsy evidence.

39.The emphasis and assumptions of the guardian are apparently based on the need to reintroduce contact with the child’s mother. If so this is a misinterpretation of the law; although that the amendments to section 8 of the CA and section 1(2A), introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014 emphasised the presumption that unless the contrary is shown, involvement of a parent in the life of a child will further the child’s welfare, this presumption is subject to the requirement that the parent concerned may be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm. This case includes findings of abusive behaviour towards B by her mother, which, if repeated would compromise the child’s safety and reintroduce the possibility of further harm, both physical and emotional.

40.B is a young and vulnerable child whose first few years of life were blighted by her mother’s irrational, abusive and harmful behaviour culminating in an B’s unlawful abduction. The courts can and should consider ordering no contact when the child’s welfare and safety demand it

(illuminating to compare and contrast with the Court of Appeal stance on the transgender father v ultra-Orthodox jewish community case earlier this month…)

Get ready for the pain

Conclusions
47.While it is understandable that the judge acceded to the guardian’s application, it is the decision of this court that she was wrong to do so. The guardian was quite simply not qualified or equipped to reach the conclusions that she did in respect of this child’s psychological and emotional resilience. She was even less qualified to assess the 1st Respondent’s mental state and her ability to conduct herself appropriately when B spent time with her. She had carried out anything other than a cursory consideration of the history, evidence and court documents before she briefly met the child with her father; little wonder failed adequately to explain the basis of her conclusions.

48.In a case such as this with a protracted, complex and convoluted history it is incumbent on the professionals who are called on to proffer advice and recommendations to the court, be they Cafcass officers or others concerned with child welfare, to fully inform themselves about the case and, at the very least, read through the judgments before they commence their investigations. Nor should they consider experimenting or trying out with contact for the child or children concerned against a background of previous harmful behaviour and abduction; in this case the guardian even accepted that contact may prove to be unsuccessful and be terminated or suspended again. Any contact that took place would have provided little or no useful evidence for the court as the guardian is unqualified properly to assess this mother’s ability to deal with and contain her behaviour. For that reason, and for those set out above this appeal will be allowed.

That’s a serious burn. Is it fair and justified? Well, I will leave that to the reader to decide.

The bit that interested me was this, however.

In relation to the position statement filed on behalf of the Child’s Solicitor (bear in mind that the child in question is 4 1/2, so absolutely no prospect of the child being competent to give instructions or even to give their views to the solicitor independently) the Court said :-

There was and are no submissions on behalf of the guardian as to why and on what basis she purported to have reached this conclusion on behalf of this child. A child who as, on any view, be subjected to repeated intimate physical intrusion, flight to Israel and had been fed misinformation about her father throughout her infancy. The solicitor for the child has, apparently, acted solely on the instructions of guardian and failed to include any separate analysis of the child’s position in her position statement.

I’ll give you the last bit again

The solicitor for the child has, apparently, acted solely on the instructions of guardian and failed to include any separate analysis of the child’s position in her position statement

I suspect there are many solicitors for children saying to themselves, well of course the solicitor acted solely on the instructions of the guardian. The child was 4 1/2.

Is it the place of the solicitor for the child to disagree with the instructions of her professional client (where the lay client is not in a position to give instructions?) – is it the place of the solicitor for the child to lay out in a position statement a case wholly in the alternative to that the Guardian is instructing should be pursued?

That seems a stretch to me. I think it is acceptable that the solicitor for the child ask the Guardian to address some of the consequences of the course recommended and provide analysis as to why, despite any adverse consequences it is the preferred option. But if the Guardian sticks by her course, I don’t think the solicitor for the child can advance in a position statement an argument contrary to her instructions.

(Of course, if the Guardian is making a mistake in law, or there is authority contrary to the position being advanced the solicitor for the child has to draw this to the Court’s attention, but I’m not sure that’s the case here. That possibility is raised earlier, so I may be misreading. It seems to me though that this is an issue not as to law and principle but a welfare and risk analysis by the Guardian. If the child’s solicitor and the Guardian disagree about welfare and risk analysis then they should thrash it out in discussions, sure, but ultimately it is the view of the Guardian that goes into the position statement and is advanced at Court, not the view of the child’s solicitor. )

I shall keep an eye out as to whether this theme recurs.

What this judgment is not

Once in a while, I come across a line in a judgment that makes me pull up sharply. Whilst my eyes rove over the screen full of Brussels II and run of the mill sets of care proceedings, every now and then you find a diamond in a sea of coal.
This is one of those.

18.What this judgment is not – Although I realise it may seem somewhat odd to include a paragraph under that heading I consider that it is necessary to do so.

Okay, you had me at hello.

This is a judgment by His Honour Judge Wildblood QC

Re ABC (A child) 2017
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2017/B75.html

So, what is this judgment not?
Therefore this judgment is not:

i) A determination by me of the merit of the grandmother’s complaints. The Local Authority, in its submissions, stresses that point whilst, at the same time, having made submissions and filed evidence to suggest that the complaints are not valid (see the submission and the social worker’s statement that were filed for 20th October 2017). I also note that, in the case of re B [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam) the now President, Sir James Munby was in a not dissimilar position (see para 49 of the judgment). As I stressed on 20th October 2017, the issue is not whether the grandmother’s complaints are correct for I am not in a position to decide that. The question is whether the grandmother should have the right to tell her story and now, whether as part of the telling of it, the Local Authority should be named.

ii) A means of stimulating public debate. My job as a Circuit Judge is to apply the law to the facts that are relevant to the issue before me. I have read the whole of the judgment in very recent case of Re B [2017] EWCA Civ 1579 and note, in particular, what is said in paragraph 27.

iii) An attempt by me at setting any sort of precedent or guidance even on a local scale. Not only would general guidance be way beyond my station or pay-grade. It would also be presumptuous and wrong. There is no new point of law or principle that arises in this case and my decision is entirely case specific. The decision that I have to make requires a very careful judgment call. As the President himself said in A v Ward [2010] EWHC 16 (Fam): ‘The present dispute is only part of an on-going debate as to where in the family justice system the lines should be drawn, where the balance should be struck, as between the often starkly opposed arguments, on the one side in favour of preserving the traditional privacy and confidentiality of family proceedings and on the other side in favour of greater ‘transparency’, to use the vogue expression. My duty here is to determine the present case according to law – that is, the law as it is, not the law as some might wish it to be’.

iv) An attempt by me to push or contain the boundaries of transparency. Not only do I have no interest in doing that but it is not for me to do.

Flipping that question round, it appears that what the judgment IS is a decision about whether a grandmother in care proceedings who put herself forward as a carer should be allowed to publish her complaint about her allegations of mistreatment by the Local Authority AND subsequently whether the Local Authority should be named.

2.At a hearing on the 6th October 2017 I made a special guardianship order in favour of a grandmother in relation to her grandchild. At that hearing she expressed profound dissatisfaction about the way in which she had been assessed and treated by the Local Authority during the currency of the proceedings. The parents each supported the grandmother in what she said. The guardian had filed a report supporting some of the points that the grandmother raised also. The Local Authority did not agree with what the grandmother said.

3.The grandmother, who is a litigant in person, stated that she wished to make her story known to others. I explained to her the availability of the complaints procedure under Section 26(3) of The Children Act 1989 but explored with her whether she was seeking to publish an anonymised account of the statement that she read out in court that day. She told (the Court) that she was.

So the complaint, if allowed to be published, must be read in the context that the Court have not resolved one way or the other whether it is a justified complaint. The Court have not had to rule on whether she is right or wrong. The Court did place the child with her, and made a Special Guardianship Order, but did not give a judgment about her specific complaints.

The Judge did rule that the Local Authority in question were wrong in their analysis of the legal position. It’s quite common for Local Authorities to operate under the same misconception (in fact, if you don’t actually have the authorities in front of you to analyse, I’d say that conservatively 95% of Local Authority lawyers (including myself from time to time) would have fallen into exactly the same trap. It is one of those areas where what we all think the law is does not equate with what the law actually is.

19.The law that applies – As the Local Authority submission suggests, the answer to the issues before me do not lie in statute. Although there are statutory restrictions on the publication of information from family proceedings heard in private (e.g. in section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 and section 97 of The Children Act 1989) those restrictions are, in any event, subject to any specific leave given by the court in a particular case. The same applies to the resultant restrictions that arise under Chapter 7 of Part 12 of Family Procedure Rules 2010 and PD 12G of those rules.

20.Where proceedings have come to an end Section 97 (2) of the 1989 Act does not operate and Section 12 of the 1960 Act does not operate to prevent disclosure of the names of parties to proceedings held in private. In the case of Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam), [2004] 2FLR 142 (which I cite below) there is an analysis of just this very point but I do wish to cite paragraph 24 of the decision of the President, as he now is, in A v Ward [2010] EWHC 16 (Fam) immediately:

‘It is convenient to start with what I said in British Broadcasting Corporation v Cafcass Legal and others [2007] EWHC 616 (Fam), [2007] 2 FLR 765, at para [12]: “It was – correctly – common ground between counsel that: (i) The care proceedings in relation to William having come to an end, the restrictions imposed by s 97(2) of the Children Act 1989 no longer operate: Clayton v Clayton [2006] EWCA Civ 878, [2006] Fam 83, [2007] 1 FLR 11. (ii) The only relevant statutory restrictions are those imposed by s 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960. (iii) Section 12, although it … imposes restrictions upon discussion of the facts and evidence in the case, does not prevent publication of the names of the parties, the child or the witnesses: Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam), [2004] 2 FLR 142. (iv) Accordingly, unless I agree to exercise the ‘disclosure jurisdiction’ (see Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam), [2004] 2 FLR 142, at [84]) [nothing] … (to the extent that it contains … material the disclosure of which would otherwise constitute a breach of s 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960) can be published, and unless I decide to exercise the ‘restraint jurisdiction’ there will be nothing to prevent the public identification of the social workers, the police officer, the treating doctors and the expert witnesses.” [25]. No-one dissents from what I went on to say (at para [13]) namely that: “both the disclosure jurisdiction and the restraint jurisdiction have to be exercised in accordance with the principles explained by Lord Steyn in In Re S (A Child) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2004] UKHL 47, [2005] 1 AC 593, sub nom Re S (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2005] 1 FLR 591, at [17], and by Sir Mark Potter P in A Local Authority v W, L, W, T and R (by the Children’s Guardian) [2005] EWHC 1564 (Fam), [2006] 1 FLR 1, at para [53], that is, by a ‘parallel analysis’ of those of the various rights protected by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 (the Convention), which are engaged, leading to an ‘ultimate balancing test’ reflecting the Convention principle of proportionality’.
21.I cite that passage (and more, later, from Re B) because the Local Authority’s submission appears to me to be advanced on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law as it applies to the naming of the Local Authority. The Local Authority submitted, on that and the other issues, that ‘these proceedings were brought under The Children Act 1989 and were heard in private. Publication of information relating to the proceedings, unless specifically authorised by a court, is a contempt of court’. The whole of the submission that was written by the Local Authority appears to be based on that erroneous contention and, further, makes no mention of the point that arises from the above passage from A v Ward and the passages that I cite below from Re B and other cases. As was the case in Re B, the boot has been put on the wrong foot by the Local Authority.

And therefore there was no reason why the grandmother could not share her story. The sole issue for litigation was whether she should be prevented from naming the Local Authority concerned.
Why in general should local authorities be named in judgments? The press made the following representations


29.I also find it very helpful that the officers of the press have made the following submission: ‘The case of B: X Council v B is also relevant – see http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed866 In that case [at para 14 onwards] Mr Justice Munby said as follows:

14 “There will, of course, be cases where a local authority is not identified, even where it has been the subject of stringent judicial criticism. A recent example is Re X (Emergency Protection Orders) [2006] EWHC 510 (Fam), [2006] 2 FLR 701. But current practice shows that local authorities involved in care cases are increasingly being identified. In addition to the two cases I have already referred to, other recent examples can be found in British Broadcasting Company v Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council and X and Y [2005] EWHC 2862 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 101, Re Webster, Norfolk County Council v Webster and others [2006] EWHC 2733 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 1146, Oldham MBC v GW, PW and KPW (A Child) [2007] EWHC 136 (Fam) and Re Ward, British Broadcasting Corporation v Cafcass Legal and others [2007] EWHC 616 (Fam). No doubt there are others.

15. I propose to adopt the same approach here as that which I set out in Re B. Is there some proper basis for continuing the local authority’s anonymity? In my judgment there is not.

16. In the first place, as the local authority very frankly accepts, whatever anonymity it enjoys is somewhat precarious, given the fact that the solicitors in the case have all been publicly identified. More importantly, however, I cannot see that there is any need to preserve the local authority’s anonymity in order to protect the children’s privacy and identities. Disclosure of the name of the local authority is not of itself going to lead to the identification of the children. In this respect the case is no different from Re B and Re X.
17. The real reason why the local authority seeks to perpetuate its anonymity is more to do with the interests of the local authority itself (and, no doubt, the important interests of its employees) than with the interests of the children. That is not a criticism of the local authority’s stance. It is simply a statement of the realities.

18. I can understand the local authority’s concern that if anonymity is lifted the local authority (or its employees) may be exposed to ill-informed criticism based, it may be, on misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the facts. But if such criticism exceeds what is lawful there are other remedies available to the local authority. The fear of such criticism, however justified that fear may be, and however unjustified the criticism, is not of itself a justification for affording a local authority anonymity. On the contrary, the powers exercisable by local authorities under Parts IV and V of the Children Act 1989 are potentially so drastic in their possible consequences that there is a powerful public interest in those who exercise such powers being publicly identified so that they can be held publicly accountable. The arguments in favour of publicity – in favour of openness, public scrutiny and public accountability – are particularly compelling in the context of public law care proceedings: see Re X, Barnet LBC v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998 at para [166].

19. Moreover, and as Lord Steyn pointed out in R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex p Simms [2000] 2 AC 115 at page 126, freedom of expression is instrumentally important inasmuch as it “facilitates the exposure of errors in the governance and administration of justice of the country.” How can such errors be exposed, how can public authorities be held accountable, if allowed to shelter behind a judicially sanctioned anonymity? This is particularly so where, as in the present case, a public authority has been exposed to criticism. I accept, as the local authority correctly points out, that many – indeed most – of the matters in dispute in this case were never the subject of any final judicial determination, but the fact remains that in certain respects I was, as my judgment shows, critical of the local authority. And that is a factor which must weigh significantly in the balance: see Re X, Barnet LBC v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998 at para [174].

20. In my judgment the balance here comes down clearly in favour of the local authority being identified.”
30.Further, they submit as follows: ‘As recognised in section 20 of the President’s Practice Guidance of January 2014 – Publication of Judgments, where a judge gives permission for a judgment to be published the public authority should be named in the judgment unless there are compelling reasons why they should not be so named. We would therefore wish to make the point that in published family judgments, it is highly unusual for a council not to be named’.

31.Finally, there are many other points of assistance from the decision of A v Ward [ibid] but I would wish to make mention of the following:

i) Professionals who give evidence, including social workers, cannot assume that they will do so under a cloak of confidentiality. There are very obvious reasons why that is so. Balcombe LJ said in Re Manda [1993] Fam 183 at p195: “if social workers and others in a like position believe that the evidence they give in child proceedings will in all circumstances remain confidential, then the sooner they are disabused of that belief, the better.”

ii) Proceedings where there are suggestions that a child might be adopted (as there were here) raise issues of exceptional gravity which are of great public interest and concern. ‘It must never be forgotten that, with the state’s abandonment of the right to impose capital sentences, orders of the kind which judges of this Division are typically invited to make in public law proceedings are amongst the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make. It is a terrible thing to say to any parent – particularly, perhaps, to a mother – that he or she is to lose their child for ever’ – see Re L (Care: Assessment: Fair Trial) [2002] EWHC 1379 (Fam), [2002] 2 FLR 730, at para [150].

iii) In Para 133 of the judgment, the President said this: ‘the law has to have regard to current realities and one of those realities, unhappily, is a decreasing confidence in some quarters in the family justice system – something which although it is often linked to strident complaints about so-called ‘secret justice’ is too much of the time based upon ignorance, misunderstanding, misrepresentation or worse. The maintenance of public confidence in the judicial system is central to the values which underlie both Article 6 and Article 10 and something which, in my judgment, has to be brought into account as a very weighty factor in any application of the balancing exercise. And where the lack of public confidence is caused even if only in part by misunderstanding or, on occasions, the peddling of falsehoods, then there is surely a resonance, even for the family justice system, in what Brandeis J said so many years ago. I have in mind, of course, not merely what he said in Whitney v California (1927) 274 US 357 at page 77: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” I have in mind also his extra-judicial observation that, and I paraphrase, the remedy for such ills is not the enforced silence of judicially conferred anonymity but rather the disinfectant power of exposure to forensic sunlight.

In the particular case, the arguments against naming the LA were as follows:-

The principal arguments that have been advanced are these:

i) Naming the Local Authority will increase the risk of the family being identified. The guardian, without analysing the point at all in any of the submissions, relies on this point. The Local Authority relies on it heavily. On behalf of the guardian it is submitted: ‘The Guardian’s view on balance is that disclosure of the identity of the local authority in this case will increase the risk of so called “jigsaw identification” of the child and its family’. She does not evaluate the risk. Nor does the Local Authority.

ii) The grandmother has a right of complaint under section 26(3) of the 1989 Act. The guardian submits: ‘The Guardian questions the motivation and proportionality of naming the local authority in this case. The grandmother of course has an avenue to complain about specific issues through the complaints procedure under S.26 of the Children Act 1989. She feels that the issue of assessment of Special Guardian’s is an issue of national public interest and that there is a need to open up the dialogue regarding assessment of kinship carers generally in respect of transparency, support and preparation through the assessment process. It is not an issue confined to this local authority’.

iii) On the facts of the case, one of the family members involved, it is said, is unlikely to be able to understand the need for confidentiality and would be likely to respond indiscreetly to press enquiry.

iv) A refusal to allow the Local Authority to be named is a ‘minor interference with Article 10 rights and is consistent with existing legislation’.

v) Disclosure of the identity of the Local Authority would lead to the Local Authority having to issue a response and that, in turn, would lead to ‘an unseemly and unhelpful trial by media’ and an ‘increased risk of jigsaw identification of the child’.

vi) Adverse publicity when no findings have been made against the Local Authority ‘would run the risk of making retention and recruitment of social workers more difficult and, therefore, of damaging the service provided for children in the area’. Although I was not referred to it, I do bear in mind what is said by McFarlane LJ in Re W [2016] EWCA Civ 1140 at paragraph 88 and onwards.

vii) The points of principle of public importance are those that the grandmother wishes to raise in relation to how family members are treated when they seek to care for family children in care proceedings. The naming of the Local Authority is not necessary for those issues to be aired.

And the arguments deployed in favour OF naming the Local Authority


The main arguments advanced are:

i) Those that arise from the authorities that I set out above. I will not repeat them. Within the submissions of the press was this: ‘The clear starting point is that a public body can have no expectation of anonymity in any reports that are permitted unless there is some justification for departure from the default position – it is for the Local Authority to make out a case, not for a journalist to establish a positive public interest in identifying the LA. Local Authorities are routinely identified in judgments’.

ii) The arguments about the suggested risk of jigsaw identification are advanced without analysis of fact or research. The reality is that, in the immediate locality of the grandmother, it will be easy for those who know the family to identify it even on the basis of the anonymised statement; the identification of the Local Authority will add nothing to that. The further reality is that, amongst the grandmother’s close friends and family, her story will already be apparent. For others, living in other areas of the Local Authority (e.g. the north of the Local Authority area) the naming of the Local Authority will not help at all in identifying the family. On a national level, naming the Local Authority area will be a matter of no significance at all to people from other areas (e.g. Birmingham or Newcastle-on-Tyne) and could not be taken as identifying the family. Given the demography, geography and population of the Local Authority identification is unlikely to take place beyond those who are likely already to know the family’s identity. I note this submission of the Press officers (which shows the extent of their researches in my opinion): ‘The fact the infant will be in the care of its grandmother is also not significant enough to identify this family. Such an arrangement is neither unusual, nor unexpected in this country. The 2011 census puts the number of children in England being cared for by a family member at 153,000, and of those, around 76,000 are being looked after by a grandparent (https://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/kinship-care-state-of-the-nation-2016). In 2017, it was reported in Community Care magazine that since 2010 there had been a 220% rise in special guardianship orders (http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2017/04/27/special-guardianship-orders-used-safely/). It is, we suggest, safe to assume that a good proportion of those being appointed as special guardians are grandparents’.

iii) The difficulty that the member of the family may have in dealing with the issues discreetly will arise whether the Local Authority is named or not. Naming the Local Authority does not increase or decrease the risk that the family member will be identified within the local community.

iv) It is utterly wrong in fact and principle to say that the non-disclosure order sought is only a minor interference with the grandmother’s Article 10 rights. The Local Authority’s approach seems to be based on its misunderstanding of the principles of law (i.e., in Re B language, on which foot the boot is) and also its failure to consider any of the relevant decisions of the President that I have set out above. To say to this grandmother that she was not allowed to name the Local Authority involved would be a very major interference with her right to expression under the Convention.

v) Insofar as there is a risk of identification, that risk is outbalanced by the importance of the freedom of expression enshrined by Article 10 (1). Further, the grandmother (who will be caring for the child and is an intelligent woman) and the mother both support that identification. I consider that their submissions about the Article 8 rights of their own family carry significant weight.

vi) There is a real and genuine interest within the local community in knowing how its Local Authority is acting. That is part of the democratic process. Members of a local community, like this grandmother, should be able to raise their complaints and concerns about local institutions.

vii) It would be quite wrong to try to limit the grandmother to the use of the procedure under Section 26(3) of the 1989 Act or any other complaints procedure. It is for the Local Authority to justify non-disclosure of its name and it is not for the Local Authority to dictate the means by which the grandmother exercises her Article 10 rights. By way of example – could it really be said in the Crown Court that someone who wished to complain about the treatment she had received in a prosecution must exhaust the police complaints procedure first?

viii) The suggestion that naming the Local Authority will result in a trial by media is riddled with errors of principle and fact. First, the press are the eyes and ears of society and press reporting cannot be swept aside on the basis of trial by media. Second, the emotive term ‘trial by media’ is not apposite – the issue is whether a member of the public should be able to voice a complaint against a local and public institution. Third, the extent to which there is a dispute within the public domain will depend on how the Local Authority chooses to conduct any response within the ambit of the law. Fourth, even without naming the Local Authority, it is highly foreseeable that some form of response will be made by the Local Authority and any response that is given should not be conducted by it behind a veil of anonymity.

ix) The court must not be seen to act as a shield for other public institutions.

x) There is no attempt by anyone involved in this case to identify specific social workers in the material that is made public. Naming the Local Authority does not mean that it becomes necessary to name the individual social worker and I have had no requests or suggestions that this should occur.

xi) The issues of importance are not confined to those relating to the treatment of family members in care proceedings. The issues that arise will be of most interest to those who live in the locality of this Local Authority and relate to how the authority is performing. Local issues matter (see the passage in from Re S above).

The Court felt that the case for naming the Local Authority was overwhelming (and having allowed a brief period to allow them to consider whether to appeal) and therefore named them.

36.Opinion on naming the Local Authority – In my opinion the arguments in favour of naming the Local Authority are overwhelming. I do not think that the Local Authority has got anywhere near justifying the non-disclosure of its identity. I accept each of the arguments advanced in support of that disclosure in the terms that I have set out above and consider that the authorities that I have cited point very strongly to it being ordered. I depart from the views of the guardian and of the Local Authority for the reasons stated within the accepted arguments that I have set out above in favour of disclosure. I do not think that the Local Authority or the guardian has given the issues or principles covered by this judgment sufficient or correct analysis.

The grandmother’s statement is appended to the judgment – again, the caveat is that these are the things that she wished to say about how she felt she was treated, and they are not a set of judicial findings.

Contextual statement as drafted by the parties

This statement is written by a capable and educated grandmother who has successfully raised her own family as a single parent and recently put herself forward to be assessed as a Special Guardian for her infant grandchild. The circumstances were such that it was not going to be possible for the parents to care for the baby and the alternative would have been an adoptive placement.

It can be seen that she felt unsupported through the assessment and that it was a difficult and protracted process. While rigorous assessment is of course important in the process of considering family members as prospective special guardians, what this grandmother writes raises important questions about whether there needs to be a re-evaluation by local authorities nationally of how family members putting themselves forward in these situations can be better prepared, informed and supported through the process.

The grandmother’s statement

These are the facts that I would like to disclose to the press, concerning my experiences during the assessments for a Special Guardianship Application and the events that have followed.

This has been an extraordinary experience to me, even though in the course of my life I have previously had to face some remarkably difficult challenges .It is important to me that some good should come from what has happened in this case, to this baby, her parents and to me.

It has seemed that the local authority is unused to being questioned or called to account for their conduct, decisions or even their misinformation. Emails are frequently not acknowledged, questions not answered most of the time. When false information or advice is given it leads to a great deal of anxiety and sometimes extra costs. This has happened throughout this process. Yet no one takes responsibility for their actions. It struck me that social workers are unused to the clients they work with demanding to be treated with respect, honesty and efficiency. There is a reliance on procedure without examining the particulars of a situation.

The reasoning which led to the local authority initial decision to contradict their very positive first report about me was a very narrow interpretation of my character and behaviour. It seemed there was only one way to show commitment and as I had expressed it a different way I was not committed. It was put to me that I had failed because I had not wanted to take the baby straight home from hospital. That I ought to be expressing that I wanted her. I reason that this is a vast decision for anyone to make, and that to respond purely emotionally or instinctively would be a less appropriate way to decide. I have been very open about my deliberations and judged negatively for that. Instead of helping to explore and understand, pejorative notes were taken and not discussed with me to further understand. I was even required to sort out all the typo errors in the first report which is most unprofessional.

I have responded robustly to the addendum report. I would add, however, that I was shocked by the references to identity and attachment, which do not bear examination. Indeed, I felt obliged to explain the meaning of a smile in small babies to the independent social worker such was the degree of her misunderstanding of this. As a final flourish, it was put to me by her that I ought to express commitment in the absence of clear health understanding or a financial assessment, which I felt was an outrageous transfer of responsibility from the local authority to me for their failings.

A complex issue which I feel has been inappropriately dealt with is the baby’s health. Both her parents have health difficulties which may complicate her future health. They may also have a huge impact on my capacity to cope in the future. The local authority followed their set routines in this area and failed completely to respond to my concerns that I needed to have as much knowledge as possible. This desire to have information was to guide my decision but also to ensure the best care now for this vulnerable child. Early investigations would have led to greater understanding. For example, a simple blood test could have been informative on one aspect of this. I fail to believe that this is not possible in complex cases.

A financial assessment is an integral part of this process. I have been given numerous accounts of how this works, how no finance would be offered, that I was ineligible even for assessment. I had to use voluntary agencies and research on line for the facts. The first social worker simply failed to turn up for an appointment to assess me. The baby’s social worker took a few notes and didn’t tell me the outcome though indirectly I was informed I was ineligible as I have some savings, which is completely incorrect. Ultimately, after explaining the process to the uncommunicative unit responsible, I have been offered some support. Following further unacknowledged emails to add information to my case, which explained my understanding of the assessment guidelines, further support has been offered. Is this an acceptable way for this to be conducted? It has led me to have to delay giving notice to my employer until I had discussed the outcome with a solicitor, leaving the baby in care for weeks longer.

There have been unexplained delays, which cannot be helpful for a baby awaiting a permanent placement. Weeks would pass without explanation, or even communication. Was this a suitable case for a newly qualified social worker who would move on, to be followed, by a part time person who would be away on leave without informing those concerned?

I have wondered how this would have ended if I had been a less vocal, expressive or determined person. I am under no doubt that this baby may have been adopted, that others may be, because many people who find themselves in this position do not have the personal resources to cope effectively. It has left me utterly exhausted and feeling shattered by the lack of kindness and understanding I experienced in such a painful context. To add insult to injury, I am accused of being problematically subject to stress by the social worker for the baby in her final statement.

I need to put this process behind me. I will, but I would hope that by airing these facts that those concerned might improve their practice. The central cog in this process needs to be well informed, efficient and dare I say kind, in such a sensitive situation. Their actions have cost me around £700 in legal fees which ought not to have been needed. I could have left this court with no financial support if I had not undertaken to investigate independently and share my knowledge with the local authority, to press for adherence to the D of E guidelines.

Ultimately, and above all, this baby has remained far longer than was justifiable, in foster care. Her parents have experienced a protracted agony of uncertainty. And, we go forward without full medical understanding. I would like to pay tribute to the exemplary care of the foster mother who has loved and cared for this baby and to the Guardian for her faith in my integrity.

The Order of Special Guardianship has now been made. I will love and care for this baby in every way. She will enjoy contact with her parents and develop a positive sense of Identity, drawing on the love of her family and our wonderful friends.

Someone had blundered

 

I’ve written many times about how unusual it is for a Court to revoke an adoption order. If memory serves, I have only found four examples before – one last year where the adopters physically abused the child who returned to birth mother and who felt very strongly about wanting the order revoked, one where a step-parent adoption was made where the mother had not told the birth father that she was terminally ill and if he had known that he would not have consented and I can’t remember the details of the other two – they were both from the 1970s.

 

This is the fifth one.  Which also, bizarrely, became the sixth one as well. This child may well, in due course, have the unusual and unique history of being adopted twice by the same people.

 

RE J (A Minor: Revocation of Adoption) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/2704.html

And it is just frankly, a mistake.

It seems that there was a hearing before a Circuit Judge. The mother attended, wanting to oppose the adoption. There was no social worker present, and it appeared that the Judge became muddled as to what application she was dealing with.

 

  1. The appropriate course might have been to impress on the mother the complexity of her application and her need to seek legal advice and/or representation. In any event, given the emphasis on ‘due process’ which operates, by definition, reciprocally between the parties, the mother ought to have been required to file evidence and directions given accordingly. From this, would have stemmed further directions for a statement in response by the Local Authority, appointment of a CAFCASS guardian and an inter partes re-listed hearing.

 

  1. It is abundantly clear, I regret to say, that the Judge became confused as to what application she was hearing and what procedure she was following. The Judge adjourned to consider her decision, handing down a written judgment on 3 October 2017. Very properly the Judge addressed the criteria in Section 47(5), concluding that the mother had failed to demonstrate sufficient change to justify ‘reopening the issue of the plan for [J]’. She observed that J was happily placed with devoted carers and that his placement ‘has offered a boost to his positive development’ and that ‘with every week that passes he is progressing well’. The Judge went on to note that the mother’s own assertion that she had stopped drinking alcohol (one of the causes of her parenting deficits) for a period of three months was insufficient to establish the first element of the test in Section 47. Judge Penna noted ‘there is a substantial risk that I would be setting her up to fail’. The Judge went on to consider the benefits of J’s placement in the context of the wider discretionary exercise and concluded that J’s mother had ‘not shown sufficient change for me to grant her leave to oppose the adoption’.
  2. Had the Judge stopped there all might have been well but, inexplicably she proceeded to grant an adoption order to the applicants, at this first directions hearing. She manifestly had insufficient material before her to make the Order which is perhaps the most draconian in the Family law canon. This was a complete aberration and plainly flawed. The Judgment was handed down on the 9 October 2017, circulated both to the parties and to the Registrar General, in order to make an entry in the Adopted Children Register in the form specified by regulations. It must be stated unambiguously that the Order provided that ‘the child is adopted by [K] and [N], the applicants.’ Finally, the Court directed that the entry in the Register of Live Births be marked with the word Adopted. As I understand it, J’s carers now believe him to be their adopted son.

 

 

When the Local Authority legal department received the order, they immediately realised that something had gone wrong. They contacted the Judge, who realised her mistake, but compounded the error by revoking the Adoption Order (which she did not have power to do. She perhaps had not realised that she was exceeding her power and also that this was only the fifth time that an adoption order had been revoked)

 

  1. A number of basic principles need reiteration. Once a child is adopted this entirely severs all legal ties with the birth family and introduces a new legal parental relationship with the adopter’s family. The Court does not make an adoption order unless it is satisfied both that nothing else will do and, for the particular child, nothing else is better. It follows, that the Court will be similarly cautious when contemplating a revocation of an adoption order which is intended to be final and lifelong. Such revocations were described by Pauffley J in PK the Mr & Mrs K [2015] EWHC 2316 (Fam) as ‘highly exceptional and very particular’. Their ‘exceptional’ nature has been repeatedly emphasised see Re. B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to set aside) [1995] Fam 239, Re. Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their children’s guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, Re. W (Inherent Jurisdiction: Permission Application: Revocation and Adoption Order) [2013] 2 FLR 1609. I draw the inference that Judge Penna revoked the Order in recognition of her error on the basis of the facts and chronology that I have outlined. They permit of no other interpretation. The Judge did not set out her reasoning in any additional judgment.
  2. More problematically, the process of revocation requires the High Court to invoke its inherent jurisdiction. This signals both the rarity of the Order and, inevitably, its unavailability to Judge Penna sitting in the County Court. As it transpired, before the Order was drafted, or sealed, the matter came to the attention of HHJ Newton, the Designated Family Judge. Judge Newton informed me of the situation and transferred the case to me on 23 October 2017. Judge Newton’s prompt action was doubtless driven by her recognition of the real potential for distress to both the birth parents and the adopters in consequence of what has occurred. An equally swift response is therefore required from me. I have not requested the attendance of the parties and have been able properly to deal with this case administratively,
  3. It strikes me that there are two equally legitimate alternatives here, either to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal or to address it myself in this Court. The latter course has the obvious attraction of avoiding delay. Primarily however, I have come to the conclusion that as Judge Penna’s purported Revocation Order was outside her powers, thus plainly void and as it was intercepted before being drawn or sealed, consideration of revocation may properly be addressed in the High Court. On the facts of this case, probably uniquely, I am also satisfied that the Court can and indeed should consider revoking the Order of its own motion.
  4. For the reasons which are set out above, I consider the circumstances in which this adoption order was made are ‘highly exceptional and very particular’ to use Pauffley J’s elegant and succinct phase. Whilst the Law Reports do not reveal this situation as having occurred before, there are some similarities with Re. K (Adoption & Wardship) [1997] 2 FLR 221. There the Court of Appeal indicated that where an adoption procedure had been fatally flawed, an application to revoke should be made to the High Court. Here there was, in short, a complete absence of due process and a wholesale abandonment of correct procedure and guidance. That is a clear basis upon which to consider whether the Order should be revoked.
  5. I am profoundly conscious of the impact of my decision on both the birth parents and the prospective adopters both of whom will be distressed and unsettled by this uncertainty. I would however, emphasise one important and, in my judgment, inalienable right, namely, that of J to know in the future that the process by which he may have been permanently separated from his family was characterised by fairness, detailed scrutiny and integrity.

 

 

So, this was not the finest hour of the family Court.  But by way of scant consolation, I will tell you all about an Australian Court, where the Court was deciding whether a fall from a horse constituted a “motor accident”  (the horse was startled by a car horn and bolted).  The judgment in the case was 138 pages long, which seems long, but perhaps it was warranted. What was NOT warranted, was the Judge reading the whole thing aloud to the parties, a process which took 17 HOURS.

FOUR FULL DAYS of listening to a judgment.

 

And the Judge in question, to keep the suspense going, didn’t hint at the result until part way through day three.

I appreciate that I am a sad legal geek, and there are many judgments that I really enjoy reading. But even I would baulk at sitting and listening to someone read out a judgment over 17 hours.

If Mr Justice Peter Jackson was delivering a judgment on conjoined twins, one of whom was a Jehovah’s Witness and one who was Plymouth Brethern and there were allegations of Fabricated or Induced Illness, AND the Judge had managed to deliver the judgment via séance with Richard Burton reading it out loud on his behalf (with occasional bursts of Peter Sellers doing voices of any witness who was quoted verbatim), I’d still have had enough after a day. Four days would be excessive even for that.

https://loweringthebar.net/2017/10/judge-read-138-page-opinion.html

 

And oh, by the way, the Judge in that case was overturned on appeal, so a complete waste of four days.

 

https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/58ec7f40e4b0e71e17f58abe

 

It is also of concern, as Payne JA has pointed out, that the primary judge made, at best, minor reference in his reasons to the framework within which the legal questions posed for consideration fell

 

If you’ve made me sit and listen for four full days, I don’t expect the legal framework to have only been given MINOR REFERENCE….

 

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

This is a Keehan J decision in the High Court.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolverhampton City Council v JA and another 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

a) she was inappropriately questioned by Ms Noel;

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

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

d) she was repeatedly asked leading questions;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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