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The Supreme Court ignore my new Act

Having laboured over the drafting of brand new legislation to avoid any disputes about where people live,  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/07/03/the-residenceschmesidence-act-2015/  I am disappointed that the Supreme Court did not take the opportunity to pick up that particular baton and run with it.

 

And if you thought that people were litigating about ordinary residence too much BEFORE, just you wait.

 

The Supreme Court in R (on the application of Cornwall Council) 2015  https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2014-0092-judgment.pdf  were dealing with a tricky scenario.

 

P had been a child, and when he was a child, had been placed in foster care in Wiltshire. This was in 1991.  As part of his care, Wiltshire PLACED him in South Gloucestershire.   When P became an adult, his needs were such that he required accommodation under the National Assistance Act 1948.  His needs are estimated to cost about £80,000 per year and he is likely to need them for the remainder of his life, so the issue of which Local Authority pays is liable to cost millions.

P’s parents, when he was an adult, moved to Cornwall; who also got dragged into this, despite him never having set a foot in Cornwall until 2004 and only then on a short visit to his parents.  We also add into the mix that accommodation was found for P in Somerset.

 

It is real law-exam stuff.  I wrote about how the High Court resolved it here (back in 2012), and I obviously developed some form of mental scarring as a result, because when the Court of Appeal decision came in, I couldn’t even face looking at it.    (I’ve not sold this link, but if you are a masochist, or you are trying to decide whether to quit law forever and just want something to tip you over the edge, here it is  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/12/27/as-clear-as-a-bell-if-the-bell-were-made-out-of-mud/

 

[I’ll assume that you rightly skipped that link]

 

The majority opinion of the House of Lords is that where a Local Authority accommodate a young person, and that person then goes on to require adult services, there’s no break in ordinary residence just because they happened to put him in another area.  The LA who started the case off, keeep hold of the responsibility, even though the case moves from being a child case to an adult case, and moves from one Act to another.

 

54. The question therefore arises whether, despite the broad similarity and obvious underlying purpose of these provisions (namely that an authority should not be able to export its responsibility for providing the necessary accommodation by exporting the person who is in need of it), there is a hiatus in the legislation such that a person who was placed by X in the area of Y under the 1989 Act, and remained until his 18th birthday ordinarily resident in the area of X under the 1989 Act, is to be regarded on reaching that age as ordinarily resident in the area of Y for the purposes of the 1948 Act, with the result that responsibility for his care as an adult is then transferred to Y as a result of X having arranged for his accommodation as a child in the area of Y.

55. It is highly undesirable that this should be so. It would run counter to the policy discernable in both Acts that the ordinary residence of a person provided with accommodation should not be affected for the purposes of an authority’s responsibilities by the location of that person’s placement. It would also have potentially adverse consequences. For some needy children with particular disabilities the most suitable placement may be outside the boundaries of their local authority, and the people who are cared for in some specialist settings may comefrom all over the country. It would be highly regrettable if those who provide specialist care under the auspices of a local authority were constrained in their willingness to receive children from the area of another authority through considerations of the long term financial burden which would potentially follow.

 

That does make a degree of sense.  Firstly, if a Local Authority caring for P as a child, could remove any burden on caring for him as an adult by placing him in another local authority area, then these vulnerable individuals could become subject to a game of pass the parcel (but where you DON’T want to be holding the parcel when the music stops). Secondly, Local Authorities who had made provisions or had specialist facilities in their area for children could end up receiving a higher number of such children and then having to go on to care for them as adults. And thirdly, Local Authorities might jealously guard their borders, not being willing to accommodate children on behalf  of other Local Authorities who might be trying to shift the burden of responsibility in adulthood.

 

The majority opinion therefore concludes

 

59. In other words, it would be wrong to interpret section 24 of the 1948 Act so as to regard PH as having been ordinarily resident in South Gloucestershire by reason of a form of residence whose legal characteristics are to be found in the provisions of the 1989 Act. Since one of the characteristics of that placement is that it did not affect his ordinary residence under the statutory scheme, it would create an unnecessary and avoidable mismatch to treat the placement as having had that effect when it came to the transition in his care arrangements on his 18th birthday.

 

[The Supreme Court do not use this guache term, but in a reductive sense, the law on ordinary residence where a Local Authority places a young person in another area and that young person then needs services as an adult is “He who smelt it, dealt it”]

 

But see Lord Wilson’s stirring dissenting opinion, and it is hard not to disagree with his conclusions. What he says in effect is that the Supreme Court majority opinion is deciding the law not on the basis of a legal interpretation or following precedent, but deciding on which outcome has the better public policy implications.  This is all even better if, like me, you choose to imagine that Lord Wilson has the same speaking voice as John Le Mesurier used for Sergeant Wilson.  (“Are you sure that’s wise, sir?”)

 

I believe that this might be my FOURTH Dad's Army illustration on the blog...

I believe that this might be my FOURTH Dad’s Army illustration on the blog…

 

 

 

62. My colleagues consider that, in making his determination under section 32(3) of the National Assistance Act 1948 (“the 1948 Act”) of the place of PH’s ordinary residence on 26 December 2004 for the purpose of section 24(1) of the same Act, the Secretary of State could lawfully have reached only one conclusion. It is, according to them, that on that date, which was the day prior to his 18th birthday, PH was ordinarily resident in a county (Wiltshire):

a) in which in May 1991, ie about 13 years earlier, he had ceased to live upon his removal to live with the foster parents in South Gloucestershire;

b) to which, during the following 13 years, he never returned, not even just to stay overnight;

c) in which in November 1991, ie also about 13 years earlier, his parents had ceased to live upon their removal to live in Cornwall;

d)in which by 1997, ie about seven years earlier, both sets of his grandparents had, in one case because of relocation and in the other because of death, ceased to live; and

e) in which, from 1997 onwards until many years after 26 December 2004, no home remained available, even in principle, for his occupation.

63. Such is a conclusion to which, with great respect to my colleagues, I do not subscribe. It is a conclusion for which no party has contended at any stage of these proceedings. A court should tread cautiously before favouring a solution devised only by itself, particularly where, as here, it has been addressed by an array of excellent counsel instructed by public authorities widely experienced in this area of the law.

 

Whether you agree with Lord Wilson or not, you have it say that to be able to pour so much information into such a condensed and easy to follow two paragraphs is masterful.

 

He goes on

 

 

 

65. I must squarely confront the problem. There appear to be strong reasons of public policy which militate in favour of imposing upon Wiltshire, rather than upon South Gloucestershire, the obligation of making decisions about a suitable placement of PH following his 18th birthday and of funding whatever placement may thereafter be suitable for him from time to time. It would be a heavy financial burden for Wiltshire but its burden in the case of PH would be borne to the same extent by some other local authority in a reverse situation: in other words the burdens should even out. Public policy suggests:

a) that it is desirable that a local authority which has exercised the decision-making power (and has borne the funding burden) in relation to the placement of a mentally incapacitated minor should, in the light of its knowledge of his needs, continue to exercise that power (and bear that burden) following the attainment of his majority; and

b) that it is undesirable that a local authority which is exercising the decision-making power (and bearing the funding burden) in relation to the placement of an incapacitated minor should, while he remains a minor, be able to place him in a suitable facility in the area of another local authority (indeed, in the case of a private placement, without the consent of that local authority), with the result that, following the attainment of his majority, the decision-making power and, in particular, the financial burden should fall upon that other local authority. In the present case, for example, the evidence suggests that Wiltshire’s placement of PH in 1991 with his excellent specialist foster parents did not in any way involve the local authority of South Gloucestershire, which for the following 13 years appears to have played no part in directing or securing his care. Yet, on my analysis, it is South Gloucestershire which should thereafter have begun to exercise the decision-making power and, in particular, to bear the financial burden. The Secretary of State accepts that, of the young people who move from being looked after by local authorities as minors to being provided with accommodation by them as adults, those lacking capacity are only a small proportion. But he explains convincingly that, in the light of their specialised needs, the cost of maintaining them indefinitely is very high. He proceeds to identify real concerns that a few local authorities might therefore be motivated (to use the crude shorthand which, only for convenience, has been deployed in the hearing before this court) to “export” such a minor to the area of another local authority prior to the attainment of his majority; and equally that, were that other local authority to be the administrator of a specialist resource entirely suitable to the needs of a minor, it might nevertheless be motivated to refuse him admission to it for fear of the financial consequences following the attainment of his majority.

 

66. But such is the result which in my view the law, as it stands, clearly compels. I am not a legislator. Nor, with respect, are my colleagues.

 

Whether the case should be decided on law or public policy  (and I agree with Lord Wilson – if the Supreme Court start to decide cases on what it considers to be the best outcome for public policy then we are on a slippery slope), the Supreme Court have not really considered the real public policy outcome here.

 

If Local Authority A and Local Authority B are arguing about which area is responsible for providing care for little Tommy, then at the moment, they fight like cat and dog about meeting those costs for a maximum of 18 years.  Following this decision, the loser of that argument could, if little Tommy is going to require accommodation throughout his adult life, be stuck with those costs for 80-90 years.

Now, using your skill and judgment, do you think that those arguments will as a result become :-

(a) more amicable; or

(b) more contentious

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Was an autobiography harmful to a child?

 

The Supreme Court have given their decision in James Rhodes v OPO 2015

https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2014-0251-judgment.pdf

 

This was a case in which James Rhodes, a concert pianist, author, and film-maker, wrote an autobiographical account of his life,  and where the mother of their child sought an injunction to prevent its publication. The Court of Appeal granted that injunction, based on an 1897 case called Wilkinson v  Downton. That case established a cause of action which was “intentionally causing physical or psychological harm”

Mr Rhodes took that case to the Supreme Court, and triumphed.

 

The Supreme Court posed the central question in this way:-

 

What, then, is the proper scope of the tort in the modern law? In particular, can it ever be used to prevent a person from publishing true information about himself?

 

When you read snippets from the book contained in the judgment, those snippets pull no punches. It describes the dreadful sexual abuse that the author sustained as a child, the harrowing impact that it had on him, the consequences throughout his life and how for the author, music provided an escape from that. The descriptions are brutal and shocking – but of course, so is what happened to this man as a child. The words hurt, but nothing like how the experience must have hurt.

One can also see that the mother of a young boy (who has Aspergers’ Syndrome, amongst other difficulties) would be worried about the boy coming across these accounts.  They are graphic accounts – they are so by intent – the author is wanting to convey just how monstrous what happened to him was, to reach out to other victims or potential victims, and possibly to reduce the chances of what happened to him happening to others. They are not easy to read – even for me – and I work within a field where I see accounts of abuse against children almost every week and would be expected to be somewhat more de-sensitised to it than the average adult. What James Rhodes has written is powerful and hard to read.  I commend him for it.

 

[This isn’t a terribly neutral summary, I am glad that he won this case – but nor do I think that the mother was a bad person for bringing the claim – I see entirely why she would not want her son to read this material whilst he is a child, and that in the modern era it is not as simple as just not having a copy in his home to read – the internet will have passages from it, indeed the judgment does, and other children who the son knows may come across it and make use of it]

 

As a matter of law then, what does the Supreme Court have to say about this tort?

Let’s look at the history first – as ever with old caselaw, the facts are quirky, and I’m sure that nobody involved ever imagined they’d be making legal history and newspaper headlines 120 years later.

 

Mr Wilkinson had been out at the races (I think that I can say without fear of defamation 120 years later that some degree of liquid refreshment may have played a part in the day’s events) and his friend Mr Downton decided that it would be an amusing practical joke to tell Mrs Wilkinson that Mr W had had an accident at the races, broken his leg and needed help.  Mrs W took it very badly and had weeks of nervous shock.

 

Wilkinson v Downton

31. Mr Downton secured a place for himself in legal history by a misconceived practical joke. He thought that it would be a cause of harmless amusement among the clientele of the Albion public house in Limehouse to tell the landlord’s wife, Mrs Wilkinson, a false tale that her husband had fractured his legs in an accident while on his way back from a race meeting and that he had sent a message to ask for her help to get him home. It cost her 1 shilling and 10 ½ pence to send her son and another helper on this fools’ errand, but a matter of far greater concern was the effect on her health. She suffered severe shock to her nervous system, which manifested itself in vomiting and weeks of physical suffering. Mrs Wilkinson had not shown any previous sign of predisposition to nervous shock. She and her husband sued Mr Downton, and the matter came to trial before Wright J and a jury.

32. Recovery of the transport costs incurred in response to Mr Wilkinson’s supposed request for help presented no legal difficulty. Such costs were recoverable as damages for deceit. The jury assessed damages for the illness caused to Mrs Wilkinson by her nervous shock (together with her husband’s claim for the resulting loss of her services) at £100, but the legal basis for making such an award was problematic.

33. Wright J rejected the argument that damages for deceit could include an award for Mrs Wilkinson’s suffering, because the essence of liability for deceit was that a maker of a false representation, intended to be acted upon, was liable to make good any loss naturally resulting from the representee acting on it, but the illness suffered by Mrs Wilkinson was not a consequence of her acting on what she was told. It was simply a consequence of the shock brought about by the news reported to her.

34. Wright J held, at pp 58-59, that a cause of action could be stated in law where a defendant has

“wilfully done an act calculated to cause physical harm to the plaintiff – that is to say, to infringe her legal right to personal safety, and has in fact thereby caused physical harm to her.”

He continued

“That proposition without more appears to me to state a good cause of action, there being no justification alleged for the act. This wilful injuria is in law malicious, although no malicious purpose to cause the harm which was caused nor any motive of spite is imputed to the defendant.”

35. This compact statement of law contained a number of key features. First, he identified the plaintiff’s protected interest as her “legal right to personal safety”. Secondly, he identified the defendant’s act as wilful. Thirdly, he described the act as “calculated” to cause physical harm to the plaintiff. Fourthly, he noted the absence of any alleged justification. Fifthly, he characterised the “wilful injuria” as “in law malicious” despite the absence of any purpose (ie desire) to cause the harm which was caused. Having stated the law in that way, Wright J then considered whether it covered Mrs Wilkinson’s claim. He held that it did. He said:

“One question is whether the defendant’s act was so plainly calculated to produce some effect of the kind which was produced that an intention to produce it ought to be imputed to the defendant, regard being had to the fact that the effect was produced on a person proved to be in an ordinary state of health and mind. I think that it was. It is difficult to imagine that such a statement, made suddenly and with apparent seriousness, could fail to produce grave effects under the circumstances upon any but an exceptionally indifferent person, and therefore an intention to produce such an effect must be imputed …”

 

The discussion of the Supreme Court into this tort and partic ularly on the key ingredient ‘maliciously’ is wide-ranging –  covering level-crossings, horses ram-raiding into pubs, pretending to unmask someone as a German spy, and imputations of inchastity.  I was saddened that the promising case name of Mayor of Bradford v Pickles 1895 did not hinge on a gherkhin-related dispute, but rather on water supply…

Of course, you will note that in Wilkinson v Downton, the story that caused the harm was false, made up, whereas the story being told by Mr Rhodes is true. We shall see if that makes a noticeable difference.

72. The order made by the Court of Appeal was novel in two respects. The material which the appellant was banned from publishing was not deceptive or intimidatory but autobiographical; and the ban was principally directed, not to the substance of the autobiographical material, but to the vivid form of language used to communicate it. The appeal therefore raises important questions about freedom of speech and about the nature and limits of liability under Wilkinson v Downton.

73. In Wilkinson v Downton Wright J recognised that wilful infringement of the right to personal safety was a tort. It has three elements: a conduct element, a mental element and a consequence element. The issues in this case relate to the first and second elements. It is common ground that the consequence required for liability is physical harm or recognised psychiatric illness. In Wainwright v Home Office Lord Hoffmann discussed and left open (with expressions of caution) the question whether intentional causation of severe distress might be actionable, but no one in this case has suggested that it is.

 

When writing a book, the author is not obliged to consider that any reader of the book might be caused damage by reading it – that would make it almost impossible to write anything. The Court of Appeal had held that it was applicable in this case to consider that in writing the book, the child was a relevant person to take account of – i.e that he was a specific person who could be said to be affected by it.

 

74. The conduct element requires words or conduct directed towards the claimant for which there is no justification or reasonable excuse, and the burden of proof is on the claimant. We are concerned in this case with the curtailment of freedom of speech, which gives rise to its own particular considerations. We agree with the approach of the Court of Appeal in regarding the tort as confined to those towards whom the relevant words or conduct were directed, but they may be a group. A person who shouts “fire” in a cinema, when there is no fire, is addressing himself to the audience. In the present case the Court of Appeal treated the publication of the book as conduct directed towards the claimant and considered that the question of justification had therefore to be judged vis-à-vis him. In this respect we consider that they erred.

 

 

 

75. The book is for a wide audience and the question of justification has to be considered accordingly, not in relation to the claimant in isolation. In point of fact, the father’s case is that although the book is dedicated to the claimant, he would not expect him to see it until he is much older. Arden LJ said that the father could not be heard to say that he did not intend the book to reach the child, since it was dedicated to him and some parts of it are addressed to him. We have only found one passage addressed to him, which is in the acknowledgments, but more fundamentally we do not understand why the appellant may not be heard to say that the book is not intended for his eyes at this stage of his life. Arden LJ also held that there could be no justification for the publication if it was likely to cause psychiatric harm to him. That approach excluded consideration of the wider question of justification based on the legitimate interest of the defendant in telling his story to the world at large in the way in which he wishes to tell it, and the corresponding interest of the public in hearing his story.

76. When those factors are taken into account, as they must be, the only proper conclusion is that there is every justification for the publication. A person who has suffered in the way that the appellant has suffered, and has struggled to cope with the consequences of his suffering in the way that he has struggled, has the right to tell the world about it. And there is a corresponding public interest in others being able to listen to his life story in all its searing detail. Of course vulnerable children need to be protected as far as reasonably practicable from exposure to material which would harm them, but the right way of doing so is not to expand Wilkinson v Downton to ban the publication of a work of general interest. But in pointing out the general interest attaching to this publication, we do not mean to suggest that there needs to be some identifiable general interest in the subject matter of a publication for it to be justified within the meaning of Wilkinson v Downton.

 

As the Supreme Court point out here – Mr Rhodes case triumphs on the wider public interest of telling his story, but that does not mean that the story HAS to have that wider public interest to defeat a Wilkinson v Downton claim.

Where a story is true, they say, the law gives the freedom of someone to tell the truth a great deal of protection.

 

77. Freedom to report the truth is a basic right to which the law gives a very high level of protection. (See, for example,Napier v Pressdram Ltd [2009] EWCA Civ 443, [2010] 1 WLR 934, para 42.) It is difficult to envisage any circumstances in which speech which is not deceptive, threatening or possibly abusive, could give rise to liability in tort for wilful infringement of another’s right to personal safety. The right to report the truth is justification in itself. That is not to say that the right of disclosure is absolute, for a person may owe a duty to treat information as private or confidential. But there is no general law prohibiting the publication of facts which will cause distress to another, even if that is the person’s intention. The question whether (and, if so, in what circumstances) liability under Wilkinson v Downton might arise from words which are not deceptive or threatening, but are abusive, has not so far arisen and does not arise for consideration in this case.

 

It MIGHT be that a set of circumstances exist in which words in a publication are true, and not threatening, but are abusive and would cause harm to the recipient, but it is quite difficult to think of what those circumstances might be. It may be some time before we see another Wilkinson v Downton claim.

 

Finally, the Supreme Court looked at the mental element of the tort (the intent)

 

83. First, where a recognised psychiatric illness is the product of severe mental or emotional distress, a) is it necessary that the defendant should have intended to cause illness or b) is it sufficient that he intended to cause severe distress which in fact results in recognisable illness? Option b) is close to the version stated by Salmond & Heuston which attracted Lord Woolf in Wainwright v Home Office.

 

They concluded that option b was correct, and declined to develop the law to include ‘recklessness’ within the mental element of the offence.

89. In the present case there is no basis for supposing that the appellant has an actual intention to cause psychiatric harm or severe mental or emotional distress to the claimant.

 

Also hooray for Lord Neuberger’s remarks on free speech.

96. It is true that the book contained material which some people might find offensive, in terms of what was described and how it was expressed, but “free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence” – see Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions (1999) 7 BHRC 375, para 20, per Sedley LJ. As he memorably added, “[f]reedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having”.

97. Quite apart from this, it would, I think, be an inappropriate restriction on freedom of expression, an unacceptable form of judicial censorship, if a court could restrain publication of a book written by a defendant, whose contents could otherwise be freely promulgated, only refer in general and unobjectionable terms to the claimant, and are neither intended nor expected by the defendant to harm the claimant, simply because the claimant might suffer psychological harm if he got to read it (or extracts from it).

 

 

Let’s make habitual residence a bit more complicated

Because heaven knows, it has always been so simple, and nobody has ever had to argue  in Court about where a person lives.

 The Supreme Court have handed down their decision in LC (Children) No 2 2014.

 

http://www.supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0221_Judgment.pdf

 

There’s a press release which nicely summarises it all  http://www.supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0221_PressSummary.pdf  

 

 

I’ll try to break the facts down very simply.  Not that easy, because if it were, it wouldn’t have reached the Supreme Court.

 

Four children, oldest 13, youngest 5. They lived in England with both parents. The parents relationship broke down and mum moved to Spain with them in July 2012. The children came to stay with dad in England over Christmas 2012 and then did not go back. Mum made applications under Hague Convention for the return of the children. There are claims, strong ones, that the 13 year old in particular did not want to go back to Spain and viewed that she was not living in Spain but had gone there for a while and wanted to stay in England now.

 

[The whole issue is complicated because mother is a Spanish citizen, and the father had himself lived in Spain for a time, and there were certainly strong Spanish connections for the family as a whole]

 

A question that came up was whether the children were habitually resident in Spain (they had moved there with mum and had lived with her there for five months by the time the dispute arose) or in England (where they were physically present, and certainly the oldest child was indicating that she wished to remain), or possibly had no habitual residence.

 

All sorts of things flow from habitual residence. There are not just rafts of caselaw, but ocean-liners of caselaw about habitual residence.

 

What the Supreme Court say it had boiled down to prior to this case was that one looks at habitual residence as being whether there is some degree of social integration of the child in a social and family environment in that place.

 

(That gets rid of the ‘intention’ element which can be problematic, because one can have an intention or desire to live in say, Monaco, without actually being habitually resident there. I’d love to live in Moncao, but unless I actually do something about that desire, I’m not actually resident there)

 

So, on that test, it would have been fairly straightforward that the children’s habitual residence was Spain – they had moved there, they had integrated there and had spent months there.  

 

However, the Supreme Court accepted father’s argument that with a child who has understanding and a view about where she wants to live, such as the 13 year old, the Court ought to take that into account when deciding the factual question of habitual residence.  The Supreme Court also found that the lower Courts were wrong not to have joined the 13 year old as a party.

 

 

 

Courts are now required, in analysing the habitual residence of a child, to search for some integration of her in a social and family environment [34]. Where a child goes lawfully to reside with a parent in a state in which that parent is habitually resident it will be highly unusual for that child not to acquire habitual residence there too. However, in highly unusual cases there must be room for a different conclusion, and the requirement of some degree of integration provides such room [37].

 

 No different conclusion will be reached in the case of a young child. Where, however, the child is older, particularly where the child is or has the maturity of an adolescent, and the residence has been of a short duration, the inquiry into her integration in the new environment may warrant attention to be given to a different dimension [37].

 

 

[There was some dispute amongst the Supreme Court Judges as to whether the state of mind of a child is a relevant issue in determining habitual residence for ALL children or only ones that have reached a sort of Gillick-esque competence to weigh things up. Two Judges felt it was relevant to all, but had less weight with younger children, the majority felt it was only applicable to children who had that sort of understanding]

 

So, when looking at whether a child’s particular situation changes the starting point that their habitual residence is with the parent they usually live with, the Supreme Court say that what is to be looked at is

 

 

The Court notes that what can be relevant to whether an older child shares her parent’s habitual residence is not the child’s “wishes”, “views”, “intentions” or “decisions” but her state of mind during the period of her residence with that parent

 

 

They were clear that where a child was of sufficient age and understanding and wished to be joined as a party in circumstances like this, the Court ought to allow it.

 

Having been joined as a party, how are the enquiries into the child’s state of mind to be conducted?

 

 

the Court notes that an older child in particular may be able to contribute relevant evidence, not easily obtainable from either parent, about her state of mind during the period in question [49]. However, it is considered inappropriate to hear oral evidence from T even as a party. Instead, a witness statement from T; cross-examination of the mother by T’s advocate; and the same advocate’s closing submissions on behalf of T should suffice to represent her contribution as a party [55]

 

 

The Supreme Court make it plain that the sort of features of this case, where a child of the right sort of age and understanding leaves one country to go to live in another and then returns for a short time to the first country, whereupon  an issue arises about where she should live in the long-term are very rare, so they are not envisaging quizzing the children in every Hague Convention case about where they see their habitual residence – it is about ensuring that where this becomes a live issue in a case that the child’s position is not ignored.

 

Of course, arguments about habitual residence don’t merely become confined to England and Spain – you can have them about England or Scotland, Cumbria or Cornwall, Stoke or West Bromwich.  It is not that uncommon for families when they break up to have geographical separation between the parents as well as emotional separation.

So much flows from habitual residence and ordinary residence that we probably still have not heard the last of this. I suspect that even now, there are some Local Authorities bickering about who has responsibility for a child who are wondering whether the child’s state of mind might prove to be the vital key.

Laying down a marker – the Court of Appeal speaks on analysis of welfare checklist

As regular readers will know, we had been anticipating the Court of Appeal in Re B S  to deal with issues of how appellant Courts were to tackle appeals in the light of the changes to the tests highlighted by the Supreme Court in Re B.

We hadn’t necessarily anticipated that the Court of Appeal would get under the bonnet of this issue before then, but to an extent, they have, in Re G (A child) 2013. The case really delves very carefully into an often overlooked aspect of the judicial decision-making – the welfare checklist.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/965.html

The facts of the original case , determined by a District Judge (which was appealed, and then that appeal decision appealed to the Court of Appeal) aren’t really that important.

What is important is the Court of Appeal’s clear guidance as to how Judges in care proceedings are to tackle the task.

In broad terms, this is the order of events

  1. The Court must establish the facts and particularly to make findings on any relevant facts or disputed facts
  2. The Court must then evaluate whether on the basis of those facts, the section 31 threshold is crossed
  3. The Court should then apply the welfare checklist to the circumstances of the case
  4. If the case involves a plan of adoption, the Court should also apply the welfare checklist as set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to the circumstances of the case
  5. The Court should then consider proportionality when determining what order to make, and in an adoption case must specifically address the formulation set down by the Supreme Court in Re B  (in essence that ‘nothing else will do’

Nothing within that sequence of events is at all controversial or new. What might be new is the Court of Appeal’s focus on the welfare checklist and how that exercise must be approached judicially, and by any appellant Court looking at whether the exercise was approached.

In particular whether the approach of dealing with the welfare checklist in a linear way – by looking at the merits of the parents case against the welfare checklist and then only at point (g) range of powers available to the Court mapping out the pros and cons of the various options, is in fact the wrong way to go about things.

  1. The wording of certain elements of the welfare checklist must, I would suggest, involve a direct comparison of the relevant options that are being considered, for example:

(c) the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;

(e) any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;

(f) how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs.

  1. Under s 1(3)(c), consideration of the effect of any change in the child’s circumstances must involve considering, in the present case, not just the prospect of returning to the mother’s care but must include consideration of the effects, positive and negative, of placement in long-term foster care. Under s 1(3)(e), consideration of the risk of harm obviously will include the potential for future harm from parental care, but must also require evaluation of any risk of harm from the alternative option provided by ‘any other person’, namely the local authority as corporate parent, for example emotional harm as a result of long-term separation of a child from his parent. Under s 1(3)(f), when considering how capable ‘each of his parents, and any other person’ are to meet the child’s needs, again I would suggest that, alongside consideration of the parent’s capacity, there is a need to look at the strengths and detriments in the local authority’s capacity to meet his needs through long-term fostering.

 

What the Court of Appeal are saying here is that the Court must not simply look at the case for the child remaining with the parent, analyse this, and then if determining that this is not possible, move on to considering what type of order would be appropriate.  The Court cannot properly decide whether the child should be with a parent based on the pluses and minuses of THAT option, but must weigh into the balance the pluses and minuses of the OTHER options.

It is not, as they say, a linear exercise, but one of laying out the various options and comparing them alongside one another. When considering, for example, the ‘capacity of the parent or any other person to meet his needs’ the Court must not only look at what the parent could offer under no order or a Supervision Order, but what the Local Authority could offer (including any deficiencies) under a Care Order or Placement Order.

The structure of the welfare checklist, culminating as it does with the “range of powers available to the Court” seems to tempt the Court into approaching that comparison of the various orders only at that stage, but this would be the wrong approach.

They develop this further – underlining mine

  1. In most child care cases a choice will fall to be made between two or more options. The judicial exercise should not be a linear process whereby each option, other than the most draconian, is looked at in isolation and then rejected because of internal deficits that may be identified, with the result that, at the end of the line, the only option left standing is the most draconian and that is therefore chosen without any particular consideration of whether there are internal deficits within that option.
  1. The linear approach, in my view, is not apt where the judicial task is to undertake a global, holistic evaluation of each of the options available for the child’s future upbringing before deciding which of those options best meets the duty to afford paramount consideration to the child’s welfare.
  1. One only has to take an extreme example of the effect of linear consideration to see the potential danger for this approach. The linear model proceeds by evaluating and then eliminating each individual option in turn before selecting the option at the end of the line, without evaluation of its own internal merits or de-merits, simply on the basis that it is the only remaining outcome. Much therefore depends on which end of the line the selector starts the process. Conventionally those judges who deploy a linear approach start, for understandable reasons, with the option of rehabilitation to a parent and end with the option of a care or adoption order. If, however, for the purposes of observing the dangers in the process, one were to start at the other end of the line and look at long-term foster care or adoption first, and were then to rule that out on the basis that there are risks and negatives attaching to it, the linear approach would soon arrive at ‘rehabilitation to a parent’ as the only remaining option and select that without any consideration of whether that is in fact the best outcome for the child. All would agree that such an approach would be untenable. I hope, however, that this example demonstrates how inappropriate the linear model is for a judge who is tasked with undertaking a multi-faceted evaluation of a child’s welfare at the end of which one of a range of options has to be chosen.

And later

  1. A further concern about the linear model is that a process which acknowledges that long-term public care, and in particular adoption contrary to the will of a parent, is ‘the most draconian option’, yet does not engage with the very detail of that option which renders it ‘draconian’ cannot be a full or effective process of evaluation. Since the phrase was first coined some years ago, judges now routinely make reference to the ‘draconian’ nature of permanent separation of parent and child and they frequently do so in the context of reference to ‘proportionality’. Such descriptions are, of course, appropriate and correct, but there is a danger that these phrases may inadvertently become little more than formulaic judicial window-dressing if they are not backed up with a substantive consideration of what lies behind them and the impact of that on the individual child’s welfare in the particular case before the court. If there was any doubt about the importance of avoiding that danger, such doubt has been firmly swept away by the very clear emphasis in Re B on the duty of the court actively to evaluate proportionality in every case.
  1. In mounting this critique of the linear model, I am alive to the fact that, of course, a judgment is, by its very nature, a linear structure; in common with every other linear structure, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. My focus is not upon the structure of a judge’s judgment but upon that part of the judgment, indeed that part of the judicial analysis before the written or spoken judgment is in fact compiled, where the choice between options actually takes place. What is required is a balancing exercise in which each option is evaluated to the degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh its own internal positives and negatives and each option is then compared, side by side, against the competing option or options.

I think those words about “formulaic window dressing” are apt – and are similar in nature to the reinforcement of the Supreme Court in Re B that the Court have to genuinely look at and tackle proportionality and human rights, rather than just the stock phrases of ‘the interference with article 8 is proportionate and necessary in this case to safeguard the child’ without looking behind that stock phrase into what is genuinely meant and intended.  When the term ‘draconian’ is thrown about the Court room, which it is, and often– if one were somehow able to calculate all of the occasions when the word ‘draconian’ was uttered I think 85% or more would be in the Family Court;  it isn’t sufficient just to say the word, those present must feel the weight of what that word really means.

It becomes clear then, that the role of a Court in determining any application for public law orders is to get heavily stuck into the Welfare Checklist. The culture that has sprung up over years of the Welfare Checklist largely being extracted from the social worker’s statement with perhaps a few corrections or additions here or there, is unlikely, in the light of Re G to be sufficient.

This must be an comparative exercise balancing each of the options open to the Court and weighing them each against the other. It would be fair to say that most Welfare Checklists I have seen have been constructed more on the linear model, where one starts with an assumption that the child should be placed with the parents and analyses whether or not that is possible, rather than following each of the options through each stage and weighing each against the other. The weighing process, if any, tends to happen at the very end of the Welfare Checklist once the linear process has been undertaken (resulting in either ‘Yes, child can be with the parent’ or ‘no, the child can’t be with the parent’) when it comes to the Range of Powers available to the Court and positing which orders are appropriate on the basis of the linear process having ruled in or ruled out the child being with a parent.

Re G makes the Welfare Checklist even more important than it is at present, at the very time of course, that the PLO standardised documents take it out as a flowing self-contained part of the social work evidence and it vanished from Guardian’s reports long ago in all but very rare cases. Judges will now have to fish around in the social work statement for the social work analysis of the welfare checklist, scattered as it now is throughout the document rather than residing in one defined section.

As the Court of Appeal say in this case about the two Judges whose decisions were the subject of this appeal (underlining mine again)

Before moving on, I would like to acknowledge the strong professional sympathy that I feel for DJ               and HHJ                          who find themselves in the invidious position of having their judgments subjected to scrutiny by the Court of Appeal armed, as it always is, with 20/20 hindsight but, on this occasion, also armed with a strong decision from the Supreme Court that has been injected into the mix between their respective involvements in the case and this judgment. I wish to stress that the observations that now follow are made in this case because it provides the opportunity to do so, and not because there is anything in these two judgments which is worthy of additional individual criticism. My working life is now spent very largely in reading first instance, and less frequently, first level appeal judgments. The concerns that I have about the process in this case are concerns which have also been evident to a greater or lesser extent in a significant number of other cases; they are concerns which are now given sharper focus following the very clear wake-up call given by the Supreme Court in Re B. I therefore hope that DJ              and HHJ                      will be stoic and may see their judgments in this case as being the unwitting launch vehicles for what now follows, rather than its specific target.

I suspect that in the immediate future, advocates will be particularly alert during the passages of a judgment that deal with the welfare checklist, because the cursory race through it, or  formulation of “I adopt the welfare checklist as set out in the social work final evidence” will not be sufficient.

(Moving on from this, one MIGHT conclude that in order for Judges to properly and thoroughly analyse the weaknesses of the care that the State can provide for any particular child, some proper independent, neutral, rigorous and up to date research on delay, breakdown rates, abuse in State care,  the factors that are indicative of a successful or poor prognosis for children in State care or adoptive placements, children’s thoughts and feelings about being cared for by the State, how issues of loss endure or resolve for these children and outcomes for children in State care would be both extremely helpful and long overdue.  Otherwise there is a risk that the information is either overly rose-tinted or overly negative depending on who is providing it to the Judge)

It’s as plainly wrong as the nose on your face

In family cases now, is the appeal test “plainly wrong”  or “wrong?”  – Court of Appeal to grapple with this issue.

I remarked during my commentary on Re B, that I thought the Supreme Court might come to regret their decision that where an appellate Court is considering an appeal about threshold, there was no distinction between wrong and plainly wrong.

I didn’t think it might happen so quickly.

In Re BS (Children) 2013,  Permission was granted by MacFarlane LJ for an appeal from a decision of Parker J to refuse leave to oppose an adoption hearing, and it seems, from the reading of his decision, that he probably would have refused permission to appeal prior to Re B.

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed114967

In particular, MacFarlane LJ felt that the issue of whether the test for appellate Courts now dealing with family appeals had lowered, in the light of Re B, from “has the applicant shown that the Judge was plainly wrong” to “has the applicant shown that the Judge was wrong”

The first of those two formulations has always been the test, and of course is a much higher hurdle, both in the appeal, and any application for permission. It reflects that with the majority of judicial decisions, a Judge might reasonably decide the case one way or another, providing that they give a detailed and reasoned judgment considering those things that are relevant and not considering things that are irrelevant, and applying the correct legal tests. With that in mind, a Court of Appeal can have all three Judges look at the case and think that they would have made a different decision to the original Judge, but still refuse the appeal, if the decision was within a reasonable spectrum of the decisions that the original Judge could have made. In essence, an appeal ought to be allowed if the Judge made a decision that on the facts before them a Judge could not have reasonably made.

You might well think that an appeal court ought to just decide if they think the judge got the case right, and that’s certainly a legitimate public debate to be had, but it isn’t what the law is.

Or at least, it wasn’t.

The problem with the Supreme Court hearing a case is that if they decide something, that can override any other previous decisions, and whilst they might, as in Re B, believe that they are making a very narrow qualification and adjustment to the law, it can result in far far bigger consequences.

Here’s what MacFarlane LJ said in the permission judgment

17. The short description of the matters I have in mind are as follows.  Firstly, at two stages in her judgment, the judge apparently referred to the test that she had to apply being a three stage test.  The judge quoted from Re W (paragraph 18), as I have just done, and then went on to say: “The second and third hurdle are conflated into one test”.  Then later in the next page of the judgment, she said again, “2nd and 3rd test have to be looked at together”.  I consider it is arguable that that displays an erroneous understanding of the test.  My reading of Re W is that the third fence that Thorpe LJ describes is one that is only faced by the parent if they succeeded in getting leave to oppose the adoption and they are sitting in court arguing the point in the full hearing.  That justifies to a degree granting permission to appeal, but if that was the only point in the case, I would have been reluctant to grant permission because the judge’s general approach to the determination of the issue before her seems to have been more generally in line with Re W and the threshold described there.

18. The second reason for granting permission to appeal arises from Re B.  First of all, in the judgments both of Lord Neuberger and of Baroness Hale, in particular at paragraphs 82 and 104 in the former, and 145, 198 and 215 in the case of the latter, very clear and firm descriptions are given of the high level of evidence that has to be established before a court can go on to make an adoption order in circumstances where the child’s parents do not consent to adoption.  Having read those judgments, and having read the Court of Appeal decision in Re W, I am concerned that the test in Re W may now need to be reconsidered in the light of the approach to adoption which has been restated in these very clear terms by the Supreme Court.  In particular, I am concerned that the words of my Lord, Thorpe LJ, that I have quoted from paragraph 17, where he describes as “exceptionally rare” a parent succeeding in an application of this sort may no longer be tenable.  Particularly I have in mind that a parent can only be in the position of making an application under section 47(5) if there has been a care order, a placement order, the placement of the child for adoption and an adoption application being lodged.  Those are the very circumstances that trigger the jurisdiction under section 47(5).

19. There is justification therefore in my view in giving leave so that the test to be applied in these applications for leave as cast in Re W can now be audited in the light of the judgments of the Supreme Court in Re B to ensure that it sets the threshold at a proportionate level.

20. Thirdly, and in a different context, each of the Justices in the Supreme Court describes the approach that is now to be taken at appellate level in relation to decisions which are not simply discretionary determinations by a judge, but are decisions which impact upon Convention rights, the human rights, of one or more of the parties.  Where an appeal takes place, Re B makes it plain that the appellate court has a duty to review the first instance judge’s compliance or otherwise with her obligation not to determine the application in a way that is incompatible with the Article 8 rights that are engaged.  Arguably such a review is, in my opinion, justified on the facts of this case.

21. Previously I would have applied a test of considering whether the prospective appellant here has a reasonable prospect of establishing that Parker J was “plainly wrong” in refusing permission to oppose.  Now it seems that the test is one that is potentially lower, namely of considering whether Parker J was “wrong”.  There is a need first of all to clarify which of those two tests does apply to an appeal of this sort on this topic, and if the lower level is applicable, namely that the judge was “wrong”, then on the facts of this case it becomes less clear that the mother has no reasonable prospect of persuading the full court that Parker J was indeed “wrong”.  That is particularly the case where, as I remind myself, the issue here is not the ultimate question of whether or not an adoption order should be made, but simply whether the mother can oppose the making of the order at a full hearing where the issue of parental consent is then determined afresh in the light of all the current circumstances.

Let’s look quickly at what the Supreme Court decided on the issue of the test for an appellant Court on threshold

They refer to all of the important cases on the test for appellant courts – G v G, Piglowska .

The Supreme Court then drew a distinction between cases where the Judge was exercising a discretion (presumably meaning that in those cases, Piglowska et al still applied, and the formulation was ‘plainly wrong’)  and cases where the Judge was not exercising a discretion, such as in answering the question as to whether threshold was met

(The underlining in this quotation from Re B is all mine, and it may help in your reading if you imagine me raising my eyebrows on those bits)

44. On any view there is nothing discretionary about a determination of whether the threshold is crossed. I consider that in the Court of Appeal Black LJ was correct, at para 9, to categorise it as, instead, a value judgement, particularly, but not only, when the court is surveying likelihood. Black LJ proceeded to adopt the approach of Ward LJ in the Court of Appeal in Re MA (Care Threshold), cited above, at para 56, that the question on an appeal against the refusal of a judge to hold that the threshold had been crossed was whether it exceeded the generous ambit of reasonable disagreement. In my judgment in that case, from the outcome of which I dissented, I asked, at para 34, whether it had been “open” to the judge to refuse to do so. In her judgment Hallett LJ asked, at para 44, whether the judge had been “plainly wrong” to refuse to do so. Although these are matters of little more than nuance, I consider in retrospect that in that case none of the three of us afforded sufficient weight to the evaluative, as opposed to the discretionary, nature of a determination whether the threshold is crossed. Ward LJ’s reference to the generous ambit of reasonable disagreement seems apt only to the review of an exercise of discretion, as in G v G. My own reference to whether the judge’s determination had been “open” to him now seems to me to have been singularly uninformative. Perhaps Hallett LJ came closest to the appropriate test in her reference to whether the determination had been “plainly wrong”. But it is generally better to allow adjectives to speak for themselves without adverbial support. What does “plainly” add to “wrong”? Either the word adds nothing or it serves to treat the determination under challenge with some slight extra level of generosity apt to one which is discretionary but not to one which is evaluative. Like all other members of the court, I consider that appellate review of a determination whether the threshold is crossed should be conducted by reference simply to whether it was wrong.

 

 

Given that the Supreme Court is binding on all of us, unless and until either Parliament changes the law, or the European Court of Human Rights says that the Supreme Court were wrong in Re B  (cough, cough), the effect of that passage is fourfold

  1. Indisputably, the test for an appeal about threshold is NOW whether the Judge was wrong, not whether the Judge was plainly wrong.
  1. As determining threshold often arises from the way a Judge determined FINDINGS of fact about an alleged injury or alleged abuse, an appeal about a Judge concluding that as a result of those findings, threshold is met, might well now be decided on “wrong” rather than “plainly wrong”
  1. The Supreme Court have developed a two tier test for appeals – one where the Judge was exercising a discretion (where they have to be plainly wrong)  and one where they are not (where they just have to be wrong)
  1. Given that the Supreme Court forgot to set out a test for which category any given decision would fall into, there is going to be satellite ligitation, as here as to which category the case falls into.

For what it is worth, my own view is that on the Re B  “plainly wrong v wrong” issue, the existing caselaw on refusing / granting leave to oppose an adoption order is extraordinarily plain that the Judge is exercising a discretion and thus I believe that it is untouched.

Having said that, I still cannot FATHOM why the Supreme Court considered that in determining whether threshold was met, the Court was not exercising judicial discretion, still less that this was the case “on any view”  and when one looks at what a Judge has to do when determining if given behaviour or allegations of such behaviour constitutes the threshold criteria, it is hard to argue that such process is markedly different to the test in the leave to oppose adoption (does the change warrant a reopening of the case).

I can see potentially that if a Court found that there HAD BEEN NO change in circumstances (the first limb of the test in leave to oppose adoption), post Re B, an appeal about that would probably be on the basis of whether the Judge was wrong, the second limb (given that change, is it in the child’s interests to reopen the case) would, in my mind, be on the basis of whether the Judge was plainly wrong.

But until the Court of Appeal tell us what they think about any suggestions that the Re B formulation will bleed out beyond simply threshold cases, we won’t know. Nor do we know whether that ‘wrong’ versus ‘plainly wrong’ formulation will bleed out into cases much wider than the Children Act 1989 and Adoption and Children Act 2002.

I remain amazed, that the Supreme Court ever considered that introducing a two tier test for appeals, and not clearly setting out how one is to sift categories, was something that they needed to do, or that it was ‘little more than nuance’

Supreme Court and emotional harm

The Supreme Court judgment in Re B is out, and can be read in full here:-

 

http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0022_Judgment.pdf

For the too-long didn’t read version, the parents lost. The case was hoped to clarify emotional harm, and whether it justifies State intervention, and whether the risk of future emotional harm (when it becomes somewhat tenuous and predictive) justifies the most draconian of orders, a plan for adoption.

There was an excellent preview of the case by Celtic Knot over on Pink Tape, here

http://pinktape.co.uk/cases/rescuing-children-from-significant-harm-looking-forward-with-trepidation-and-hope/

and it sets out the backdrop to this case very clearly and why it was that he and I were both hoping that the parents would succeed. In all of this debate, I am mindful that  (a) I haven’t had the chance to read or hear all of the evidence and (b) that the case sadly involves real people and a real child.  Sadly, as it has important principles, it is something that needs to be discussed in broader terms than just the tragedy for the immediate family.

Frankly, my reading of the Re B Court of Appeal decision was that there was a lot that professionals were worried about or anxious about, but none of it actually amounted to proof that the child was at risk of significant harm. [I stress, this may very well be a fault of the Court of Appeal judgment in not properly framing how they found threshold to be crossed, rather than on professionals involved in the case]

 

I think the closest it came to threshold was in this passage here

It was the diagnosis of Dr Bass, which Judge Cryan accepted, that, beyond  abnormal personality traits and in additi on to, and more significantly than, her  somatisation disorder, M suffers a factitious  disorder of mild to moderate intensity.

This is a related psychiatric disorder in  which the sufferer is driven repeatedly to exaggerate symptoms or altogether to fabricate them and to offer false histories.

There is therefore a deceptive dimension to  the disorder which was replicated in a  mass of other evidence before the judg e, unrelated to M’s medical condition,  which raised questions about  her ability, and for that matter  also the ability of F, to behave honestly with professionals. Dr Bass  stressed that M’s psychiatric disorders required psychotherapy which might last for a year and which could be undertaken  only if she were to acknowledge the problems and to engage honestly with the therapist.

 

 

Undoubtedly within the case, and the Supreme Court gave multiple examples, there had been incidents where claims had been made by M which the Court found to be untrue, and they were florid claims. That much, I don’t disagree with.  The decision of the Court of Appeal that this crossed the threshold seemed, to me, to fall short on the critical area of actual evidence that it HAD harmed the child or was a risk of harming the child, and not merely in nebulous “Jedi-hand-wave” terms – what was it that was said the parents might do that would harm this child, and how likely was it that they would do it?

 

The original trial judge said this:-

The judge concluded: “Ultimately, I find that I am persuaded… that what the evidence  clearly demonstrates is that these parents do not have the capacity to  engage with professionals in such  a way that their behaviour will be  either controlled or amended to  bring about an environment where  [Amelia] would be safe… In short I cannot see that there is any  sufficiently reliable way that I can fulfil my duty  to [Amelia] to  protect her from harm and still place her with her parents. I  appreciate that in so saying I am depriving her of a relationship  which, young though she  is, is important to  her and depriving her  and her parents of that family life which this court strives to promote.”

 

Again, that seems to me to be a legitimate decision for the Judge who heard the evidence to take ONCE it was established that the threshold was crossed. If there WAS a risk of harm, then whether the parents could manage that harm, take advice, work with professionals and change their behaviour is massively relevant.

But did we ever cross the threshold on the facts as reported?

My fundamental issue is this – if one cannot put into a paragraph, or a page, what harm it was that the State was protecting this child from, I am not sure that the harm is actually properly made out. [Not a criticism of the LA involved – I  haven’t read the papers, I don’t know the whole case, but from the twin judgments I have seen, I don’t see anything that comes close to telling the parents, or the public, what it was that this child was being protected FROM – other than very peculiar behaviour short of abuse]

 

One focus of the appeal was the wording of the threshold criteria (the test that the State has to cross before a Care Order can be made) which is “significant harm”  and whether the law has wrongly developed to an extent where it is now hard to see the distinction, in law, between harm and significant harm.

 

If one were to get a family lawyer to draw up two columns, one headed Harm, and one headed Significant Harm, and then gave them a series of allegations, would all of the family lawyers put each allegation in the same column ? would there be broad consistency about which is which, perhaps with a few grey areas? Or in fact, would nearly everything go into the “significant harm” column.

 

Here is what the Supreme Court have to say

26.  In my view this court should avoid attempting to explain the word “significant”. It would be a gloss; attention might then turn to the meaning of the  gloss and, albeit with the best of intentions, the courts might find in due course that they had travelled far from  the word itself. Nevertheless it might be worthwhile to  note that in the White Paper which preceded the 1989 Act, namely The Law on  Child Care and Family Services, Cm 62, January 1987, the government stated, at para 60:

“It is intended that “likely ha rm” should cover all cases of unacceptable risk in which it may be necessary to balance the chance of the harm occurring against the magnitude of that harm if it does”

The Supreme Court also rejected the applicant’s submission that when a Court determines whether or not the threshold is crossed, article 8 is engaged, and determined that article 8 only arises when the Court are deciding whether or not to make an order.   [I can’t say that i am happy about THAT either]

 

The second matter relates to Mr Feehan’s submission that the threshold set  by section 31(2) is not crossed if the deficits relate only to the character of the parents rather than to the quality of their parenting. His alternative submission is  that harm suffered or likely to be suffered by a child as a result of parental action or inaction may cross the threshold only if,  in so acting or failing to act, the parent or parents were deliberately or intentionally to have caused or to be likely to cause such harm. M is, of course, not responsible for her personality traits nor for her psychiatric disorders; and in effect the submission is that the dishonesty,animosities and obstructionism of the parents represent deficits only of character

and that, if and insofar as they might cause harm to Amelia,whom they love, the harm is neither deliberate nor intentional

 

This is an interesting one, taking us into issues of free will and determinism. I would agree partly with Mr Feehan QC  – I think that the threshold ought to get into quality of parenting or how the parenting impacts on the child, but I don’t go as far as saying that a parent is not responsible for elements of their personality which are beyond their control. (The latter, seems to me, to invite later ligitation on the basis of paedophilia being intrinsic to a person, rather than a conscious or deliberate choice on their part)

The Supreme Court rejected this anyway.  

 

One interesting addition from the Supreme Court was their debate about whether, when deciding whether a lower Court had mistakenly found threshold to be crossed (or vice versa) the test for the appellant Court should be the usual one (derived from Piglowska) that the Court had been “plainly wrong”  or whether in the context of the threshold, which is a binary value judgment – the evidence is there to satisfy it, or it is not, the test should simply be whether they were “wrong”

it is generally better to allow adjectives to speak for themselves without adverbial  support. What does “plainly” add to “wrong”? Either the word adds nothing or it serves to treat the determination under challenge with some slight extra level of generosity apt to one which is discretionary but not to one which is evaluative.

Like all other members of the court, I  consider that appellate review of a  determination whether the threshold is crossed should be conducted by reference  simply to whether it was wrong.

 

 

I think they may come to regret that formulation.

 

Going to the issue of threshold this passage in the judgment outlines why the majority of the Judges found that it was met and the decision was not wrong

The nature of the harm which concerned Judge Cryan was (i) “the emotional harm to [Amelia] likely to be caused by” (a) “the Mother’s somatisation disorder and factitious illness disorder”,

(b) “concerns … about the parents’ personality traits”,

(c) “her mother’s lying”,

(d) her father’s “active, but less chronic, tendency to dishonest

y and vulnerability to the misuse of drugs”, and

(ii) “physical harm to [Amelia]” which “can not be discounted, for example, by over treatment or inappropriate treatment by doctors”.

As to the possibility of such harm being prevented or acceptably mitigated, the Judge concluded that Amelia’s parents did not have “the capacity to engage with professionals in such a way that their behaviour will either be controlled or amended to bring about an environment where [Amelia] would be safe”. He explained that the result of this was that he could think of no “sufficiently reliable way” in which he could “fulfil [his] duty”

to Amelia “to protect her from harm and still place her with her parents”.

 

66. Those conclusions are concerned with what may be characterised as risks, prospects or possible outcomes, and they

are not, therefore, findings of primary fact, let alone conclusions of law. As explained above, they are evaluations based

on the findings of primary fact, and on assessments of character and likely behaviour and attitudes, made by the Judge

as a result of many days of considering oral and written evidence and also as a result of hearing argument. They are

evaluations which are also plainly dependant on the Judge’s overall assessment of  the witnesses, and in particular on his opinion as to the character and dependability of Amelia’s mother and father, and as tothe reliability of the assessments of the expert witnesses. His conclusions appear to me to be ones to which, to put it at its lowest, he was fully entitled to come on the evidence he had heard and assessed. In other words, they were justified in terms of logic and common sense in the light of his findings of primary fact and his assessment of the witnesses, and they were coherently formulated. There is no basis in my view, for saying that they were wrong.

 

Sadly, to me, it seems that the Supreme Court have tackled this case in that very narrow way, rather than comparing the threshold said to be met in this case with the doctrines of Lord Templeman and Justice Hedley, about the difference between abusive parenting which harms a child or is likely to harm a child, and eccentric odd or even poor parenting which falls short of that mark.  I slightly have to wonder why they agreed to hear the appeal at all if they were not going to roll up their sleeves and tackle the issue of emotional harm. They just really said that it was a matter for the trial judge which side of the line the case fell on, unless it was apparent that he had got that wrong.

 

Lady Hale in her judgment, which in my mind actually tackled the issues and concluded in the dissenting judgment that the original judge was wrong to have made a Care Order,  sets out what practitioners felt was the key issue in the case in her opening paragraphs

 

143. This case raises some profound questions about the scope of courts’ powers to take away children from their birth families when what is feared is, not physical abuse or neglect, but emotional or psychological harm. We are all frail human beings, with our fair share of unattractive character traits, which sometimes manifest themselves in bad behaviours which may be copied by our children. But the State does not and cannot take away the children of all the people who commit crimes, who abuse alcohol or drugs, who suffer from physical or mental illnesses or disabilities, or who espouse anti-social political or religious beliefs. Indeed, in Dickson v United Kingdom (2007) 46 EHRR 937, the Strasbourg court held that the refusal of artificial insemination facilities to a convicted murderer and the wife whom he had met while they were both in prison was a breach of their rights under article 8 of the European Convention.

 

How is the law to distinguish between emotional or psychological harm, which warrants the compulsory intervention of the State, and the normal and natural tendency of children to grow up to be and behave like their parents?

 

144.Added to this is the problem that the harm which is feared may take many years to materialise, if indeed it ever does. Every child is an individual, with her own character and personality. Many children are remarkably resilient. They do not all inherit their parents’ less attractive characters or copy their less attractive behaviours. Indeed some will consciously reject them. They have many other positive influences in their lives which can help them to resist the negative, whether it is their schools, their friends, or other people around them. How confident do we have to be that a child will indeed suffer harm because of her parents’ character and behaviour before we separate them for good?

 

Hear hear

 

 

Sadly all of this next bit is by the by, since it is from the dissenting judgment, but I think it is all correct, and I wish it were an accurate reflection of what the law was, post Re B

The reason for adopting a comparatively low threshold of likelihood is clear: some harm is so catastrophic that even a relatively small degree of likelihood should be sufficient to justify the state in intervening to protect the child before it happens, for example from death or serious injury or sexual abuse. But it is clear that Lord Nichollsdid not contemplate that a relatively small degree of likelihood would be sufficient in all cases.

 

The corollary of “the more serious the harm, the less likely it has to be” is that “the less serious the harm, the more likely it has to be”.

 

 

Of course, another reason for adopting a test of “real possibility”, rather than “more likely than not”, is that it is extremely difficult to predict the future and to do so with the sort of accuracy which would enable a court to say that it was more likely than not that a parent would harm a child in the future. Once again, this is a particular problem with emotional or psychological harm, which may take many years to manifest itself. The Act does not set limits upon when the harm may be likely to occur and clearly the court is entitled to look to the medium and longer term as well as to the child’s immediate future.

 

190 However, the longer term the prospect of harm, the greater the degree of uncertainty about whether it will actually happen. The child’s resilience or resistance, and the many protective influences at work in the community, whether from the wider family, their friends, their neighbourhoods, the health and social services and, perhaps above all, their schools, mean that it may never happen. The degree of likelihood must be such as justify compulsory intervention now, for there is always the possibility of compulsory intervention later, should the “real possibility” solidify

191. The second element in the threshold sheds some light upon these questions. The harm, or the likelihood of harm, must be “attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if an order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him”(s 31(2)(b)). This reinforces the view that it is a deficiency in parental care, rather than in parental character, which must cause the harm. It also means that the court should be able to identify what that deficiency in care might be and how likely it is to happen.

 

For my part, I am unsure why the other Judges did not share those views, they seem to me eminently sensible and fair. In reality, it is merely a sieve to remove the sort of cases that Lord Templeman and Hedley LJ were referring to as being short of the level of parenting that requires State intervention.

I also feel somewhat for Lady Hale, who has given excellent judgments in many of the Supreme Court cases but seems to be being characterised as the dissenter who does not sway the majority.

Supreme Court to give judgment on emotional harm case on 12th June

An interesting report from Family Law Week, confirming that the Re B case will be determined by the Supreme Court on 12th June, and I will write about it as soon as I get the judgment

 http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed114264

 The Court of Appeal decision is one that I blogged about here :-

 https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/11/16/lies-and-the-lying-liars-who-tell-them/

 The reason that the case is important is that the threshold in the case was based entirely on emotional harm. I disagree with some of my readers about how prevalent that is  (my own experience of many, many Local Authorities over many, many years is that whilst emotional harm is a facet of lots of cases, I have NEVER picked up a case where the threshold contained nothing other than emotional harm. Ian Josephs says fairly that the people who come to him are invariably emotional harm cases). 

At the very least, it is plain that emotional harm is a controversial basis for separation of families, and it is probably the greyest area that we currently have, so it is good to see it being tackled.

 On the facts reported in Re B, I thought that the Court of Appeal were wrong in finding that the threshold was made out, and wrong further in moving to the conclusion that this meant that permanent separation was justified.  My heart is with the parents on this one, I have to say.

 There were certainly issues with the parents and there was certainly a suggestion that there would have been unusual features of the way the child would be brought up, but I did not see in the judgment I read evidence that the child was being harmed or likely to be harmed by it.

 

A classic bit of Hedley J, as far as I was concerned

 

Re L (Care threshold criteria) 2006  ”Society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent. It follows too that children will inevitably have both very different experiences of parenting and very unequal consequences flowing from it. It means that some children will experience disadvantage and harm, whilst others flourish in atmospheres of loving security and emotional stability. These are the consequences of our fallible humanity and it is not the provenance of the State to spare children all the consequences of defective parenting. In any event, it simply could not be done. … It would be unwise to a degree to attempt an all embracing definition of significant harm. One never ceases to be surprised at the extent of complication and difficulty that human beings manage to introduce into family life.”

 

As some people remarked to me at the time, there must have been more to it than came out in the Court of Appeal judgment. That might be the case, but in which case, I consider there to be a fault in the judgment  – if a parent is to be separated from their child by the State, the least we can offer them is a fair judgment that sets out plainly why that has to be the case.

 I think it is important that if the State is removing children for emotional harm, which is such a slippery concept to pin down (as opposed to fractures, sexual abuse or even neglect), it is important to have some parameters as to what that might mean, and where the bright line is between unusual and eccentric parenting and harmful parenting.

I will be interested to see what the Supreme Court makes of this, and as an incidental, I think Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony has a great, great title.  I have vowed, and will hold to it, that in the vanishingly unlikely event that the Government go bananas and make me a peer of the realm, I shall go by the name of Lord Vader, but that title does tempt me. Perhaps I could be Lord Ebony-cum-Ivory…