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Tape recording of an expert (a SHOCKING case)

Truly, absolutely shocking.

This was a set of care proceedings, transferred up to the High Court before Mr Justice Hayden. A  consultant clinical psychologist, Dr Ben Harper, was instructed by the Court to assess the mother. The mother unknown to him, tape recorded their sessions. After the report of Dr Harper arrived, containing words set out in quotation marks attributed to the mother that she says she did not say, those tape recordings were transcribed and showed that she was correct.

 

Re F (A Minor) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2149.html

 

Here are the findings that mother’s team invited the Court to make – you’ll see that they are very powerful  (perhaps even career-damaging stuff)

 

  1. Ms Taryn Lee QC and Ms Olivia Weir prepared a very extensive schedule prefaced by the following summary of the findings they invited the Court to make:
    1. 1. Dr Harper has either misread or exaggerated the mother’s presentation during the appointments. The recordings do not support the assertion that the mother was at any point agitated, abrupt, irritated, defensive or frustrated. Indeed in respect of (iii) and (v) the conversations never, in fact, took place.

2. Dr Harper misrepresents, inaccurately surmises and/or falsely asserts that the mother made comments listed in the body of the schedule. The comments set out and attributed to the mother were either (a) not said by her in those terms, or (b) other factual information provided by the mother has been re-interpreted by Dr Harper and presented as a quote of the mother with a negative or twisted emphasis attached to it. Dr Harper then uses these ‘quotations’ by the mother to form his conclusions and recommendations.

3. Dr Harper records that the mother reported/stated various facts and/or provided the accounts listed below when in fact there is no evidence during either appointment that the subject was even discussed or if the subject was discussed these comments were not made at any point. Dr Harper has fabricated these conversations/responses and has chosen to attribute negative comments to the mother including assertions that during the assessment sessions the mother called previous experts liars, which she simply has not done. Dr Harper has abused his position of trust as a professional and as a doctor and his actions in fabricating these conversations, comments and conclusions are abusive to this vulnerable mother and are a contempt of court.

4. Dr Harper states that he completed the following psychometric tests: It is not easy to discern at what point in the assessment sessions Dr. Harper states he administered these psychometric tests and he is invited to provide (a) all of the relevant guidance and assessment papers/questions and identify within the transcripts where the assessments were conducted.

5. Dr Harper suggests that the mother was reluctant and/or unable to provide information in the following matters: Dr Harper did not, in fact, ask any specific or structured questions to elicit a response to any of the matters that he then seeks to criticise the mother for and in respect of. Some matters that he suggests she refused to provide information/answer questions in respect of [they] were never at any point raised by Dr Harper.

6. Dr Harper misrepresents what the mother has actually said, in such a manner as to create a negative impression of the mother in the examples identified.

7. Dr Harper inaccurately quotes other experts’ reports in a manner that presents a negative impression of the mother.

8. Dr Harper then relies upon his own false reporting of what the mother is supposed to have said to reach his conclusions, which ultimately lead to a recommendation of separation of the siblings and adoption of the youngest two children.

9. It is asserted that neither Dr Harper’s handwritten notes nor his comments regarding the 6th April 2016 can be relied upon for the reasons asserted in the schedule.

  1. As these findings were particularised it became clear that the allegations extended to: ‘false reporting’; ‘inaccurate quoting’ designed to present the Mother in a ‘negative light’; ‘fabrication of conversations’ and deliberate ‘misrepresentation’. In cross examination Ms Lee accused Dr Harper of ‘lying’.

 

 

Holy wow.

 

Dr Harper was invited to intervene in the proceedings, and was represented by Fenella Morris QC.

 

The Judge did not approach the matter on the basis of the schedule of findings drawn up  (that’s rather annoying for me, as it would have helped to look at such particularised findings, but that was a judicial decision)

 

  1. Whilst I am full of admiration for the industry which underpins the extensive schedule prepared by the Mother’s team and the equal energy expended in the detailed response document, I am bound to say that the two do not provide a user friendly framework to negotiate the contested issues. Partly for this reason but primarily because I consider it to be a distraction, I do not propose to address many of the minute allegations which, as I have indicated during the course of exchanges with counsel, are of varying cogency and forensic weight. What I propose to do is to analyse, in what I consider to be a proportionate manner, those allegations which it is necessary for me to determine in order properly to resolve the issues in the care proceedings. Thereafter I must consider a further important question: are the findings made out against Dr Harper sufficiently serious so as to render his evidence in these proceedings unreliable?

 

  1. Dr Harper’s report is dated 11th April 2016, it is 70 pages in length. At its conclusion it contains the following, now standard, declarations:
  2. i) ‘I have exercised reasonable care and skill in order to be accurate and complete in preparing this report’;

ii) ‘I understand that this report will form the evidence to be given under oath or affirmation’;

iii) ‘I am likely to be the subject of public adverse criticism by the Judge if the Court concluded that I have not taken reasonable care in trying to meet the standards set out above’;

iv) ‘I confirm that I have acted in accordance with the Codes of Practice for Experts’.

  1. Finally, the ‘STATEMENT OF TRUTH’ appears at the very end of the report. Familiar though it is, it requires to be repeated here:
    1. “I confirm that the contents of this report are true to the best of my knowledge and that I make this report knowing that if it is tendered in evidence, I would be liable to prosecution if I have wilfully stated anything that I would know to be false or that I do not believe to be true”

 

Responding directly to the schedule of findings sought by mother’s team, Dr Harper said this

 

  1. Responding directly to the schedule Dr Harper makes this concession:
    1. 12. There are a number of occasions where I have referred to Mrs Mother as having said something by way of italicised text within double quotes. It is quite clear to me that anyone reading my report would have interpreted these as suggesting they were verbatim quotes. I did not, however, take verbatim notes and a number of sentences attributed to Mother are inaccurate.”

 

Yes, if I read a report from an expert that said

 

Mother said she was sorry for all the trouble she had caused

I would think that there was an apology along those lines but not that this represented a verbatim account but

 

Mother said “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused”

 

I would read as being, the expert is reporting the words that she used and is stating with confidence that she used those words.

So having remarks in quotation marks that mother did not actually say is a significant deficiency.

What did the Judge say about that?

  1. I have read this paragraph a number of times. It seems to me to do Dr Harper no credit at all. It is crafted in a way that seems designed to minimise the extent of the very significant failing it represents. When pursued in cross examination it was revealed that extensive parts of the report which purport, by the conventional grammatical use of quotation marks, to be direct quotations from the Mother, are in fact nothing of the kind. They are a collection of recollections and impressions compressed into phrases created by Dr Harper and attributed to the Mother. They convey to the reader of the report only one impression, namely that they represent the authentic voice of Mother herself. The quotations are also italicised and drafted in full sentences in the idiom of the Mother rather than in the formal argot of psychology which characterises the remainder of the report. Within the context of the evaluative exercise that the Court is involved in, during care proceedings, the accurately reported phrases and observations of the parties themselves are inevitably afforded much greater forensic weight than e.g. opinion evidence, hearsay or summary by a third party. It is very likely that a Judge reading such ‘quotations’ in the report of an experienced expert witness will at least start with the strong presumption that they have been accurately and fairly recorded. It is, to my mind inconceivable that a witness of Dr Harper’s experience, which I have taken care to set out in some detail above, would not have appreciated this. Indeed, it strikes me that it would be obvious to any lay party or member of the public. Moreover, I find the concession in the statement, where mention is made of ‘a number of sentences’ is a complete distortion of the reality of the document. The report is heavy with apparent reference to direct speech when, in truth, almost none of it is. Thus, the material supporting the ultimate conclusion appears much stronger than it actually is. Given the forensic experience of Dr Harper and his extremely impressive academic background I cannot accept that he would have failed to appreciate the profound consequences of such distorted reporting.
  2. In the course of the public law proceedings the Court authorised interviews between one of the children and Dr Harper. I very much regret to say that the purported quotations in that report i.e. presented as if they were the words of the child himself are also nothing of the kind. Dr Harper used the same approach there. They are in fact a jumble of phrases extracted from jottings and / or perceived recollection. Dr Harper voluntarily submitted his notes to scrutiny, they can properly be characterised as minimal. They prompted this submission on behalf of the children’s Guardian by Mr Cohen QC and Mr Edwards:
    1. “It is hard to know why Dr Harper has reported as he has. His methodology and minimal notes of the 3 meetings with the mother would have made it very difficult to accurately record what she had said. The court will form its own view as to his evidence. We do not suggest that he had an intent to mislead but he showed a carelessness which verged towards recklessness in making statements which he must or should have known were to be relied upon. His evidence may also have shown an overconfidence in his own professional judgment and ability that was indifferent to the correct assessment process.”

 

 

I am genuinely shocked by this. It undermines a lot of credibility of expert witnesses, if an expert attributes quotations to a parent and a child that they did not say, that were ‘impressions’ and that the note keeping was minimal.

 

As these ‘quotations’ were not present in the tape-recorded formal sessions, there was some consideration of whether they were instead conversations or discussions that took place at one meeting on 6th April, which appears to have been a contact session and two discussions on the way in and way out of the session

 

  1. Ms Lee and Ms Weir pitch the findings they seek very highly indeed, they are of the utmost gravity. It is for this reason that I required counsel to be very clear about the legal framework. Ms Lee has, in the proper presentation of her case, repeatedly impugned Dr Harper’s integrity and honesty during the course of her cross examination. It is alleged that he has fabricated the fact of the discussions between himself and the Mother and, says Ms Lee, where there is no written note of any topic of discussion it has been, in effect, invented by Dr Harper. There is no ambivalence in the way Ms Lee advances her case. In her closing written submission she asserts:
    1. “For the avoidance of doubt, it is submitted on behalf of the mother that Dr Harper’s account of the ‘discussions’ that took place on the 6 April is a lie. Likewise his handwritten note is a fabricated document (Finding 9) in which he has attempted to back-fill some of the gaps that he knew would come to light once he was alerted to the fact that the assessment sessions on the 15 and 23 March 2016 had been recorded; he of course being present at both sessions and knowing exactly what he discussed and what he did not. As such, it is submitted that his handwritten note can not be relied upon.”
  2. Given that the earlier meetings were recorded and transcribed it must follow that the purported quotations from the Mother not covered on those sessions must therefore have taken place at the meeting at the contact centre on the 6th April 2016. This inevitably therefore has been the focus of the dispute at this hearing. The first conflict of evidence is as to the length of the meeting. There were in fact two meetings, one before the children arrived for an observed contact session and a second later encounter in the car park at the conclusion of the session.
  3. The 6th April was a day on which plans went awry. The Mother had been led to believe that her meeting with Dr Harper was to provide her with advice on how best to manage the eldest child’s challenging behaviour. On Dr Harper’s account he had decided to change the agenda and look at what he has referred to as ‘the inconsistencies of the Mother’s various narrative accounts’. He had, to my mind, settled on the view, for reasons that I will come to below, that this was the key issue in this case. The undoubtedly discrepant histories of her own childhood and relationships recorded from the Mother are, as Ms Morris QC (on behalf of Dr Harper) describes them, ‘polar opposites’ and ‘at a 180 degrees to each other’. Essentially, there is both a light and benign version of these issues alongside a dark and abusive account. In any event what is clear is that the Mother finds discussion of both these areas to be highly unsettling and distressing. That she would do so was anticipated by Dr Harper but nonetheless so important was this issue to him that he forced it through in circumstances which were, in my judgement, insensitive to the Mother. Of course it follows from this comment that I have accepted his account of the 6th April, at least in part. In fairness I should record that Dr Harper offered the Mother a further appointment which she did not take up.
  4. In addition, building work was being undertaken at the contact centre and it was necessary to shorten the contact. This had not been communicated to the Mother, Dr Harper or I assume the children either. The conditions both in which to observe contact and to undertake important features of the assessment of the Mother were inimical to constructive and fair assessment. I am satisfied that the Mother was understandably upset and that Dr Harper’s account of her as agitated is an honest expression of his perception.
  5. The second meeting in the car park was cursory and ended peremptorily in the rain. The first meeting was, on either party’s view no longer than 15 minutes. It is not necessary for me to resolve the conflict as to the duration of the meeting, there is very little between the Mother’s recollection and Dr Harper’s. What is significant is that in this period Dr Harper contends that he dealt with somewhere between 13 and approximately 20 significant points of assessment.

 

 

[That does not sound terribly plausible]

 

  1. From his notes of assessment it is clear that some of the issues were discussed. The notes are silent on other issues. In his analysis Mr Cohen submits that Dr Harper ‘has produced no satisfactory explanation of the inconsistencies nor is his credit enhanced by what seems to us to be an unwillingness to recognise the effect of his wrongdoing’. This leads Mr Cohen further to submit:
    1. “We suggest that as a result of his admissions the burden should shift to him to show that he has accurately reported the gist of what the mother has said in interviews. In light of the above this is a difficult burden for him to satisfy and he has failed to do so.
  2. Ms Morris vigorously resists this approach, she contends that the burden of proof rests on the applicant and does not shift. I agree. Certainly Dr Harper’s admissions require him to explain his admitted misconduct but they do not cast upon him some additional burden of proving the accuracy of his notes of what he contends the Mother said to him in interview.
  3. I do not propose further to burden this judgment with a list of the various topics which Dr Harper contends were discussed on the 6th April. In response to Mr Cohen Dr Harper accepted that there were 13 topics. I simply fail to see how this range of challenging and difficult material could have been covered to the extent that Dr Harper purports in such a limited time. It would have involved rapid fire question and answer on each topic. Given the circumstances and the nature of the material, such a process would have also required a degree of brutality or at least gross insensitivity. The subject matters ranged across e.g. domestic abuse, childhood experiences, sexual issues. Having listened to Dr Harper in the witness box he does not strike me for a moment as a man capable of such crassness. His work has been widely respected. I do consider that there was an enthusiastic effort by him to cover some of the material that day. I entirely accept his evidence that his notes are genuine and not fabricated, as Ms Lee contends, but I find on the balance of probabilities that some, though not necessarily all, of the material which is not corroborated by the notes was most likely drawn from other sources and incorporated into the report again as if it were direct speech from the Mother to Dr Harper.

 

 

The Judge’s overall impression and his decision about whether Dr Harper’s report could be relied upon in the care proceedings :-

 

  1. The overall impression is of an expert who is overreaching his material, in the sense that whilst much of it is rooted in genuine reliable secure evidence, it is represented in such a way that it is designed to give it its maximum forensic impact. That involves a manipulation of material which is wholly unacceptable and, at very least, falls far below the standard that any Court is entitled to expect of any expert witness. It simply cannot be reconciled with those duties which I have pointedly set out above at para 10 and 11. Moreover, it is manifestly unfair to the Mother, who it should be emphasised is battling to achieve the care of her children whilst trying to manage life with diagnosed PTSD. Ipso facto this is a case of unique gravity and importance. Common law principles of fairness and justice demand, as do Articles 6 & 8 of the ECHR, a process in which both the children and the parents can properly participate in a real sense which respects their autonomy. Dr Harper’s professional failure here compromised the fairness of the process for both Mother and children. These are fundamental principles emphasised in Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 and Re A [2015] EWFC 11.
  2. Mr Rowley, on behalf of the Local Authority, submits that Dr Harper’s central thesis is probably correct. He summarises it succinctly thus:
    1. “Dr Harper’s concern about the mother’s inability to provide a consistent narrative about her relationship history and childhood experiences is again objectively valid. It cannot be sensibly argued that the mother has done anything other than provide wildly divergent accounts of such experiences. Whether this is, indeed, impression management or the consequences of her PTSD it robs the psychological professional of a baseline for diagnosis and thus prognosis and treatment recommendations. This makes it, as Dr Harper concludes, difficult (to say the least) for measurement and management of risk.”
  3. Mr Rowley may very well be right. He goes on to suggest that notwithstanding the significant criticisms made of Dr Harper, his report should be allowed to stand, with the Judge who hears the case entitled to give it such weight, if any, as he thinks fit. I disagree. These are such fundamental failures of methodology that I do not consider any Judge could fairly rely on the conclusions. Furthermore, there is an inevitable risk that were I not to order that a new expert be instructed the Judge might at the conclusion of the hearing find a lacuna in the evidence in consequence of his being unable to rely on Dr Harper’s opinion. That would result in further delay for the children in a case where I have been told the final hearing is now unlikely to be effective in any event. The delay in this case in already unacceptable, the harm caused to the children because of it is the responsibility of the professionals not, I emphasise, the Mother.
  4. I should say that my conclusions here are predicated substantially on my evaluation of Dr Harper’s evidence and the available written material. I have found myself unable to place a great deal of weight on the Mother’s own evidence even where my findings are essentially in her favour. I agree with Ms Morris, who advances the point sensitively and elegantly, when she says that the issue in the Mother’s evidence is ‘reliability’ not ‘credibility’. Her reliability is sadly compromised by her inconsistent accounts which may well be, as Dr Harper has postulated, a facet of her psychological distress. I have in mind Re H-C ( Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 136 and R v Lucas [1981] QB 720.
  5. Finally, there has been much discussion at the Bar as to how I should characterise Dr Harper’s professional failings. Ultimately I have come to the conclusion that the language or nomenclature is irrelevant. What matters is the substance of my findings and their impact on these children.
  6. Ms Lee is right to emphasise the observations of Butler-Sloss (P) in Re U: Re B (serious injury;standard of proof) [2004] 2 FLR 263 at para 23iv:
    1. “The court must always be on guard against the over-dogmatic expert, the expert whose reputation or amour-propre is at stake, or the expert who has developed a scientific prejudice”
  7. I do not consider that Dr Harper has developed a scientific prejudice nor that he is jealous to guard his amour-propre but I do consider that his disregard for the conventional principles of professional method and analysis displays a zealotry which he should recognise as a danger to him as a professional and, more importantly, to those who I believe he is otherwise genuinely motivated to help and whom he plainly has much to offer.

 

 

[I’m not sure why the Courts have felt that amour-propre is an expression in common use, but basically ‘reputation’ would do the trick just as well – the self-esteem that comes from the opinion of others]

 

It is a bitterly ironic twist that part of the disputed attributed quotations were Dr Harper stating that the mother had been critical of other (past) experts, calling them liars.

 

This concept of an expert taking an impression but then attributing quotations to the mother that she did not say and that the notes could have given no indication of her having said is a truly shocking one.  As the Judge says, doing this gives the conclusions and recommendations of the report far more weight as it seems to come directly from mother, she condemning herself out of her own mouth, rather than the expert stating that he had the impression  (which of course can be cross-examined as to the forensic basis of this)

Let us be honest – if the mother simply asserted that she had not said this, and had not tape-recorded the sessions, who would have been believed? We have to be able to trust experts – they may genuinely form the wrong opinion, and may be shifted in cross-examination, but there has to be trust that if a report says  Mother said “X Y Z” that she actually said those things.  Future of children is at stake here.  We must demand higher standards from experts than we would of political journalists, surely.

 

(I’m reminded a little of the Overegging the Pudding case  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/11/28/over-egging-the-pudding/    though of course this goes still further, from cherry-picking only the negatives to flat out creation of quotations that the mother did not in fact say)

 

It is also an interesting comparison, given that both were Hayden J to the criticism he made of the ISW in the radicalisation case (which were about competence rather than integrity) and the fairer process here where the expert had the opportunity to be represented and respond to the criticisms – in both cases they could have a serious impact on livelihood of the experts, for whom reputation is a vital component in them obtaining future instructions.

Woman who sparked versus Magical Sparkle Powers

You might remember this Court of Protection case

A life that sparkles

where a woman was found by the Court of Protection to have capacity to refuse medical treatment, even though doing so would be likely to bring about her death. The woman had some unusual (though capacitous) ideas about how she wanted to live, and she preferred to leave life whilst she still felt glamourous and sparkling, rather than to limp on in life and eventually fade away. It was an interesting case, with a lot to debate. As a result of this decision, she did die, leaving three children, one of whom was still a minor. Very sad case.

Sadly, some of the mainstream Press, having spent years sobbing outside the doors of the Court of Protection wanting to be let in to report responsibly, rather let themselves down, with the reporting they carried out

 

 

  • The application came before me on 9 December 2015. In summary, the statements filed in support of it show that:

 

i) V and G have been distressed by having to be involved in the COP proceedings, and by the extensive media interest in the information about C and their family that was provided to the COP, which appears to them to have been precipitated not only by a wish to report and comment on the bases on which the COP reached its decision but also to attract prurient interest in their mother’s sexual and relationship history (including her relationship with her children V, G and A).ii) At the time of the hearing before MacDonald J, neither V nor G anticipated the possibility that C and her family would be named in the press and that photographs of them would be published. Their attention was entirely taken up with the decision the COP was required to make and its implications.

iii) C’s youngest daughter, A, is a teenager who was already suffering from fragile mental health which has manifested itself in her physical conduct. The suicide attempt of her mother and her subsequent refusal of life-sustaining treatment despite A’s request to her to accept treatment, with which A had a direct and stressful involvement, have understandably had an appalling impact on A’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.

iv) A has already been negatively affected by the media coverage of the family, despite attempts by her father to shield her from it. Inevitably, A has now been told about certain very limited aspects of the COP’s reasoning, including negative descriptions of her mother’s character, which have upset her further. A’s father and one of her teachers are sure that if her mother is named, this will have an even more serious effect on A’s mental wellbeing and her ability to cope at school. V also asks the court to have regard to the serious risks of harassment of A not only directly from people around her, e.g. at school, but also on the internet including and in particular through social media.

v) There have been numerous attempts by journalists to contact the family and people with a previous relationship with C and her children.

vi) Family photographs have been obtained and published in a pixelated form.

 

  • Before the reporting restrictions order was extended:

 

i) At around 5.30 pm on Wednesday 2 December 2015 a reporter from the Daily Mail went to the home of A’s father (an ex-husband of C) where A lives. A answered the door and without saying who she was the reporter asked to speak to her father using his name, V asked who she was and was told that she was a journalist from the Daily Mail, A’s father came downstairs and the journalist asked if he would talk to her about his ex-wife. He refused and the journalist left.ii) On the evening of 2 December 2015 a reporter from the Mail on Sunday was asking questions about C in one of the pubs in the village where A and her father live. This was reported to V by friends in the village.

 

  • More generally, the evidence indicates that on unspecified dates (a) the Daily Mail and the Sun contacted C’s third ex-husband in America, and (b) a journalist went to see the husband of the housekeeper of flats where G had once lived seeking G’s current details on the basis that he was writing a memorial piece about G’s mother and was sure that G would want to speak to him. During his visit he opened C’s Facebook page.
  • Some of the coverage contains pixelated photographs of C, V and G. It is plain that some of these photographs have been chosen as photographs that emphasise the aspects of the published accounts that are of prurient interest and there is at least a risk, particularly in respect to C, that she would be recognised by some people.
  • Examples of reporting in the Times (4 December), the Daily Mail (6 December) and the Sun Online (6 December), are highlighted by V:

 

i) the Times ran a pixelated photograph of C on its front page with a caption “Voluntary death. The socialite allowed to die at 50 rather than grow old had a narcissistic disorder, doctors said. A court ruling blocked her identification. Page 7”. The article at page 7 was under the headline: “I won’t become an old banger” there was a further pixelated photograph of C standing by a car and a pixelated photograph of one of C’s adult daughters,ii) the Daily Mail at pages 26 and 27 published the same pixelated photograph as that on the front page of the Times and the article had the headline: “Revealed: Truth about the socialite who chose death over growing old and ugly —- and the troubling questions over a judge’s decision to let her do it”. Near the end of the article it is stated: “For the husband and daughters she leaves behind, the manner of her death is heartbreaking”, and

iii) the Sun Online has two headlines: “Mum who fought to die was “man eater obsessed with sex, cars and cash” and “A Socialite who chose to die at 50 rather than grow old was a “man eater obsessed with sex, money and cars”, a pal claimed yesterday” and published two pixelated photographs of C at a younger age each showing her with a drink in hand. In one in which she is wearing a low-cut party dress and in the other she is raising her skirt, standing by a vintage motor car and wearing what appears to be the same outfit as she is wearing in the photograph on the front page of the Times and in the Daily Mail.

 

There’s an old Aesop fable about a frog and a scorpion. The scorpion wants to cross a river and asks the frog if he can ride across on the frog’s back. No, the frog responds, you’ll sting me and I’ll die. Wait, says the scorpion, if I was foolish enough to sting you whilst we were crossing, we’d both die – you from the sting, but I would drown, so it won’t be in my interests to sting you. The frog agrees. Midway across the river, the scorpion begins stinging the frog. The frog shouts, if you keep doing that, we’ll both die. The scorpion says, I know, but it’s in my nature.

 

frog-scorpion

It really isn’t in the longer term interests of the Press to sting the frog of transparency by using that additional access to behave so irresponsibly and despicably, but it’s in their nature.

Anyhow, this is Charles J’s decision on the Reporting Restriction Order.

V v Associated Newspapers Ltd 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2016/21.html

 

The first law Geeky point, hence the title, is what jurisdiction the Court of Protection have to make a Reporting Restriction Order. The argument goes like this :- (a) The Court of Protection exists to determine whether a person has capacity, and if not, what is in their best interests and you have already ruled that this woman HAD capacity, so your involvement stops and (b) as she is now dead, whatever jurisdiction you had over her affairs is now gone. Decent points.

Charles J concluded that the CoP did still have jurisdiction, and in any event, if they don’t, then the High Court will just use Magical Sparkle Powers (TM)

 

  • I have concluded:

 

(1) The COP has jurisdiction after the finding that C had capacity and her death to make the reporting restrictions order sought by the Applicant but insofar as it may be necessary or appropriate I will also make it as a High Court judge.

There is a longer answer here:-

Jurisdiction of the COP to make a reporting restrictions / anonymity order after it has determined that C had capacity and/ or after C’s death

  • As I have already mentioned this jurisdictional point is raised by the media Respondents but they do not resist me making an injunction as a High Court judge. They base the argument on the finding of capacity made by MacDonald J. The Applicant addresses the relevant jurisdictional effect of this finding and of C’s death.
  • The media Respondents rely by analogy on In re Trinity Mirror Plc and others [2008] QB 770 concerning s.45(4) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 which provided that in “all other matters incidental to its jurisdiction” the Crown Court was to have the like powers, rights, privileges and authority as the High Court. The Court of Appeal held that the Crown Court has no inherent jurisdiction to grant injunctions and that unless “the proposed injunction is directly linked to the exercise of the Crown Court’s jurisdiction and the exercise of its statutory functions, the appropriate jurisdiction is lacking”.
  • Section 47 of the MCA is worded slightly differently and provides that: “the court has in connection with its jurisdiction the same powers, rights, privileges and authority as the High Court”. It is generally accepted that the COP does not have an inherent jurisdiction so the issue is whether it can grant an injunction because it is exercising that power “in connection with its jurisdiction“.
  • At the time that the reporting restrictions order was made in this case by Moor J, sitting as a judge of the COP, I consider that it is clear that he was making that order in connection with the jurisdiction of the COP to determine initially whether or not C had capacity. In my view, it follows that he could in reliance on s. 47 have made that order for a period extending beyond any finding made that C had capacity, or the death of C (as to which see further below), if he had thought that that was appropriate. He did not do so.
  • The effect of the argument of the media Respondents is that if the hearing on 13 November 2015 had been before a judge, other than a High Court judge (which is not the practice in serious medical treatment cases but could occur in other cases) that judge having determined and announced his decision that C had capacity as a judge of the COP had no jurisdiction to continue, vary or discharge the injunction granted by Moor J. To my mind, that would be an unfortunate and odd result particularly, for example, if C had asked for it to be discharged. However, in my view, it does not arise because I consider that the termination, continuation or variation of an injunction made by the COP in the exercise of its jurisdiction conferred by s. 47 would also be within the jurisdiction so conferred as being “in connection with its jurisdiction”.
  • However, by its terms the injunction that was granted by Moor J expired on the death of C and so the present application is for a new injunction that was made at a time when for two reasons the COP no longer had jurisdiction over C and was therefore functus officio.
  • The Applicant points to a number of sections in the MCA which give the COP jurisdiction to make orders in respect of persons whether they have or lack capacity (see ss 15 (1)(c), 21A, 23 and 26(3)) but, in my view, this does not provide an answer because in this case the COP was not exercising jurisdiction under any of those sections.
  • To my mind the question on this application is whether the COP has power to grant a new injunction because it relates to proceedings that were before it although by reason of its decision and/or the death of P it no longer has any jurisdiction to make the welfare order sought. The answer is determined by considering whether in those circumstances it is exercising a power “in connection with its jurisdiction“. In my view the answer is that it is. This is because, in my view, the nature and extent of the relevant Article 8 rights relied on flows from the existence of the earlier proceedings before the COP, in which it exercised its jurisdiction and I see no reason to construe s. 47 to limit the power it confers to the period during which that jurisdiction continues to exist over the subject of the proceedings.
  • Indeed, I agree with the Applicant that the principle that legislation should be interpreted so far as possible to be compatible with Convention rights supports this conclusion because:

i) it promotes the grain of the legislation (the MCA), andii) it enables the court best placed to carry out the balancing exercise between competing Convention rights to perform that exercise.

  • That grain links back to the points I have already made that the jurisdiction of the COP invades not only the life of its subject P but also on many occasions the lives of others and in particular P’s family members.
  • Conclusion. I can make the injunction sought as a judge of the COP and I do so. However to avoid any jurisdictional argument in the future, and if and so far as this is necessary, I also make it as a High Court judge exercising the jurisdiction of that court.

 

The central issue here was whether the Press could report the story, and deal with both the human interest angle and the issue for public debate (the case being categorised – incorrectly, as a ‘right to die’ case, which is always interesting to the public – in fact, it is not a development of law at all, because people with capacity have always been able to refuse medical treatment, which is all that happened here) WITHOUT identifying the woman at the heart of the story. Clearly, the Press knew who she was, because they were able to doorstep people who knew her, look at her Facebook page and print pixelated images of her.

 

 

  • The naming propositions are reflected in the following points made by Mr Steafel:

 

The Daily Mail considers it has a duty to the public to report fairly and accurately on what happens in the courts. In order to engage the interest of members of the public in the kinds of issues the court decides, it is however necessary to publish articles and reports that people actually want to read. That means telling our readers about the facts of the cases, including the real people and places involved, and sometimes publishing pictures that relate to these people and places.

Where proceedings are anonymised, it is more difficult to engage our readers as the real people involved in the cases are necessarily invisible and the stories therefore lack a vital human dimension. It is human nature to find it more difficult to take an interest in a story about problems arising from, say, dementia or the right to die if the story does not feature identifiable individuals. If we cannot publish stories about important issues that people are drawn to read, this will inevitably limit and reduce the quality of public debate around these issues. It is in my view important in a democratic society that we should encourage informed debate I believe that the media, including the popular press, fulfils a vital function in this regard. By reading about the experiences of others, readers are likely to be able to identify with those people and understand what they are going through. But they are much less engaged – and correspondingly less focused on the surrounding public debate – where they cannot identify with real people, places and events. Pictures are a hugely potent way of engaging readers and one of the problems with covering anonymised cases is that it is impossible to include pictures in our stories which identify those involved.

 

  • I agree that fair and accurate reporting is vital if the public interest is to be promoted and I acknowledge that whether something is fair involves a value judgment and does not equate to it being balanced.
  • On the intense scrutiny that is required of the rival propositions relating to anonymisation I consider that a distinction can be made between (a) cases where pursuant to the default or general position under the relevant Rules or Practice Directions the court is allowing access (or unrestricted access) to the media and the public, and (b) cases in which it is imposing restrictions and so where the court is turning the tap on rather than off. But, I hasten to accept that this distinction:

 

i) simply reflects the strength of the reasoning that underlies the relevant COP Rules and Practice Directions, the established Scott v Scott exceptions and the positon referred to by Lady Hale that in many, perhaps most cases, the important safeguards secured by a public hearing can be secured without the press publishing or the public knowing the identities of the people involved, and soii) provides weight to the general arguments for anonymity to promote the administration of justice by the COP generally and in the given case, and does not

iii) undermine the force of the naming propositions as general propositions, with the consequence that the COP needs to remember that it is not an editor.

 

  • As I have already said (see paragraphs 94 and 95 above) the weight to be given to (a) the naming propositions, and (b) the conclusion on what generally best promotes the administration of justice will vary from case to case and on a staged approach to a particular case the weight of the naming propositions, and so this aspect of the factors that underlie and promote Article 10, will often fall to be taken into account in the context of (i) the validity of the reasons for their application in that case, and (ii) the impact of a departure in that case from the general conclusion on what generally promotes the administration of justice in cases of that type. This means that those reasons and that impact will need to be identified in a number of cases.
  • As I have already mentioned, although he refers to and relies on the naming propositions Mr Steafel does not say why in this case the relevant public interests, rather than the gratification of a prurient curiosity or interest of the public:

 

i) would be or would have been advanced by the identification of C and members of her family in the publicity that took place,ii) was advanced by the reporting that contained pixelated photographs and focused on C’s lifestyle, or

iii) why he says the balance will change on A’s 18th birthday between reporting that does not name C and her family and reporting that does.

Accordingly he does not say, as an editor, why in this case the view expressed by Theis J that “there is no public interest in C or her family being identified” either is wrong or will become wrong when A is 18.

 

The Press had the chance to set out arguments and provide evidence as to why naming the woman was necessary for the proper and accurate reporting, rather than to gratify prurient curiousity, and they did not do so. Nor did they take up the Court’s offer of the ability to file evidence setting out why they felt the previous reporting and methodology were appropriate…

 

  • S0, to my mind, in this exercise the COP needs to consider why and how the naming propositions, and so the proposed naming or photographs of C and her family members that links them to the COP proceedings, would or would be likely to engage or enhance the engagement of the interest of the public in matters of public interest rather than in those of prurient or sensational interest.
  • This has not been done in this case. But in contrast evidence has been put in on the likely harm to the relevant individuals that such reporting would cause.
  • The ultimate balance in this case on the dispute relating to duration. On one side are:

 

i) the Article 8 rights of all of C’s children,ii) the weight of the arguments for a reporting restrictions order in this case, and so of the general practice in the COP of making such orders in analogous COP cases where the family do not want any publicity and have given evidence of matters that affect their private and family life and that of P of a clearly personal and private nature,

iii) the acceptance by the media Respondents that until A is 18 the balance between the Article 8 rights and Article 10 rights in this case justifies the grant of a reporting restrictions order,

iv) the compelling evidence of the extent and nature of the harm and distress that reporting that identifies C and any member of her family as respectively the subject of (or members of the family of the subject of) the COP proceedings and so of MacDonald J ‘s judgment would cause, and

v) the ability of the court to make a further order if and when circumstances change.

 

  • On the other side are the general propositions relating to the benefits of naming the individuals involved.
  • I accept that Thiess J’s statement that “there is no public interest in C and her family being identified” and my indications of agreement with it at the hearing go too far because of the well-known and important naming propositions and the public interests that underlie them. But, in my view, the absence of an explanation of why:

 

i) the accepted balance changes on A’s 18th birthday and so of why identifying C and her family and linking them to the COP proceedings and the publicity at the end of last year would then promote the public interests that underlie Article 10, or why those public interests could not in this case then still be properly and proportionately served by reporting that observes the reporting restrictions order, orii) more generally why any such identification would at any other time promote (or have promoted) or its absence would harm (or would have harmed) the public interests that underlie and promote Article 10

means that the naming propositions have no real weight in this case and balance of the competing factors comes down firmly in favour of the grant of a reporting restrictions order until further order.

 

As there was to be an Inquest, and Inquests are open to the press and public, the Court did need to consider whether the Reporting Restriction Order should cover the naming of this woman or her family emerging from the Inquest.

The extension of the order to cover C’s inquest.

 

  • The earlier orders provide that the injunction does not restrict publishing information relating to any part of a hearing in a court in England and Wales (including a coroner’s court) in which the court was sitting in public. It seems to me therefore that the result the Applicant seeks would be achieved by changing the word “including” to “excluding”.
  • This is much closer to the position in Re S and Potter P addressed such an application in Re LM [2007] EWHC 1902 (Fam) where he said:

 

The Overall Approach

53. In approaching this difficult case, I consider that I should apply the principles laid down in Re S, ————-

54. There are obvious differences between proceedings at an inquest and the criminal process, most notably that the task of the Coroner and jury is to determine the manner of the death of the deceased and does not extend to determining questions of criminal guilt. In various cases that has been held to be a matter of weight in respect of witnesses seeking to protect their own personal safety. However, in this case, the inquest to be held is into the killing of a child, L, in the situation where a High Court Judge has already found as a matter of fact that the mother was responsible for L’s death and the application is made because harm is indirectly apprehended to a child who is a stranger to the investigative process. It is presently uncertain whether criminal proceedings will in fact be taken against the mother. If so, and the Coroner is so informed, then no doubt he will further adjourn the matter pursuant to s.16. of the Coroners Act 1988. If that is done, then the question of publicity and reporting restrictions in those proceedings will fall four square within the principles propounded in Re S. If not, and if, as seems likely, the mother continues to pose a danger to any child in her care, then, if continued, the reporting restrictions in the care proceedings would prevent that fact from reaching the public domain, despite its clear public interest and importance.

 

  • He carried out a detailed balance between the competing rights emphasising the strength and importance of a public hearing of the inquest and so the general conclusion on what promotes the administration of justice in such proceedings. Having done so he refused the injunction sought that the parents should not be identified.
  • Here the important issue of child protection is absent.
  • In the note of counsel for some of the media Respondents dated 28 January 2016 points are made about the importance of a proviso permitting the reporting of other proceedings conducted in open court, including a coroner’s court. But after the Applicant sought this extension junior counsel responded (as mentioned in paragraph 49 above) that his clients are neutral on this point.
  • As the approach of Potter P confirms an application for restrictions on the reporting of other proceedings conducted in open court engages important and powerful interests against the making of such an order. However, in my view:

 

i) the expressed neutrality of some of the media Respondents reflects a responsible and understandable stance that in isolation the inquest is unlikely to give rise to issues of public interest or to any such issues in respect of which the general propositions in favour of naming C or her family will have any significant weight, andii) in any event, I consider that that is the position.

 

  • The essential question is therefore whether, unless the court makes a further order, C’s family should be at risk of publicity relating to the inquest that makes the connection between them and the COP proceedings and so effectively of suffering the harm and distress that any other reporting that identifies them and makes that link would bring.
  • The history of the prurient nature of some of the earlier reporting is a clear indicator that such reporting might be repeated. But, even if that risk is discounted I have concluded that the balance comes down firmly in favour of extending the order to cover the inquest.
  • The main factors to be taken into account overlap with those to be taken into account in respect of the duration of the order.
  • On the one side are:

 

i) the points set out in paragraph 167 (i) to (v) as the inquest is likely to take place before a is 18 andii) the points set out in paragraph 175.

 

  • On the other side are:

 

i) the powerful and weighty reasoning that underlies the conclusion and practice that the administration of justice is best served by inquests being heard in open court without reporting restrictions, andii) the general and accepted force of the naming propositions absent any evidence or reasoning that they found a need for reporting of the inquest that makes the link with the COP proceedings.

 

And the order therefore stops the Press naming the woman as a result of reporting on the Inquest – they can still report on the Inquest itself. It obviously doesn’t mean that the Inquest itself is barred from naming her.

 

The judgment also annexes some helpful procedural guidance on applications for Reporting Restriction Orders within the Court of Protection.

Appeal about the transparency in the Poppi Worthington case

 

At first glance, this looked a bit  “Let me just fix this stable door, it is SO much easier without the horse being in here getting in the way and standing on my foot“, but the appeal was actually heard in November  BEFORE the re-hearing of the fact finding, and it is just that we’ve only today had the judgment itself.

I know that some people were curious about how much material was allowed to be reported (for example Poppi’s name, and the name of the father) and some were curious about the ‘live’-tweeting aspects and the Press being present during the hearing itself.

Re W Children 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/113.html

Mr Justice Peter Jackson had given a decision about his plans as to what could or could not be published, in advance of that re-hearing and what role the Press could play.  The Guardian appealed that decision, supported in part by the father. The mother and Local Authority were neutral.

The Court of Appeal were asked specifically to consider what role the welfare of the children had to play in a decision about reporting and press attendance. They bravely duck that question  (to be fair, I think it ends up being a conflict between some  authorities one of which is a House of Lords case, so it has to be resolved ultimately by the Supreme Court). Given that the Guardian’s case was largely based on the degree of openness and transparency here being inimical to the welfare of the other children, that decision was pretty fatal to the appeal.

  1. During the hearing of the appeal we accepted the jointly argued approach of counsel and that, in turn, was the basis upon which we came to the decision on the appeal which we announced at the conclusion of the oral hearing. In the process of preparing this written judgment, however, I have come to the preliminary view that there may be a conflict, or at least a tension, between the apparently accepted view that welfare is not the paramount consideration on an issue such as this, on the one hand, and Court of Appeal authority to the contrary on the other hand. As this present judgment is a record of the reasons for our decision announced on 23rd November 2015 and that decision was based upon the children’s welfare not being the paramount consideration, I do no more than flag up this potential point which, if it is arguable, must fall for determination by this court on another occasion.
  2. The key authorities to which I am referring are a criminal case in the House of Lords, Re S (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2004] UKHL 47; [2005] 1 AC 593, a private law family case in the Court of Appeal, Clayton v Clayton [2006] EWCA Civ 878; [2007] 1 FLR 11 and a public law child case in the High Court, Re Webster; Norfolk County Council v Webster and Others [2006] EWHC 2733 (Fam); [2007] 1 FLR 1146.
  3. Although, in my view, a reading of those cases may give rise to a potential point relating to the paramountcy of the child’s welfare, which, as I have stated, must fall for determination on another occasion, it is not necessary to go further in this judgment and consider the matter in any detail.

 

Counsel for the Press association (the always excellent Caoilfhionn Gallagher) set out the case for openness and transparency in this case very well  – and it really explains why so much was allowed to be reported in this case.

a) In the unusual circumstances of this case, the judge’s decision on publicity and reporting is entirely justified for the reasons that he gave after giving careful thought to the submissions of each party;

b) In general, there is a strong principle in favour of open justice which has long been regarded as integral to protecting the rights of those involved in court proceedings, and as essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice;

c) The President of the Family Division has drawn attention to the importance of transparency in the context of family justice in Practice Guidance Transparency in the Family Courts: Publication of Judgments [2014] 1 FLR 733 and in a 2014 consultation document Transparency – Next Steps;

d) The Practice Guidance identifies two classes of judgment, (i) those that the judge must ordinarily allow to be published and (ii) those that may be published; the present case falls into category (i) and there is therefore a strong presumption that the final judgment should be published in due course;

e) There is already an extremely strong public interest in transparency being applied to this case at this time;

f) The Appellant’s acceptance that paragraph [1] to [100] of the July 2014 judgment should be published, which contains a summary of the medical evidence, renders illogical her opposition to the publication of the remaining paragraphs (albeit in a redacted form);

g) There is already substantial publicly available information regarding the injuries that Poppi sustained prior to her death and the fact that her father had been arrested with respect to an allegation of sexually abusing Poppi. Reference is made to the clip of media reports provided to the court;

h) Daily news reporting is justified against the backdrop summarised in (g) above and is justified in this ‘highly unusual’ case. In any event the judge will retain some measure of control over reporting through the ability to impose a retrospective embargo if some particularly sensitive material is disclosed in court;

i) The challenge relating to the judge giving judgment in public is misconceived as the judge did not make any such direction. His proposal to sit in private, with the media in attendance, prior to publishing the judgment was entirely proportionate in the circumstances.

 

The Court of Appeal concluced that this was unusual, but that Poppi was  ahighly unusual case, given that so much was already within the public domain. They largely upheld Mr Justice Peter Jackson’s decision, albeit limiting the amount of medical information that was to be published from the original finding of fact judgment (you may recall at the time that the judgment published initially had such huge chunks redacted from it that one couldn’t see what father was alleged to have done and it was left to astute reading to see that taking a sample swab from father’s penis suggested something very dark. )  They also said that tweeting from Court would have to wait until the end of the day, when the Judge could consider anything unusual arising from the evidence and give directions about it.

 

  1. Ms Gallagher accepts that daily reporting of a child protection case was unusual, but she submits that this has now become a highly unusual case in terms of there being a second fact finding hearing in circumstances where a good deal about the case is now in the public domain.
  2. During the hearing the court asked for more detail of the arrangements that the judge had put in place to maintain some control on the material that could be reported by press representatives who were attending court. The judge’s proposal was that if, for example, a witness were to give unexpected evidence, the disclosure of which might unnecessarily breach the Article 8 rights of the children, or more generally cause them unnecessary harm, the court could embargo that part of the evidence from that which could otherwise be reported. The wording of the judge’s order on this point was that ‘such reporting is subject to any further directions given by the court concerning what can and cannot be published if an issue arises during the course of the hearing’.
  3. In considering the appeal on this point, the starting point must be that the introduction of a facility for daily reporting of an ongoing fact finding hearing in a child protection case is indeed highly unusual. It is not profitable to debate whether this is or is not the ‘first’ such case. For my part, in a slightly different context, I recall that there was widespread national media reporting day by day of the sad case of Re RB [2009] EWHC 3269 (Fam); [2010] 1 FLR 946; other judges will no doubt be aware of other cases. Be that as it may, no party submits that Jackson J was acting outside his powers by permitting daily media reporting. For the reasons that I have given at paragraph 37, such a course was plainly within his discretion.
  4. In circumstances where, as the Appellants have accepted, the final judgment will be published in due course, the issue of daily reporting relates to the quantity and timing of reporting rather than to reporting the facts of this case as such in principle. It is a matter that calls for a proportionate approach, over which a trial judge is entitled to exercise a wide margin of discretion; as I have stressed, in the present case that is particularly so with respect to this trial judge at this stage in this trial process.
  5. Although I must confess to having a feeling of substantial unease at this degree of openness at the start of an unpredictable fact finding exercise, I am clear that it is simply not possible to hold that Jackson J is wrong in his analysis of the issue and his decision to grant media access to this degree. I am, however, sufficiently concerned about the laxity of the terms of the order dealing with daily reporting as it is currently drawn to stipulate that a further sub-paragraph be added to that part of the order in the following terms:

    ‘such reporting (whether by live reporting, Twitter or otherwise) may not take place until after the court proceedings have concluded on any given day, in order to ensure that the court has had an opportunity to consider whether any such additional directions are required.’

    The purpose of this new provision is, hopefully, self-explanatory in that it allows for stock to be taken at the close of the court day so as to identify any aspect(s) of the evidence which should be subject of embargo before any reporting, of any nature, can take place.

  6. The grounds of appeal relating to whether or not the judge should sit in public to deliver his judgment were not pursued and therefore fall away.
  7. For the reasons that I have given, I would therefore allow the appeal to the very limited extent of (a) requiring the removal of reference to any of the medical evidence from the edited 2014 judgment, and (b) inserting a tighter requirement in the court order relating to the control of daily reporting.

 

 

 

Inaudible and jigsaw identification [Contains Agatha Christie Christmas spoiler gag]

You may be aware of the President’s guidance on Transparency, which sets out those judgments which ought to be published on Bailii, which is a site that is available for members of the public to use as it does not charge a fee or require a subscription.  The guidance sets out that all committal judgments should be published, and that’s a laudatory aim. It must be right that if a Family Court or Court of Protection are sending someone to prison (or even if they were asked to do so and said no) that the facts are put in the public domain so that they can be reported and debated.

You may be less aware that I’ve seen five examples since the Transparency guidance was published, of judgments going up on Bailii for all to see where the anonymisation process was insufficient.  For example, I have seen the real first names and ages of the children accidentally go in, the real address and name of a mother’s boyfriend said to pose a risk, the real surname of someone accidentally go into the Reporting Restriction Order judgment saying that the surname was not to be revealed, and in the worst example, a case that ended with the children going off for adoption accidentally leaving in one paragraph the real name of the mother.  In each of these cases, I and others have contacted Bailii who acted very swiftly in taking them down and making the corrections.  It isn’t Bailii’s job to proof read the judgments – they publish the transcript that a Judge has sent them saying that “This is okay to publish please” or similar.

Accidents can happen.

The process is that the judgment is transcribed, the Judge checks it carefully and makes any corrections, and then the corrected version goes onto Bailii, where it is available for anyone to look at. Sometimes that careful process can be a bit slow – when there’s a story in the news and you know that there’s been a Court case sometimes that careful process means that it takes weeks to get the proper judgment available to read and discuss and the newsworthy event is long forgotten then, and whatever slant the Press put on it becomes the definitive version.

But of course, Judges are people, and people under pressure. They have to read huge amounts of material, have to make complex and emotionally difficult decisions, and they have to listen to lawyers drone on and on for about six hours a day, which must be pretty close to intolerable.

 

Being a Judge could drive you to U.N.Owen methods of resolving stress

Being a Judge could drive you to U.N.Owen methods of resolving stress

 

[Apologies to those who haven’t watched it yet.  Apologies to those readers who were hoping for the Aiden Turner towel photo instead of this one]

 

So you can see perhaps that a Judge pressed for time could miss a stray reference – redacting a document is tricky and it takes time and concentration – and usually a second pair of eyes.  I’ve no doubt at all that the mistakes I’ve mentioned above were just honest mistakes that slipped through. Nonetheless, even an honest mistake can still be costly to the persons involved whose privacy ends up being breached.

 

This one, however, doesn’t entirely feel like it was checked at all before it went to Bailii.

 

Newcastle City Council v P and ABC 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B193.html

 

A shame, because the bits that aren’t  (inaudible) are largely very good, and it raises an important and interesting legal issue about the extent to which in a committal hearing which is to the criminal standard of proof, hearsay evidence (which is admissable in Court of Protection and family cases) can be relied upon, and also where the primary source of the evidence is from a person who lacks capacity.  It could have been a very helpful precedent. I don’t think any lawyer could safely hand this up to a Judge and invite them to draw any conclusions, because there are just too many gaps.

 

I’m not meaning to single this particular Judge out for a hard time – I think it is more broadly indicative that in amongst the many pressures on Judge time, perhaps checking transcripts of judgments comes lower down on the list of priorities that the President’s guidance really made allowances for.

The lady who wanted to sparkle – follow up

 

You have probably heard that C, the lady I wrote about on Wednesday, where a Judge had decided that she had capacity to make her own decision to refuse treatment, that decision being in keeping with her unusual approach to life rather than being a sign that she lacked capacity to make the rational decision that almost all of us would have made, died this week.

 

The Press made an application to be able to name her.  That’s a very tricky one.  On the one hand there is transparency and this case has certainly attracted a lot of media interest (and frankly given the biographical details in the story, I’m sure that the Daily Mail with their resources can find out who C was in about 30 minutes of investigation).  I don’t think this is prurient, I think there is some genuine public interest in the story and the issues, and of course a piece in a paper works far better when it is a real person not the letter C.

On the other, this case threw up very personal details in order to uphold C’s right enshrined in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that everyone is assumed to have capacity unless proved otherwise and thus to refuse treatment unless proved they lack capacity – C did not bring the case to Court, she was brought into Court by the Trust and she won the case. So why should she be named when she did nothing whatsoever wrong in law? There are also the children to think of, one of whom is 15.

 

The final decision is not made yet, but an interim Reporting Restriction Order was made, preventing publication of the name until the matter can be properly litigated.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/83.html

 

I read in the week, sadly with bad timing on the day that I learned that C had died, the article in the Guardian by Zoe Williams. That article attacked the Judge and linked his decision with other very controversial outbursts by Judges – arguing that the Judge’s setting out of the history showed an inherent sexism.  I felt that the article was ill-concieved and had missed all of the real substance of the case.  I normally rate Zoe as a writer, so the tone of the piece, particularly the attack on C’s children surprised me.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/02/slur-woman-who-lost-sparkle-c-right-to-die-judgment-femininity-marriage

 

I then saw the piece by Lucy Series from The Small Places blog, that made me look at it in another way. I think this is the best piece of writing on C’s case and the issues that it throws up of ‘who are judgments written for in a transparency climate?’  and ‘should they be written in the same way as they used to be’?

 

https://thesmallplaces.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/the-stories-we-tell/

I wish I could write like Lucy does. I dash stuff off the way that Kerouac wrote “On the Road”  – typing furiously, getting all of my thoughts on the page  – Kerouac wrote so fast that he taped paper into one giant sheet to save him the distraction of having to stop and put a fresh sheet into the Hermes  (and I’m reminded that Truman Capote famously said of his method “That’s not writing, that’s typing”).  Lucy is much more the Truman Capote style of constructing the piece, making the words all do their share of the work, not having a sentence in that doesn’t say something important and say it in just the right way, and it being more like inspecting a gorgeous diamond from a variety of angles rather than listening to someone excitedly blurt out what’s on their mind.   Hopefully, there’s a place for both Kerouac and Capote in legal blogging.

 

Couple “too old” to look after their granddaughter

I saw this case break in the Telegraph  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11754837/Couple-told-they-are-too-old-to-look-after-their-granddaughter.html   where the line was that grandparents who were able, willing and capable of looking after their grand-daughter were turned down on the basis of their age and the child would be adopted.

 

That immediately didn’t sound right. It had the immediate ring of “I think that you’ll find its a little bit more complicated than that”.   [If you do find yourself being outraged and appalled by a case and you haven’t actually read the judgment, that’s usually a safe answer.  Of course, there are cases where reading the judgment actually does appall you at the scandal that’s gone on, but at least you are now being appalled on an informed basis]

 

That would fall extremely short of the legal tests involved, and you can see from the Telegraph article that they do include the comment from the Social Services department involved, who said flatly that age was not the deciding factor in the case.

 

The judgment is now available and people can see it for themselves

 

Re C 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B99.html

 

You can see that the grandparents made an application to Court, to challenge the assessment done of them that did not recommend that they could care for the child. The Court heard from them, including hearing evidence from the grandfather (who sounds like a thoroughly nice man, to be honest).  The Court then applied the statutory tests and the case law guidance to whether they should have that application granted and whether the child could live with them, or whether adoption was the right way forward.

 

Additionally, you can see that whilst the Judge does mention the age of the grandparents, it is mentioned in passing rather than being the reason for the decision.

 

The reason for the decision, very simply, was that the mother had considerable mental health difficulties, including cutting herself in front of the child, that the mother had a very difficult relationship with the grandparents and that they were not going to be able to shield the child from these things.

 

The main concern however it seems to me is the fact that this family would be in my judgment completely unable to cope with the triangular relationship of C, M and the grandparents. Mr G expressed in evidence that he hoped that his daughter was going to recover her mental health, that she had had some recent treatment that over the next four years might lead to her mental health recovering. I very much hope that that is the case and it may well be right, but he was very clear that he was going to continue his relationship with his daughter and indeed he is to be commended for that. He said he saw her yesterday. I just cannot envisage how the triangular relationship can possibly work. Dr Martinez in her report expresses the concern that mother is unable to bring up C because she is likely to expose C to extreme behaviours – ‘scary situations’ is the word she uses – and she is referring to the incident in January when M in front of C self-harmed, cutting herself, and C was clearly in a scary situation witnessing her mother bleeding. That is exactly the type of situation which Dr Martinez envisages recurring and which puts C at the risk of significant harm if she were to be placed with her mother. If I were to envisage C being placed with her grandparents it seems to me that it is only a matter of time before C is put in that situation again. This is because of the conflict which the grandparents will experience in their meetings with their daughter, who they will not be able to turn away and in the conflict that is likely ultimately to create and which C is inevitably going to experience. Their personal circumstances are not ideal but ultimately it is that relationship which it seems to me makes it impossible for their application to succeed. Given the disruption to the local authority Care Plan against the likelihood of success of their application, I am afraid that I have no hesitation in saying that that application should therefore be dismissed.

 

Now, you may agree or disagree that this is a valid reason for saying no to these grandparents; but it certainly isn’t a decision that was made because of their age.

I don’t fault the grandparents at all for this – Courts can be confusing and scary places, and Judges use language and concepts that aren’t commonplace for ordinary people. Add to that, that of course this was an emotionally charged hearing and it is little surprise that the grandparents left not completely understanding all the reasons why the Judge said no to them, and that they got the wrong end of the stick.

Nor do I blame the journalist  – if the judgment had borne out what the grandparents said, that a Court had ordered that the child be adopted purely because the grandparents were too old, that would be a miscarriage of justice and a scandal worth reporting.  Of course, the journalist did have the clear rebuttal from Social Services that the case wasn’t about age, but also they had the comments from the solicitor engaged to represent these grandparents in an appeal  (which I doubt has any legs at all).  So it is not the flaw we often see in the Telegraph of the story having a single source – the journalist here did try to get multiple sources and to stand the story up.

You could make a criticism that the journalist didn’t try to get the judgment from the Court or wait for it on Bailii, but I think that’s to confuse the worlds of law and journalism.  Firstly, news stories are time sensitive. If the Telegraph waited for it to be published, they could have missed the scoop element that they had. And secondly, given that most lawyers can’t get an answer out of the Court service, what makes you think a journalist enquiring about “there’s been this case, I don’t have the case number, but can I have an anonymised copy of the judgment” is going to get any better response.

So I think it was okay for the Telegraph to run the story.  The problem, however, is that the Telegraph’s version of the story – that social workers and Courts rule people out just based on age, is the one that fluorishes and replicates and spreads, and the actual truth that the reasons for the decision were based on a Judge’s assessment of their ability to keep the child safe from mother, won’t get out there.

It is really important in care proceedings that family members who are able to help out, support the parents and ultimately offer a home if the parents can’t do it, come forward and aren’t put off. So, the story here spreads a myth that simply isn’t true.

I do appreciate that newspapers don’t exist solely as a vehicle to communicate the truth. They have to sell copies, they have to get clicks on their articles, they have to exist as a commercial venture. If they print articles that are factually accurate but that nobody wants to read, then the advertisers who want to sell their conservatories, plates with Princess Diana on them,  safes disguised as baked-bean tins, and mustard coloured polyester slacks*, won’t be placing those adverts.

I can’t actually work out a sexy way for the Telegraph and other news outlets to tell this story and correct the myth.  The best I can do is “Family Courts do still screw up from time to time, but they didn’t on this occasion. Sorry”   – and even I probably wouldn’t read that article.

[* Other products are, I’m sure, advertised in the Telegraph , and that’s just the sort of flippant generalisation and stereotyping that I would criticise them for when writing about social workers wearing corduroy trousers and knitting their own muesli.  It was just a cheap gag…   – now,  if you want to find “cheap gags” in the advertising section of a publication you are looking for something in the newsagents on an entirely different shelf to the Telegraph]

Minnock judgments (part 2) and a different judicial approach

Well, firstly, I’m pleased that the child has been found. And I’m not going to speculate about the future outcome of the case.

 

But I thought that people who have been interested might like to see the next four judgments.

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/judgments/roger-williams-v-rebecca-minnock-and-ethan-freeman-williams-2-judgments/

 

They are the bottom four (beginning 12th June)

The 12th June judgment is unusual, in that it doesn’t read as a case where the Judge was being asked to decide an issue or make an order. Rather, he is helpfully setting out for those involved that if there is a commital application (where a person might get sent to prison) they are entitled to free legal advice and representation and what the magic words are. He then goes on, largely for the benefit of the Press and public to set out how the Courts make decisions about where a child lives, what factors come into account, the representation that the parents have had, and what factors the Court would take account of in the future, stressing that what the Court wants is to make sure that the child has a proper relationship with both parents. It is almost a judicial press release.  I’ve not seen that happen before, but I think in a case with so much media attention and public interest, it is actually a really sensible thing to have done and I hope that future Judges consider it.  If you wanted to understand what the legal background was to the case, it is all there.

The next judgment is describing that the child is safely returned, and explaining that the mother’s plan in the case was to use the Press to gain sympathy for her cause and to thwart the decision of the Court.  People may have their own view as to whether she was justified or not, but if you have a strong view, I’d recommend that you read that judgment to see if it remains the same. The really remarkable thing about this judgment is that at the end, the Judge allowed members of the Press to ask him questions directly and answered them.

I’ve never seen that happen in a family case before, but it seems to me a remarkably sensible approach. It must surely result in more responsible, balanced and nuanced reporting that the Press had the chance to ask questions directly of the Judge.  I applaud it.

The third (private hearing 15th June) sets out that the future decisions in the case need to be made without public spotlight, although a judgment will be published after the case is over, and allowing father to provide a short statement to the press.

 

And the fourth (and so far final) is a purge of contempt (by the partner of the maternal grandmother) for his part in the press campaign and more importantly in lying about the child’s whereabouts. For non-lawyers a purge of contempt is where a person who has been sent to prison for breaking court orders goes before the same Judge to express remorse and regret and ask for his sentence to be reduced or ended. In this case, the man was released from custody.

 

The Judge did ask, in his judgments, for the Press to refrain from speculation about where the child might live and whether mum would get to see him again and how that would work, and I’d therefore ask people to do the same in comments.

But what do people think about the Judge’s approach to openness in the case ? Very fast publication of the judgments, allowing the Press to come in, delivering a judgment that explained all of the balancing factors and principles, and allowing the Press to ask him questions? I think it is all very new, and the law is generally terrified of innovation, but we may come back to look on this case as a watershed in the family Courts not merely paying lip-service to the idea of transparency but really engaging in the process of explaining to the Press and public what is happening.  And balancing that with keeping really private things private.