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The Tooth, the whole Tooth and nothing but the Tooth

In which the father from the forty tons of Toblerone case https://suesspiciousminds.com/2017/10/21/forty-tons-of-toblerone/ (remember, he ‘discreetly’ arranged for his children to see a solicitor in a relocation dispute and paid the solicitors fees of £174,000) made an application for mother’s divorce solicitor to be barred from acting for her.

I don’t usually do divorce blogs, but this is curious.

S v S (Application to stop Solicitor Acting) 2017
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/2660.html

The deal apparently is that whilst father was deciding which solicitor to instruct himself, he sent round his representative OE to in effect interview some top-drawer matrimonial hot-shot firms (what is known in the trade as a ‘beauty parade’) to see who he wanted to go with.

OE says that on 30th November 2015, he went to see Mishcon de Reya, Stewarts Law and then our lead player, Mr Raymond Tooth of Sears Tooth.
The father/husband decided to go elsewhere, but objected when mother subsequently instructed Mr Tooth.

Mr Justice Williams was appropriately sniffy about the failure, even in such a big money case with uber-silks, to provide the practice direction documents.

12. I have read the trial bundle. I note in passing that none of the usual practice direction documents, such as an agreed chronology, case summary, reading list, or list of issues was included as required by PD27A. I very much hope I shan’t have to make this observation again to those involved in this case.

The chronology, when it finally emerged, threw up something interesting. Father/husband had signed a letter of retainer with HFC solicitors on 23rd November 2015 – a week before he saw at least two other solicitors and possibly the third, Mr Tooth.

It was the subject of debate whether this was understood practice in big money divorce cases that even after signing on with one lawyer, a client might continue the beauty parade to see if anyone else caught his eye, or whether this actually was a way of conflict blocking any other hot-shot firms to prevent them acting against husband/father.

Williams J sets out the law

8. Supplementing the submissions on the law that I have received, both orally and in writing, I have been referred to the following texts and cases: (a) Passmore on Privilege (3rd ed); (b), Minter v Priest [1929] 1 KB 655, (c) Minter v Priest : [1930] AC 558, (d) In a Little Spanish Town (Francis Day & Hunter v Bron) [1963] Ch 587; (e) Great Atlantic v Home Insurance [1981] 1 WLR 529; (f) HRH Prince Jefri Bolkiah v KPMG (A Firm) [1998] UKHL 52.; (g) Davies v Davies [2000] 1 FLR 39; (h) Re T v A, (children, risk of disclosure) ) [2000] 1 FLR 859; (i) B & Others v Auckland District Law Society [2003] UKPC 38; (j) Fulham Leisure v Nicholson, Graham & Jones [2006] EWHC 158; (k) the West London Pipeline case [2008] EWHC 1729; (l) Re Z (restraining solicitors from acting) [2009] EWHC 3621; and (m) G v G (financial remedies, privilege, confidentiality) [2015] EWHC 1512.

9. The law ultimately was largely agreed, although there was a difference between the parties on three issues: firstly, whether the risk of disclosure of confidential or privileged information can come from subconscious or unconscious influence; secondly, whether there can be a partial waiver of privilege and how that might be dealt with; and thirdly, whether making an injunction is mandatory if the grounds are established, or whether the Court still retains a discretion whether to grant the order or not.

10. In summary, the principles I derive from all of those cases and which I apply are as follows.

(a) the duties arising in confidentiality and legal professional privilege arise whether the information is imparted to a solicitor directly by a principal, or by an agent on behalf of his principal. It would therefore apply to any confidential information or legally privileged material which arose between Raymond Tooth and OE.

(b) the duty arises whether the parties formally entered into a legal relationship or not. The imparting of information in contemplation of such a relationship would suffice. Thus a preliminary meeting between solicitor and client in the course of a beauty parade could suffice, probably even if pro bono or not charged for.

(c) the rules apply in family cases just as much as in civil actions. There is no absolute rule though that a solicitor cannot act in litigation against a former client.

(d) in the first instance it is a matter for the solicitor involved to consider whether, consistent with his professional conduct rules and the proper administration of justice, he can continue to act. If he concludes he cannot, that will usually be the end of the matter. If he concludes he can continue to act then the Court retains the power to grant an injunction to prevent him from acting.

(e) where a former client has imparted information in confidence in the course of a fiduciary relationship, and /or where that information is privileged, there are strong public policy reasons rooted in the proper administration of justice which support the approach that a solicitor in possession of such information should not act in a way that might appear to put that information at risk of coming into the hands of someone with an adverse interest.

(f) it must be established that the confidential or privileged information is relevant or may be relevant to the matter on which the solicitor is now instructed by the person with an adverse interest to that of the former client.

(g) where it is established that a solicitor is in possession of such confidential and/or privileged information, the Court should intervene to prevent the information coming into the hands of anyone with an adverse interest, unless there is no real risk of disclosure. Once it is established that a person is in possession of such information the burden is on them to show that there is no such real risk. In this context “real” means it is not merely fanciful or theoretical, but it does not need to be substantial.

(h) the risk of disclosure may arise from deliberate act, inadvertent disclosure or unconscious influence or subconscious influence. In the latter case in particular it might be quite fact specific whether that risk arises or not.

(i) in the context of family litigation it is hard to conceive of a situation where the risk of disclosure would not satisfy that test where the Court had concluded that detailed, confidential financial information and/or privileged information had been disclosed to a solicitor by one party to a marriage which was, or might be relevant to a potential dispute between them. In most cases that would create a real risk where that solicitor was subsequently instructed by the other party.

(j) a party advancing such an application may decline to waive privilege or confidentiality, or may elect to partially waive privilege. If he partially waives privilege the Court may order full disclosure in relation to that transaction in order to determine an issue such as an application for an injunction like this, and the Court may take steps to ensure that the privilege is not waived for all purposes, but to ensure that the cat can be put back into the bag. In cases such as this the question should be considered at the directions stage, in particular where, as here, partial disclosure in the form of the attendance note has been made.

(k) if the principles on which an order can be made are established an order should usually be made, unless it is established that there are other more significant public policy reasons for not granting it, including that the Court concludes that the injustice to the respondent in granting the order outweighs the injustice to the applicant in not granting it. Relevant considerations might include, firstly, whether the information had been imparted during an exercise designed either wholly or in part to conflict out other solicitors who the respondent might seek to instruct; whether there are other firms who might now be able to act for the respondent; whether the application was made promptly; the additional expense and delay that might be occasioned to the respondent if they were obliged to instruct new solicitors; whether any such expense could appropriately be off-set by the applicant.

 

The issues in the case were, however, mainly factual, rather than legal. Had husband’s representative OE actually met with Mr Tooth at all, and had confidential information been exchanged. This sounds like a peculiar thing to have a factual debate about. But OE said that he had met with Mr Tooth, Mr Tooth disagreed. Both had to give oral evidence.

OE said that another lawyer was present, that Mr Tooth had said that his charging rate was £700 per hour and that Mr Tooth had produced detailed notes and a structured analysis.

However, witnesses from Sears Tooth said this

Laura Broomhall and Kelly Edwards say the following, which is of some relevance. They were the only two solicitors working for Mr Tooth on 30 November. They have no recollection of any meeting. Laura Broomhall has no recall of OE’S face. Ms Broomhall undertook a conflict search and consulted her attendance notes and diary for 30 November and found no records. Kelly Edwards has no notes or record in her diary, or attendances for 30 November. Ms Edwards met the mother in March 2016 and was not prompted to recall the case by that meeting.

39. Both Ms Broomhall and Ms Edwards say Mr Tooth has never charged £700 an hour. Ms Broomhall says she has no Eastern European connection, Kelly Edwards likewise. Laura Broomhall says that she would take a full note and Raymond Tooth a short note. Kelly Edwards says Raymond Tooth’s notes were far from structured; the assistant would take a detailed note, Raymond Tooth would write a few keywords no one could read. Ms Broomhall says Raymond Tooth has never behaved in the way OE suggests. Kelly Edwards agrees that he does not behave in that way.

Hmmmm.

Judicial findings
Analysis and Conclusions.
40. Issue 1: can the husband prove a meeting took place between Raymond Tooth and OE on 30 November? On balance, yes, I believe there was a meeting of sorts between Raymond Tooth and another member of his staff and OE on that day. The following matters demonstrate this: the appointment in Raymond Tooth’s diary that was put there by him following some contact by OE and not crossed out, a telephone message from some point in the afternoon by OE in which he gave his number, the Google search for the premises of Sears Tooth — I do not consider the time differences to be of any particular significance to OE’S credibility, they may arise from the use of different time zones on his devices — OE’S recollection of the interior of the premises (the piece of artwork, the obtaining of a card and the layout of the conference room) and the combination of OE’S own evidence and Mr Tooth’s evidence persuade me that an appointment was booked and that OE attended for it and some form of meeting took place.

41. The second and third issues: if a meeting did take place, can the husband prove any confidential or privileged material was communicated to Raymond Tooth and his assistant and can the husband prove that such material is or may be relevant to the current dispute or contemplated dispute.

42. Although Mr Marshall QC is right to say that the burden is not a heavy one, it must of course be context specific and be viewed in the light of all the evidence and all the circumstances. I consider the following factors to be significant in determining what is more likely to have occurred at this meeting. Inevitably I cannot refer to every matter that I have considered.

43. In order really to determine these issues as the husband seeks, I must be able to rely on OE’S evidence, together with any independent corroboration. Unfortunately overall I conclude that OE’S evidence is in many ways unreliable.

44. He produced no briefing note setting out the main facts or the principal issues he wanted to deal with, which is a little surprising and suggests someone not very committed to record-keeping or someone not placing much importance on the meeting.

45. He said the meetings were arranged to see a lawyer who would be a good fit for the husband, although he was not sure that he had any exposure to litigation at that time. It seems from the chronology that the overall picture that emerges is this was all part of long-term planning by the husband for possible future litigation in England. If there was something on the horizon though, at the particular time it seems to have been more related to the situation of the children than the divorce, which from the husband’s point of view was done and dusted nine years before. Those circumstances do not suggest that in initial meetings there would be detailed disclosure of confidential information as opposed to some general discussions about the approach of the lawyer and general discussions of jurisdiction.

46. OE did not disclose, in either his statement or in his oral evidence, that in fact he or the husband had seen HFC on 21 October and, more importantly, that the husband had signed a retainer letter with HFC on 23 November, a week before the meetings. As the husband’s representative for these purposes in London, it is inconceivable that OE was not aware of this and indeed more likely than not that he had made the recommendation to the husband to instruct HFC following the meeting they had had on 17 November. Although Mr Marshall QC says that OE could still have been looking for a better fitting lawyer than HFC, I have to say I consider that improbable. If he was, why not say so in his statement, that he retained them for the interim whilst he continued the search? Given it is now known that there were two meetings with HFC, including a second one with the husband’s Russian lawyer, I am not prepared to accept this explanation. I am satisfied that the husband selected HFC because he thought they were the best fit. Indeed he remains with them now, over two years after his initial meeting.

47. That fact inevitably affects the analysis of the later meetings. Perhaps they were arranged in advance of 23 November, I have no evidence on when they were booked, and perhaps OE went through with them just to double check his selection of HFC. I consider it more likely than not though that by this stage there was also an element of ejecting those solicitors out of the pool of lawyers who the wife might consult.

[Yeah, that’s my view too….]

48. Turning to some of the evidence about the meeting itself. OE said in his statement at paragraph 5 that his earlier meetings overran, that is his earlier meetings with the firms Mischon de Reya and Stewarts Law. This was not his account in evidence, which put the Stewarts meeting finishing at 1.30 to 2 pm. He dealt with his arrival in both his statements and in neither did he say anything about a gap between the solicitors’ meetings.

49. I thought his account of his movements that day seemed to be made up on the spur of the moment, in particular his trip to the hairdressers after his meeting with Stewarts in Fetter Lane and before his attendance at Sears Tooth. That seemed to me to arise from his realisation that in his evidence he had created a window of time that was inconsistent with his earlier account. Why he would call Sears Tooth to say that he was running late is hard to fathom when on his own account he was not. The haircut story seemed to mirror the new explanation he had given slightly earlier in his evidence of having a manicure to fill the gap between the end of his Sears Tooth meeting and the time on the attendance note.

50. I got the overall impression that despite saying on a number of occasions that he had a clear recollection of the meeting, that actually his recollection was not clear at all. The most obvious example was that he clearly and firmly, but erroneously, asserted that Natasha Slabas was present at the meeting. I think he had simply looked at the Sears Tooth website and identified someone he thought had attended and then embellished his account by making reference to that person having an Eastern European connection.

51. The what I have termed an attendance note at B19 could be capable of corroborating his account, in particular if I was satisfied it was both contemporaneous and accurate. The timing on it at C10 puts it at either 6.02 pm or 7.02 pm GMT. OE said this time may be when it was last amended, but it tells me nothing about when it was started, nor does it, or he, tell me what the amendments were to it. It could be as much some aide memoire, put together after all the meetings concluded with some points he wanted to relay to the husband, as anything else. Curiously the meeting with Raymond Tooth comes second in his note before the single entry for what he said arose from his prior meeting with Stewarts. If these were truly contemporaneous notes that seems odd. Given my general concerns about how reliable and accurate a historian OE is, I cannot even determine whether what he ascribes to Raymond Tooth is accurately ascribed. It could have come from any of the meetings, or indeed nowhere, as the presence of Ms Slabas did.

52. OE’s notes of the meeting are so short as to suggest almost nothing about the content. They do not identify who the other meetings were with, for instance. He said his notes of the meetings on 17 November were much more extensive.

53. Perhaps HFC were indeed selected then whilst OE and the other lawyer, TB, were both present. It would make sense that the selection was made with the input of the husband’s Russian lawyer present. That suggests that these later meetings were indeed subsidiary and what took place was, relatively speaking, unimportant.

54. Even if OE is right in what he ascribes to Mr Tooth, it gives no clear insight into what might have been discussed. Why would a bulletproof jurisdiction be of relevance to the husband? He had his divorce and was not contemplating further divorce jurisdiction. It might be of interest on the children, I suppose, in determining habitual residence and the ability to bring proceedings in England. What does the comment “no generous deed” tell me? It could relate to the wife and children living in England, it might relate to maintenance. But even if OE had said the husband had paid the wife large sums, how could that be confidential?

55. OE gave no evidential context to the comments and what information they related to, it was really speculation as to what they might have related to rather than anything concrete. They could have been phrases conjured from nothing. Given that on balance I do not feel able to rely on the attribution of those comments, it may not matter too much what they actually mean, but it all adds into a very unclear and unreliable picture.

56. OE’S account of the length of the meeting and whether it commenced on time has varied quite significantly from the correspondence to his statements. Whilst this may be relatively minor, in itself it supports a poor not a good recollection. OE is clearly not a person who keeps accurate records, or indeed very many records at all perhaps.

57. His assertion about Raymond Tooth’s strategic notes with a strategic map seems inconsistent with what is said about Raymond Tooth. It is also different to what he said in his statement where he described Raymond Tooth writing well-structured notes. In the letter of 9 March it was said that OE saw Ms Slabas taking notes in the meeting. In his statement he said, “I can’t be sure she took any notes although my recollection is she did”.

58. Neither Kelly Edwards nor Laura Broomhall recall the meeting and the evidence is it was usually one of those who was present.

59. The £700 per hour charging rate figure comes from nowhere. The other solicitors say he has never charged this or said he would. Mr Marshall QC said it might be the figure including VAT. I am not sure whether the husband would be eligible to pay VAT or not where he is resident.

60. Sears Tooth have retained no records at all. There is no copy identification, which OE did not mention providing in his first statement but referred to in evidence: “I may have given him a passport copy of the client”. There is no dictated or handwritten file notes, no bill. Mr Tooth described the process of making up a file and how it would be retained.

61. Much of what OE said about Mr Tooth’s attitude could derive simply from his public image. It is not consistent with what Mr Tooth or his assistants say about his attitude with clients, it is more caricature that a person who has not known him as a client might have.

62. OE says he has no notes or feedback or summary in written form about the firms which he provided to the husband. He said he had a telephone call with him. He said, “I did a verbal report, I read them out to him”, but he did not say why he had recommended HFC.

63. He also said at one point that he had the other appointments confirmed in his laptop, but he had not confirmed the one with Sears Tooth. I am not sure whether he was simply saying that he had not got email confirmation in that respect.

64. The evidence overall of Mr Tooth of the requirement for passport identification to be brought, of how files are made up with the handwritten and dictated notes and their storage is consistent with a brief and non-specific meeting at which little, probably not even the name of the principal, was disclosed. I very much doubt that the husband would want detailed disclosure of highly confidential information to a significant number of firms, in particular I doubt it would be authorised after he had retained his first choice firm. I very much doubt that OE was given free rein to disclose the husband’s highly sensitive financial and other dealings. Anything he was authorised to disclose would have been carefully vetted, particularly at this stage. The absence of a briefing note suggests to me that not much would have been disclosed.

65. The clear impression of strategising and manoeuvring emerges from the judgment of Mr Justice Peter Jackson, all designed to further the husband’s goals, often involving the deception of the wife and designed to strengthen the husband’s position in any future litigation and weaken the wife’s. The timing of the meetings with the six firms fits in with the later manoeuvring over the children being put in touch with lawyers early in 2016. The way the situation with the children was created suggests very careful planning and manoeuvring by the husband. The failure to be frank about the meetings with HFC mirrors the incomplete disclosure about the involvement with Dawson Cornwall in the children’s case.

66. I am led to conclude that the meetings with at least some of the six firms, probably all of those seen on 30 November; given the first three seen on the 17th or earlier clearly involved more serious consideration by OE and the Russian lawyer, the later ones were at least in part motivated not by a genuine consultation but a conflicting exercise.

67. I cannot conclude the whole process was. Indeed if it had been there are some other obvious names that would have been seen. Indeed, even by 30 November there may still have been some lingering or vestigial genuine reason for completing the survey of firms, but by 3 o’clock on 30 November 2017 I am satisfied that OE was not seriously considering instructing Sears Tooth and this undoubtedly influenced the nature of the meeting and the information given.

68. It is probably self-evident by now that I thought that OE was rather blasé about the need for accuracy in matters evidential. He seemed very relaxed about the fact that he had got it wrong about Natasha Slabas. He later said in his evidence he did not think it mattered much about being accurate. He said he was unaware of the need to be 100 per cent careful. I think that attitude generally infects his evidence. He is rather casual about details and seemed quite prepared to elaborate to suit the point he is trying to sell. I do not believe I can rely on the accuracy of his account.

69. Of course there are aspects of it which are true. There are aspects which are patently false. The latter does not mean the rest is false. The former does not mean the rest is true. He has of course a potential motive to exaggerate or fabricate because part of the purpose in seeing Sears Tooth may have been to conflict them out. In any event, his boss certainly did not want Sears Tooth acting and so as his head of his family office he has an obvious motive to do his boss’ bidding. The failure to disclose the earlier instruction of HFC and their retention simply adds to the picture of OE as being a witness who cannot be relied upon. To maintain he saw Sears Tooth with a genuine intent to consider instructions when he knew HFC had been retained and not to disclose that shows a lamentable attitude to the affirmation that he took to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In saying what I have about OE I do not believe it was done with anything other than the Husband’s approval – this was not an agent going rogue but an agent doing his master’s bidding.

70. Overall Mr Tooth I conclude was the better witness. He conceded points which supported the meeting likely having taken place. He remains adamant he cannot recall anything about the meeting, which would be consistent with a short but uninformative meeting. I find it hard to ascertain why Mr Tooth would say he could not recall it if he could and why he would not have declined to act. As a solicitor with 50 years’ practice and with the reputation he has, what is one client more or less, why risk your reputation, indeed potentially more, if he was found to have misled the Court over the matter?

71. On the balance of probabilities, I do not find that any confidential material was imparted to Raymond Tooth or that any privileged information or advice arises. On balance I do not accept that the meeting was anything like that described by OE. I conclude that it was a very brief meeting which perhaps OE was attending to complete the job of going around the firms he had been instructed to with the parallel intention to conflict them. Whilst I cannot determine precisely, or even fairly closely, what was said and how the meeting developed, I conclude at most it may have been more in the nature of a brief and theoretical discussion, rather than the detailed, fact heavy, assets discussed, advice heavy meeting that OE seeks to portray. Mr Tooth described how some meetings were more general, about the law and how his position might depend on how the client put matters to him. It might of course have been far less than that, a perfunctory and very brief meeting which contained nothing of substance.

72. That being my conclusion on issues 2 and 3, I do not need to go on to consider issue 4, whether there is any risk of disclosure, nor do I need to consider my discretion in relation to whether an injunction should be granted or not. The application for an injunction is dismissed.

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A bunch of stuff I’ve liked this year (part 2)

 

 

Music this time.

These aren’t in particular order, save for the last one which is my album of the year. Big shout out to Resident Music of Brighton, where I bought all this stuff (and about another 150 albums). http://www.resident-music.com/

 

If you live in Brighton or travel to Brighton, stop off at Resident and have a browse. It’s an amazing record store and the staff are just the best. And they sell online too, so you don’t need to be Brighton-based to share the love.

 

(I’m not paid to plug them, I just love them.  Have been points over the last few years when music has really saved me, so they’ve made my life better.)

Here goes.

 

Nadine Shah – Holiday Destination.    She’s got a rich voice, throws ideas around,  writes really edgy songs and lays it all down over a really strong groove.

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=48521

 

Jamie Lenman – Devolver –  this album starts off with very quiet and gentle vocals, but it turns into an absolute banger – driving tracks, more hooks than Ernest Hemingway’s tackle-box and the sort of album that makes your heart beat faster and your smile broader. Ace.

 

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=50752

 

Baby Driver Original Soundtrack  –   I would have edited the hell out of the last third of this movie (even before the Kevin Spacey farago, he needs taking out of the last third), but I wouldn’t change a bar of the music. Anything that opens with Bellbottoms you know is going to be gangbusters, and indeed it is. Loads of songs where you think it’s going to be something you know really well and it turns out to be the source material that was sampled.  And Unsquare Dance is the song that used to make me jig about the front room when I was about five and I heard it on TV, and I’ve always loved it.

 

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=49280

 

Royal Blood – How did we get so dark?

The first album was so good, it was always going to be difficult to follow (Algiers had the same issue this year), but I think Royal Blood pulled it off.  Dark, crunchy, pounding, rocky. You just want to turn it up louder, louder, louder, till you run out of volume on the dial.

 

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=48407

 

Ride – Weather Diaries

 

Who would have thought that the indie shoegazers would come back twenty years later with an album that sounds so fresh and modern and full of swagger?  It’s straight-out great.  It is like someone managed to make a whole album out of the brief moment in the best Cure songs where you feel that absolutely everything is going to be right with the world.

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=47074

 

The National – Sleep Well Beast

This is like someone spooning up to you in the night, when you’re hovering between sleep and wakefulness and you think mmm, lovely. And then they whisper something terrible in your ear. Warm, but unsettling, if that makes sense. Great songs, as always from the National. A band that just never let you down.

 

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=48718

 

Flo Morrissey and Matthew E White – Gentlewoman, Ruby Man

 

An album of cover songs wouldn’t normally be my bag. But these are a great set of songs, and the voices are just delicious, and blend perfectly together. It’s an insane version of Grease that feels like a sexy anthem. A very close thing to being my album of the year.

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&path=21417&product_id=45476

 

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Whole lotta sea lice

 

If the names alone don’t make you go, oh god I must hear that, then I assume that’s because you don’t know either of them. And you should solve that, right now. Two great artists, coming together and delivering an album packed with luscious songs and ideas. Also a great Belly cover, which left me unable to breathe for a moment when I first heard it.

 

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&path=23722&product_id=50644

 

Kasabian  – For Crying out loud

 

Historically the problem with Kasabian has been that (other than West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum) their albums divide too starkly into Bangers and Fillers. The Bangers have always been exceptional, but the Fillers are meh.  This album solves that by dividing into Uber Bangers and Bangers.  Job done.  Also, get the 2 CD version, because it has the live show from King Power Stadium, just after Leicester won the Premier League, and it is just an amazing gig where the band are clearly having the best time ever, and it plays all of their best songs with even more force and oomph than usual.

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=46981

 

Harry Styles –  Harry Styles

I wasn’t really expecting the pretty one from a boy band to do one of my favourite records this year, but he has. It would have been really easy for him to make a pop record, or a George Michael record, but this is altogether more interesting. It isn’t perfect, it sometimes tries things that don’t come off, but I like it because it is flawed in interesting ways, it fails in interesting ways. To quote Samuel Beckett “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”  – this album gives me a lot of hope for the future career – because it is a great listen now, but you can see him grow and the potential to improve – by trying something hard rather than just pushing out something easy. Really good songs on here, and as a massive Nilsson fan, I really enjoyed what he was doing with his voice. This was hard to budge from my regular playlist, and I’ve kept going back to it throughout the year. A real surprise

 

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=48635

Idles-  Brutalism

 

Angry, dark, punchy, but often laugh out loud funny too.  You’ve just got to love a band who deliver a song that is working around comparing the listener/subject of the song unfavourably to imagined accomplishments of Mary Berry  and some imaginary posh cousin, Tarquin- “Why don’t you get a medal? Even Tarquin’s got a medal. Mary Berry’s got a medal – so why don’t you get a medal?”

 

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=46886

 

And my album of the year

 

The Horrors – V

http://www.resident-music.com/productdetails&product_id=49643

 

They are always great, and they never stand still – the sound always changes, moves on. This time the feel I got from it is exhuberant dance music for Goths.  There’s a dash of Human League, New Order, Depeche Mode, Cure, but pushed through a very modern filter.  Something to Remember me by is the song of the year – it is just a complete joy. Loved it.

A bunch of stuff I’ve liked this year (Part 1)

 

It’s a bit early for a grand review of the year, but as Resident Music are doing their albums of the year annual at the end of this week, and I want to pick my own before they launch that, this post is going to be November, not December.

 

Not all of you will like all of the stuff here – maybe you’ll know some of it and we can bond, maybe some of it will be unfamiliar and intrigue you and maybe some of it you’ll think yuck, hell no. It’s okay, we’re still cool.

 

So music will be part 2, because I am stalling for time.

Here’s a bunch of stuff that I really enjoyed this year, and my quick thoughts as to why.

 

Films

 

I went to see a LOT of films this year, because I signed up to one of of those all-you-can-eat movie cards. Money well spent. It meant that I went to see stuff I might not otherwise have gotten around to.

I rated Detroit as my favourite film this year – Kathryn Bigelow (who just flat-out doesn’t make bad films – she doesn’t make ENOUGH films, but everything she does is great) telling the story of the Detroit race riots, through the prism of the experience of a handful of people at the Algiers Hotel. It begins very cinematically with broad sweeps over what’s happening in the City, before zeroing in on a select group of characters and then it is almost just theatrical. It is a small cast, in essentially two rooms and a corridor, and it is intense and claustrophobic and troubling and brooding and you feel bruised but better for the experience.

I was very intrigued by Death of Stalin – and oddly, the thing that nearly put me off seeing it – Jason Isaacs playing a Russian general with a broad Yorkshire dialect actually was one of my favourite things when I saw it. There’s dark comedy and there’s comedy where you’re in the middle of laughing when someone on screen gets casually murdered and makes you feel appalled for laughing – but then you’re laughing again a minute later and appalled all over again. It won’t be for everyone, but again Armando Ianucci is someone who for me doesn’t ever do a lot wrong, and this is in my opinion his best work  (I feel guilty for even typing that, because of Alan Partridge and the Day Today, but I’ll stand by it).

In terms of big dumb action movies, it was a refreshing delight to see DC remember that superheroes are allowed to be fun in Wonder Woman and I’m delighted to see Gal Gadot (who I majorly crushed on when she had her breakout role in Fast and Furious.. five, I think? ) getting the acclaim that she deserves. Logan was everything that I hoped it might be – pensive and bloody and sparse and with great chemistry between the three leads – the bad guys were meh, but that’s become a major problem for superhero movies – it always is. How do you make a villain (a) threatening to protagonists with superpowers, (b) credible as someone who goes out to pick a fight with superpowered adversaries and (c) with some actual motivation?

That remains a problem, pretty much the only problem with Thor Ragnarok, which sets out to be a big dumb and funny action movie and delivers on that big time. Cate Blanchett (hooray for her first genuine mention on the blog rather than being the carte blanche gag) does her best with Hela as the villain, but the character is underwritten and you never actually feel like she might triumph.  Maybe a superhero movie needs to be brave and have the Empire Strikes Back style downbeat ending.  Avengers 2 hinted at flirting with that, when you felt sure that Hawkeye was going to die in the final act, but he was always the most disposable of the Avengers anyway, and they duck out of it.  Anyway, Thor is pacey, genuinely funny, everyone seems to be having a blast and the director gives himself all the best lines in his cameo as a remarkably chilled-out gladiator made out of rock.

 

Podcasts

 

I’ve been getting into podcasts a lot this year. I listen to Stuff you Should Know pretty relentlessly – Josh and Chuck have really comforting voices to listen to and are very welcoming – they just pick a topic and tell you lots and lots about it. I love learning new stuff, and even when the topic sounds like something that isn’t going to grab me, I’m genuinely into it just minutes in. It’s also very eclectic – I’ve learned about sunscreen, restaurant hygiene and inspections, spy camp training in World War II, Amelia Earheart, how headhunters make shrunken heads, truth serums, handwriting analysis, and so much more.

I’m currently jonesing for more My Dad Wrote a Porno, because I’ve finished series 3 and there isn’t new content until Christmas. If you don’t know it, the premise is simple. James’ dad, who is in his late 60s, has written and self-published a series of erotic novels, under the magnificent psuedonym Rocky Flintstone. They tell the story of Belinda Blumenthal, who works in the pots and pans industry, which turns out to be a hotbed of sexual shenanigans and bizarre business deals. James reads a chapter of the book aloud each week, interrupted by his two friends Alice and Jamie, who interject every time the text says something baffling, ridiculous, appalling or just downright impossible – which is every other sentence.  Rocky is either the worst writer in existence, or some form of unusual genius, and you often change your mind as to which mid-sentence.  The book is filth, and you will obsessively check that your headphones haven’t come out whilst you’re listening to it, but it is not and has never been and will never be, erotic.  It is, however, screamingly funny.  People often talk about things being laugh out loud funny, but Dad Wrote a Porno has made me regularly laugh until I cried, and I have to quite often pause because I’m laughing too much to go on. The characters are all utterly deranged. It’s ace.

 

I also like And that’s Why we Drink – which is two friends, Christine and Em, who live in LA. Christine tells a murder story each week, and Em tells a ghost story usually around a haunted house. They make you feel like you not only want to be friends with them, but that you sort of are.

 

 

Books

I just read Matthew Weiner’s  “Heather, the totality” and that’s probably going to be my favourite piece of fiction of the year.  Matthew Weiner is the man who created Mad Men.  The book is slim, clocking in at only 135 pages, but I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any longer – and it is one for re-reading, more than once. So it’s still value for money.  It is a story about an ostensibly perfect family intersecting with a very damaged young man. The prose style is journalistic – stripped back, clean, sharp. Almost if you think Hemingway is too flowery sometimes, this is a response.  With that in mind, a single paragraph of the book can cover a single moment, or a period of change covering months or years.

The tension in the book is almost unbearable as you get closer and closer to the end (which is why I said I was content that it wasn’t longer).

Here’s a one sentence taste

“Having Bobby did little to alter his Mother’s belief that heroin was the best thing in her life”

Damn.

 

I also really enjoyed J T LeRoy’s Sarah – a hallucinatory story about a girl who lives in a trailer at a truck stop and who wants to become a Lot Lizard, a hooker who entertains truckers principally to spite her mother. You feel like the world is real and that you are in it from page one, and though there’s some grimness it is laced with invention and humour and detail and a skewed look at the world. It is full of surprises, just like the lead character (and indeed the author, who has her own interesting backstory)

Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet was beautiful sci-fi, not hard sci-fi in terms of the science, but lovely world-building, characters that you want to spend time with and lots and lots of heart. I wish THIS book had been a thousand pages longer. I never wanted to leave the world.

Non-fiction the one that has stayed with me is Svetlana Alexievich’s Chernobyl Prayer – a documentary collection of essays from people who came into the Chernobyl story, from firefighters, soldiers, scientists, politicians and widows, a lot of widows. It opened my eyes not just to the tragedy but how a completely different approach and mindset about nuclear power and a country’s own mindset of showing that we are not afraid caused far more loss of life than was necessary.  Not a cheery read, but still an inspirational one.

 

 

Comics

 

This year has just been dominated by one creative partnership – Tom King (writing) and Mitch Gerads (art).  Their main book is Batman, which has had a great run of writers, Grant Morrison and Scott Synder, and that would be a tough pair of writers for anyone to follow. Tom King hasn’t just followed them, he’s taken writing Batman to a whole new level. He’s hitting the characters perfectly, making them think and sound and react like people with real weight and showing sides of them that we haven’t encountered before but that are in keeping with everything we knew about them whilst still surprising us. His dialogue is snappy and crunchy, and utterly quotable, and his plots are interesting and unpredictable and pacey. And the best thing is that he just keeps getting better.

 

When Batman reminds Catwoman of their first encounter, when she stole a diamond and jumped off a rooftop, and he recovered the diamond but let her go, that’s a lovely callback to history. But then Tom King has Batman say something extraordinary. He kept the diamond. He never returned it. He knew that he would need it. He always knew he’d need it some day.

 

 

And I don’t need to tell you what a great artist Mitch is. You can see it.

The next storyline was the War of Jokes and Riddles, flashing back to Batman’s early days, when the Joker and Riddler went to war with one another, roping in all the other villains of Gotham to pick a side. Batman wants to stop the loss of innocent life, but the way he goes about this is intriguing, shocking and develops the character in ways you couldn’t predict. The arc also uses one of the gag-villains of all gag-villains, Kite-Man, and makes him not only human and tragic, but someone that you want to actually cheer for.  Kite-Man, hell yeah.

 

Joker is more terrifying than he’s ever been in this arc – he has a horrible stillness about him – he’s lost his sense of humour and that makes him much more frightening.  He’s saying this to a room full of mobsters, by the way…

 

Brrrr

 

And whilst the Riddler often comes off like the Cyberman to the Joker’s Dalek (you know, he’s supposed to be menacing and dangerous but he often ends up being badly written and a joke and clearly inferior to the number one adversary) in this arc, he’s powerful and whip-smart and manipulative.

It’s a fantastic story.  Is it the best Batman story since Hush? Absolutely.  Is it maybe better than Hush? I think it is. Time will tell.

 

And in case that isn’t enough, the same creative team produce what’s either the second best comic series of the year or the best – Mister Miracle.  Mister Miracle isn’t a character that’s ever really grabbed me –  Scott Free is an escapologist, from another world.  The hook is that two powerful beings – the Highfather (sort of God) and Darkseid (sort of the Devil but worse) have fought for centuries – an uneasy peace is brokered when each swaps their son as a hostage to honour the truce.  Darkseid’s son Orion goes to live with the Highfather, and The Highfather’s son Scott goes to live with Darkseid where he is brutalised and mistreated.  What’s more powerful, nature or nurture?  That’s the old Jack Kirby take on it.

The King/Gerads take on it is to treat Scott like a person. What’s the impact on him of a childhood like that? Of an adulthood of fighting wars that you didn’t start and don’t understand? What’s the human cost to him of his experiences.  It’s a dark series, have no doubt about that, but it makes you connect with Scott in a way that I’ve never done before, and you just can’t take your eyes off the page and as soon as you finish an issue you are craving the next one.  They are half-way through an 8 issue run on Mister Miracle at the moment, and we’ll have to judge it when we see the full story (but the Batman arcs have left us in no doubt that King can finish a story – he’s not just setting up a fascinating premise and then running out of steam – he delivers on the premise.)

 

So in terms of art and creativity this year, I’d say that the best piece of art I’ve enjoyed this year has definitely been written by Tom King and drawn by Mitch Gerads. Whether it is Batman or Mister Miracle, I don’t yet know. We are very blessed to have both.

Parents can consent to restriction of liberty for children under 18, Court of Appeal rules

This appeal overturns Keehan J’s decision that whilst a parent could consent to a foster care arrangement that involves a restriction of liberty for a child under 16 (which thus means that it does not require either Secure Accommodation or court authorisation), they cannot do so for a child aged 16-17 and 363 days.

Re D (A child) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/1695.html

The Court of Appeal considered things very carefully and in huge detail. I don’t have time for the detailed analysis that the case merits, but it is an important decision, so people need to know it. The Court of Appeal felt, looking at things closely, that there was no magic in the age 16 when dealing with young people who lack capacity.

84.This has an important corollary. Given that there is no longer any ‘magic’ in the age of 16, given the principle that ‘Gillick capacity’ is ‘child-specific’, the reality is that, in any particular context, one child may have ‘Gillick capacity’ at the age of 15, while another may not have acquired ‘Gillick capacity’ at the age of 16 and another may not have acquired ‘Gillick capacity’ even by the time he or she reaches the age of 18: cf, In Re R (A Minor) (Wardship: Consent to Treatment) [1992] Fam 11, pages 24, 26.

128.In my judgment, in the context with which we are here concerned (see paragraphs 84-85 above), parental responsibility is, in principle, exercisable in relation to a 16- or 17-year old child who, for whatever reason, lacks ‘Gillick capacity’.

Consider a dentist, who is deciding whether to treat someone who is not an adult. If a 7 year old says “I don’t want you to take my teeth out” the dentist will of course look to the parent to say yes or no, and won’t take the child’s views as being final. If a 15 year old says that, the dentist may try to encourage and persuade, but can’t really just operate against the 15 year old’s will, and nor can they just take parental consent. The 16 year old with capacity has autonomy over their own body and mouth. BUT if the parents come with a 16 year old and explain that as a result of special needs, the young person lacks capacity, the dentist would probably be able to take the parental consent as being valid. The parents are exercising parental responsibility for a young person who does not have Gillick competence to make their own decisions (even though they are of an age where most young people would be)

I’m not sure that I agree with this conclusion, and I feel that it has some issues with Lord Kerr’s formulation in Cheshire West.

“77 The question whether one is restricted (as a matter of actuality) is determined by comparing the extent of your actual freedom with someone of your age and station whose freedom is not limited. Thus a teenager of the same age and familial background as MIG and MEG is the relevant comparator for them. If one compares their state with a person of similar age and full capacity it is clear that their liberty is in fact circumscribed. They may not be conscious, much less resentful, of the constraint but, objectively, limitations on their freedom are in place.

78 All children are (or should be) subject to some level of restraint. This adjusts with their maturation and change in circumstances. If MIG and MEG had the same freedom from constraint as would any child or young person of similar age, their liberty would not be restricted, whatever their level of disability. As a matter of objective fact, however, constraints beyond those which apply to young people of full ability are – and have to be – applied to them. There is therefore a restriction of liberty in their cases. Because the restriction of liberty is – and must remain – a constant feature of their lives, the restriction amounts to a deprivation of liberty.

79 Very young children, of course, because of their youth and dependence on others, have – an objectively ascertainable – curtailment of their liberty but this is a condition common to all children of tender age. There is no question, therefore, of suggesting that infant children are deprived of their liberty in the normal family setting. A comparator for a young child is not a fully matured adult, or even a partly mature adolescent. While they were very young, therefore, MIG and MEG’s liberty was not restricted. It is because they can – and must – now be compared to children of their own age and relative maturity who are free from disability and who have access (whether they have recourse to that or not) to a range of freedoms which MIG and MEG cannot have resort to that MIG and MEG are deprived of liberty.”

And later

157.The ECHR enshrines the rights of the citizen, but its principal purpose and function is the protection of rights by engaging the State. The Convention is not an academic exercise. Key questions in every case where the Convention is invoked are: on the facts, is there an obligation for the State to become involved? Are the domestic laws and procedures apt to engage the State when necessary, and to protect the citizen’s rights? But these are questions to be asked and answered of the domestic law, for our purposes the common law.

158.It should be no surprise that the common law has provided the answer here. Although it is not necessary for the decision in this case, I also agree with the President that the question whether there is “confinement” should be approached in the careful way analysed by Lord Kerr in Cheshire West, at paragraphs 77 to 79. A three year-old child must be restrained for her own safety if walking near a busy road, or playing near a bonfire. This restraint would be unlawful if exercised over an adult. But it is lawful if exercised by any adult looking after the child. In my view, there is no need for an elaborate analysis of delegated parental responsibility to explain this. In such circumstances, restraint to keep the child safe lawfully could (and normally should) be exercised by any nearby adult. The true analysis is that explained by Lord Kerr. For all present purposes, “confinement” means not simply “confining” a young child to a playpen or by closing a door, but something more: an interruption or curtailment of the freedom of action normally to be ascribed to a child of that age and understanding. In most of the myriad instances in life where children are restrained in one way or another – by being compelled unwillingly to go to school, go to bed at a given time and so forth – there can be no question of their being “confined” so as to fulfil the first limb of the test in Storck.

159.Where there is confinement in the sense I have indicated, so that there may be a need for the State to engage to prevent possible abuse, the questions then become whether parental rights (and duties) can justify the confinement, and whether the State may have an obligation, to be discharged by local authorities and perhaps by the courts, to intervene. Excessively cautious or strict parenting, leading, let us say, to a fourteen year-old who is prevented from ever leaving the house save to be transported to and from school by a parent, might be a case of “confinement”. Other more extreme examples clearly would do so. Then the issue of whether the confinement is justified may arise. It will be evident that such cases are highly fact-specific and that the State will accord great flexibility to parents in caring for their children. That flexibility must reflect the facts, including the “discretion” of the child.

It rather seems to me that the nuts and bolts of Cheshire West are that one compares whether the restrictions on a child are part and parcel of family life or above and beyond that, not by comparing X child with one of similar needs and circumstances but with a child of a similar age. And that means that it would NOT be reasonable for a foster parent to lock the bedroom door of a 17 year old or restrain them if they tried to leave the home, and it doesn’t become reasonable just because X happens to lack capacity and needs those restrictions to keep them safe.

The Court of Appeal have clearly spent hours and hours on this, and my gut feeling is just my gut feeling, so it would be utterly wrong of me to try to argue that the Court of Appeal are wrong here.

Re D is the law now. Re D is.

Re D is.

Re D is

Re D is

(And if you aren’t reading Tom King and Mitch Gerard’s “Mister Miracle”, can I urge you to do that in the strongest possible terms? It is a mark of how great they currently are that the only work to compare to it this year is the same creative team’s run on Batman. )

The Court of Appeal stress that if a Local Authority are relying on parental consent to authorise a restrictive regime in foster care, they can’t simply rely on generic section 20 consent to authorise this.

149.Finally (paras 126-128), Keehan J rejected the local authority’s contention that the parents’ consent to D being accommodated pursuant to section 20 of the Children Act 1989 was a valid consent to D’s confinement at the residential unit. He disagreed with Mostyn J’s analysis in Re RK (Minor: Deprivation of Liberty) [2010] COPLR Con Vol 1047. Furthermore, he said (para 128):

“the “consent” is to the child being accommodated. It cannot be inferred that that consent means that those with parental responsibility have consented to whatever placement the local authority considers, from time to time, appropriate.”
150.I agree with Keehan J that the mere fact that a child is being accommodated by a local authority pursuant to section 20 does not, of itself, constitute a parental consent for Nielsen purposes to the particular confinement in question. In the first place it needs to be borne in mind that parental consent is not, in law, an essential pre-requisite to a local authority’s use of section 20: see Williams and another v Hackney London Borough Council [2017] EWCA Civ 26, [2017] 3 WLR 59. Moreover, even where there is such consent, there remains the powerful point made by Keehan J: to what precisely have the parents consented? That is a matter of fact to be decided in light of all the circumstances of the particular case. Here, as we have seen, Keehan J, found (see paragraph 9 above) that his parents had agreed to D’s being placed at Placement B just as he had earlier found (paragraph 107 above) that they had previously agreed to his being placed at Hospital B. I can see no basis for challenging either of those findings of fact.

(I’m not at all sure now of the status of Keehan J’s previous assertion that whilst parents can consent to restriction of liberty in foster care under s20, they can’t do so under ICOs because the threshold has been found to be crossed. That wasn’t in the case that was appealed, and it has always seemed to me a rather arbitrary distinction. I can’t see that the Court of Appeal look at this, but it is a long judgment, I may have missed it.)

Re D is.

Someone had blundered

 

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

 

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

 

RE J (A Minor: Revocation of Adoption) 2017

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

And it is just frankly, a mistake.

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

FOUR FULL DAYS of listening to a judgment.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Checking Facebook – social workers and social media

I happened to read the Community Care piece on social workers and social media this week. I think it is a good piece, it is here

http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2017/10/10/social-workers-use-social-media/?cmpid=NLC|SCSC|SCNEW-2017-1011

But I mentioned on Twitter that this paragraph troubled me

3. But debates continue about the impact of social media on the confidentiality of service users, and how information shared publicly on social media should be used by social workers, says Birchall. “If a social worker visited a home and saw a dangerous person who should not be present in the family home, they would be wrong not to act on this, but if they looked at a service user’s profile on social media and found out the same information there’s a sense that this breaches the service user’s confidentiality, even though the information is public. There are strong feelings on both sides of the argument. It’s a new world and we’re just getting to grips [with it].”

I mentioned that this is in contravention of the published guidance about members of the State looking at the social media of members of the public (even where the social media is on public settings and open to anyone to view)

Not in any sense a criticism of the author, or Community Care – the guidance has obviously gone under the radar, but it is important

It seems that many people didn’t know about this guidance from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners

http://www.publiclawtoday.co.uk/local-government/information-law/344-information-law/31202-public-authorities-and-surveillance

Extract from OSC Procedures & Guidance document

Covert surveillance of Social Networking Sites (SNS)

288. The fact that digital investigation is routine or easy to conduct does not reduce the need for authorisation. Care must be taken to understand how the SNS being used works. Authorising Officers must not be tempted to assume that one service provider is the same as another or that the services provided by a single provider are the same.

288.1 Whilst it is the responsibility of an individual to set privacy settings to protect unsolicited access to private information, and even though data may be deemed published and no longer under the control of the author, it is unwise to regard it as ―open source, or publicly available; the author has a reasonable expectation of privacy if access controls are applied. In some cases data may be deemed private communication still in transmission (instant messages for example). Where privacy settings are available but not applied the data may be considered open source and an authorisation is not usually required. Repeat viewing of ―open source sites may constitute directed surveillance on a case by case basis and this should be borne in mind.

288.2 Providing there is no warrant authorising interception in accordance with section 48(4) of the 2000 Act, if it is necessary and proportionate for a public authority to breach covertly access controls, the minimum requirement is an authorisation for directed surveillance. An authorisation for the use and conduct of a CHIS is necessary if a relationship is established or maintained by a member of a public authority or by a person acting on its behalf (i.e. the activity is more than mere reading of the site‘s content).

288.3 It is not unlawful for a member of a public authority to set up a false identity but it is inadvisable for a member of a public authority to do so for a covert purpose without an authorisation for directed surveillance when private information is likely to be obtained. The SRO should be satisfied that there is a process in place to ensure compliance with the legislation. Using photographs of other persons without their permission to support the false identity infringes other laws.

288.4 A member of a public authority should not adopt the identity of a person known, or likely to be known, to the subject of interest or users of the site without authorisation, and without the consent of the person whose identity is used, and without considering the protection of that person. The consent must be explicit (i.e. the person from whom consent is sought must agree (preferably in writing) what is and is not to be done).

So this is guidance to members of the State (such as social workers) as to when they can view social media without consent of the author or going to obtain Regulation of Investigatory Power Act (RIPA) authorisation in the form of a warrant from a Magistrate. (which they are highly unlikely to get)

If a parent has privacy settings, then the ONLY way to view it is with the person’s explicit consent OR a warrant under RIPA from a Magistrate. Anything else is an offence.

The guidance is VERY plain that using dummy or fake accounts to gain access to another person’s social media presence is ‘inadvisable’

The tricky bit is here

Where privacy settings are available but not applied the data may be considered open source and an authorisation is not usually required. Repeat viewing of ―open source sites may constitute directed surveillance on a case by case basis and this should be borne in mind.

(It’s not clear about where privacy settings are NOT available, but as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all dating websites have privacy settings, I don’t think this is going to come up very often. Maybe if the parent is posting a lot on Reddit…. )

What this says is that even where a person has no privacy settings on their social media and it is ‘open source’ – i.e available to anyone to go and look at, “REPEAT viewing of open source sites MAY constitute directed surveillance on a case by case basis” (and if it does, RIPA authorisation would be needed)

Note that

Amendments to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Directed Surveillance and Covert Human Intelligence Sources) Order 2010 (“the 2010 Order”) mean that a local authority can now only grant an authorisation under RIPA for the use of directed surveillance where the local authority is investigating particular types of criminal offences. These are criminal offences which attract a maximum custodial sentence of 6 months or more or relate to the underage sale of alcohol or tobacco.

And therefore, if in an individual case, the REPEAT viewing of open source social media by someone working for a local authority DOES count as directed surveillance, it will be unlawful. Because a Local Authority can only do this with authorisation, and the authorisation can only be given for investigating particular types of criminal offences (and the “we were doing it to prevent child abuse/drug misuse won’t cut it. Sale of cigarettes to children in a shop is the sort of thing that is okay for getting a warrant for directed surveillance – that sort of hidden camera thing)

And conducting unauthorised direct surveillance is an offence under RIPA. So serious stuff.

What’s REPEAT viewing?

Well, the guidance doesn’t say REPEATED (which implies multiple occasions) and my best guess is that REPEAT means what it says on the tin, more than once.

Any social worker that accesses a parents social media presence (even if they are available to the public) more than once, is at risk of committing the criminal offence under RIPA and having their actions potentially actionable in damages. Local Authorities are obliged to follow the guidance, they can’t just choose to ignore it.

During the Twitter discussion, some people felt that if a parent chooses to publish the material for the public (and doesn’t make use of the privacy settings) then they have effectively waived their privacy. They have, in so far as members of the public are concerned. Any member of the public can go and look at their social media presence.

But an agent of the State can’t do make REPEAT viewings of it, even if the accounts are open to the public. (and no, you can’t just take off your social work hat and put on your member of the public hat)

I look at it this way. The street outside your front door is open to the public – just like your social media account on no privacy settings. Anyone can stand in that street. If they stand there, they can see your front door, and if you don’t close your curtains, can see into your house. But if it is a member of the State doing that, they either need your permission or an authorisation to conduct surveillance without your permission.

It’s the same here – just because you’ve left your curtains open doesn’t mean that the social worker can stand outside your house in a public road and look through your window whenever they want.

As we can see from the case below, failure to obtain the evidence legally doesn’t make it inadmissible, and the family Court won’t be the place to punish any offence under RIPA (that will be a criminal court, boys and girls, so think on)

But I would imagine that representations would be made that if a social worker has made repeat viewings of social media, and not taken this guidance into account, that their assessment is tainted by this and their evidence should be viewed with caution. Whether or not Judges accept those representations is a different question.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2017/07/19/watching-the-detectives/

Until there’s more clarity on this, given that it is a criminal offence, the advice must be ONCE without consent is as far as it is safe to go. I would also counsel against anyone immediately thinking “well, as long as I only do it once, there are seven workers in my team, so we can get seven bites at it” . If there’s even a tiny risk that what you are doing may be a criminal offence, don’t mess around with taking that risk.

If you get explicit consent from the parent “I’d like to look at your Facebook profile” “Yes, I agree to that”, then you are good. Otherwise, once is the only safe number.

There’s a tricky grey area where a parent has posted something they shouldn’t have done on social media and have been asked to take it down or something defamatory – how can that now be checked? I think the parent would have to consent. (or directed by the Court to produce evidence to show that the offending remarks have been removed)

Thanks a million

 

The blog passed its one millionth visitor yesterday. Which for me is pretty mind boggling, considering that when I started it, I didn’t know if anyone would ever see it.  So huge thanks to all the people who have read it, told others, commented or tweeted. All of you have made this happen. Big love for all of you

 

 

Andrew

 

 

(Not Sue)