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Category Archives: welfare of the bundle

Irn Brouhaha

 

I apologise to any readers north of the border for that dreadful gag.

 

Re M 2015 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2082.html

 

The quick summary on this was “mother applies to discharge care order and in the alternative for more contact” so I wasn’t expecting much out of the case when I opened it up. But then I saw four Silks in the case and I thought “oh hello”

 

In very brief summary, His Honour Judge Dowse made findings that a father (F1) had sexually abused a child. The mother’s resistance to accepting those findings and her continuance of a relationship with father led to a series of care proceedings, ending up with seven children being permanently placed away from the mother.  The oldest C1 is subject to a Freeing Order but has not been adopted, the next oldest C2 is placed with an aunt, C3-C7 have all been adopted.

 

And then there is child C8, who is presently living with mother and her new husband (F2) in Scotland, under no orders.

This is the Irn-Brouhaha  –  the Scottish equivalent of care proceedings was brought in Scotland in relation to child C8 and the Court there concluded that there had not been any sexual abuse, and thus no failure to protect.

That was all well and good for the mother and C8, but raised obvious questions of what should happen with child C1 and C2.  If a Court rules that there was no abuse and there is no risk, should they come home?

 

As you may know, I am no admirer of the 350 page limitation, so I had to smile at this particular line from Hayden J

So scrupulously have the documents been pared down for the application before me, in compliance with the President’s Guidance, that it is not possible to track the evolution of these proceedings clearly from the papers filed.

 

 

The big argument for the case was therefore – what legal status does the Scottish judgment on C8 and the sexual abuse allegations have on the English Courts dealing with C1 and C2?

 

  1. In the course of the proceedings in Scotland the Court was persuaded to re-open the findings of HHJ Dowse. At the conclusion of the Scottish hearing, before Sheriff O’Carroll, the court reached a very different conclusion. In his judgment of the 30th October 2013 the Sheriff found that he was unable, on the evidence before him, to find that the Reporter (whose status is similar to that of the Local Authority in England) had discharged the burden of proving, to the civil standard, that M and F1 had been involved in the sexual abuse of any of their children. The allegations, on this aspect of the case, had been placed before the Scottish Court in this way:

    “2. On various occasions between 22 February 1998 and 1 October 2005, at various addresses in the north of England, exact addresses meantime unknown, M and F1 caused C1, C3 and C4 (who were all under the age of thirteen at the relevant times) to participate in sexual activity and caused them to touch, with their hands or their mouths, the genitals, anus and breasts of M and the penis of F1.

    3. Statement of fact 2 demonstrates that M committed an act of lewd and libidinous practices and behaviour. This an offence specified in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.”

  2. In respect of these allegations the Sheriff stated in his judgment:

    “320. […] However, I am unable on the evidence before me to find that the reporter has discharged the burden of proving to the civil standard that statement of fact 2 is proved. It follows that SoF 3 is not proved.”

    By contrast Judge Dowse found:

    “Both parents were involved in explicit and inappropriate sexual behaviour with C1, C4 and C3 and neither protected the children from the other.”

     

 

It is always curious to see how wording differs in other countries – the ‘lewd and libidinous’ adds something here, I think.

 

Non lawyers may not be aware that Scotland has an entirely separate legal system to England and Wales – the statutes are different, the process is different and they have their own case law. The only time that the cases cross over is when the Supreme Court has to decide a case, when the Supreme Court (which is full of English Judges) has to apply Scottish law to the case and reach a decision.  This means establishing whether the Scottish judgment has any legal weight is not a simple task.

 

 

25. Mr Tyler and Mr Booth have drawn my attention to: Stare Decisis and Scottish Judicial Decisions, J.K. Bentil, [1972] Modern Law Review 537. They adopt the analysis of the legal status of Scottish judgments on the law in England and Wales set out in that paper:

    1. “Apart from the fact that some Scottish judicial decisions which go on appeal to the House of Lords may create binding precedents for the English Courts, the effect on English courts of certain Scottish judicial decisions in their own right appears to have received little or no attention this side of the border. Theory has it that generally Scottish judicial decisions are not binding on the English courts but have persuasive effect only. But in actual practice, the weight of authority on this side of the border tends to suggest that certain Scottish judicial decisions, notably those concerned with the interpretation of statutes of common application on both sides of the border, are indeed binding on English courts.”

The ultimate conclusion reached is as set out in paragraph 20 of their Skeleton Argument:

“Although we cannot assert the Sheriff’s judgment to have a formal (in the sense of automatically enforceable) status, it is clear that it has some status, or perhaps better worded, a ‘real significance’.”      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always dread to type the words Brussels II  in a blog post, but I have to.  (It always makes me think of Stephen Hawking’s publisher telling him that every equation in “A Brief History of Time” would cut sales in half. He only actually used one, in the final version)

Very briefly, if the Scottish judgment here had been in Lithuania, or France, or Portugal, the English Court would have to take it into account, and of course, mother could argue that under article 15 the case ought to be dealt with entirely by Scotland.  but Brussels II specifically does not apply to cases between England and Scotland.

In Re PC, YC & KM (Brussels II R: Jurisdiction Within the United Kingdom) [2014] 1 FLR 605 Baker J observed at para 16:

“It is widely recognised that the provisions governing conflicts of jurisdiction in children’s cases within the UK are, in the words of Thorpe LJ in Re W-B, supra, at paragraph 29, “difficult and complicated.” He was referring in particular to the provisions of the Family Law Act 1986, but as Miss Green has demonstrated, there is similar difficulty and uncertainty as to the applicability of BIIR to the allocation of jurisdiction within the UK.”

Nonetheless he went on to conclude at para 18:

“Given the clear view expressed emphatically by the Court of Appeal very recently in Re W-B, I reject Miss Green’s submissions and adopt the orthodox view that BIIR does not apply to jurisdictional disputes or issues arising between the different jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. Article 15 could not, therefore, be used to transfer these proceedings from England to Scotland.”

 

So the nutshell answer, after four QCs have sweated over it and a High Court Judge have looked at it is, “the Court don’t HAVE to consider it, but probably best not to just ignore it”

We then get into the law on re-opening cases.

Hayden J sets out all of that law very beautifully, but I think that I will cut to the chase, which is Lady Hale’s line In re B (Children: Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) (CAFCASS intervening) [2008] UKHL 35, [2009] 1 AC 11.”  about situations in which a party wants to challenge findings that had been made by an earlier Court.

“In such an event, it seems to me, the court may wish to be made aware, not only of the findings themselves, but also of the evidence upon which they were based. It is then for the court to decide whether or not to allow any issue of fact to be tried afresh.”

But also

    1. “(a) that there is a public interest in an end to litigation – the resources of the courts and everyone involved in these proceedings are already severely stretched and should not be employed in deciding the same matter twice unless there is good reason to do so; [1997] 1 FLR Hale J Re B (CA Proceedings) (Issue Estoppel) (FD) 295”
    1. (b) that any delay in determining the outcome of the case is likely to be prejudicial to the welfare of the individual child; but
    1. (c) that the welfare of any child is unlikely to be served by relying upon determinations of fact which turn out to have been erroneous; and
    1. (d) the court’s discretion, like the rules of issue estoppel, as pointed out by Lord Upjohn in Carl Zeiss Stiftung v Rayner & Keeler Ltd (No 2) [1967] 1 AC 853, 947, ‘must be applied so as to work justice and not injustice’.
  1. In a further passage that I find has particular resonance to the issues in this case Hale J observes:

    “(3) Above all, the court is bound to want to consider whether there is any reason to think that a rehearing of the issue will result in any different finding from that in the earlier trial. By this I mean something more than the mere fact that different judges might on occasions reach different conclusions upon the same evidence. No doubt we would all be reluctant to allow a matter to be relitigated on that basis alone.”

     

It is ultimately a matter of Court discretion to decide whether to re-open previous findings, but a Court is allowed to consider that there’s limited value in re-running the case unless there’s a decent chance of arriving at a different outcome.

Of course here, we have two judgments, in different countries, which reach diametrically opposite conclusions. That led to some of the barristers having to argue that the Scottish judgment was an exemplar model of the way these things should be done and that HH J Dowse’s judgment was so flawed it ought to have been appealed anyway  (so the Scottish judgment is so superior it establishes a reason for re-hearing) and others having to argue that they were merely Judges reaching different conclusions.

I myself rather liked Mr Howe QC’s approach for the Guardian  (but the Judge did not)

  1. Mr Howe QC, on behalf of the children, engages with these factors in a rather different way and comes to the following conclusion:

    “The Guardian has taken into account the impact on C1 of the court concluding that the allegations were not proved but on balance, and for the reasons given, it is submitted that the balance falls in favour of the court permitting some reconsideration of the findings made by HHJ Dowse on 17th October 2007.”

  2. Mr Howe also submits:

    “the weight to be attached to the Scottish judgment does not arise from any assessment of its merit as an expression of the forensic exercise undertaken. The weight of the Scottish judgment is in its effect. Looking at these circumstances from C1’s perspective, it would be incomprehensible to her that the English court did not ‘think again’ and reconsider, not necessarily overturn, but at least take another look at the allegations given what was found in the Scottish court and how the findings there have enabled a relationship between C8 and M and F2 that, on the evidence before this court, appears to be entirely appropriate and beneficial for him.”

  3. Finally, Mr Howe comments:

    “It is submitted that C2 has to be granted the possibility of some relationship with her sibling and mother by the court agreeing to reconsider the previous findings.”

     

I know that not everyone is fluent in Elegant, so to translate  “It is really important for these children to get to the truth, whatever that might be, and whichever of these judgments is right the fact that they directly contradict each other means that at the moment there is doubt, which can only be eradicated by a re-hearing”

[I  agree with Mr Howe QC here. But as I told you, the Judge did not.  And he was not shy about saying so]

  1. It is self-evident that the interests of neither child is served by an erroneous determination of fact. Such a statement is platitudinous out of context. More than that it can be a dangerous, siren call unless it is considered carefully alongside the other features identified by Hale J in Re B. It is important to recognise that the factors she there identifies are inevitably interrelated. Thus: the insidious dangers of delay have to be considered alongside the more obvious damage caused by erroneous findings of fact. These tensions are notoriously difficult to reconcile and are ever present in family law.
  2. As the President identifies in ZZ (supra), the court’s discretion has to be applied so as to work ‘justice and not injustice’ and so the starting point is, again as he identifies, whether there is ‘some real reason to believe that the earlier findings require revisiting’. That seems, to my mind, to resonate closely with the observations of Hale J: ‘whether there is any new evidence or information casting doubt on the original findings’ (Re B supra). With respect to the Guardian, her views as to the value to C2 of ‘having another look’ lose focus on these important principles and fail to give sufficient weight to the real impact on these children of once again re-opening litigation, which itself may fail to resolve the present situation.
  3. Moreover, I am not prepared to draw the inference, suggested by Mr Howe, that because C1 instigated a further interview, following the Scottish Judgment, she therefore should be taken as signaling a willingness to participate in further litigation. She does not know, for example, what the reach of further litigation might be, nor does she yet have the maturity to understand what its impact on her could be. Before concluding that an issue should be reheard there must really be a substantial reason to believe that further litigation will achieve some clarity. In the light of my view of the validity of each of the respective judgments and finding myself un-persuaded that there are any other solid grounds for believing that a rehearing will result in any clarification of the present position , I can see no basis upon which to grant the application for a rehearing of the English proceedings.

 

[There is a lot in the judgment about a factual comparison between the judgments, and the basis on which the Scottish courts reached a different conclusion. I’m afraid that you would need to read that to fully grasp why on the facts the Judge felt that a re-hearing of the allegations was unlikely to reach a different result.  In very brief terms there were two major issues – that the Scottish Courts had relied on an expert doing something like a ‘veracity’ assessment which is out of favour here and the issues that came up in it were things that HH Judge Dowse had taken into account anyway, and that reliance had been placed on the children saying different things in an ABE interview done years later and the Court felt that this was not unexpected.   I wouldn’t say that I end up wholly agreeing with the conclusions, but because the decision here is largely fact-specific, you do need to read those sections to form your own conclusion about whether the Judge here was right. ]

And finally – wider interest

    1. Finally, I very much regret the delay involved in delivering this judgment. The case provides a powerful reminder of the consequences that ensue when the advocates fail to allow sufficient time in their estimates of hearing for a judge to write and deliver a judgment. The provision of one day to write this judgment is, I hope, self evidently inadequate. All counsel must regard it as a professional obligation to factor time for the judge to write and deliver a judgment into their time estimates. This is a professional duty which should be seen as a facet of the requirement to avoid delay in proceedings concerning the welfare of a child. I take the opportunity here to highlight a pervasive problem which requires to be addressed more widely.

 

It must certainly be the case that a judgment which requires a Judge to look at the intersection of Scottish and English law, Brussels II and all the law on issue estoppel was foreseeably going to take more than a day to write.   I wonder how in a more normal case, counsel are to arrive at a time estimate for a Judge to write the judgment, presumably at IRH so that time can be allocated within the Court listing for the final hearing    (Those advocates who feel the case is a slam-dunk are likely to be estimating 2-3 hours, those who are hoping to persuade the Court that the case is finely balanced before tipping in their favour are likely to be estimating 2 days so that the Court can see that this is a really tricky case which will need very long thought)

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Della was his secretary, Drake’s sat on the desk with Perry

 

In the High Court, in the case of Wirral Borough Council v KR 2015 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/54.html     some serious Perry Mason moves were pulled.

If you don’t know who Perry Mason is (hello Rachel Gymsocks) then I’m somewhat surprised that you are reading a law blog.  He is a fictional lawyer, American and suave, who had the inherent luxury of only ever representing people who were wrongly accused, and he would prove their innocence during the trial with some flamboyant move or surprise witness or dragging a confession out of a witness who had ostensibly only come to Court to say that “yes, they saw the rake that morning and it had some orange paint on the handle”.

 

[See also Johnny Cochrane, for a real world example, and his notorious “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” defence.  Of course, cough, in that case, perhaps he didn’t enjoy all the inherent luxuries enjoyed by Perry Mason. See also “The Chewbacca defence” http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Chewbacca_Defense

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwdba9C2G14  ]

You will see that in fiction, a Perry Mason move is a lawyer doing something outside the box that proves that their innocent client is innocent, whereas in real life, a lawyer doing something outside the box to get their client off is generally more of a Chewbacca defence.  This case is a Perry Mason move. There is a real, and important distinction. If the lawyer involved hasn’t been boring her clerks senseless with her tale of how she did this, I’ll be very surprised. I’d be telling this story every day for months if I’d pulled it off.

I suspect that the conversation from this point on will be

 

Barrister “Did I ever tell you about the time I….”

 

Clerk (wearily and quickly) “Yes”

 

This was a case involving alleged non-accidental injuries to a child.

To put the Perry Mason move into context, the LA turned up to the fact finding hearing with no case summary, no chronology and no schedule of findings sought.  One of the people under suspicion was the mother’s partner, JL, who did not have legal aid and was thus unrepresented.

 

  1. First, the bundle lodged by the local authority in this case failed completely to comply with the requirements of PD27A. In particular, it failed to contain any of the documents specified at paragraph 4.3 of the Practice Direction, the so called ‘Practice Direction documents’. Thus, until 9.00am on the morning on which the hearing commenced the Court was without an adequate Case Summary, a Chronology, any Position Statements and, most significantly given the Court was being asked to make findings regarding alleged inflicted injury to an 11 month old child, no Schedule of Findings. Further, in addition to the absence of these documents, JL, as a then litigant in person, had not been provided with any of the other documents contained in the bundle (save for some very limited documentation received from the mother’s solicitor at an earlier date).
  2. Whilst the failure to comply with PD27A was a plain breach of that Practice Direction, it is also the case that the failure of the local authority was of particular detriment to JL and placed his right to a fair trial in significant jeopardy.
  3. The absence of a schedule of findings meant that the respondents to this application did not have proper notice of the particulars of the allegations made against the mother and JL. In the mother’s case this difficulty was in part, but only in part, mitigated by the fact that she had lawyers to advise her. However, as a litigant in person, JL arrived at court on the first day of the hearing without any notice of the allegations made against him or of the totality of the evidence on which the local authority relied to make good those allegations, and with no real idea that the local authority was that very day intending to invite a judge of the High Court to find that he had injured deliberately an 11 month old child. It was the most remarkable and unsatisfactory state of affairs.
  4. After the Court expressed its extreme displeasure at the approach of the local authority towards JL, and to avoid the need for an extended adjournment while he got to grips with the issues and, from a layman’s perspective, the relatively complex evidence in this case, the local authority agreed to fund representation for JL. The Court is grateful to Mr Jamieson of counsel and to those who agreed to come on the record to instruct him for stepping into the breach. The court is further grateful to Mr Jamieson for discharging his professional duties with evident skill notwithstanding the short notice given to him.
  5. Whilst the local authority is to be commended for agreeing to fund representation for JL, I must observe that such a step, whilst of course desirable, would not have been necessary had the local authority complied with the requirements of PD27A and provided JL with a properly constituted bundle.
  6. The requirements of the Practice Direction are clear and the President of the Family Division has recently reiterated in the strongest terms in Re L (A Child) [2015] EWFC 15 the need for it to be complied with to the letter. The requirement to give proper notice to respondents of allegations made against them, and of the evidence in support of those allegations is equally firmly established in law and applies with equal force to cases involving litigants in person. The local authority is under a heavy obligation to ensure that the procedure at all stages is both transparent and fair, both in and out of court. The fact that a party or intervener in public law proceedings may appear in person does not relieve a local authority of its responsibilities in this regard. Indeed, it requires the local authority to be even more diligent to ensure that those responsibilities are fully and properly discharged.

 

To be fair to everyone involved, I am asking myself what on earth happened at the previous court hearings in this case?  These were all blindingly obvious matters that the Judge who dealt with it previously ought to have set out in an order, even if none of the advocates had suggested it in their draft order. The Court have to own some of this screw up.

 

The Local Authority pay for the legal costs of their major suspect (and stretching their powers to spend money under the Local Government Act well past breaking point, like two hungry yard-dogs fighting over a Stretch Armstrong toy) and STILL get told off.

So that’s the context – before the hearing began, nobody had received the proper documents from the LA setting out precisely what findings were to be sought.

It was during the cross-examination of the paediatrician by mother’s counsel that the Perry Mason move emerged.

 

  1. Towards the conclusion of her cross examination of the consultant paediatrician, Ms Howe on behalf of the mother proceeded to produce a photograph which had been shown to the other parties and to the consultant but not to the court. The consultant had not been asked about the photograph during her evidence in chief. The photograph, which was undated and not exhibited to any statement describing the circumstances in which it was taken nor what it purported to show, appeared to show a bruise to the back of A’s thigh sustained, it was said by Ms Howe, when he sat down heavily on a toy whilst in his kinship placement with the maternal grandmother.
  2. This was the first time that the court had been put on notice that there had been an independently witnessed incident that was said to replicate the explanation advanced by the mother for the bruising to A’s thighs. The consultant paediatrician had received little better notice of it than the court and, as previously noted, had not been asked to comment on it during her evidence in chief.

 

I did wonder when I read this, whether Ms Howe of counsel was about to absolutely cop it from the Judge. It isn’t the done thing to produce material evidence during the course of cross-examination of an expert, having not shared it with the other side.

However, any criticism she was perhaps going to receive was completely forgotten about when THIS happened

  1. Upon the photograph being produced by Ms Howe, counsel for the local authority Ms Banks rose and announced to the court that the allocated social worker, Mr Morris had been present at the maternal grandmother’s property during the incident to which the photograph was said to relate, had witnessed A sit down heavily on a plastic toy and had observed a red mark on the back of A’s thigh resulting from that incident. As will become apparent, when giving evidence Mr Morris confirmed that whilst the mark had not developed into a bruise by the time he left the house, the bruise shown on the photograph corresponded to the location of the red mark that he had witnessed following A’s impact on the toy. Despite the obvious relevance of this evidence, the local authority had not prior to this hearing secured a statement from the social worker placing that evidence before the court.
  2. Thus it was that at the end of the cross examination of the medical evidence in this case the court was for the first time made aware of the existence of photographic and witness evidence central to the court’s determination of whether a mechanism advanced by the mother for some of the injuries to the child, which the local authority contended were inflicted by the mother or JL, could constitute a reasonable explanation for those injuries. I directed that a statement be taken from the mother exhibiting the photograph and that a statement be taken from Mr Morris detailing what he had witnessed.
  3. The mother makes clear in the statement taken from her at court that she had only appreciated the significance of the photograph when she spoke to Ms Howe at court. During closing submissions Ms Banks informed the court that the photograph had only been the subject of discussion between the parties at the outset of this hearing, at which point she was informed by the mother’s team that it was being said Mr Morris had witnessed the event. Ms Banks further submits that the mother did not raise the possibility of A sitting on his toys as a cause of the injury until her statement of 26 January 2015.

 

So there you go, a genuine Perry Mason move.

  1. It is nonetheless a matter of great concern that this evidence had not been identified well before the commencement of the final hearing and shortly after the mother advanced her explanation in the statement of 26 January 2015. Had it been identified, the evidence could have been produced before the court in form which complied with the rules of court and the consultant paediatrician could have been given proper notice of the evidence and a chance to consider and comment upon the same before attending court. Once again, it was an entirely unsatisfactory state of affairs.
  2. There is a heavy burden on those representing parties to care proceedings to ensure that their respective cases are rigorously prepared such that all evidence relevant to the advancement of those cases is identified and placed before the court in good time. This heavy burden applies equally to local authorities and includes a duty to identify and disclose evidence that may assist a respondent’s case. Discharging this burden effectively will often involve close questioning of clients in conference as parents and social workers may well not immediately appreciate the forensic significance of events, documents or photographs until advised by their lawyers.
  3. Whilst I am aware that it is, regrettably, less common than it used to be for the advocate who ultimately undertakes the final hearing to have an early conference with their client and thereafter continuing intimate involvement in each stage of the case management process, and acknowledging as I do the impact of an increasing scarcity of resources, such input is vital in circumstances where the early identification of issues requiring resolution at the IRH or determination at trial, and of the evidence relevant to the resolution or determination of those issues is central to our system of case management and to the just and efficient resolution of cases.
  4. This is not a case in which the making of a finding of non-accidental injury would have resulted in the children being permanently separated from their birth family by way of adoption. However, were I to have found that the local authority had demonstrated that the injuries had been inflicted to I, and had the mother refused to accept those findings, the local authority would have invited me not to return the children to their mother’s care. That this was a possible outcome had the advocates not discovered, at the very last minute, the evidence concerning the independently witnessed incident outlined above should serve to concentrate minds.

 

It will not surprise you to learn that on examining all of the other injuries and listening to the family members give evidence, the Court decided that no deliberate injuries to the child had occurred and no orders were made.

 

 

[There is a less polite term for when you as a lawyer ask a question and the whole case disintegrates as a result of that question having been asked, which would also apply here,  like when you say “Do you accept that you, Francis Black, struck the child with a toffee hammer?” and the witness says “Yes”.   It is called a “F**k me question” because it is really hard when you hear the answer, not to immediately say “F**k me, I wasn’t expecting THAT” under your breath]

 

 

[Have also just thought that “Wirral going on a summer holiday” would be a good headline for a blog post, so if you work at the Wirral, please can you engineer a law report that is about a conflict about whether a child can go on a summer holiday? Thank you! Ideally, the holiday will be where the sun shines brightly, and where the sea is blue]

Medway case part 2 – a lot of practice issues

Following on from the last blog – I don’t often split case discussions, but in this one I felt that the issues over the foster carer and recording was worth a piece on its own.

 

This piece now tackles some of the many practice issues raised by Medway Council v A  2015 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B66.html

 

Let us start with our old friend section 20

 

 

  • 6 On 6.8.14 the SW claims she contacted the Maternal Grandmother and Mr S to see if alternative arrangements could be made within the family to support them. Issues have been raised about her manner of doing so, and whether appropriate support was offered. I make no finding as it has not been possible to explore this fully, but I note that there were several meetings that took place on this date and the SW will have wanted that information beforehand and so may have sounded abrupt and left little time for matters to be considered.
  • 7 By the end of that day the parents had signed a section 20 agreement which they and Mr S thought simply covered a two week period in a mother and baby foster placement. It is clear from the notes in the medical records, and the SW accepts, that the issue of Mother’s vulnerability was raised by Mrs Rose before Mother signed the section 20 agreement. The SW also accepted that in addition to the hospital’s concerns, Mr S and the Maternal Grandmother had confirmed that Mother had a learning difficulty. The SW accepted that it was not appropriate to have obtained Mother’s signature to an agreement under s20 in such circumstances where her cognitive abilities had been questioned by other professionals and no assessment had taken place. I also note that it was obtained prior to the strategy meeting taking place on 7.8.14.

We now know that the mother’s IQ was 54, making it extremely questionable that she had capacity to sign a section 20 agreement – certainly without it being really carefully explained to her. In any event, the parents understanding was that they were agreeing to a two week placement and the placement was actually intended to be for twelve weeks, breaking down after 40 days. This, once again is not a fair and proper use of section 20.

 

  • The guidance of Hedley J in Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH [2012] COPLR 658 is as follows, at paragraph 46: “i) every social worker obtaining consent to accommodation of a child from a parent (with parental responsibility) is under a personal duty to be satisfied that the person giving consent does not lack the required capacity; ii) the social worker must actively address the issue of capacity, take into account all the prevailing circumstances and must consider the questions raised by Mental Capacity Act 2005, section 3 and in particular the mother’s capacity to use and weigh all the relevant information; iii) if the social worker has doubts about capacity, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion. Advice should be sought from the social work team leader or management.”
  • I acknowledge that the Father signed the section 20 agreement, but this is not good enough (cf s.20(7) Children Act). I have been appalled at the reliance placed by Medway on a section 20 agreement signed by the Mother. She was encouraged to sign it on 6.8.14 without any assessment of her learning difficulty or her capacity. This is wholly unacceptable when the SW knew from the hospital staff and family members that Mother had a learning difficulty and appeared to have problems with her understanding.
  • Medway should not have waited to rely on assessments prompted and undertaken by another agency. Given the anxieties expressed by Mrs Rose at the meetings on 6.8.14, I consider that a section 20 agreement should never have been pursued that day.
  • While I accept that subsequent assessments, by the Learning Disability nurse and by Dr Conning, have suggested that she has capacity, these should not vindicate this practice of relying on a section 20 agreement that was obtained beforehand. In any event I do not consider that an Learning Disability nurse’s assessment on the ward should have been relied upon in relation to the import of a section 20 agreement by which a parent agrees to major interferences with the family’s life. And I further note that Dr Conning’s assessment of the Mother’s capacity in October 2014 was couched in terms of having capacity in the context of her being supported by her legal team and her husband (also legally advised by then).
  • It is likely that the cognitive assessment appointment two weeks after the section 20 agreement was signed, on 21.8.14, followed from the Resource Panel’s concerns expressed at the meeting on 19.8.14, and there appears to have been no attempt by the SW or her team manager to arrange one before then. Although I acknowledge that efforts were then made to obtain a cognitive assessment of Mother on 21.8.14 and 2.9.14 that were not successful due to the Mother’s non-attendance, nonetheless it meant that the section 20 agreement that was extended on 3.9.14 was equally flawed.
  • Mr Crimes’ assessment was sent on 8.9.14. He assessed Mother as having a full IQ score of 54, and as he noted in the accompanying email to the SW this was about the lowest level of functioning he had ever assessed. This was not an assessment of her capacity but set out a grave picture of impairment of her ability to comprehend and make decisions about complex information. Mother was not then assessed as to her capacity until 10.10.14 which was within the care proceedings and with the benefit of legal advice and representation – an important difference. Given the information from Mr Crimes on 5.9.14, Medway should immediately have taken steps in early September and not continued to rely on a section 20 agreement obtained from a vulnerable new mother with this degree of learning disability.
  • Several difficulties arise for vulnerable adults in these circumstances. They are unlikely to want to appear to be difficult or obstructive and so they may well agree to section 20 arrangements that are not necessarily appropriate. Once they have agreed to such arrangements, and are in a mother and baby foster placement as in this case for example, there is a natural impetus to remain with the child and so be locked into a continued agreement to the arrangement. Most significantly, the use of section 20 agreements results in vulnerable adults coping with such circumstances without legal advice or representation.
  • This was compounded here by there being no referral to adult services and no input from social workers experienced in working with vulnerable adults and who are not focussing simply on child protection issues, but are able to bring their knowledge and experience to bear on the case.
  • Just over 40 days passed between the section 20 agreement and the issue of proceedings. It was in this period that the Mother was placed in an inappropriate placement, isolated from her family and increasingly deprived of the support of her husband, and moving towards the breakdown of the placement. I acknowledge that this is not the length of time experienced by the families in the recently reported cases of Re P (A child: Use of section 20) [2014] EWFC 775 and Northamptonshire and DS [2014] EWHC 199 (Fam), but the real significance is this: if it had been properly recognised that section 20 should not be used in these circumstances and proceedings had been issued at an earlier stage, it is likely that arguments about appropriate placements and assessments would have been raised by the parents’ legal representatives, and an inappropriate placement and lack of assessment and ultimately early separation of baby A from his parents may well have all been avoided.

 

 

Learning difficulties

 

We touched in the last piece on the failure to find a specialist placement for the mother, and as you can see from the passage above, no referral was made to Adult Services to get help for mother in her own right, though it must have been apparent that she needed it. There simply wasn’t proper thought given to what the mother’s difficulties meant in terms of how she should be supported, helped or treated

 

 

  • I have set out in Appendix A and B to this judgment respective links to the 2007 DoH Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with disabilities which is cited as a relevant resource in the 2015 Working Together Guidance, together with limited extracts from those documents (while of course recommending that these documents should be properly considered by those involved in this case in their entirety).
  • I also quote here from Mr Justice Baker’s analysis in Re X Y X (Minors) [2011] EWHC 402 (Fam):

 

“132. The last thirty years have seen a radical reappraisal of the way in which people with a learning disability are treated in society. It is now recognised that they need to be supported and enabled to lead their lives as full members of the community, free from discrimination and prejudice. This policy is right, not only for the individual, since it gives due respect to his or her personal autonomy and human rights, but also for society at large, since it is to the benefit of the whole community that all people are included and respected as equal members of society. One consequence of this change in attitudes has been a wider acceptance that people with learning disability may, in many cases, with assistance, be able to bring up children successfully. Another consequence has been the realisation that learning disability often goes undetected, with the result that persons with such disabilities are not afforded the help that they need to meet the challenges that modern life poses, particularly in certain areas of life, notably education, the workplace and the family. 133. To meet the particular difficulties encountered in identifying and helping those with a learning disability in the family, the government published in 2007 “Good Practice Guidance on Working with Parents with a Learning Disability”. In their closing submissions, Miss Ball and Miss Boye contended that such good practice guidance is required because there is little evidence of effective joint working between adult and children’s services and practitioners in each area rarely have a good working knowledge of the policy and legislative framework within which the other is working. They submitted that local authorities frequently do not take account of the fact that, if children are to be enabled to remain in their own families, a specialist approach to a parent with a learning disability is absolutely central to any work that is done, any protection which is offered and any hope of keeping the family together. The 2007 guidance points out, inter alia, that a specialised response is often required when working with families where the parent has a learning disability; that key features of good practice in working with parents with a learning disability include (a) accessible and clear information, (b) clear and co-ordinated referral and assessment procedures, (c) support designed to meet the parent’s needs and strengths, (d) long-term support where necessary, and (e) access to independent advocacy; that people may misunderstand or misinterpret what a professional is telling them so that it is important to check what someone understands, and to avoid blaming them for getting the wrong message; that adult and children’s services and health and social care should jointly agree local protocols for referrals, assessments and care pathways in order to respond appropriately and promptly to the needs of both parents and children; and that, if a referral is made to children’s services and then it becomes apparent that a parent has a learning disability, a referral should also be made to adult learning disability services. The guidance also stresses that close attention should be paid to the parent’s access needs, which may include putting written material into an accessible format, avoiding the use of jargon, taking more time to explain things, and being prepared to tell parents things more than once.”

 

  • And Wall LJ makes a relevant comments in P v. Nottingham City Council and the Official Solicitor [2008] EWCA Civ 462:

 

“175. It is, I think, inevitable that in its pre-proceedings work with a child’s family, the local authority will gain information about the capacity of the child’s parents. The critical question is what it does with that information, particularly in a case where the social workers form the view that the parent in question may have learning difficulties.’ 176. At this point, in many cases, the local authority will be working with the child’s parents in an attempt to keep the family together. In my judgment, the practical answer in these circumstances is likely to be that the parent in question should be referred to the local authority’s adult learning disability team (or its equivalent) for help and advice. If that team thinks that further investigations are required, it can undertake them: it should, moreover, have the necessary contacts and resources to commission a report so that as soon as the pre-proceedings letter is written, and proceedings are issued, the legal advisers for the parent can be in a position, with public funding, to address the question of a litigation friend. It is, I think, important that judgments on capacity are not made by the social workers from the child protection team.’

181. In the pre-proceedings phase local authorities should feel free to do whatever is necessary in social work terms to assist parents who may become protected parties. My view, however, is that this is best achieved by members of the adult learning disabilities team who do not have responsibility for the children concerned.”

 

  • It is clear that the purpose of the 2007 DoH Good Practice Guidance, namely to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to ensure services and training are in place to meet the needs of parents with disabilities, has yet to be met in Medway; and there appears to have been little if any awareness of the DoH Good Practice Guidance’s recommendations shown by Medway’s practice in this case.
  • In order to comply with their duties under s17 Children Act 1989 and in accordance with the good practice set out in the Guidance, this SW, her managers and this local authority should have:

 

  • Immediately made a referral to the adult services Learning Disability team and worked together with them to benefit from their advice, training, experience and resources;
  • Triggered an assessment of Mother’s abilities via the Learning Disability team;
  • Ensured the appointment of an adult care SW for Mother:
  • Identified and provided a specialist resource within a short period of time, in order to assess the Mother, and her and the family’s needs for support;
  • As soon as the parents expressed complaints about the placement, if not before, provided her with details of how to complain;
  • Investigated more fully the support options available from Father, friends and family.

 

Bundle-culling

 

The stipulations of Practice Direction 27A were followed in this case – care was taken to produce a bundle that did not exceed 350 pages in length. The problem is that despite that intention to comply with those stipulations, the culling exercise itself was problematic.

 

  • Thus at the outset of this hearing there were significant contested findings and the most serious of final orders sought against the parents. However, it became apparent that the preparation for such a hearing had been a mess, and there were a number of evidential and procedural issues that almost forced the adjournment of an entire final hearing that would have caused significant delay and extended further the separation of parents and child. I will discuss aspects of this case management as a separate final section of this judgment.
  • In short, it quickly emerged that the documents included in the 350 page PD27A compliant bundle prepared by Medway had been ‘culled’ (to use the term coined by counsel for Medway) from all the documents relating to the case. That cull had been undertaken unilaterally by Medway at the last minute and without agreement of the other parties, and they unsurprisingly considered it to be partial and incomplete. Last minute attempts were made by A’s advocate to prepare a more comprehensive bundle. Given the wide-ranging and serious counter-factual issues it was necessary to further expand the bundle during this hearing to include key missing documents. These have included the medical notes and social work case recordings for the key period of August to September 2014, but the bundle was also even missing the Mother’s statement and the Father’s first statement.
  • Additionally, the evidence has now included the statements and notes of the Safeguarding Midwife Mrs Rose and the Health Visitor Ms Gibson. These were directed by DJ Gill at the IRH held on 5.2.15 to be filed by Medway by 12.2.15 and they were named in the IRH order as witnesses to be heard at the final hearing, but their evidence and notes were still outstanding at the outset of this hearing (mid-April). I made peremptory directions to ensure, in A’s interests, that this evidence was available by day 3 of this hearing. Such directions were among those that should and could have been sought and made since the IRH but long prior to the final hearing. I was also obliged to direct that missing foster carer’s notes and social work recordings from the crucial period in August and September 2014 should be provided. I did not permit Medway to file a further statement by Ms Down, supervising SW from ISP (the agency providing the foster placement), as to what she had seen, heard or done regarding the foster placement. This application was made over a week after the final hearing had begun and on the morning that the foster carer was due to give evidence. Ms Down had not been one of the named witnesses in the IRH order, and I considered it was unfair for the local authority to be attempting to add further evidence and witnesses at this very late stage in the proceedings, and would risk an unnecessary and disproportionate adjournment.
  • I have read all the documents and evidence filed in this case and all the documents additionally prepared by the advocates (whom, I must add, have been of great assistance to the court in the challenging circumstances in which this final hearing came to court). I have heard evidence from Mrs Rose, Ms Gibson, Ms Anyimiah, Ms Barton, the foster carer Ms McG, Ms Stewart, the parents and the Children’s Guardian; and I have heard and read the parties’ submissions.

 

 

 

a) PD27A COMPLIANT BUNDLE – There is little point in Medway having created a bundle a few days before a final hearing by unilaterally selecting documents to fit the 350 page limit. Needless to say it was not considered fit for purpose by the other parties and I have already identified that it lacked crucial documents. This, and the various acts of non-compliance discussed elsewhere, betray an unacceptable failure by Medway to adequately prepare the case, to consider properly which documents would be required, to focus on the issues and the evidence, and to apply itself with care and a sense of the necessarily heavy responsibilities borne by applicant local authorities when applying for care and placement orders which have life-changing consequences for families.

b) In order to achieve a meaningful compliance with PD27A, the local authority should liaise with the other parties at an advocates’ meeting prior to the IRH to agree a provisional core bundle index. This will not only assist with the proper analysis of the issues and evidence in readiness for an IRH, and permit a proper resolution of issues at that hearing, but will also identify any further documents that may need to be the subject of an application to depart from PD27A and form a supplemental bundle, and which can be addressed and resolved at that IRH. I will be implementing directions to facilitate this approach at CMHs, but even absent such directions it is evident that a local authority applicant should be taking on this responsibility in any event.

 

That is the only way that the 350 page stipulation can actually work. However, that hinges on getting actual responses from the other advocates. If they have not yet read all of the source material and records, or are not going to be trial counsel, then there’s resistance to culling any document. I can see why – who wants to agree that “we don’t need the Health Visitor records” only to find later during exhaustive preparation that there’s something vital within them.  And rather than argue that those particular records must go in, it is simpler just to not agree to any culling at all.  Of course, if everyone came to an IRH having prepared their cross-examination and knowing all of the issues they would want to take up with witnesses at final hearing and what documents would assist, that would solve everything. But that’s not likely to happen. Preparation for an IRH IS different to preparation for a final hearing. For one thing, you’ve got all of the evidence, whereas all too often at IRH final statements from this or that party are still outstanding.  For another, counsel preparing for a final hearing knows that they are actually going to be the ones asking the question, whereas at IRH the final hearing will be listed at the Court’s convenience and it will be pot-luck whether counsel at the IRH will be free to do the final hearing.  [That’s a solveable problem by going back to the old system of listing a final hearing at the early stage of the case that everyone can work towards. That’s even more important given that we have to conclude cases by week 26, so only deciding to list a final hearing at week 20 is a recipe for disaster. Everyone bar HMCS thinks that is a good idea, but as HMCS don’t like it, it won’t happen]

 

 

Your Honour, I am afraid that I have not done a position statement, but may I just hand this up?

I think this summarises our position

I think this summarises our position

 

 

I thought of that gag this morning, and kudos to Cobb J for giving me the opportunity to deploy it.

 

Newcastle City Council v WM and Others 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/42.html

 

When a High Court Judge asks why you haven’t filed and served a position statement, don’t do THIS

 

 

  • I return to consider some of the matters outlined at the beginning of this judgment.
  • At the outset of this hearing not one of the respondents’ advocates had troubled to prepare a Position Statement. Counsel addressed me on the first morning of the hearing to explain the absence of these documents addressing me as if the requirement for such a document were a personal idiosyncrasy of mine. It is not. May I, for the record, remind counsel again of the following points: PD27A para.4.3:

 

At the commencement of the bundle there shall be inserted the following documents (the preliminary documents) –

(a) an up to date case summary of the background to the hearing confined to those matters which are relevant to the hearing and the management of the case and limited, if practicable, to four A4 pages;

(b) a statement of the issue or issues to be determined (1) at that hearing and (2) at the final hearing;

(c) a position statement by each party including a summary of the order or directions sought by that party (1) at that hearing and (2) at the final hearing;

(d) an up to date chronology, if it is a final hearing or if the summary under (i) is insufficient;

(e) skeleton arguments, if appropriate;

(f) a list of essential reading for that hearing; and

(g) the time estimate (see paragraph 10.1).

 

  • May I draw to their further attention PD27A, §4.4:

 

Each of the preliminary documents shall be as short and succinct as possible and shall state on the front page immediately below the heading the date when it was prepared and the date of the hearing for which it was prepared. Where proceedings relating to a child are being heard by magistrates the summary of the background shall be prepared in anonymised form, omitting the names and identifying information of every person referred to other than the parties’ legal representatives, and stating the number of pages contained in the bundle. Identifying information can be contained in all other preliminary documents

And PD27A para 6.4:

The preliminary documents shall be lodged with the court no later than 11 am on the day before the hearing and, where the hearing is before a judge of the High Court and the name of the judge is known, shall (with the exception of the authorities, which are to be lodged in hard copy and not sent by email) at the same time be sent by email to the judge’s clerk

Sadly, this is once again one of those cases where poor planning and preparation had led to massive delays for the children,  and unfairness in the process, and once again, the misuse of section 20 played a part

  • The burden of judicial decision-making has regrettably been made significantly more complex by the failures of the professionals and child care systems involved with this family. To give prominence to those failures, I highlight some of them at the outset of this judgment:

i) At the time of the final hearing, the children have been in foster care for 93 weeks awaiting a decision about them;ii) The children were accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (“CA 1989”) from July 2013 until March 2015, when interim care orders were made (under section 38 of the CA 1989) at the Issues Resolution Hearing;

iii) The ‘letter before proceedings’ (prepared pursuant to PD12A FPR 2010) was sent to the parents in January 2013, 73 weeks before the proceedings were ultimately issued (July 2014);

iv) The final hearing is taking place in the 43rd week, not the 26th week following issue (see section 14(2)(ii) of the Children and Families Act 2014);

v) The mother has significant learning disability; she has an assessed IQ of 61. She is assessed to lack capacity to litigate in these proceedings. There is a significant question whether she ever had capacity to consent to the accommodation of her children (it is said, per Dr. Thorpe, consultant psychiatrist, that “she did not appear to understand the reasons why her children had been placed in foster care”), and whether, in the circumstances, the children were for the extended period referred to above lawfully accommodated;

vi) On any of the outcomes proposed for the children, they will have to be separated; as indicated above, the family placement on offer is for the two older children only. The Local Authority does not contemplate an adoptive placement for all three siblings together;

vii) The youngest child has spent more than half his life waiting for a decision about his long-term future, which is, and has been for some time, essentially undisputed;

viii) The Children’s Guardian and Local Authority propose radically different outcomes for the older children. The Social Worker and the parties were only made aware of the final recommendation of the Guardian on the first morning of the hearing.

ix) The maternal aunt, who wishes to care for the children, suffers a serious and debilitating eye condition; it is identified and briefly described in the independent social work assessment of her capacity to care for the children. The aunt’s lawyers did not apparently explore the implications of this condition before the hearing began. The extent of her significant visual disability was astonishingly only revealed at the conclusion of her oral evidence, and only when I asked to describe it (she had obviously been struggling to read from the documents presented to her while giving evidence); this led to a short adjournment during the hearing to obtain necessary expert medical evidence;

x) In a case which generates a range of possible outcomes, and in which some of the key parties have vacillated about their preferences during the proceedings, none of the respondent advocates had prepared position statements prior to the final hearing (I exonerate Ms Moulder as she stepped in on day 2 of the final hearing to replace counsel who had unavoidably had to relinquish the brief at short notice, and for entirely legitimate reasons), leaving me, when reading into the case, to speculate about their final preferred outcomes;

xi) There was no attempt by the Local Authority to provide one pared-down trial bundle of the relevant material; I was provided with four lever arch files; no reading list and no reading time.

  • Lessons are obviously to be learned from the sorry state of affairs described in paragraph [3] above. I suspect that the facts outlined above speak for themselves. Lest they don’t, I expand more about them in the judgment which follows, and (in relation to (x) and (xi)) in the post-script which follows the judgment (see [105-111]).

 

I think that we are really close to the judiciary making human rights compensation orders in these cases – these children had on that reading been unlawfully accommodated for around 21 months, as the mother did not have capacity to consent to such accommodation.

 

Even more wretched than that, is that when the case was finally litigated, the Judge concluded that two of the children should be placed with a family member, their aunt. That could have been done much much earlier, and the children spent more time in care than was necessary. That’s a tragedy.

 

The judicial analysis and approach is excellent, and the judgment as a whole is worth reading.

 

Lest you think the whole thing is critical, the Judge was more than willing to lavish praise on those who deserved it.

 

 

  • Having identified some of the failures in the case, I turn next, and briefly, to one of its significant redeeming features. The role of the intermediary service.
  • I wish to pay particular tribute to Clare Jones and Rebecca Fletcher from Communicourt Limited who offered an excellent intermediary service to the Court for the mother in this case. The mother has significant communication difficulties, both with understanding and using language; this is likely to be attributable in part to her learning disability, and in part to acquiring English as a second language.
  • Ms Jones’ report, dated 20 February 2015, was clear and practical, providing guidance about how best to manage the case in a way which would optimise the mother’s participation. Ms Jones was regrettably unable to attend the final hearing, and the intermediary service was therefore provided by Ms Fletcher, who performed her role with great skill and discretion. Ground rules had been set by HHJ Hudson at the IRH; these were re-visited at the outset of the hearing. Specific ground rules were set for the mother’s evidence, which we all endeavoured conscientiously to observe.
  • Overall, I was satisfied that the mother had been enabled to participate in the process as fully and effectively as could possibly be achieved. I am indebted to the intermediary service for its assistance