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Learning disabilities – an interesting and sad judgment

This judgment is not binding upon anyone not directly involved in the case, being a decision of a Circuit Judge, His Honour Judge Dancey.

But I think that it provides a very accessible summary of the guidance on working with parents with learning disabilities and also it contains within in a judgment that is written directly for the parents, which I’ll set out below.

The central issues in the case were – were the assessments fair and did they properly take account of the guidance AND if the parents needed X hours of services a day (in this case said to be 12-16 hours per day) ought they be given that to keep the family together or is that an unrealistic expectation?
A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability) (Rev 1) [2017] EWFC B94
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2017/B94.html

Speaking as a Local Authority lawyer, cases involving learning disabilities are the very hardest cases to deal with – you are dealing with parents who have absolutely no intention to harm or mistreat a child and are doing their absolute best – usually by the end of the case the parent could have done nothing more to show the Court their love and desire to parent. Yet so often they have unhappy endings, often this being more common than cases where parents have behaved selfishly, foolishly or abusively but have the ability and wherewithal to stop doing that. It feels like there should be something for these parents, who have done nothing wrong other than to demonstrate that they have limitations outside of their control. I don’t know what that something should be, and I have no idea what that something would cost, (as my friend Becca Carr-Hopkins is fond of saying to me “and what would that LOOK like?”) but they are the very worst hearings to do.

I would rather have four awful paedophile cases than a case where the parents have tried their best but their best is not enough because of the disability they were born with. People who have already had a difficult hand dealt to them in life, who have to be told that although they are not bad people and have all the love in the world the State is about to make their painful and difficult life still more painful and difficult. I wish central Government would make funding available so that there could be something to properly support parents of this kind.

Anyway, I’ll start with the portion of the judgment written directly for the parents – I have praised Jackson LJ in the past for doing this and it is nice to see his lead being followed

ANNEX A

1.C and D have two children, K aged just 3 years and T aged nearly 20 months. C also has an older child A whose father died when she was 3.

2.The local authority say that C and D cannot look after the children well enough.

3.Sadly C has a learning disability and is partly deaf. This means that she struggles to look after the children. D doesn’t have a disability. He is C’s carer. He has not really supported C to look after the children as he should have done.

4.A has already gone to live with Mr and Mrs N. They are now her special guardians. A is happy there and wants to stay. C and D accept that. They are not asking for A to come home.

5.The local authority ask me to make orders putting K and T in their care. They also ask to be allowed to place K and T for adoption. That would mean ending K and T’s ties and contact with C and D completely. They would become members of a new family.

6.C and D don’t agree. They say they could look after K and T if they were supported properly.

7.I accept that C and D couldn’t look after the children as well as they should. I am not going to write down here everything I have heard about. But K and T have not been looked after properly. C and D did not watch out for K and T well enough. Also they did not have good routines. Sometimes they were dirty and missed out on meals. But also C and D found it difficult to get in tune with K and T’s emotional needs. Sometimes they didn’t pay them much attention. K got frustrated. She banged her head and bit people. T didn’t cry much or demand much attention. This was because he wasn’t getting much attention.

8.A had to look after K and T more than she should have. It was like she became a parent to them. She also worried about C. These were things a child shouldn’t have to worry about. A thinks she has lost out on some of her childhood.

9.I know that C and D looked after A well enough. But I think she had to start looking after herself when K and T came along. C and D cannot look after two very young children. They have different needs which C and D struggle with.

10.The local authority tried to help C and D with support. C and D didn’t think all the support was of the right kind. I agree the local authority could have done this better. The people who worked with C and D needed more training about learning disability. D could have done with more help as C’s carer. He could have helped himself more too.

11.C and D both had depression. I think that was a lot to do with the stress of trying to look after three children. Their depression has got better since they have not had the children. They have made some improvements too. The flat looks very nice now. It used to be cluttered and wasn’t very clean.

12.The problem is that C can’t meet the needs of the children on her own. D doesn’t give her the support she needs. I don’t think C or D really understand how worried the local authority are. I know they want to work with people to make things better. But I don’t think C or D can really change things in a lasting way even with support. I think if the children come home things will get worse again. C and D will probably get too stressed. And that might mean they get depressed again.

13.I have decided that the children need care that C and D cannot give them. They would need so much support that other people would end up parenting K and T instead of C and D. K and T would not know who is their main carer. That would probably cause them problems in how they make relationships.

14.So I have decided I cannot let the children come home. It means that I must make an order putting K and T in the care of the local authority. I must also let them place K and T for adoption.

15.It is very sad to have to make this decision. I know how much C and D love their children. They have come to court every day. They have listened carefully and patiently. They have tried their very best to help me. I thank them very much indeed. The children will know that C and D did their very best to keep them.

16.But I have to decide what is best for the children. And I have decided that nothing else will do.

The judgment also provides a very clear and helpful summary of both the law and the practical guidance, and I think it is a really good source for this

Parents with learning disability/Parenting with support
35.Where a parent has a learning disability the court must make sure that parent is not being disadvantaged simply because of their disability. The essential question is whether the parenting that can be offered is good enough if support is provided. In Re D (A Child) (No 3) [2016] EWFC 1 Munby P endorsed and recommended what was said by Gillen J in Re Guardian and A (Care Order: Freeing Order: Parents with a Learning Disability) [2016] NIFam 8. Those cases establish a number of important points relevant in this case:

i) Parents with learning difficulties can often be ‘good enough’ parents when provided with the ongoing emotional and practical support they need.

ii) The concept of ‘parenting with support’ must underpin the way in which courts and professionals approach parents with learning difficulties.

iii) Courts must make sure that parents with learning difficulties are not at risk of having their parental responsibilities terminated on the basis of evidence that would not hold up against parents without such difficulties. To that end parents with learning disability should not be measured against parents without disability and the court should be alive to the risk of direct and indirect discrimination.

iv) Multi-agency working is critical if parents are to be supported effectively and the court has a duty to make sure that has been done effectively.

v) The court should not focus so narrowly on the child’s welfare that the needs of the parent arising from their disability, and impacting on their parenting capacity, are ignored.

vi) Courts should be careful to ensure that the supposed inability of the parents to change is not itself an artefact of professionals’ ineffectiveness in engaging with the parents in an appropriate way.
36.Ms Harman says there are some features of this case that distinguish it favourably from Re D – (a) these parents cared for A for some years without concerns about her care (so there is a history of childcare that did not exist in Re D) (b) there have been no concerns about the children’s development and they have met milestones and (c) these parents are keen to accept advice and support.

37.Ms Harman also refers me to Kent County Council v A Mother [2011] EWHC 402 recognising (a) that parents with learning disability need to be supported and enabled to lead their lives as full members of the community, free from discrimination and prejudice, (b) a wider acceptance that people with learning disability may in many cases, with assistance, be able to bring up children successfully, (c) the need for professionals working with families and children to be trained to recognise and deal with parents with learning disabilities and (d) the need for Government Guidance to be followed.

Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (updated September 2016) DoH/DfES
38.The Good Practice Guidance was issued to address a lack of evidence of effective joint working between adult and children’s services. I gratefully adopt and adapt the summary of the Guidance set out by Ms Harman in her written submissions:

i) Services need to help enable children live with their parents (as long as this is consistent with their welfare) by providing the support they and their families require. This accords with the general duty of local authorities under section 17(1) of the 1989 Act to provide a range and level of services to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need and their upbringing by their families (insofar as it is consistent with their welfare).

ii) Good practice is also underpinned by an approach to parenting and learning disability which addresses needs relating to both impairment and the disabling barriers of unequal access and negative attitudes. Such an approach recognises that:

… If the problem is seen as entirely related to impairment and personal limitations, it is difficult to understand how to bring about positive changes for parents and their children.

… If the focus is, instead, on things that can be changed (such as inadequate housing) and support needs that can be met (such as equipment to help a parent measure baby feeds), there are many more possibilities for bringing about positive improvements. [p4]

iii) There are five key features of good practice in working with parents with learning disabilities: [pii]


• accessible information and communication

• clear and co-ordinated referral and assessment procedures and processes, eligibility criteria and care pathways

• support designed to meet the needs of parents and children based on assessments of their needs and strengths

• long-term support where necessary

• access to independent advocacy

iv) 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. [1.2.1, p8].

v) It is important that services understand who is to take the lead on assessments:

• where there are no welfare concerns but adults need assistance with routine tasks of looking after children, adult learning disability services should take the lead on assessment and care planning

• where parents need support in the medium to long term adult learning disability and children’s services jointly co-ordinate assessment and care planning

• where intervention is required to prevent children suffering impairment to their health or development or significant harm, children’s services lead assessment and planning with specialised input from adult learning disability services (1.2.5 p12).

vi) Services in contact with parents with learning disabilities should use appropriate assessment materials and resources and/or access specialist expertise. Failing to do so will result in the parent receiving an unfair and therefore invalid assessment, in breach of their legal rights. [1.2.6, p13].

vii) Where a parent has a learning disability it will be important not to make assumptions about their parental capacity. Having a learning disability does not mean that a person cannot learn new skills. [p13].

viii) In the case of parent support services, an assessment of a parent’s learning needs and circumstances should inform the support provided to develop parenting skills. Research indicates that – for parents with learning disabilities – the key elements of successful parenting skills support are:

… clear communication, and ensuring parents have understood what they are told

… use of role-play, modelling, and videoing parent and professional undertaking a task together, for discussion, comparison and reflection

… step by step pictures showing how to undertake a task

… repeating topics regularly and offering opportunities for frequent practice

… providing/developing personalised “props”: for example, finding a container which will hold the right amount of milk for the child so that the parent does not have to measure out the milk. [p16]

ix) A range of services is required. All families are different and at different stages of their life cycle families require different types of support. [1.3.3, p16]

x) A need for long-term support does not mean that parents cannot look after their children. [1.4.1, p20]

xi) Although a parent with learning disabilities can learn how to do things, their cognitive impairment will not go away. Just as someone with a physical impairment may need personal assistance for the rest of their life so a person with learning disabilities may need assistance with daily living, particularly as new situations arise. Secondly, children and their needs change. A parent may have learned to look after a baby and young child and be coping well. However, as the child enters adolescence other support needs may arise. [p21]

xii) Where a need for long-term support with parenting tasks is identified, it should form part of the community care and/or child in need plan. [1.4.2, p21]

xiii) Advocacy and self-advocacy should be made available to help parents access and engage with services. The Care Act 2014 imposes a duty on local authorities to provide an independent advocate where an individual would otherwise have substantial difficulties in being involved in processes such as their own assessment and care planning. [p22]

xiv) The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on local authorities to make reasonable adjustments so as to eliminate discrimination and to advadvance equality of opportunity; the provision of an independent advocate may assist with this. The Human Rights Act 1998 entitles a parent to participate fully in the process; this includes stages prior to any formal legal proceedings being initiated. [p22]

xv) It is particularly important to avoid the situation where poor standards of parental care, which do not, however, meet the threshold of being of significant harm to a child, subsequently deteriorate because of a lack of support provided to the parent. A failure to provide support in this type of situation can undermine a parent’s rights to a private and family life, and may also contravene an authority’s disability equality duty. [p25]

xvi) Families affected by parental learning disability are likely to have an on-going need for support. [p27]

xvii) When children are placed in foster care, parents should receive practical support to maximise their chances of improving their parenting capacity. Without this, parents will have little chance of reunification with children who have been removed from their care. [2.2.12, p29]

xviii) Both children’s and adult workers will need specific training in order to respond appropriately to the needs of families affected by parental learning disability. Child protection training strategies should include adult learning disability services. [p38]

xix) It is essential that assessments, training and support are both timely and appropriately tailored to the parent with a learning disability. Failure to build in, from the outset, the extra time that a parent with a learning disability needs in order to learn and understand, puts that parent at a significant disadvantage in child protection proceedings, compared to parents without a learning disability. [piii]

xx) There must also be joint working across all the agencies (in particular adult and children’s services) and appropriate and effective communication permitting parents to participate fully in the process. [piii]

Turning now to the case in question, the Judge did uphold several of the criticisms made by the parents of the assessments and support

Discussion and conclusion
215.There is in my judgement considerable force in the criticisms made by Ms Harman of the assessments of the parents and the support given to them. In particular:

◦the local authority does not have, as it should, a protocol for dealing with parents with learning disability (or not one that the professionals were able to tell me about, which amounts to the same thing) and that reflects in the approach in this case;

◦a protocol would focus on the Guidance which has not always been followed in this case – and to describe the Guidance as a ‘counsel of perfection’ is to give a charter to ignore it which should be robustly challenged;

◦those working with the mother should have been trained in dealing with parents with learning disability which would have given them better direct understanding during assessment and teaching how best to work with her and how to deliver the right support;

◦I do not consider it necessary to have had somebody from the ALDT present at every session; what was required was sufficient training of those that were there (and not just reliance on their experience of dealing with people with learning disability);

◦there has not been enough focus in this case on planned support and a positive strategy to try and keep this family together:

◦rather LW’s focus (see paragraph 193(h)(v) above) was on a solution for the children within their timescales rather than supporting the parents – the two are not necessarily inconsistent if support is provided in a timely and efficient manner;

◦in fact there were unacceptable delays in carrying out assessments and establishing what support was needed, creating a conflict with the children’s timescales;

◦JT said that the parents had not put forward proposals as to the actual support the various agencies could offer – this ignores that it is the local authority which should be making an assessment of the support that can be offered and that should include what is available from outside agencies as well as inhouse support;

◦there could and should have been more focus on repetitive teaching using role-modelling and example as recommended by Dr K (I accept the health visitor used these techniques but there was little hard evidence of it in the FAST work);

◦a more co-ordinated response to the father’s evident need as a carer of the mother should have been put into effect earlier with a support package rather than leaving him to his own devices;

◦work with the parents should have continued after the children were removed not least to assess whether they were making necessary changes;

◦it was unfortunate that, as in many cases, these parents have had to deal with a number of different social workers, five in this case – that has an impact both on the need for vulnerable parents to re-build new relationships with professionals before and during stressful proceedings and professionals’ continuity of knowledge and experience of the family.

216.Having accepted those criticisms I also accept the following points:

◦all the professionals did their best;

◦the Guidance was followed to the extent that Children’s Services took the lead and consulted with the ALDT as the specialist service;

◦the FAST workers and social workers sought to follow the advice given by the ALDT about how best to work with the mother;

◦the materials they used – picture books and charts – were not in themselves inappropriate, particularly given the presence in the home of the father and his supposed ability to support the mother – it is just that more was needed by way of direct example and repetition;

◦lots of support has in fact been given to the family as set out by Mr Howard, I just question whether it might have been more structured and planned had the Guidance been followed and a protocol been in place;

217.I do not see that the criticisms are met simply by saying that one of the parents did not have disability. The fact is, as this case shows, that whenever working with a parent with a learning disability, the Guidance should be followed.

There’s only one part of the judgment that I don’t quite agree with, and that’s here

248.I do not read Re D or the Guidance as requiring local authorities to provide support to the extent that it amounts to substitute parenting. If a parent had such a physical disability as to require substitute parenting then I would expect the result to be the same, so I would not accept that this conclusion is discriminatory of parents with learning disability.

The first bit, I think is absolutely right – I don’t think Re D or the Guidance says that a Local Authority has to provide the sort of support that means that really a parent is not providing any real parenting but the parenting is being done by professionals and support agencies with the parents just being present. It is the comparator with physical disabilities I am not sure about.

If a parent had such a physical disability as to require substitute parenting then I would expect the result to be the same, so I would not accept that this conclusion is discriminatory of parents with learning disability

I don’t know. If a parent was blind, and needed another adult in the home to ensure that the child wasn’t putting themselves in harms way, would a Local Authority be issuing care proceedings because the blind parent doesn’t have another adult in the home? Would threshold even be met on that basis? I think it is wrong, repugnant even that there is a two-tier approach between physical disability and learning disability, but I do think that there is one.

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Medication, ooh, medication, medication – that’s what you need

An interesting case decided by Recorder Howe QC, which touches on a number of important legal principles (and also to boot contains a lot of masterful understatement like this :- “Unfortunately, T was not proficient with the use of the toaster”)
T (A Child: Care Order: Beyond Parental Control: Deprivation of Liberty: Authority to Administer Medication) [2017] EWFC

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2018/B1.html

The key legal questions in this case were :-

1. When a Local Authority has DOCUMENTS (but not witnesses) who assert A, how much weight does the Court give that hearsay evidence where a live witness disputes A ?

2. Does the limb of threshold ‘beyond parental control’ require the Local Authority to prove any culpability on behalf of the parent – or is it effectively a ‘no fault’ threshold?

3. If a child’s liberty is being restricted AND a care order/interim care order is in force, does Keehan J’s assertion in Re AB (that a parent can consent to this, but not where a care order/ ICO is in force) remain good law after the Re D appeal?

4. Where a child is prescribed medication and the parent objects to that medication, can the Local Authority use their powers under s33 of the Children Act 1989 to consent to it, or is an order of the Court required?

These are all really good questions, and I’m pleased to see so many of the cases that I’ve blogged about coming into this judgment.

T was undoubtedly a very challenging child. He is now 13 years old and has autism. Dr Singh described his behaviour at the residential unit


67. As explained by Dr Singh in his report, T exposes himself to the likelihood of significant harm by:

(a) pulling out his hair from his head and pubic area;

(b) dismantling appliances and furniture;

(c) ripping off and tearing his clothes;

(d) smearing faeces and

(e) kicking-in doors when angry.
68. When angry and upset, Dr Singh describes that T will:

(a) bite;

(b) gouge at the faces of staff members;

(c) pull hair;

(d) spit;

(e) pull staff by the arms;

(f) hit and scratch.

Within the mother’s care, T was doing many of these things and I give this as a particular example

The behaviour did escalate and T then began digging holes in the walls, which was an activity M was unable to prevent and exposed T to the risk of significant harm as he would expose electrical wiring when digging into the walls within the house. I was told about 1 very large area on one wall that T had dug into that measured some 2 meters or so across and as far up the wall as T could reach

Let us look at the first question

1. When a Local Authority has DOCUMENTS (but not witnesses) who assert A, how much weight does the Court give that hearsay evidence where a live witness disputes A ?

The Recorder analyses the law in this regard with precision and brevity. I can’t improve on that, so I’ll just quote him in full

In describing the background to the current applications, I will address some matters upon which the parties do not agree. I will give my findings on these disputed matters when setting out my narrative of the history and when doing so I apply the following principles:

(i) The burden of proving an allegation rests with the party who is making it;

(ii) The standard of proof is the simple balance of probabilities;

(iii) Findings must be based on evidence and on inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence but cannot be based on mere suspicion or speculation;

(iv) Evidence cannot be evaluated and assessed in separate compartments. A judge in these cases must have regard to the relevance of each piece of evidence to other evidence and exercise an overview of the totality of the evidence in order to come to a conclusion.
12. In her closing submissions, Ms Wordsworth relies upon the judgment of the President in Darlington Borough Council v M and Others [2015] EWFC 11, as endorsed by the Court of Appeal in J (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 222, where at §56 Aitkens LJ said:

“Hearsay evidence about issues that appear in reports produced on behalf of the local authority, although admissible, has strict limitations if a parent challenges that hearsay evidence by giving contrary oral evidence at a hearing. If the local authority is unwilling or unable to produce a witness who can speak to the relevant matter by first hand evidence, it may find itself in “great, or indeed insuperable” difficulties in proving the fact or matter alleged by the local authority but which is challenged.”
13. It is M’s case that she has provided her response to a number of matters in the witness box and, where her oral evidence is in conflict with a recording put to her, it is submitted that I should prefer M’s oral evidence where the author of the recording has not appeared before me.

14. Hearsay evidence is admissible in these proceedings concerning a child but I must carefully assess the weight to be given to any hearsay evidence, particularly where that hearsay evidence is disputed by M. When undertaking this task, I have reminded myself of the views expressed by Hayden J in Westminster City Council V M, F and H [2017] EWHC 518 (Fam), where at §25 he said:

“The Local Authority must, ultimately, assess the manner in which it considers it can most efficiently, fairly and proportionately establish its case. The weight to be given to records, which may be disputed by the parents, will depend, along with other factors, on the Court’s assessment of their credibility generally. Here, the reliability of the hearsay material may be tested in many ways e.g. do similar issues arise in the records of a variety of unconnected individuals? If so, that will plainly enhance their reliability. Is it likely that a particular professional e.g. nurse or doctor would not merely have inaccurately recorded what a parent said but noted the exact opposite of what it is contended was said? The reaction of witnesses (not just the parents), during the course of oral evidence, to recorded material which conflicts with their own account will also form a crucial aspect of this multifaceted evaluative exercise. At the conclusion of this forensic process, evidence can emerge and frequently does, which readily complies with the qualitative criterion emphasised in Re A (supra)…

I would add to my analysis above the observations of Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss in Re T [2004] EWCA Civ 558 at §33:

“Evidence cannot be evaluated and assessed in separate compartments. A judge in these difficult cases must have regard to the relevance of each piece of evidence to other evidence and to exercise an overview of the totality of the evidence in order to come to the conclusion whether the case put forward by the local authority has been made out to the appropriate standard of proof.”

The LA have to take stock as to whether to call witnesses where the documents are disputed – it is going to depend on the nature of the evidence and the presentation of the witness who disputes the documents. There’s obviously a risk in not calling the witness, but it has to be weighed up how to efficiently fairly and proportionately establish the LA case.

2. Does the limb of threshold ‘beyond parental control’ require the Local Authority to prove any culpability on behalf of the parent – or is it effectively a ‘no fault’ threshold?

The law on this is annoyingly fuzzy.

In Re K (Post-Adoption Placement Breakdown) [2013] 1 FLR 1, His Honour Judge Bellamy, sitting as a Judge of the High Court (this is the ‘forensic ferret’ case) considered that it was NOT necessary to prove or for the Court to find that the parents were culpable or responsible for the child being beyond parental control – it was sufficient to prove that the child WAS suffering significant harm and that the child was beyond parental control with the fact that he or she was beyond parental control being a contributory cause to the harm. A contributory causal relationship between the harm and the child being beyond parental control suffices. (i.e Re K says that you can find threshold met on beyond parental control WITHOUT the parents having to be to blame for this)

BUT

In Re P [2016] EWFC B2 (26th January 2016), Her Honour Judge Redgrave gives a judgment in which she expressly disagrees with the decision of HHJ Bellamy in Re K. The facts of the case were similar in many ways. The child P had suffered significantly disrupted early attachments that had caused her to develop serious mental health problems. P was adopted but that adoption broke down as a result of the behaviour displayed by P. The local authority did not attribute any culpability to the parents for P suffering harm as a result of her behaviour but attributed the significant harm to P being beyond parental control. Upon the local authority applying to withdraw the proceedings, HHJ Redgrave was invited by the parents to determine whether threshold would have been met had the proceedings continued; the central issue being whether the section 31(2)(b)(ii) requirements were met on the facts as alleged by the local authority. It was argued by the parents that as P was exposing herself to significant harm as a result of her mental health problems, there was no evidence that this was in any way attributable to the fact that she was beyond parental control and, therefore, threshold was not satisfied.

80. At §15 of her judgment, HHJ Redgrave says:

“Under the Children and Young persons Act 1969 the courts had the power to remove a child from the care of his/her parents if it was satisfied that the child in question was beyond parental control. It was not necessary to show serious harm, or likelihood of harm. The Children Act 1989 changed the law and required harm/likelihood of harm to be proved and for it to be attributable to either the care given by the parents, or the child being beyond parental control. In my judgment the ordinary grammatical construction of the section requires the establishment of a causal connection by evidence, however slight. That is lacking in the documents filed in this case and with respect I cannot agree with Paragraph 149 of HHJ Bellamy’s judgment in Re K (see above). Therefore I give the local authority permission to withdraw these proceedings on the basis that it is unlikely on the current evidence to be able to prove threshold.

There is no evidence of any kind that either the mother or the father are culpable in any way for the behaviour of their daughter and the harm she has suffered or is at risk of suffering in the future. They have fought tirelessly for her to receive the treatment she needs and in my judgment these proceedings should never have been issued.”

I will be very candid – I don’t like the decision in Re P – I think it is important, and indeed fundamental to the construction of the threshold criteria that there are some situations in which a child can be suffering significant harm as a result of their behaviour being uncontrollable where the Court can make the orders needed to manage the child WITHOUT the parents being blamed. It crops up a lot on adoption breakdown cases, but also happens with parents as here who are dealing with incredibly challenging behaviour. So I have a horse in this race – I think Re K is right, and Re P (respectfully) is wrong.

So this part of the judgment had me on the edge of my seat (I’m easily intrigued)


86. If I was to follow the reasoning adopted by HHJ Redgrave, a child who was suffering significant harm by reason of being beyond the control of the parent, but due to the characteristics of the child’s illness or impairment and not for any lack of parental effort or ability, the child could not, if the parent objected, be removed to safe care as threshold would not be met.

87. The facts of T’s case demonstrate the difficulty. M does not recognize that T is beyond her control. M has not been able to prevent T from exposing electrical wires, removing pipes from the boiler so as to cause the leakage of carbon monoxide or eating and smearing his own faeces. M has been unable to prevent T from removing his own clothes or been able to require him to dress when in company. T was, in my finding, beyond M’s control. When undertaking all of these activities T has, in my finding, suffered significant harm or been likely to suffer significant harm.

88. I have found that M has minimized the difficulties that she has experienced in providing care for T. His actions arise as a result of his ASD and learning difficulty and Dr Singh has advised that any home carer would be unlikely to be able to meet his needs. If I was to accept that section 31(2)(b)(ii) was only activated if a child was beyond parental control by reason of some want of effort or ability by a parent rather than as a consequence of T’s impairments, that would undermine the ability of any local authority to protect children without embarking on a finding of fault exercise that will, in many cases such as this, be an enquiry that the local authority will wish to avoid.

89. I have said repeatedly, during the course of this hearing, that caring for T must have been hugely challenging for M. It is impossible not to have sympathy and compassion for her given how T’s behaviours developed in ways that M could not have predicted. I have made findings that M did not always accept and act on advice and those findings do, in my judgment, satisfy section 31(2)(b)(i) and I so find. However, in my judgment, it is important to recognize that section 31(1)(b)(ii) was intended to be a true ‘no fault’ limb of the threshold criteria. A child can expose itself to harm by reason of its own behaviour, whatever the cause for that behaviour, and the state needs to have the ability to intervene and protect such children from the harm they cause to themselves if they do not respond, or are unable to respond, to the attempts of their parents or carers to protect them. Therefore, it is necessary in my judgment to interpret the wording of section 31(2)(b)(ii) “in the manner which best gives effect to the purposes the legislation was enacted to achieve”.

90. In my judgment it is immaterial whether a child is beyond parental control due to illness, impairment or for any other reason. The court simply has to consider if, on the facts, the child is beyond the control of the parent or carer. If that condition is satisfied, the court then has to determine if the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of being beyond the control of the parent. If the answer to that 2nd question is ‘yes’, then section 31(2)(b)(ii) threshold is, in my judgment satisfied.

91. I find, on the basis of the factual determinations I have made in the paragraphs above, as summarized in §87, that the threshold criteria under section 31(2)(b)(ii) are satisfied.

It isn’t a settled or binding answer, but it is certainly weight to put into the scales when deciding whether the Re K (no fault needed) or Re P (parental fault is needed) line is to be followed. I agree with these conclusions. I hope that it gets properly cleaned up in precedent soon.

3. If a child’s liberty is being restricted AND a care order/interim care order is in force, does Keehan J’s assertion in Re AB (that a parent can consent to this, but not where a care order/ ICO is in force) remain good law after the Re D appeal?

I’m pleased to say that Recorder Howe QC and I are in accord on this. (I’m not sure that I ever quite grasped WHY Re AB reached that decision, but we both agree that it remains the law, having been only mentioned en passant by the Court of Appeal in Re D)

136. I have been referred to the decision of the Honourable Mr Justice Keehan in AB (A Child: Deprivation of Liberty) [2015] EWHC 3125 (Fam).

137. I have also considered the judgment of the President in Re D (A Child) [2017] EWCA Civ 1695. At §109, Munby P says:

“I should, for the sake of completeness, refer to [Keehan J’s] intervening judgment in In re AB (A Child) (Deprivation of Liberty: Consent) [2015] EWHC 3125 (Fam), [2016] 1 WLR 1160. This concerned a 14-year old boy, subject to an interim care order, who had been placed in a residential children’s home in circumstances which Keehan J found met Storck component (a). The question was whether, given the existence of the interim care order, either the parents or the local authority was entitled to consent for the purposes of Storck component (b). Keehan J held that they were not. That, as will be appreciated, is not an issue before us on this appeal. ”
138. Given that appeal decision in Re D did not affect the judgment given in Re AB, that decision remains good law. At § 29 of his judgment in Re AB, Keehan J stated:

“Where a child is in the care of a local authority and subject to an interim care, or a care, order, may the local authority in the exercise of its statutory parental responsibility (see s.33(3)(a) of the Children Act 1989) consent to what would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty? The answer, in my judgment, is an emphatic “no”. In taking a child into care and instituting care proceedings, the local authority is acting as an organ of the state. To permit a local authority in such circumstances to consent to the deprivation of liberty of a child would (1) breach Article 5 of the Convention, which provides “no one should be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law”, (2) would not afford the “proper safeguards which will secure the legal justifications for the constraints under which they are made out”, and (3) would not meet the need for a periodic independent check on whether the arrangements made for them are in their best interests (per Lady Hale in Cheshire West at paragraphs 56 and 57)”.
139. No party has sought to argue before me that the local authority can give consent to T’s deprivation of liberty at X unit and there is no dispute between the parties that, in the event that I approve the care plan and make a care order, a declaration authorizing the deprivation of T’s liberty is required. In the absence of such a declaration, T’s continued placement at X unit would be unlawful and in breach of article 5 ECHR. As set out by Keehan J at §34 of Re AB “The local authority, as a public body is required by s.6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 not to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right”.

And that leaves, finally, the medication question

4. Where a child is prescribed medication and the parent objects to that medication, can the Local Authority use their powers under s33 of the Children Act 1989 to consent to it, or is an order of the Court required?

Although in this case there had been a lot of discussion about risperidone (an anti-psychotic medication) and melatonin (a drug which promotes sleep) the actual prescription by a GP/Psychiatrist had not yet happened. It was plain that mother objected to her son being given this medication and therefore the Court was asked to give a decision as to whether IF such medication were prescribed the LA could use its powers under a Care Order (section 33 Children Act 1989) to overrule mother’s objection or whether a Court would have to be asked to decide.

(So the Court isn’t DECIDING here whether T should be given the medication, just whether if doctors said he should take the medication and mum says no, can the LA consent to it or does there need to be a Court order?)

There isn’t a direct answer to this question in the law, or clear understanding of how far section 33 extends or what its limits are.

Recorder Howe QC answers the question by looking at two areas where the Courts have ruled that section 33 is not enough to overrule a parent and a Court order is needed instead.

One is vaccination, following MacDonald J in Re SL (Permission to Vaccinate) [2017] EWHC 125 (fam), it is not appropriate for the local authority to override M’s wishes by giving its consent under section 33(3) Children Act 1989

And the other is parent’s choice of names (our old friends Preacher and Cyanide https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/04/15/preacher-and-cyanide/ )

In the case of C (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 374,
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/374.html

178. “In my judgment notwithstanding that a local authority may have the statutory power under section 33(3)(b) CA 1989 to prevent the mother from calling the twins “Preacher” and “Cyanide”, the seriousness of the interference with the Article 8 rights of the mother consequent upon the local authority exercising that power, demands that the course of action it proposes be brought before and approved by the court”.

180. Having considered in some detail the authorities referred to above, this local authority does, in my judgment, require the authorization of the court for Risperidone and Melatonin to be administered to T. I find this for 3 main reasons:

(a) each drug, whilst commonly used with autistic children, has recognized and serious side effects;

(b) T’s impairments are such that I am satisfied that he would have more difficulty in expressing that he was suffering side effects, were they to arise;

(c) If the administration of vaccinations and the change of a child’s first name are such serious interferences with the article 8 rights of a parent, so as to require an order under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court to override the will of a parent, however unreasonable that parent may appear to be, it would be a nonsense for the reasonable concerns of this mother not to be of sufficient gravity to justify similar protections.
181. I appreciate that my decision undermines the power the local authority thought it had available to it under section 33(3) CA 1989. During the hearing of submissions, I raised myself the proposition that the administration of medication over a period of time, that is not a one-off or a short course, such as is the case with vaccinations and, indeed is the case with a change of name decision, might need to be seen differently. Dosages of medications can change. Frequency of administration of the drug can require alteration and it is simply not practicable for alterations in drug regimes to be managed by the court. However, having set that particular hare running, I have reached the conclusion that the administration of these medications, and especially the risperidone, involves such an interference with the article 8 rights of M, that any decision as to whether administration is to be started must be made by the court. Whether it is then necessary for the court to remain involved once that initial decision has been made, is a matter upon which I will hear argument at the next hearing.

So there you have it – some reported cases don’t tackle any questions of wider import beyond the case in question, some deal with one or two, but this one deals with four – the last one being potentially very significant for cases where a Local Authority is caring for children who need medication.

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

Re F v H and Another 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get ready for the pain

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

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

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

The bit that interested me was this, however.

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

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

I’ll give you the last bit again

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

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

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

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

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

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

He Pooles all his resources

This case is a Court of Appeal decision on something that I’ve never even contemplated before.

If a family are getting bullied or harassed by other local residents, and the Housing authority won’t rehouse the family – can the family SUE the local authority for failing to remove their children into care? (And by inference therefore, DO Local Authorities HAVE to remove children who are being bullied on their local estates if the Housing Department won’t evict the bullies or rehouse the family)

It’s a question that immediately made me go “what the eff? Of course not. And why on earth is a parent trying to sue a local authority for NOT taking their kids off them?”

They were though, see

8.Causation is pleaded in the following terms:

“6.3 On the balance of probabilities competent investigation at any stage would have led to the removal of the Claimants from home. A child in need assessment should with competent care have been carried out in respect of each Claimant by September 2006 at the latest. By September 2006 no competent local authority would have failed to carry out a detailed assessment and on the balance of probabilities such detailed assessment if carried out competently would and should have led to the conclusion that each of the Claimants required removal from home if the family as a whole could not be moved. [Emphasis added] With the information obtained by competent assessment in September 2006 on application to the Court the Defendant would have obtained at lest respite care and if necessary by interim care orders in respect of each Claimant. Any competent local authority should and would have arranged for their removal from home into at least temporary care.”

(Bearing in mind that the parents have the power to accommodate their child under s20 by simply asking, this really is the parents suing the local authority for failing to remove their children against their will….)

But it turns out that the answer given to the question first time around was, yes absolutely. And the answer given was in the High Court, which meant it was binding precedent for CJs and below (which fortunately we all missed because Housing lawyers, tort lawyers and care lawyers don’t talk to each other)

Hence there being an appeal. And if the answer stays yes, brace yourselves for a HUGE spike in care proceedings – which is JUST what we all want at this moment, amiright? #sorrytobreakyoursarcasmfilters

CN and another v Poole Borough Council 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/2185.html

Before we start, the title is obviously a play on Poole, and is drawn from my favourite ever Flaming Lips song, which means that it is close to being one of my favourite songs period, because the Flaming Lips are just great.

The song is about Wayne Coyne’s brother, who got high on drugs and decided to go to a convenience store, only when he got there he couldn’t really walk or talk and freaked out the people at the store who called the cops. That’s too simple for a Flaming Lips song, so Wayne adds in that his brother develops a superpower to summon up a host of waterbugs to attack authority figures who are hassling him. And despite the weirdness of the subject matter, it ends up being a song that feels poignant and delicate and beautiful. Enjoy.

But obviously

It was a pretty rotten situation for this family. Their child had severe physical and learning difficulties. There was another family on the estate, known for anti-social behaviour, who as the Court of Appeal say ‘predictably’ started to bully and behave dreadfully towards CN. CN attempted suicide.

You are already wondering why the family are suing the Children’s department of the LA (what we all still call Social Services) rather than Housing – since obviously what they wanted was to be rehoused.

That’s because there’s a firm and clear case called Mitchell, in which the House of Lords held that a person can’t sue the Housing department for this sort of thing.

58.Mr Mitchell was a secure tenant of the local authority, as was a neighbour named Drummond. After a long course of aggression and threats from Drummond, of which the council were fully aware, Drummond killed Mitchell. His widow sued, claiming that the council owed her husband a duty of care and should have intervened, at least by warning about a forthcoming meeting likely further to agitate Drummond. The council’s case was that they owed no duty of care to protect Mr Mitchell from criminal acts by Drummond.

So suing the Housing Department was out, and the lawyers acting for the family instead tried to construct a case on failure of the social services department to safeguard a child in their area from harm arising from the behaviour of people outside the family.

They were relying on a Court of Appeal authority called D v East Berkshire, which removed the previous blanket immunity of local authority social services departments against negligence claims (which had previously been a matter of public policy).

The Court of Appeal were somewhat critical of the failure of the legal representatives of the family to fail to properly grasp the nature of care proceedings. (They obviously weren’t family lawyers, and their understanding of care proceedings is probably on a par with my understanding of tort – I know the broad gist, but not the nuance)


108.Irwin LJ set out at paragraphs 6 – 8 above, the way in which this claim was pleaded namely that the children should have been ‘removed from the care of their mother’. Causation was pleaded as follows:

“6.3 …By September 2006 no competent local authority would have failed to carry out a detailed assessment and on the balance of probabilities such detailed assessment if carried out competently would and should have led to the conclusion that each of the Claimants required removal from home if the family as a whole could not be moved. With the information obtained by competent assessment in September 2006 on application to the Court the Defendant would have obtained at least respite care and if necessary by interim care orders in respect of each Claimant. Any competent local authority should and would have arranged for their removal from home into at least temporary care.”
109.I readily acknowledge that lawyers drafting pleadings in a case of this type may not necessarily have specific expertise in relation to care proceedings. In my view however, it is unacceptable that there appears to have been no understanding of, or reference to, the statutory basis upon which the draconian order sought, (resulting in the unilateral removal of these children from their mother) could have taken place.

110.The pleadings baldly assert that “on application to the Court the Defendant (ie the local authority) would have obtained at least respite care and if necessary by interim care orders in respect of each Claimant”. Such a statement fails to acknowledge that where, as here, a mother does not consent to the removal of her children from her care under an interim care order, the local authority must satisfy the court (pursuant to section 38(2) Children Act 1989) that there are reasonable grounds for believing that “circumstances with respect to the child are as mentioned in section 31(2)”.

111.Section 31(2) provides the ‘threshold criteria’ for state intervention in the care of a child:

“(2) A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied-

(a) that the child concerned is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm; and

(b) that harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to-

(i) the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him.”
112.On the facts of the case put before the court, it seems highly unlikely that it could be shown that there were reasonable grounds to conclude that the threshold criteria could be satisfied. Further, numerous Court of Appeal decisions have made it clear that satisfaction of the threshold criteria should not be equated with satisfaction of the case for the removal of a child from its parent. A care plan for the immediate removal of a child from its parent should only be approved by the court if the child’s safety demands immediate separation; see for example Re G (Interim Care Order) [2011] 2 FLR 955, CA. I note, for completeness, that there is no such order as a ‘respite care order,’ let alone as some sort of half way house to an interim care order.

113.In my judgment, the pleadings should have particularised the broad basis upon which it was said the threshold criteria was capable of being satisfied, and, having done so, why it was thereafter averred that the local authority would have been permitted to remove the children from the care of their mother absent her consent. Had that been done, it would have been apparent that not only was the proposal that these Claimant children should have been removed from their mother ‘utterly heartless’ and ‘utterly wrong,’ as characterised by Davis LJ, but legally unsustainable.

Davis LJ went further, and also threw in the word ‘legerdemain’ which is a particular favourite of mine.

116.In any event, I found the formulated claim, by reference to a duty of care asserted to arise from the availability of asserted remedies under the provisions of the Children Act 1989, most disconcerting. The true complaint in reality was about the failure of the housing authorities to re-house the entire family in the light of the activities of the neighbouring family. (Previous proceedings commenced by the claimants and their mother in 2012 against, among others, the Chief Constable of Police and PHP had, I note, not been pursued and were struck out in 2013.) That, as is now accepted, gave rise to no viable cause of action against the relevant housing authorities. To seek then to re-cast the claim for damages against the local authority by reference to an alleged duty to seek and obtain a care order under the Children Act 1989 seems to me little more than legalistic legerdemain, designed to overcome the insuperable obstacles to formulating a viable claim in attacking the housing authorities in the exercise, (or, rather, non-exercise) of their housing functions. The courts should not be prepared to entertain such a step.

117.It was never said that the mother was an unfit mother. She loved and cared for her (vulnerable) children. They loved and needed her. Nothing she did or did not do caused them any harm: it was the harassment of the neighbours which did. True she failed, in spite of all her efforts, to achieve the cessation of that harassment or relocation of her family. But that was not her fault. On the contrary, it was the various agencies which, rightly or wrongly, have been blamed. But why or how could seeking a care order with regard to the children be justified in such circumstances?

118.In the present case, it seems to me that seeking a care order from the Family Court, which potentially would split the family, would not simply have been utterly heartless: it seems to me that such a step would have been utterly wrong. In the circumstances of this case, there was no justification for potentially separating, without the mother’s consent, mother from children, children from mother by use of care proceedings. To countenance care proceedings in the Family Court in order to overcome (or provide a subsequent remedy for) the problems caused by the neighbours on the estate would be, I would have thought, tantamount to an abuse of the process of that court

The Court of Appeal held that there was nothing within this case, sad as it was, that met the very specific and narrow set of circumstances in which Person or Body A (the local authority) was legally responsible for the actions of a third party (the anti-social family living on the state). And thus the application was struck out.

Everyone can breathe now, we haven’t just had an entirely new basis for issuing care proceedings dumped on us. Thank goodness.

The Court of Appeal also suggest very strongly that D v East Berkshire is no longer good law and should not be followed, but as I don’t practice in tort, I’m not going to make the mistake of trying to tell anyone what significance that should have (or whether it just means that it isn’t authority for making a local authority responsible for the actions of a third party outside its control)

Sin is not valid legal currency

A mind-blowingly tricky case, involving hot-button issues on either side.

A mother and father have five children, ranging in ages from 3 to 13. The family are all part of the ultra-orthodox North Manchester Charedi Jewish community. The father left the family home in 2015 and became transgender, he now lives as a woman.

The ultra-orthodox Charedi Jewish community view the father’s actions as ones of choice, and as a sin, and he would be ostracised from the community. If the children were to spend time with their father, they also would be marginalised by their community.

The Judge at first instance, Peter Jackson J (as he then was), concluded that the children would not be upset or traumatised by their father’s transgender status and would cope with it, but that they would be harmed by being ostracised within their religious community. It was a difficult balance expressed eloquently :-

8.Peter Jackson J identified (judgment, para 166) fifteen arguments in favour of direct contact which he described as “formidable”. He could identify (para 168) only two factors that spoke against direct contact. Of the first, relating to the father’s “dependability”, he found (para 172) that “if it were the only obstacle to direct contact, it could probably be overcome.” That left only one factor, which he described (para 173) as “the central question”, namely “the reaction of the community if the children were to have direct contact with the father.”

9.On this, his findings were as clear as they were bleak. He found (para 156) that:

“The children will suffer serious harm if they are deprived of a relationship with their father.”
10.Nonetheless he decided, as we have seen, that there should be no direct contact. He explained why. First (para 177):

“Having considered all the evidence, I am driven to the conclusion that there is a real risk, amounting to a probability, that these children and their mother would be rejected by their community if the children were to have face-to-face contact with their father.”

Then (para 181):

“I … reject the bald proposition that seeing the father would be too much for the children. Children are goodhearted and adaptable and, given sensitive support, I am sure that these children could adapt considerably to the changes in their father. The truth is that for the children to see their father would be too much for the adults.”

And then this (para 187):

“So, weighing up the profound consequences for the children’s welfare of ordering or not ordering direct contact with their father, I have reached the unwelcome conclusion that the likelihood of the children and their mother being marginalised or excluded by the ultra-Orthodox community is so real, and the consequences so great, that this one factor, despite its many disadvantages, must prevail over the many advantages of contact (emphasis added).”
11.We suspect that many reading this will find the outcome both surprising and disturbing, thinking to themselves, and we can understand why, how can this be so, how can this be right?

The case went to the Court of Appeal.

Re M (Children) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/2164.html

2.This is an appeal from a judgment and order of Peter Jackson J, as he then was, made in private law proceedings between the father and the mother of five children, whose ages now range from 13 to 3 years old. His judgment was handed down on 30 January 2017: J v B (Ultra-Orthodox Judaism: Transgender) [2017] EWFC 4, [2017] WLR(D) 142. The judgment, which was necessarily lengthy, is freely available to all on the BAILII website, so we can be more limited in quoting from it than might otherwise be appropriate. We do, however, urge anyone who has occasion to read our judgment to read Peter Jackson J’s judgment first.

3.The order was made on 2 February 2017. It was expressed as being a final order. The judge dismissed the father’s application for direct contact (the children live with the mother). The order contained a child arrangements order providing for limited indirect contact, a specific issue order directing that the children were to be provided with “staged narratives” in age-appropriate terms, and a family assistance order under section 16 of the Children Act 1989, naming the children’s guardian as the relevant officer, to remain in force until 1 February 2018. The father sought permission to appeal; the perfected grounds of appeal are dated 17 March 2017. Permission to appeal was given by King LJ on 16 June 2017. On 27 October 2017, McFarlane LJ gave both Stonewall Equality Limited (“Stonewall”) and Keshet Diversity UK (“KeshetUK”) permission to intervene in the appeal, limited to making written submissions. On 10 November 2017, the father applied for permission to admit further evidence, which we admitted de bene esse.

4.The appeal came on for hearing before us on 15 November 2017. Ms Alison Ball QC and Mr Hassan Khan appeared for the father, Mr Peter Buckley for the mother, and Ms Frances Heaton QC and Ms Jane Walker for the children’s guardian. Ms Karon Monaghan QC and Ms Sarah Hannett filed written submissions on behalf of Stonewall and Ms Jane Rayson and Mr Andrew Powell filed written submissions on behalf of KeshetUK. At the end of the hearing we reserved judgment, which we now hand down.

The case in outline
5.The outcome of this appeal is of very great importance to the father, to the mother and the children, and to the ultra-orthodox North Manchester Charedi Jewish community in which the children have always been brought up. But in its potential implications this appeal is of profound significance for the law in general and family law in particular. For on one view it raises the question of how, in evaluating a child’s welfare, the court is to respond to the impact on the child of behaviour, or the fear of behaviour, which is or may be unlawfully discriminatory as involving breaches of Article 14 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms or of the Equality Act 2010.

I suspect most readers have already formed a firm view as to what is the right outcome here – but I also suspect that not everyone will have the same firm view. It is decidedly tricky. For my part, I struggle to see how the views of an intolerant religious community should deprive the children of their relationship with their father (until such time as the children can make up their own mind about where their preferences lie), but I am mindful that I come to this as a wholly secular person who does not hold religious beliefs. Might I think differently about it if faith was a major part of MY life, as it clearly is for this family?

The judgment
12.Having thus introduced the issues which confront us, we turn to a more detailed analysis of Peter Jackson J’s judgment. After an Introduction (judgment, paras 1-11) and a section dealing with Terminology (paras 12-16), he set out a Narrative of events (paras 17-36), to which we refer the reader. For present purposes, there are only two matters we need to refer to. The first, (para 33) relates to the minutes of a “Team around the children meeting” held within the community in April 2016. Of these minutes, the judge made this observation (para 34):

“These Minutes are of interest. Not having been prepared with these proceedings in mind, they illustrate the prevailing mindset. There is at least as much concern for the community as for the children. The father was entirely ignored.”

The other matter relates to something which the judge referred to (para 36) as an example of the high level of tension surrounding the proceedings:

“In November [2016], on the first morning of the hearing, an unidentified member of the community posted this WhatsApp message:

“HELP! SAVE!

Family [name]’s (A Mother & her 5 Children) fate is in court this morning (for the next 10 days). Please Daven [pray] for them. We can’t afford to lose this case. The Rabbonim [rabbis] have asked for this message to be sent. The family know and want it to be sent. Pls forward this message. The koach of tefilloh [power of prayer] can achieve everything.””
13.The judge then turned to the law (paras 37-56). There has been no challenge to his analysis.

14.Then in a long section (paras 57-142) the judge rehearsed the evidence. For present purposes we can be selective. In the course of setting out the mother’s evidence (paras 69-77), the judge said this (paras 73-74):

“73 The mother described the father as having been “severely ostracised” by the community. She had no other experience of the reaction of the community to transgender or homosexual people, but described the problems for a neighbour’s children when their mother wanted to leave the religion and the consequences when one of her female cousins began to deviate in her style of dress. She said that she was very aware that the schools must uphold British values, but that “the parent body are the school”. Respect must be shown for people, no matter who they are, but at the same time the ethos of the school must be upheld, no matter what. Transgender is extremely alien to the community and against religious law. As for homosexuality, young children are not faced with it. As she put it: “I uphold the British law within our faith.” If there is a conflict between law and faith, she would follow her faith, though she would not commit a crime. The present circumstances put her in a very difficult position.

74 The mother said that there is no way that direct contact will work out for the children, for their identity, for their culture and for their whole environment. She said this, even though she knew that she and the children are entitled to legal protection against victimization. The schools would probably not throw out the children, but the environment would become hostile. The parent body would not allow their children to play with the children, and no one can tell others how to bring up their own children. “They will protect their children from contact. They wouldn’t want my children to suffer and will have every sympathy, but their own children will come first.” The children’s next schools would not have to take them, and could just say they were full. “Are we going to get the whole community to tell them off?” The mother can see the children being rarely invited to family events and festivities because people would be nervous about what they would say. There would be extreme supervision and the children’s participation would be kept at a very basic level. Already, A is being asked questions and is reluctant to commit himself fully within his peer group. This, said the mother, is “the reality – it’s who we are”.”
15.Particularly striking in this context, was the evidence of Mrs S, a very experienced foster carer who identifies herself as an observant modern Orthodox Jew, of whom the judge said this (paras 108-111):

“108 Mrs S, who clearly has a close knowledge of the workings of the community, described its unhappiness at children being fostered outside the community, though it acknowledged that she was a preferable carer to any of the available alternatives.

109 Mrs S provided two striking instances of the way in which children exposed to ‘outside influences’ will be ostracised. In 2015 Child A, a 15-year-old girl who had been sexually abused in the community was placed in her care. The girl was not invited to Hanukkah gatherings by her classmates. When Mrs S challenged the mother of one of the girl’s close friends about this, she explained that she could not risk her daughter hearing about “things” as children in the community were kept innocent and sheltered. When Mrs S described the distress that these actions were causing, the mother did invite the girl to her house, but only under strict supervision. The child lost her best friend and all her childhood friends. She now attends a different school and has absolutely no association with her former social circle.

110 Mrs S spoke of Child B, whom she had fostered from another ultra-Orthodox community. The child, aged 14, had been sexually and emotionally abused within her family and the wider community since the age of 11. She had made statements to her school about her abuse. The response had been to put her on a plane out of the country and invent a story to explain her absence. When she was returned to the country and placed in foster care, “all hell broke loose”. Mrs S said that she personally had a broad set of shoulders but that it had been a struggle to protect the child at the beginning. She was rejected by her family and no longer allowed to talk to friends. As Mrs S put it, “It’s the knowledge that is the issue.”

111 Mrs S freely described these as “awful case studies”, which she related to assist the court to understand that this response was the norm where religious culture, identity and laws are breached. She said that they were not “standout cases”. At the beginning of her fostering career, they would have had her “up in arms”, but she now saw this behaviour as being unchangeable – by local authorities, foster carers, courts and the law. “They will find a way around it.””

Of the cases described by Mrs S, the judge said this (para 178(3)-(4)):

“The cases of Child A and Child B, described by their foster carer Mrs S, show the lengths to which the community is prepared to go, regardless of the justice of the matter or the welfare of the young people … They are clear examples of discrimination and victimisation (there is no other apt description) in cases that did not raise anything like as problematic a challenge to community attitudes as the present case (emphasis added).”
16.Also of importance, as we shall see, in influencing the judge’s thinking, was the evidence of Rabbi Andrew Oppenheimer (paras 90-102). This part of the judgment requires to be read in full. Here we merely quote the salient passages. First (paras 91-92):

“91 Rabbi Oppenheimer describes Charedi communities as “warm, close-knit and supportive communities for which the teachings of Torah Judaism guide all aspects of their lives … The teachings of the Torah also highlight integrity, respect for others, peace and justice (including respect for the law of the country) and place the family and its welfare at the heart of life … Allegiance to the lifestyle … means of necessity that members have traditional values and seek to guard their children and themselves against what they regard as the dangers and excesses of modern open society.”

92 Rabbi Oppenheimer was clear that transgender and procedures to achieve sex change violate a number of basic principles in Torah Law, including the prohibition against castration (Leviticus 22.24) and the prohibition against wearing garments of the opposite sex (Deuteronomy 22.5).”
17.Next (paras 95-96):

“95 In regard to the attitude of the community, Rabbi Oppenheimer writes:

“Where a person decides to take action likely to be irreversible to transgender, Ultra-Orthodox community members will invariably take the view that, by embarking on that course, the transgender person has breached the contract which they entered into when they married their wife to observe the Torah and to establish and bring up a family in accordance with its laws. Furthermore, members of the community will naturally wish to protect themselves and their families from any discussion of the painful issues involved, especially bearing in mind the sheltered position of the community from the standpoint of open society. Knowledge of transgender amongst children in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is almost non-existent, for the reasons mentioned above concerning their lack of access to Internet and the media. There is no known precedent in the UK of a transgender person being accepted living in an Ultra-Orthodox community.

The result will be that community members will expect the family of the transgender person to limit their contact with him or her as far as possible. If the family of the transgender person nevertheless seeks, or indeed is forced, to maintain contact with that person, they will open themselves up to very serious consequences indeed. The families around them will effectively ostracise them by not allowing their children to have more than the most limited contact with that family’s children. The impact on the family in such circumstances in terms of social isolation will be devastating.

In considering the best interests of the children the obvious conclusion from the discussion above is that the children of an Ultra-Orthodox union cannot and should not be expected to have any direct contact with the father in such circumstances. It will no doubt be argued against this approach that it is cruel, lacking in tolerance, unnecessary and denies the rights of the father. But Torah law (Halacha) has the same approach to English Family Law in this type of situation, regarding issues of residence and contact, that the interests of the children are paramount. In other words the father is expected to give precedence to the needs of the children over his own needs.”

96 In his oral evidence, Rabbi Oppenheimer remarked that “ostracise” was perhaps not the best word to use for a process that would not be organised but more subtle and inevitable – “it would be so much more”.”
18.Then this (para 97):

“He … asserted that under the Torah and in reality a person is considered to have a choice, albeit a difficult one, as to whether they become transgender. If they do, they choose to place themselves outside the embrace of the community. In Torah law, to be gay or transgender is to be a sinner. Even though it may be looked on with compassion, and some people may extend the hand of friendship, that does not alter its unacceptability. The mother could not remain married to a person who made that decision. She should still seek in a constrained way to promote respect for the father but at the same time to protect the children from the consequences until they are old enough to deal with them. Young people cannot deal with these issues without undermining their faith. There is too much of a conflict to understand. There is therefore an obligation to protect the children from finding things out that are likely to damage them and cause them pain and suffering, likely to damage their growth and spiritual well-being. By educating children in the way of the Torah, they are brought up as upright people.”
19.And then, finally for present purposes, this (paras 99-101):

“99 Rabbi Oppenheimer explained that excluding ideas that might damage the development of children is “the price we pay – we limit ordinary social contact so that we transmit our spiritual ethos to the next generation”.

100 When pressed about the impact of ultra-Orthodox custom and practice in a case such as the present, Rabbi Oppenheimer replied with some warmth that this had nothing to do with emotions or feelings – it was contrary to Torah law for the children to be exposed to transgender. Further pressed as to the basis for this assertion, the Rabbi fell back upon the overriding consideration in Leviticus to be holy and to separate oneself from anything contrary to the Torah.

101 Indirect contact, on the other hand, would not, he thought, give rise to such a risk of ostracism, as it would not enable the children to have “a living relationship”.”
20.Pausing at this point there are two points which require emphasis.

21.The first is the community’s determination – what Rabbi Oppenheimer described as its “obligation to protect the children from finding things out that are likely to damage … their growth and spiritual well-being” – to shield its children from knowledge of and exposure to such matters as sexual abuse, homosexuality and transgenderism and, more generally, what Rabbi Oppenheimer called the “excesses of modern open society”; and to restrict its children from coming into contact with children who have such knowledge or have been so exposed.

22.The second is Rabbi Oppenheimer’s chilling explanation as to why indirect contact would not give rise to a risk of ostracism: “it would not enable the children to have “a living relationship”.”

23.Peter Jackson J’s response to this was brisk (paras 179-180):

“179 In balancing the advantages and disadvantages of the children being allowed to see their father, I apply the law of the land. Some witnesses in these proceedings assert that gay or transgender persons have made a lifestyle choice and must take the consequences. The law, however, recognises the reality that one’s true sexuality and gender are no more matters of choice than the colour of one’s eyes or skin.

180 It has also been said that transgenderism is a sin. Sin is not valid legal currency. The currency of the law is the recognition, protection and balancing out of legal rights and obligations. In this case, to be recognised and respected as a transgender person is a right, as is the right to follow one’s religion. Likewise, each individual is under an obligation to respect the rights of others, and above all the rights of the children.”
24.In striking contrast with Rabbi Oppenheimer’s evidence was that of Rabbi Ariel Abel (paras 78-83), who described himself as mainstream Orthodox and falling under the authority of the Chief Rabbi. He grew up in the North Manchester Charedi community and has experience of communities in London, Liverpool and Manchester at various levels of orthodoxy. The judgment (paras 80-81) summarised his evidence:


“Rabbi Abel emphasised the central importance of honouring one’s parents within Jewish law and tradition. He said that there is scarcely any circumstance in which the obligation to honour one’s father does not apply. Even if the father is an outright sinner, which is not in his view a consideration in this case, the obligation persists. He considered this aspect of the matter to have been left untreated by Rabbi Oppenheimer.

In relation to transgender, Rabbi Abel considered that there is a plurality of opinion and that the biblical position may be qualified. He contends that there is no valid reason why any person should plead ultra-Orthodox faith as a reason to disenfranchise a person in the position of the father. “There is no legitimate reason to maintain that children who are transgender-parented cannot experience in the ultra-Orthodox community a full and satisfying Orthodox Jewish life, physically, spiritually, emotionally and communally.” On the contrary, there is every reason to reunite parent and child as it is the well-being of the nuclear family and not the social preferences of the wider community that truly matter. He points to commentary by the noted encyclopaedist, the late Rabbi Waldenberg, in support of his contention that Orthodox Judaism, correctly understood, recognises the existence of, and to a certain extent accommodates, a number of non-binary identities, including transgender. He argues that the transgender issue cannot be ignored and that parents’ relationships with their children are inalienable.”
25.The judgment continues (paras 82-83):

“Rabbi Abel objected to the concept (introduced by Rabbi Oppenheimer) of the faith as a club from which people could be ejected, though he observed that this evidently happens. An approach of this kind, practically amounting to a belief, raises itself to the surface, usually in worst-case scenarios. This is a social cultural reality, not a valid Orthodox reason for separating children from parents. There is a lamentable habit of censoring. Children of divorced parents can be seated separately from other children and he had experience of this, something he described as beggaring belief. In his view, this should not be accommodated or excused in Jewish or English law. On the other hand, he had never heard of total ostracism in practice, provided the contentious matter was treated privately within the family, and not paraded before the community. However, he accepted that ostracism for these children could very possibly happen if the situation was not managed correctly with professional help. What was needed was psychological support: religious teachers should be kept out of it.

The Rabbi accepted that the present circumstances would be a challenge to the insular North Manchester community. He argued that when it comes to matters of life and death, you have to break free and seek to work with the unfamiliar problem. He gave as an example creative arrangements that might be made to allow the father to participate in A’s bar mitzvah. There are ways, and it can happen if there is a will. The issues are significant, but not insurmountable. The community is not monolithic, but multifarious. It will step back if proper arrangements are made by both parents. If the situation is unregulated, the community will take matters into its own hands. If direct contact was ordered, and the law laid down, he did not think that the community would “go to the wire” fighting an unwinnable battle.”
26.We have set this important evidence out in full because it seems to us to hold out hope of a change. Rabbi Abel demonstrates that there exists what we imagine is a lively debate, perhaps within this thoughtful, law-abiding and intellectual community and probably Orthodox Judaism generally, of the issues to which transgenderism gives rise. Does it not provide some support for a conclusion in this case that the views which drove the judge are not universally inflexible?

So even within the religious community there was a deep schism about what the Torah says and what in practice might happen if the children were to see their father. Of course, the Judge dealing with the case didn’t have to deal with what position the ultra-Orthodox community SHOULD take, but what position they realistically WOULD take

30.The judge then turned (paras 143-161) to consider the welfare checklist. For present purposes, we need refer only to this (paras 156-157), which really encapsulates the dilemma confronting him:

“156 The children will suffer serious harm if they are deprived of a relationship with their father.

157 The children would suffer serious harm if they were excluded from the normal life of the community.”
31.Finally (paras 162-191) the judge set out his Assessment and conclusion. He began as follows (paras 162-165):

“162 I find this a very troubling case. These children are caught between two apparently incompatible ways of living, led by tiny minorities within society at large. Both minorities enjoy the protection of the law: on the one hand the right of religious freedom, and on the other the right to equal treatment. It is painful to find these vulnerable groups in conflict.

163 A great deal of time has been spent at this hearing on consideration of the laws and customs of the ultra-Orthodox community. This is natural, given that it is the community within which the children live. However, Ms Ball QC and Ms Mann for the father argue that one must not look only through an ultra-Orthodox lens. I agree. Despite its antiquity, Jewish law is no more than 3,500 years old, while gender dysphoria will doubtless have existed throughout the 120,000 years that Homo sapiens has been on earth. Both sides of the question must therefore receive careful attention.

164 Faced with this intractable problem, it is not for the court to judge the way of life of the ultra-Orthodox Jew or of the transgender person. The court applies the law, and in this case its task is to identify the outcome that best upholds the children’s welfare while minimising so far as possible the degree of interference with the rights of all family members.

165 Here, the best possible outcome would be for the children to live with their mother, grow up in the community, and enjoy a full relationship with their father by regular contact. The worst outcome, I find, would be for the mother and children to be excluded from the community. The question is whether, in striving for the best outcome, the court would instead bring about the worst.”
32.He then (para 166) listed the fifteen “formidable” arguments in favour of direct contact to which we have already referred. In relation to the second factor identified by the guardian (see paragraph 28 above) he said this (para 172):

“… the father’s approach to contact would not be a reliable, static factor. It would be a variable amongst other variables. I share the view of the Anna Freud Centre and the Guardian that this must be taken into account when considering children’s welfare. It speaks for caution, but no more than that, and if it were the only obstacle to direct contact, it could probably be overcome.”
33.Turning to the “the central question of the reaction of the community if the children were to have direct contact with their father,” the judge (paras 174-176) summarised counsel’s competing submissions before expressing his conclusion as follows (para 177):

“Having considered all the evidence, I am driven to the conclusion that there is a real risk, amounting to a probability, that these children and their mother would be rejected by their community if the children were to have face-to-face contact with their father. I say “driven” because I began the hearing with a strong disposition to find that a community described by Rabbi Oppenheimer as “warm, close and supportive” and living under a religious law that “highlights integrity, respect for others, justice and peace” could tolerate (albeit without approval) these children’s right to and need for a relationship with their father. The evidence that was available before the hearing contained dire predictions, but no actual examples of ostracism. I pointed this out, and this led to a number of new statements being gathered, including significant evidence from the foster carer, Mrs S.”
34.He explained his conclusion (para 178) in twelve sub-paragraphs of which we quote the following:

“(1) It does not depend upon any view of what Jewish law is in relation to transgender, but upon what the community is likely to think it is and act upon. It may be that the humane and progressive views of Rabbi Abel and Mr Bernard will one day gain acceptance in the ultra-Orthodox communities, but I consider that in the present day the community in which the children live and go to school will, rightly or wrongly, defer to the stance described by Rabbi Oppenheimer and the authorities he cites.

(3) The cases of Child A and Child B, described by their foster carer Mrs S, show the lengths to which the community is prepared to go, regardless of the justice of the matter or the welfare of the young people (emphasis added).

(4) I cannot distinguish these cases in the way suggested by Ms Ball. They are clear examples of discrimination and victimisation (there is no other apt description) in cases that did not raise anything like as problematic a challenge to community attitudes as the present case (emphasis added).

(5) There is a consistent account from all those within the community of how it will behave …

(6) The father [and his witnesses] all accept to a substantial degree that this is what the community is like. Their thesis is that it can be managed or made to change.

(7) There is, to say the least, evidence that the practices within the community, and in particular its schools, amount to unlawful discrimination against and victimisation of the father and the children because of the father’s transgender status (emphasis added). However, the fact that the practices may be unlawful does not mean that they do not exist.

(8) I was particularly impressed by the evidence of Mrs S, an informed outsider, who compellingly described the reaction of the community to situations of which it disapproves.

(9) I was also struck by Rabbi Oppenheimer’s unyielding defence of the religious and social position as illustrating the stance that can be taken by educated persons.

(11) There is no evidence that any person in a position of authority or influence within the community wishes to challenge the behaviour of its members, still less that significant change could be expected within these children’s timescale.

(12) In these circumstances, I do not consider that there is any real prospect of a court order bringing about a beneficial alteration in the attitude of the community towards this family, even to the extent of some relatively limited normalisation of approach. This must be a subject for regret, not only for this family, but also for others facing these issues in fundamentalist communities, for whom this will be a bleak conclusion. However, these considerations cannot deflect the court’s focus from the welfare of these five children.”
35.He continued (paras 182-183):

“182 And here we come to the sad reality. I can see no way in which the children could escape the adult reaction to them enjoying anything like an ordinary relationship with their father. In the final analysis, the gulf between these parents – the mother within the ultra-Orthodox community and the father as a transgender person – is too wide for the children to bridge. They would be taught one thing in their daily lives and asked to do the opposite on repeated, conspicuous forays into the outside world, which they would have to keep quiet about afterwards. The mother, a religiously observant person, would be required to sustain something that she has been taught is religiously wrong. A, aged only 12, is already extremely anxious about contact and now feels protective towards his mother and younger siblings. Embarking on contact would place him under extreme pressure, which would inevitably have a detrimental effect on his development.

183 The children, and the mother on whom they depend, would have no effective support to deal with any of this: on the contrary, they would face suspicion or outright opposition from every quarter. The likely result is that their individual and collective well-being would be undermined to the point where their ability to remain in the community would be put at risk, or at the very least placed under permanent and severe strain, with … “a negative impact on how they function in the widest possible sense both now and in the future”.”
36.He added (para 185):

“These parents decided to bring up their children according to the narrow ways of the community, and they continue to agree about this. That being the case, the priority must be to sustain the children in the chosen way of life, preserving their existing family and social networks and their education. It is not to be forgotten that children have the right to preserve their identity (UNCRC Art.8), something that is a matter of particular pride to these children. Contact carries the clear risk that the children and their mother will become the next casualties in a collision between two unconnecting worlds. The father has already experienced the consequences of that collision, and no one knows better than she does how very painful they can be.”

The Court of Appeal had some very difficult issues to consider


42.It is important at the outset to be clear as to why the court – the State – is involved in the present case. It is because the parents have been unable to resolve their family difficulties themselves, whether with or without the assistance, formal or informal, of the community, and because one of the parents, in this case the father, has sought the assistance of the court. The court cannot decline jurisdiction. And, as judges sitting in a secular court, we must necessarily determine the case according to law, in this instance the law as laid down by Parliament in section 1(1)(a) of the Children Act 1989: see Re G (Education: Religious Upbringing) [2012] EWCA Civ 1233, [2013] 1 FLR 677, paras 92-93.

They conclude that the case had to be sent back for re-hearing (note that they do not say that the father MUST have contact, just that the case needs to be re-heard )

Our reasons for disagreeing with the analysis of the judge
76.In our judgment, Peter Jackson J’s judgment is vulnerable on a number of grounds, all interlinked but which, for purposes of clarity and analysis, it is appropriate to keep distinct.

77.First, the judge, having arrived at his conclusion (judgment, paras 182-188), did not at that point step back and ask himself what, we think, were a number of highly pertinent questions. We have already touched on much of this, but it bears further elaboration. For example, he should, we respectfully suggest, have asked himself: how do I, indeed, how can I, properly accommodate this conclusion with my role as the judicial reasonable parent applying the standards of reasonable men and women today? Can I properly come to a conclusion dictated, as I have found (judgment, paras 34, 178, 181), by the practices of a community which involve discrimination and victimisation and where the community’s focus is as much on itself and the adults as on concern for the children or child welfare? Is it enough simply to proceed on the basis (para 185) that “These parents decided to bring up their children according to the narrow ways of the community, and they continue to agree about this (emphasis added)”? Should I not directly and explicitly challenge the parents and the community with the possibility that, absent a real change of attitude on their part, the court may have to consider drastic steps such as removing the children from the mother’s care, making the children wards of court or even removing the children into public care? Should I not directly and explicitly confront the mother and the community, which professes to be law abiding, with the fact that its behaviour is or may be unlawfully discriminatory? And, not least, how can this outcome meet even the medium let alone the long-term needs and interests of the children? How can this order give proper effect to the reality, whether the community likes it or not, that the father, whether transgender or not, is and always will be the children’s father and, as such, inescapably part of their lives, now, tomorrow and as long as they live? The judge’s omission to address these questions seriously undermines, indeed, in our judgment vitiates, his ultimate conclusion.

78.Secondly, and in saying this we are very conscious of the forensic reality that this part of the case was not much explored before him, and he did not, of course, have the benefit of the submissions we have had from Stonewall and KeshetUK, we are bound to say it is very unfortunate that the judge did not address head on the human rights issues and issues of discrimination which plainly arose. His judgment recites though largely without analysing (judgment, paras 44-51, 53-56) various Convention and statutory provisions to which the father in particular had referred. But apart from the passages we have already set out, the judgment says virtually nothing else about these vitally important issues – no doubt, in this respect, reflecting the limitations of the arguments that had been addressed to the judge. This is a matter we return to below.

79.Thirdly, there is much force in the argument that the judge did not sufficiently explain why, given the basis of the mother’s and the community’s objection to direct contact, it was nonetheless feasible to contemplate indirect contact. Indeed, there is little discussion of the issue in the judgment. The judge recorded the mother’s position as being (judgment, para 9):

“The mother had been opposed to any contact but, having seen the professional advice, now accepts that the children should have indirect contact with their father three times a year. She opposes direct contact of any kind during their childhoods as that, she claims, will lead to the children and herself being ostracised by the community to the extent that they may have to leave it.”

We have already recorded (paragraph 22 above) Rabbi Oppenheimer’s views on the subject. The judge was pressed in argument (judgment, para 174) with what we think was the well-founded point, “It is not clear why indirect contact is said to be acceptable, while direct contact is not.” After all, as we have observed (paragraph 21 above), the concern of the community is to shield its children from knowledge of and exposure to such matters as transgender, and to restrict its children from coming into contact with children who have such knowledge or have been so exposed. Surely, from that point of view, indirect contact must carry with it precisely the same kinds of risk as direct contact. The judge did not address the point, merely saying (judgment, para 188) that, having refused an order for direct contact, “I will instead make an order for indirect contact. I see no reason why this should not take place four times a year.” We emphasise that this is not an argument against indirect contact; on the contrary, it is, it might be thought, an argument in favour of direct contact.
80.Fourthly, we think there is considerable substance in the complaint that, as Ms Ball puts it, the judge “gave up too easily” and decided the question of direct contact then and there and without directing even a single attempt to try and make it work. The judge recognised, by making the specific issue order directing preparation of “staged narratives”, that there was further work to be done by the guardian and the Anna Freud Centre. As Ms Ball asks rhetorically, and in our judgment there is substance in the point, why not defer a final decision on direct contact pending the outcome of that, and perhaps further, work, including work by the GesherEU Support Network about which the judge (judgment, paras 84-89) had heard evidence? Moreover, as we have already observed, why not first directly and explicitly challenge the parents and the community with the possibility that, absent a real change of attitude on their part, the court might have to consider the drastic steps we have referred to? Why not directly and explicitly confront the mother and the community with the fact that its behaviour is or may be unlawfully discriminatory? And why not attempt, even if the prospects may have seemed forlorn, the kind of step by step process adopted by Her Honour Judge Rowe QC in Re X (Number 1: Religious Differences: Schools) [2014] EWFC B230, Re X (Number 2: Orthodox Schools) [2015] EWFC B237, and Re X (Number 3: Division of Religious Festivals) [2016] EWFC B91. In our judgment, the decision which judge came to was indeed premature.

81.It follows that, in substance, the father makes good all three grounds of appeal.

82.The parties were rightly agreed that if this was our decision it would not be appropriate for us to determine what the outcome should be. The matter will have to go back for a further hearing which, in the circumstances, will be before Hayden J. Precisely what the scope of that hearing should be will be a matter for the judge. We do not anticipate a rehearing of the very full evidence on the religious views which Peter Jackson J heard but otherwise leave the scope of the evidence at the rehearing to the judge. That said, we need to make explicit what ought to be clear enough already. What we say about the community is based on the evidence adduced by the parties to these proceedings and on the findings of the judge. The community are not parties and have had no opportunity to make representations. Our observations about the community should be read on that basis.

83.In view of the fact that, for the reasons set out earlier, we propose to allow this appeal and remit the case to the family court for reconsideration, it is unnecessary for us to address at length either the issues of equality law which may arise or the issues under Article 9 of the Convention. However, we hope that it will assist the family court in its reconsideration of the case if we set out some of the issues that may have to be addressed, dealing first with equality law and then with Article 9.

The Court of Appeal then did address the equality issues

95.It is well-established on authority that discrimination which is motivated by a religious belief (however sincerely held and even if the discrimination is mandated by that religious belief) does not make discrimination under the Equality Act lawful: see Regina (E) v Governing Body of JFS and another (United Synagogue and others intervening) [2009] UKSC 15, [2010] 2 AC 728, para 35 (Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers PSC) and para 65 (Lady Hale JSC). See also Regina (Williamson and Others) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment [2005] UKHL 15, [2005] 2 AC 246, para 58, where Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe cited with approval what had been said by Mason ACJ and Brennan J in the High Court of Australia in Church of the New Faith v Commissioner of Pay-Roll Tax (Victoria) (1983) 154 CLR 120, at 136:

“Religious conviction is not a solvent of legal obligation.”
96.In the present case we are anxious that no assumption should wrongly or unfairly be made that any school attended by the children concerned has acted unlawfully or will do so in the future. As we have already mentioned, if a school were to ostracise a pupil on the ground of his or her father’s transgender status, that would be likely to amount at least to the imposition of a “detriment” on that child which is unlawful under the Equality Act. The courts of this country expect schools to comply with their legal duties under that Act as well as generally.

97.Nevertheless, we are equally concerned that, should there be action by a school which is unlawful under the Equality Act, the courts of this country should not, as a matter of public policy, simply treat it as a factor to be weighed against permitting direct contact between the father and children. To do so would, in our view, be contrary to the rule of law.

98.Accordingly, when this case returns to the family court, we would expect the judge to consider very carefully:

i) whether there would in fact be unlawful conduct even in the face of an order of the court granting the father direct contact with her children; and

ii) to what extent such unlawful conduct should be given weight in the balance to be conducted in assessing what are the best interests of those children
….


115.When the present case returns to the family court we anticipate that the court will wish to scrutinise with care the suggested justification for the apparent discrimination which the father faces on the ground of her transgender status, not least to ensure that the court itself does not breach its duty under section 6 of the HRA.

What about the issues about religious discrimination? What guidance do the Court of Appeal give in that regard?

130.In the absence of any further finding by the judge about the nature of the debate on transgender in the Charedi community, we must proceed on the basis that the views which Rabbi Oppenheimer attributed to the Charedi community are the community’s views and that their actions to exclude the children would be an expression of those beliefs. That approach then puts their religious beliefs at their highest.

131.If the matter has in due course to be determined by the court, we would take the view that in the light of developments in Strasbourg jurisprudence there would be force in Ms Ball’s submissions that the community’s beliefs, which resulted in the ready exclusion of young children from the rest of the community, did not meet the criteria set by the Strasbourg court for a religious belief that was entitled to protection under Article 9 (see paragraphs 119 and following above). In that situation, we would expect the leaders of the community to help the community to adopt a more flexible attitude to their beliefs as they might affect the children.

132.The mother and children also have their rights under Article 9, but they are outside the discussion in these paragraphs. Clearly, the courts must likewise not restrict their rights to any greater extent than that permitted by Article 9(2). The courts have a statutory obligation under section 6 of the HRA to act compatibly with the Convention.

133.We can, therefore, return to the question whether, if this court were ultimately to make an order for direct contact, that would violate the rights of the community under Article 9.

134.It is not appropriate for us to give any final view in answer to this question as that stage has not yet been reached. Provisionally, however, it seems to us that, if a court were to make an order granting the father some form of direct contact to the children, it would have to have concluded, after the most careful consideration with the parties, that that course was in the best interests of the children. If this involves any interference with any rights of the community to manifest their religious beliefs, we doubt that there would be any violation of the community’s rights under Article 9. This is because the court, as an organ of the State, will on this basis have decided that a restriction that may be involved of their right to express their religious beliefs serves the legitimate aim of protecting the children’s rights to have contact with their father and thus to enjoy family life with him, which rights are vital to their well-being. As the President held in Re G, para 43:

“In matters of religion, as in all other aspects of a child’s upbringing, the interests of the child are the paramount consideration.”
135.In making that decision, the restriction under consideration would meet the requirements of being prescribed by law. It is part of the court’s jurisdiction to make orders regulating parents’ access to their children. It would be proportionate because it would not be made immediately on the father’s application, but only after a period of further reflection in which the court has had time to consider further evidence if it wished so to do.

So whilst the Court of Appeal say that they have not reached a conclusion about the merits of the case other than that it should be re-heard, they drop the heaviest of hints that if the trial Judge finds himself in this dilemma


“156 The children will suffer serious harm if they are deprived of a relationship with their father.

157 The children would suffer serious harm if they were excluded from the normal life of the community.”

Then the religious community are going to be the ones to lose out.

Very difficult case. Just in case the first hint was not over enough, the Court of Appeal hire a very large crane and use it to lower a heavier hint into position

Concluding observations
136.It may very well be when the matter has been further considered that there is room for some compromise position. As we have made clear, we consider that, under Strasbourg jurisprudence, each side has to be prepared to compromise. That means that it must be ready to make some concession, and the compromise must be one which is appropriate in a plural, democratic society governed by the rule of law.

137.Moreover, by the time any direct contact takes place, subject to the further directions given in these proceedings, these children are likely (as mentioned) to have had assistance of the highest standard in coming to terms with their father’s decision. We envisage that the assistance will make them aware of the need to be sensitive to the views of others, including (as at present) their own community, which is unable as we understand it to accommodate changes of identity within their own interpretation of their religious laws. These are difficult areas for the holders of faith, which underscores the need for broadmindedness and tolerance in our diverse society.

138.In our judgment, the best interests of these children seen in the medium to longer term is in more contact with their father if that can be achieved. So strong are the interests of the children in the eyes of the law that the courts must, with respect to the learned judge, persevere. As the law says in other contexts, “never say never”. To repeat, the doors should not be closed at this early stage in their lives.

Little end of year quiz (it doesn’t have a legal, or a Xmas theme)

Here are some photographs of famous people, in two batches. I want you to work out the connection between the answers in each batch (i.e what connects all the answers in group one, and what connects all the answers in group two). Hint time – you may be looking for the name of the actress OR the character they are well-known for portraying. Hint two – it may help, when you have your answers, to play around with different orders, because the order might be significant.

Please don’t guess in comments or on Twitter, as it will spoil it for others who are still working it out. You can slide into the DMs if you want. @suesspiciousmin

Batch 1

1.

Are we out of Curly Wurlies again Norris?

2.

Rollin’… rollin’… rollin’
(no, it isn’t Fred Durst out of Limp Bizkit)

3.

Apparently relationships based on really traumatic events never work out

4.

She’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way

5.

Hope you don’t bear a Grudge for my inclusion of this one. Became world famous because of dry cleaning

BATCH 2

1.

This one might be tricky. She trod the same path as Schofield, Peters and Crane (and was the first woman I ever used the word ‘fit’ to describe, back in the day)

2.

Frightfully posh English tennis player (also flew about in helicopters for channel 4). And also on my Crush list with the last one…

3.

Famous Dragon. And NOT on my Crush list. Though, that photo….

4.

Don’t be fooled by the rocks that she got. (and yes, girl rewrote the damn Crush list)

5.

And this one time at Band Camp…

6.

Used to make cake-based double entendres, now tells you how to win a Volvo on Sky Atlantic.

That’s your lot. Good luck.

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.