They had style, they had grace
Lots of lawyers in this case
Setright, Verdan, Renton too
Adam Wolanski, we love you
Ladies with an attitude
Fellows that were in the mood
Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it
Write a skeleton, there’s nothing to it
The laboured opening may tell you that this piece is about the High Court case in Ciccone v Ritchie (No 2) 2016 involving the singer Madonna, and the film-maker Guy Ritchie, and their son. [And no, it is not a request for a section 37 report arising from the Judge having had to view the film Castaway that they made together, though that did cause Significant Harm to anyone who saw it]
I’m going to start with how the Judge ended, because I think it is powerful and moving stuff, with much wider application than just these two celebrities.
- Finally, I would say this. For all the interesting legal argument and great learning that is apparent from the admirable skeleton arguments and submissions of leading and junior counsel, at the root of these proceedings (and, I venture to add, the proceedings in the United States) is a temporary breakdown in trust. For all the media coverage, comment and analysis, this is a case born out of circumstances that arise for countless separated parents the world over.
- The court should always be the option of very last resort when parents cannot agree matters in respect of their children. Whilst the law provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes between parents in respect of their children it is but a blunt instrument when compared to the nuanced virtues of calm discussion and considered compromise between those involved, accepting that this latter path can be a hard one on which to embark, and to sustain, in the context of relationship breakdown. It is for this reason that during the course of the proceedings on each side of the Atlantic Judge Kaplan and myself have repeatedly urged the parties to adopt a consensual approach to resolving the matters of dispute between them for the benefit of Rocco.
- Within this context I renew, one final time, my plea for the parents to seek, and to find an amicable resolution to the dispute between them. Because agreement is not possible today does not mean that agreement will not be possible tomorrow. Most importantly, as I observed during the course of the hearing, summer does not last forever. The boy very quickly becomes the man. It would be a very great tragedy for Rocco if any more of the precious and fast receding days of his childhood were to be taken up by this dispute. Far better for each of his parents to spend that time enjoying, in turn, the company of the mature, articulate and reflective young man who is their son and who is a very great credit to them both.
In terms of points of law, there are some worthwhile passages about transparency – this Court case has attracted a lot of media attention in America, because there are ongoing proceedings in New York (where it seems the Press were allowed to come into the hearings, report what was said and even print a still photograph) – should this judgment be published at all, should there be anonymisation – how exactly CAN you anonymise a case where there is already so much within the public domain, and where anyone with half a brain can identify who the parties are, even if you gave them just “M” and “F” initials?
I do like that the key American decision on transparency in these circumstances is actually called Anonymous v Anonymous
Publication of Judgment
- I set out the principles applicable when deciding whether or not to publish a judgment pursuant to the President’s Guidance in my judgment in H v A (No 2)  EWHC 2630 (Fam) and I shall not repeat them in detail here. In summary:
- i) The public generally have a legitimate, indeed a compelling, interest in knowing how the family courts exercise their jurisdiction.
ii) Paragraph 19 of the Practice Guidance makes clear that in considering whether to publish a judgment the judge shall have regard to all the circumstances, the rights arising under any relevant provision of the European Convention on Human Rights, Art 8 (respect for private and family life) and Art 10 (freedom of expression), and the effect of publication upon any current or potential criminal proceedings.
iii) The exercise of discretion concerning the publication of the judgment will be a simple case management decision to be taken at the conclusion of the judgment and following a broad consideration of the applicable principles with basic reasons;
iv) When conducting a balancing exercise between Art 8 and Art 10, the court applies the four propositions identified by Lord Steyn in Re S (A Child) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication)  1 AC 593 at . In applying what Lord Steyn described as the “ultimate balancing test” of proportionality it is important that the court consider carefully whether the order that is being sought is proportionate having regard to the end that the order seeks to achieve;
v) Within the balancing exercise, the child’s best interests are not paramount but rather are a primary consideration. Those best interests must accordingly be considered first, although they can be outweighed by the cumulative effect of other considerations;
vi) In undertaking the requisite balancing exercises, the impact of publication on the children must be weighed by the court. Whilst in many cases it will be demonstrated that publicity will have an adverse impact on the child, this will not be the position inevitably. In particular, in each case the impact on the child of publication must be assessed by reference to the evidence before the court rather than by reference to a presumption that publicity will be inevitably harmful to the child.
vii) When the court is considering whether to depart from the principle of open justice it will require clear and cogent evidence on which to base its decision. Some of the evidence on which the requisite balancing exercise is undertaken will necessarily involve a degree of speculation although there comes a point where evidence is not merely speculative but pure speculation.
- With respect to the latter point, and noting the difference in emphasis between the two jurisdictions, in reaching her decision that there were no compelling reasons to close the proceedings in New York Judge Kaplan cited the following passage from the decision of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, First Department in Anonymous v Anonymous 158 A.D.2d 296 (1990) as follows:
- “The unsupported speculation by her counsel as to the deleterious effect the media coverage might have on the child is simply inadequate to overcome the strong presumption that court proceedings be open to the public.”
Publication of Judgments
- Balancing the competing Art 8 and Art 10 rights, I am satisfied that my judgment of 3 February 2016 following the hearing on 21 December 2015 and this judgment should be published. I am further satisfied that, in the exceptional circumstances of this case and subject to some limited redaction, the judgments should be published without anonymisation. The reporting restrictions in this case will continue to be governed by the order that I have already made and will apply to the reporting of my published judgments. My reasons for so deciding are as follows.
- The starting point in this case must be that it will simply not be possible for the court to produce an anonymised version of the judgments such as to eradicate the risk of jigsaw identification. Given the high level of publicity the world over in respect of this case, to produce a judgment that gives rise to no risk of jigsaw identification would result in a judgment that could not even indicate the dates on which the proceedings were heard. Within this context, and in the very particular circumstances of this case, I accept Mr. Wolanksi’s submission that in light of the level of information already in the public domain concerning this case, it is unrealistic to think that the judgments given by this court could be anonymised to the extent required to ensure the parties were not identified whilst at the same time remaining a means by which what the court has done in this case can be understood by the public at large.
- In these circumstances, I am satisfied that the choice for the court is to publish the judgments without anonymisation or not to publish them at all.
The key legal issue was whether a party who makes an application under the 1980 Hague Convention then needs leave of the Court to withdraw it.
The Court ruled that there does need to be an application to withdraw and for the Court to grant leave.
Permission to Withdraw
- FPR 2010 r 29.4 provides as follows in respect of permission to withdraw an application:
- 29.4 Withdrawal of applications in proceedings
(1) This rule applies to applications in proceedings –
(a) under Part 7;
(b) under Parts 10 to 14 or under any other Part where the application relates to the welfare or upbringing of a child or;
(c) where either of the parties is a protected party.
(2) Where this rule applies, an application may only be withdrawn with the permission of the court.
(3) Subject to paragraph (4), a person seeking permission to withdraw an application must file a written request for permission setting out the reasons for the request.
(4) The request under paragraph (3) may be made orally to the court if the parties are present.
(5) A court officer will notify the other parties of a written request.
(6) The court may deal with a written request under paragraph (3) without a hearing if the other parties, and any other persons directed by the court, have had an opportunity to make written representations to the court about the request.
- The question to which this case gives rise is whether FPR 2010 r 29.4 applies to applications in proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention and, if so, what the test is for giving permission to withdraw in such cases.
- As set out above, there is no authority precisely on this point. In respect of proceedings under the 1980 Convention some authorities appear to have proceeded on the basis that permission to withdraw is not required (see AA v TT (Recognition and Enforcement)  2 FLR 1) and some on the basis that it is required (see Re G (Abduction: Withdrawal of Proceedings, Acquiescence and Habitual Residence)  2 FLR 351 at  setting out the terms of an order made earlier in those proceedings and the recent decision of the President in Re D (Children)(Child Abduction Practice)  EWHC 504 (Fam)). In none of those cases however, was the court requested to consider whether the permission of the court to withdraw was mandated by r 29.4 in this context.
- Anecdotally, my (admittedly limited) experience suggests that many practitioners do consider that the permission of the court is required to withdraw applications in proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention and I have certainly endorsed a number of orders which provide for such permission in cases where an applicant has decided, for whatever reason, not to proceed.
- The remaining authorities on permission to withdraw concentrate exclusively on public law proceedings under Part IV of the Children Act 1989 (see Re N (Leave to Withdraw Proceedings)  1 FLR 134, WSCC v M, F, W, X, Y and Z  1 FLR 188 and Redbridge LBC v B and C and A (Through his Children’s Guardian)  2 FLR 117). These authorities make clear that in public law children proceedings, where the threshold is capable of being crossed the test for whether permission should be given for care proceedings to be withdrawn is the welfare of the child.
- However, care must be taken in relying on these authorities in the context of the question at issue before this court. First, those authorities were decided under the Family Proceedings Rules 1991 r 4.5 which, as detailed below, differs substantially from FPR 2010 r 29.4. Second, and importantly, the conclusions in those authorities that the question of whether care proceedings should be withdrawn is a question which concerns the welfare or upbringing of a child, and that the test for whether permission should be given is the welfare of the child, are grounded firmly in the fact that the upbringing of the child is the main question falling for determination in such proceedings (see London Borough of Southwark v B  2 FLR 559 at 572).
- It is important to note that the procedural requirement of permission for the withdrawal of proceedings is not limited to cases involving children, either in FPR 2010 r 29.4 or more widely. FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(a) applies r 29.4 to applications in proceedings under Part 7 of the FPR 2010, namely applications in matrimonial and civil partnership proceedings, and is not qualified as only applying where the application concerns the welfare or upbringing of a child. Accordingly, pursuant to FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(a) permission is required to withdraw an application for a marriage or civil partnership order governed by FPR 2010 Part 7 notwithstanding the proceedings do not concern the welfare or upbringing of a child. There are also other areas of law where permission is required to withdraw an application in proceedings. For example, under the Insolvency Act 1986 s 266(2) a bankruptcy petition may not be withdrawn without the leave of the court.
- Finally, and within this context, when considering both the scope of the application of FPR 2010 r 29.4 and the test for permission under it, it is very important to read FPR 2010 r 29.4 in its proper context. That context includes the fact that the FPR 2010 represents a new procedural code with “the overriding objective of enabling the court to deal with the case justly, having regard to any welfare issues involved” (FPR 2010 r 1.1). The court must give effect to the overriding objective when it exercises any power under the FPR 2010 (FPR 2010 r 1.2(a)) and has a duty to further the overriding objective by actively managing the case (FPR 2010 r 1.4(1)). Pursuant to FPR 2010 r 1.2(b) the court must also seek to give effect to the overriding objective when it interprets any rule.
- I have come to the conclusion that FPR 2010 r 29.4 does apply to applications in proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention, governed as they are by FPR 2010 Part 12 Chapter 6 and that, accordingly, the permission of the court is required to withdraw such proceedings. My reasons for so deciding are as follows.
- In my judgment this is the plain meaning of FPR 29.4(1)(b). FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(b) provides that r 29.4 applies to applications in proceedings “under Parts 10 to 14 or under any other Part where the application relates to the welfare or upbringing of a child“. I am satisfied that r 29.4(1)(b) is to be read disjunctively and that the words “where the application relates to the welfare or upbringing of a child” are intended to qualify only the words “any other Part” and not the words “under Parts 10 to 14“. I am reinforced in this view by the fact that Part 10 to Part 14 of the FPR 2010 deal with a wide range of applications that do not, or need not concern the welfare or upbringing of a child.
- Whilst it might be argued that the use of the phrase “any other” in r 29.4(1)(b) demonstrates that Parts 10 to 14 are included in r 29.4 only in so far as they apply to applications concerning the welfare or upbringing of children, if this had been the intention I am satisfied that those who drafted the rules would have said so expressly, rather than leaving it to be implied in circumstances where, as I have said, those Parts also deal with applications that need not, and often will not, concern the welfare and upbringing of children. Further, pursuant to FPR 2010 r 1.2(b) when interpreting r 29.4 I must seek to give effect to the overriding objective in FPR 2010 r 1.1. In my judgment reading r 29.4 in this context further militates against this latter interpretation.
- FPR 2010 r 29.4 represents a broadening of the type of applications in respect of which permission is required to withdraw when compared with the Family Proceedings Rules 1991. The previous rules, in the form of Part IV of the FPR 1991, made provision for permission to withdraw proceedings only in relation to proceedings under the Children Act 1989 (FPR 1991 r 4.5). For example, although FPR 1991 r 2.8 permitted the discontinuance of a petition for divorce, judicial separation or nullity before service of that petition, the rules made no provision for the proceedings to be withdrawn following service. By contrast, whilst pursuant to FPR 2010 r 7.9 an application for a matrimonial or civil partnership order may be withdrawn at any time before it has been served by giving notice to the court in writing (reflecting the provisions in FPR 1991 r 2.8), pursuant to FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(a) following service the permission of the court is required before such an application can be withdrawn. Neither FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(a) or FPR r 29.4(1)(b), which deals with applications in proceedings where either of the parties is a protected party, are not qualified as only applying where the application concerns the welfare or upbringing of a child.
- Within the foregoing context, in my judgment interpreting r 29.4 as including within its scope all of the applications governed by Part 10 to Part 14 of the FPR 2010, as opposed simply to those concerned with the welfare or upbringing of a child, is consistent with the overall aim of the FPR 2010 generally and in particular the aim of FPR 2010 Part 1, which requires the court to actively manage the case so as to further the overriding objective of dealing with it justly, having regard to any welfare issues involved.
The Judge recognised and acknowledged that where a party seeks permission to withdraw an application under the Hague Convention, it is next to impossible to conceive of a scenario where the Court would refuse and make them press on.
It would not serve the ends of justice to compel a party to pursue an application under the 1980 Hague Convention that they wish to bring to an end. Indeed, whilst not ruling out such a course of action entirely, it is very difficult indeed to think of a circumstance where the court would compel an applicant in proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention to pursue an application they have indicated they wish to withdraw. Further, having regard to the overriding objective, there are positive merits in this case to permitting the mother to withdraw her application in this jurisdiction. As I observed during the course of the hearing, at present the existence of parallel proceedings in two jurisdictions, before two judges with two sets of lawyers is introducing unnecessary and unhelpful complexity and hindering attempts at settlement, as well as incurring considerable expense. Accordingly, I give permission for the mother to withdraw her proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention.
Finally, just for style points, I have to give a nod to Mr David Williams QC for this turn of phrase
The mother accepts that the Supreme Court of the State of New York has jurisdiction in this matter. The father made clear during the course of this hearing through Mr. Verdan that he, likewise, accepts that the New York Court has jurisdiction, albeit at the outset of the hearing Mr. Verdan submitted that this court should make certain substantive welfare orders in respect of Rocco. Whilst in his Skeleton Argument Mr. Setright undertook an analysis of the jurisdictional position in this case (including an analysis of habitual residence) and submits that this court should, upon the withdrawal of these proceedings, give certain procedural directions aimed at any future applications made in this jurisdiction, he does not suggest at this time that Rocco disputes the jurisdiction of the court in New York. Within this context, and with respect in particular to orders originally sought by the father, Mr. Williams submitted that it would be wrong for the English court to seek to “park its tanks” (to use his phrase) on the front lawn of the United States by taking any steps beyond those necessary to effect the withdrawal of the proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention.