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“I completely forgot”

 

This is a successful appeal (indeed fairly unusually it was an appeal that by the time the Court of Appeal came to look at it, all four parties were in agreement should be granted) about a decision in the High Court to make a finding of sexual abuse against a child, T, who had just turned 16 when the High Court considered the case. T had been the subject of a Care Order and Placement Order when she was six, then placed for adoption.

 

(Bit nervous about this one, as I know that 75% of the silks in the case read the blog… and I have a mental crush on all three of them. And because I also have a lot of respect for the High Court Judge who gets monstered in the appeal judgment)

 

The adoption got into difficulties, and T went into respite care for a short time in May 2014. She went back to her adopted family at the end of May and that carried on until the end of August 2014, at which point the adopters agreed a section 20 arrangement – the social work team wishing to remove T as a result of her allegation to a CAMHS worker. The allegation was that during that period from May 2014-August 2014 when she was with her adopted family, the adoptive father had sexually assaulted her, including one allegation of rape.

P (A Child), Re [2018] EWCA Civ 720 (11 April 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/720.html

 

The section 20 arrangement continued. It was obvious to all that T would not be going back to the adopters. (Listen, I know that at this point, the adopters are legally her parents and I don’t seek to diminish that, but I think to understand the case it is easier to say adoptive parents and birth parents). The s20 continued until the Local Authority issued proceedings in April 2016. By that time, T had given an ABE interview, made further allegations and declined a second ABE interview and made partial retractions of the allegations. Her behaviour had deteriorated and by the time of the Court case, had been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. (which is rare for a child)

 

The first question the case raises then, is why this child was under a section 20 arrangement for so long, rather than proceedings having been issued?   I’ll preface this by saying that obviously a case involving an allegation of rape against a child – particularly rape where the alleged perpetrator is an adopter and someone still approved to adopt children, ought to have been placed before the Court. Very quickly after those allegations were made – perhaps allowing a short period of time for the investigation to take place.

(I can’t lay my hands on the authority at the moment, and Hershman McFarlane is being uncooperative, but I’m fairly sure that there is a mid 1990s authority that says where the LA believe the child has been the subject of serious sexual or physical abuse, they ought to place it before the Court by issuing proceedings… I wish I could find the authority. Perhaps one of my illustrious silk readers can illuminate us.  The Act itself just says that the LA can’t issue proceedings unless they believe the threshold criteria to be met – so it says that there are situations where they shouldn’t, it is silent about the circumstances in which they should. The LA don’t have to issue proceedings on every child where the threshold is met. )

 

So what follows is not a justification or excuse for the delay, but an attempt to consider the context.

 

Here are some possible reasons why proceedings were not issued :-

 

  1. It just never got considered (prior to April 2016), and it wasn’t a conscious decision not to, so much as just nobody thinking about it.
  2. The adoptive parents were not asking for T back, T didn’t want to go back, T was in what was considered to be a safe place, and so there was a thought process that nothing was to be gained by going to Court. T wasn’t going to be adopted by anyone else and a Care Order would add nothing to the situation on the ground. Perhaps people even actively thought about the ‘no order principle’ and considered that it wasn’t possible to make out a case that the making of a Care Order (as needed by article 8) would be ‘proportionate and necessary’
  3. This was happening BEFORE the s20 drift was coming to judicial attention and prominence as an issue, and when those s20 cases did emerge, that’s when the LA did take action.
  4. Perhaps everyone was caught up in the day to day management of T and what she needed in terms of placement and stability, and overlooked the bigger picture.
  5. Let’s be quite honest – there’s the potential that the parents in this case were treated differently (because they were adopters) to the way they would have been treated as birth parents.

 

However, ALL of those issues are hard to excuse the fact that T’s sister, X, remained with the adoptive parents. So the LA had an allegation of rape by T, known about for over 18 months, and knowing that a younger sister was still living with the adopters.

 

(So either they didn’t believe T’s allegations OR they thought for some reason that X was safe, but the point is they couldn’t know for sure either way)

Anyway, the Court of Appeal were critical of the delay

 

12.Unfortunately, and to my mind inexplicably, the state of affairs whereby T was accommodated under CA 1989, s.20 was maintained from August 2014 until the institution of care proceedings in April 2016, notwithstanding the clear and stark issue of fact created by T’s allegations and the father’s wholesale denial. Irrespective of the fact that T’s mental health and presenting behaviour may have rendered it impossible for her placement in the family home to be maintained, the need to protect and have regard to the welfare of the younger sibling, X, who remained in the family home, required this significant factual issue to be determined

 

The next issue in the case is that the adoptive parents agreed that the threshold was met for T, because she was beyond parental control. The LA, however, sought a finding about the sexual abuse allegations (five findings in all). That obviously makes sense given that X wasn’t beyond parental control, and there was a need to establish what happened to T, to decide if X was at risk of sexual harm. That makes sense to me. (I can’t, so far, make sense of why it appears that the proceedings were about T, and not T AND X – and the Court of Appeal say that

 

 

50.So far as X is concerned, although she has been the subject of arrangements made under the Pre-commencement Procedure operated within the Public Law Outline, no proceedings have ever been issued with respect to her since the making of the adoption order )

 

The High Court heard from 16 witnesses at the finding of fact hearing. Things went wrong when Parker J came into Court to deliver her judgment

 

 

 

 

The judgment

17.The oral evidence had been concluded on 18 November 2016 and closing submissions were delivered on 18 and 25 November. The case was then adjourned to 8 December 2016 for the delivery of judgment. On that occasion, however, the Judge explained that she had been occupied with other cases and had been unable to prepare a written judgment. She had, however, reached “some conclusions” and, with the parties’ agreement, she stated what those were in the course of a short judgment which runs to some 6 pages in the agreed note that has been prepared by the parties. In short terms, the Judge rehearsed a number of the significant points in the case, for example, T’s mental health, the recording of her allegations and the ABE interview process, any evidence of inconsistency and T’s overall reliability, and an assessment of the father’s credibility before announcing her conclusion in the following terms:

 

 

 

“I have come to the conclusion therefore, and I am sorry to have to do so as I thought the mother and the father were the most likeable people, but during the course of 2014, there was an attempt at least, it may have been more, of sexual congress between the father and T.”

18.The case was then adjourned to 30 January 2017 for the delivery of a full judgment. A note of what had been said in court on 8 December was agreed between the parties and submitted to the Judge. On 30 January the Judge again indicated that, due to pressure on her time as a result of other cases, she had not been able to prepare a full judgment. Instead the Judge gave a lengthy oral judgment, seemingly based on prepared notes.

 

 

19.On 30 January, when the Judge had concluded her judgment, counsel for the father immediately identified a number of aspects in which, it was submitted, the judgment was deficient. The Judge directed that an agreed note of what she had said should be prepared and submitted to her within 7 days, together with requests from each party identifying any suggested corrections or requests for clarification.

 

 

20.The parties, in particular those acting for the parents, complied with the tight 7-day timetable. The Judge was provided with an agreed note of judgment which runs to some 115 paragraphs covering 42 pages. In addition, counsel submitted an annotated version of the note indicating possible corrections, together with a list of more substantial matters which, it was claimed, required clarification. In doing so those acting for each of the parties were complying precisely with the process originally described by this court in the case of English v Emery Reimbold and Strick Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 605 and subsequently endorsed in the family law context by this court on many occasions.

 

 

All of this was compounded then, because despite knowing that the case was going to be appealed, following the judgment in January 2017, the transcript of the judgment wasn’t made available. The transcribers sent it to the Judge on 18th March 2017 – the Judge sent an approved copy back to them SIX MONTHS later, September 2017, but that approved copy never got sent to the parties or the Court of Appeal.

 

The Court of Appeal (at the time of hearing the appeal) were therefore working from an agreed note of the judgment rather than the transcript

The Judge’s decision

26.Early in the judgment of 30 January the Judge records the decision that she had already announced at the December hearing in the following terms (paragraph 17):

 

 

 

“I have decided that she has been sexually interfered with by her father and that she has been caused significant emotional harm by reason of her mother’s disbelief in telling her so, although my criticism of the mother was highly muted in the circumstances for reasons I will come back to.”

27.After a summary of the evidence the Judge stated (paragraph 58):

 

 

 

“It is against that background that I need to assess the threshold.”

 

She then set out the content of the local authority fact-finding Schedule introducing it with the following words:

 

“I am asked to make findings in terms of:”

 

Unfortunately, the judgment does not record the Judge’s decision on any of the five specific findings of sexually abusive behaviour alleged in the local authority Schedule save that, at paragraph 71, the Judge stated “I also find that the description T gives of her father attempting to penetrate her is wholly believable”. Whether that statement amounts to a finding is, however, not entirely clear as it simply appears as a statement in the 8th paragraph of a 40 paragraph section in which the Judge reviews a wide range of evidence.

28.The basis of the appeal is that the Judge’s judgment fails sufficiently to identify what (the local authority would submit, if any) findings of fact the Judge made.

 

 

29.Before leaving the 30 January judgment, it is necessary to point to 2 or 3 other subsidiary matters that are relied upon by the appellants as indicating that the judgment, substantial though it may be in size, is inchoate:

 

 

 

  1. a) Prior to listing the witnesses who gave oral evidence the Judge states “I think I heard the following witnesses”. The list of 13 witnesses is said to omit 3 other individuals who also gave oral evidence.

 

  1. b) In the closing stages of the judgment the Judge makes one additional point which is introduced by the phrase “one thing I forgot to say” and a second which is introduced by “also one thing I have not so far mentioned, and I should have done”.

 

  1. c) At the very end of the judgment, and after the Judge has gone on to deal with procedural matters unrelated to the findings of fact there appears a four paragraph section dealing with case law related to the court’s approach to ABE interviews where it is asserted there has been a breach of the ABE guidelines. That section is preceded by the phrase “I completely forgot”.

 

There are of course, all sorts of different styles and approaches one can adopt to delivering a judgment and the Court of Appeal are not trying to be prescriptive or to fetter a Judge’s discretion of   stylistic delivery. Having said all that, if the immediate comparator that comes to mind is Columbo talking to Roddy McDowell, that’s not a good thing.

 

Have I ever been happier to be able to get a particular picture into the blog? Maybe Kite-Man, but I am VERY pleased about this one

 

The appeal itself

30.Two notices of appeal issued on behalf of the father and mother respectively were issued in August 2017. Although this was many months after the making of the care order and the delivery of the oral judgment in January 2017, I accept that the delay arose because the parties were waiting for the Judge to engage in the process of clarification that she had directed should take place and, thereafter, the production of a final version of the judgment. There were also considerable difficulties in securing legal aid, caused at least in part by the absence of a judgment. At various stages the Judge’s clerk had given the parties some hope that a final judgment might be produced. The notices of appeal were only issued once the parties were forced to conclude that a final version of the judgment was unlikely to be forthcoming. Following the failure of the efforts made by the Court of Appeal to obtain a judgment, I granted permission to appeal on 16 November 2017.

 

 

31.The grounds of appeal and skeleton arguments that argue the cases of the father and of the mother from their respective positions engage fully with the underlying facts in the case in addition to arguing that the process as a whole has been fatally compromised by the court’s inability to produce adequately precise findings and to do so in a judgment which sufficiently engages with the significant features of the evidence. As it is on this latter basis that the appeal has preceded by consent, my Lords and I have not engaged in the deeper level, granular analysis of the evidence that would otherwise be required.

 

 

32.In terms of the English v Emery Rheimbold process, those acting for each of the two parents submitted short (in the mother’s case 3 pages, in the father’s case 5 pages) requests for clarification on specific issues. Each of those requests is, on my reading of the papers, reasonable and, even if a specific request were unreasonable, it was open to the Judge to say so.

 

 

33.The resulting state of affairs where the only record of the Judge’s determination is imprecise as to its specific findings and silent upon the approach taken to significant elements of the evidence is as regrettable as it is untenable.

 

 

34.That the state of affairs that I have just described exists, is made plain by the stance of the local authority before this court. Rather than simply “not opposing” the appeal, the local authority skeleton argument, as I will demonstrate, specifically endorses the main thrust of the appellant’s case. Further, we were told by Miss Hannah Markham QC, leading counsel before this court, but who did not appear below, that the local authority’s position on the appeal has been approved at every layer of management within the authority’s children services department. For one organ of the state, the local authority, to conclude that the positive outcome (in terms of the findings that it sought) of a highly expensive, time and resource consuming, judicial process is insupportable is a clear indication that the judicial system has, regrettably, failed badly in the present case.

 

 

35.Against that background it is helpful to quote directly from the skeleton argument prepared by Miss Markham and Miss Grieve on behalf of the local authority:

 

 

 

“5 At the heart of the appeal are findings that (father) behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards his daughter T. The findings are set out in this way, as it is accepted by the respondent local authority that the judgment given by Mrs Justice Parker does not particularise the findings made nor does it cross refer findings to the local authority Schedule of findings. As such the findings have not been accurately recorded or set out.

 

….

 

“14 The local authority does not oppose the appeal for reasons set out below.

 

15 However the local authority does not accept that all grounds as pleaded would be matters or arguments which the local authority would either not oppose or indeed agree, if taken in isolation. The focus in approaching this appeal has been to stand back and have regard to the fairness and integrity of the judgment and the process taken by the parties to try to clarify the judgment and in particular the findings made.

 

16 It is submitted that it must be right and fair that a party against whom findings are made should know the actual findings made and the reasons for them. It is submitted that reasons on reasons are not necessary, but clarity as to findings and a clear basis for them is a primary requirement of a Judge.

 

17 It is significant that the learned Judge has resisted requests of her to clarify her judgment and that in particular she has not taken opportunities to set out the findings she has in fact made.

 

18 Dovetailing into that error is the argument that flows from that omission; absent clear findings it is impossible to see, understand and argue that the Judge formulated her findings on clear, understandable and right reasoning.

 

 

21 In this instant case it is submitted on behalf of the parents that the judge did not even set out the findings, not least allow them to see whether she fairly and with significant detail set out her reasoning for coming to the findings she then made. Further requests of the Judge were properly made and the learned Judge has neither responded to them nor clarified why she is not engaging in the requests of her

 

 

23 (Having listed the short specific findings made by the Judge) It is acknowledged that these matters are the most detail (the Judge) gives to her findings. Whilst it is asserted by the local authority that the learned Judge was able, within the ambit of her wide discretion to make findings, it was incumbent upon her to set out with clarity what those findings were and how she came to make them.

 

24 It will be apparent from the matters set out above that she failed in this task and that she failed to cross refer back to paragraph 59 (where the Judge listed the content of the local authority Schedule of findings) and set out what she had or had not found proved.”

36.The local authority identified two specific grounds relied upon on behalf of the father, one asserting that the Judge rejected the father’s case on the deficits on the ABE interview, against, it is said, the weight of the evidence, but provides no analysis for coming to that conclusion. Secondly the local authority accepts that there were many examples of inconsistency within the accounts that T had given. In both respects the local authority expressly acknowledged that the Judge failed to engage with these two important aspects of the case and failed to set out her findings in respect of each.

 

 

37.The local authority, rightly, argue that a Judge has a wide discretion to accept or reject evidence in a case such as this and that the Judge does not have to refer expressly to each and every detail of the evidence in the course of their judgment. The local authority’s skeleton argument, however, accepts “that a fair and balanced assessment of the cases advanced and evidence for and against said cases is necessary, proportionate and fair and has not occurred sufficiently in this complex case.”

 

 

38.Miss Kate Branigan QC, leading Miss Lianne Murphy, both of whom appeared below for T, acting on the instructions of the children’s guardian adopt a similar stance to that taken by the local authority. In their skeleton argument (paragraph 10) they state:

 

 

 

“Albeit T maintains that the allegations made against her father are true, the children’s guardian has had to conclude that the judgment as given by the court on 30 January 2017 is not sustainable on appeal and that inevitably the appeals on behalf of both appellants must succeed.”

 

Later (paragraph 14) it is said:

 

“Regrettably we accept that it is not possible from the judgment to identify what findings the court has made. At paragraph 59 of the judgment note, the court sets out the detail of the findings it is invited to make, but at no stage thereafter does the learned Judge indicate which of the findings she has found established to the requisite standard nor does she attempt to link what she is saying about the evidence to the specific findings sought….On this basis alone the judgment is arguably fatally flawed.”

 

And at paragraph 15:

 

“We further recognise in certain key respects the court has failed to engage with the totality of the evidence to the extent that any findings the court has purported to make are unsustainable in any event. In particular, we accept the arguments advanced on behalf of the appellant father… that the court failed to undertake a sufficiently detailed analysis of the context in which T’s allegations came to be made, failed to engage with the professional evidence which called into question the reliability of those allegations and did not weigh appropriately in the balance the inconsistencies which were clearly laid out on the evidence in relation to T’s accounts.”

39.In the light of the parties’ positions, the oral hearing for this appeal was short. All were agreed that the appeal must be allowed with the result that, at the end of a process which started with allegations made in August 2014, and in included a substantial trial before a High Court Judge, any findings of fact made by the Judge and recorded in her oral determinations made in December 2016 and on 30 January 2017 must be set aside and must be disregarded in any future dealings with this family.

 

 

40.For our part, my Lords and I, rather than simply endorsing the agreed position of the parties, had, reluctantly but very clearly formed the same view having read the note of the 30 January judgment and having regard to the subsequent failure by the court to engage with the legitimate process of clarification that the Judge had, herself, set in train

           41.Before turning to the question of what lessons might be learned for the future and offering some guidance in that regard, a formal apology is owed to all those who have been adversely affected by the failure of the Family Justice system to produce an adequate and supportable determination of the important factual allegations in this case. In particular, such an apology is owed to T, her father and her mother and her younger sister X, whose own everyday life has been adversely affected as a result of professionals justifiably putting in place an intrusive regime to protect her from her father as a result of the statement of the Judge’s conclusions 16 months ago.      

 

    

The Court of Appeal were asked to give some clarifying guidance in relation to the issue of what happens where the parties ask (as they must) for the Judge to clarify flaws in the judgment and after a period of time the Judge has not done so. For a start, when does the clock for the appeal start to tick? After judgment, or after the request for clarification, or after receipt of such clarification?

 

 

 

42.Whilst it is, fortunately, rare for parties to encounter a situation such as that which has arisen in the present case, such circumstances do, however, occur and we have been invited to offer some limited advice or guidance.

 

 

43.The window in which a notice of appeal may be issued under Civil Procedure Rules 1998, r 52.12(2) is tight and is, in ordinary circumstances, limited to 21 days. It is often impossible to obtain a transcript of a judgment that has been delivered orally within the 21 day period. Unfortunately, it is also the experience of this court that not infrequently problems occur in the five or six stages in the administrative chain through which a request for transcripts must proceed and it may often be months before an approved transcript is provided. Whilst it is plainly more satisfactory for the judges of this court to work on an approved transcript, and that will normally be a pre-requisite for any full appeal hearing, the Lord or Lady Justices of Appeal undertaking evaluation of permissions to appeal in family cases are now more willing to accept a note of judgment (if possible agreed) taken by a lawyer or lawyers present in court in order to determine an application for permission to appeal rather than await delivery of an approved transcript of the judgment. It is therefore important for advocates attending court on an occasion when judgment is given to do their best to make a full note of the judgment so that, if it is needed, that note can be provided promptly to the Court of Appeal when a notice of appeal is filed.

 

 

44.The observation set out above requires adaptation when a party seeks clarification of the Judge’s judgment. In such a case, it must be reasonable for the party to await the conclusion of the process of clarification before being obliged to issue a notice of appeal, unless the clarification that is sought is limited to marginal issues which stand separately to the substantive grounds of appeal that may be relied upon.

 

 

45.Where, as here, the process of clarification fails to achieve finality within a reasonable time, it is not in the interests of justice, let alone those of the respective parties, for time to run on without a notice of appeal being issued. What is a reasonable time for the process of post judgement clarification? The answer to that question may vary from case to case, but, for my part, I find it hard to contemplate a case where a period of more than 4 weeks from the delivery of the request for clarification could be justified. After that time, the notice of appeal, if an appeal is to be pursued, should be issued. The issue of a notice of appeal does not, of itself, prevent the process of clarification continuing if it has not otherwise been completed. Indeed, in some case the Court of Appeal at the final appeal hearing may itself send the case back to the Judge for clarification. The benefit of issuing a notice of appeal, apart from the obvious avoidance of further delay, is that the Court of Appeal may itself directly engage with the Judge in the hope of finalising any further outstanding matters.

 

 

Whilst the Court of Appeal say that because of the administrative nightmare that is obtaining an approved transcript, they will accept an agreed note from the lawyers I wonder how on earth that is going to work with cases involving only litigants in person (eg about 90% of private law proceedings)

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Cringe

 

This judgment is an appeal, where nobody involved comes out of it well.  There were moments when reading it where it was SO awkward that I felt each individual vertebrae try to leave my body so that they could stop dealing with the level of “awkward! warning awkward!” nerve signals that they were sending hither and thither.

Let us begin by saying that I don’t know ANY of the individuals concerned in the case, and I think in the interests of fairness it is best to read this whole thing on the basis that everyone involved on that day was just having one of those bad days and that succession of individual bad days cascaded and collided into a day so bad that it almost reads as though the Court had been the subject of some form of hallucinogenic gas attack.

A v R & Anor 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/521.html

In very broad terms, this was a private law case, in which father was asking for contact with his 13 year old daughter T – with the sadly too familiar backdrop of a long history of Court dispute and litigation.

A psychologist, Mr Clowry, had been instructed to assess the child. The child had decided not to participate in the assessment. It is fair to say that nobody was enamoured of the report prepared (though it is obviously tricky to do a psychological assessment of a child if you don’t get to meet them).

  1. When the final hearing came before the court on 28 November 2017, it did so initially before a District Judge, for reasons I will come to, before latterly being placed before the learned Judge. As noted above, the order of 15 September 2017 made no provision for statements of evidence to be filed and served for the final hearing on 28 November 2017, nor for the filing and serving of a final report from the Children’s Guardian. In the circumstances, on 28 November 2017, the court was without up to date sworn evidence from the parents or a report from the Children’s Guardian on the issues that fell to be considered at the final hearing. For the reasons I have already set out, the expert report that had been produced the evening before the final hearing to inform the same was deficient by reference to the terms of the letter of instruction.
  2. At the hearing the Mother and the Children’s Guardian argued that the proceedings should be concluded. Both sought an outcome that provided for no order to be made with respect to the time the father spent with T. The Guardian’s Position Statement also urged the court to make an order pursuant to s 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 in respect of the father for a period of 12 months. However, no application had been issued. The father sought permission to instruct a replacement expert or an adjournment of the final hearing to permit him time to make a properly constituted application under FPR 2010 Part 25 for permission to instruct a replacement, with a view to him pursuing his argument for a far greater level of contact at an adjourned final hearing. In any event, the father sought a final child arrangements order that provided for a much greater level of time spent with T than was then taking place. The final hearing was, therefore, contested.
  3. Within this context, the learned judge proceeded, following submissions by counsel initially in front of the District Judge and then before the learned Judge, and contrary to the arguments of the father, to refuse the father’s application for permission to instruct a replacement expert or for an adjournment to allow the preparation of such an application. Further, and contrary to the varied positions of the mother, the father and of the child, the learned Judge proceeded to make a final child arrangements order. The final order made by the learned Judge in respect of the time the father would spend with T reflected the level of contact that was then said to be taking place. Accordingly, the order provided for the father to spend time with T for at least 2 hours once per month, with an additional 2-hour periods during the holidays, together with indirect contact.

 

Those of you who go to Court will be aware that the proceedings are tape recorded. Sometimes if the case is appealed, a transcript of the tape recording is made for the appeal Court. That’s what happened here, so these exchanges are exactly what was said in Court.  Prepare to cringe, and also prepare to have anxiety nightmares over the next few days of everything you’ve ever said in Court.

 

Make it stop, make it stop Prince Adam

 

  1. As I have noted, the final hearing on 28 November 2017 did not initially commence in front of the learned judge on 28 November 2017, but rather in front of District Judge Abigail Smith. The reason for this appears to have been that, whilst the learned Judge had reserved the matter to himself, he was very heavily listed on the day in question and the matter had therefore been placed in District Judge Smith’s list. The matter remained before the District Judge for approximately half an hour. During that time the parties made substantive submissions on the adequacy of Mr Clowry’s report and the proper course of action in respect of the report. The District Judge having expressed “severe concerns” regarding the report of Mr Clowry, counsel for the father, Ms Sarah Cooper, proceeded to make submissions in support of the continued need for expert evidence, a course opposed on behalf of the mother by Mr Persson and on behalf of T by Ms Topping.
  2. It is a noteworthy feature of the transcript of the hearing before the District Judge that, as was to become a feature of the transcript of the hearing before the learned Judge, counsel constantly interrupted each other. Ms Cooper’s submissions on the fate of Mr Clowry’s report were interrupted by Mr Persson, without demur from the District Judge. Mr Persson was in turn interrupted by Ms Topping, again without judicial demur. Indeed, at times the transcript appears to show simply an argument between counsel with no input from the District Judge. This conduct continued until the District Judge decided that enquiries should be made as to whether the learned Judge could take the case. The net result of the way this part of the hearing was conducted meant that no party ever got to the point of concluding a complete, focused and structured submission on any issue.
  3. The learned Judge agreed to take the matter and proceeded to hear the case, which had been given a three-hour time estimate, at 2.20pm. As I have noted, in summary the father’s first ground of appeal includes the complaint that the learned Judge had not properly prepared for the hearing. The father also complained before me that the Judge appeared, from his initial comments, to have reached a settled judgment from the outset. The opening statements of the learned Judge, who had had long involvement with this case, form the basis of the father’s contentions in this regard:
    1. His Honour Judge Scarratt: Yes well, I’m sorry you’ve had a bit of wait. The fact of the matter was this morning I had a one-day case with five applications and this three-hour hearing.

Miss Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: And so District Judge Abigail Smith’s diary emptied yesterday and I’m afraid this happens. Cases are moved about. Not ideal but as it happens I have finished my five applications and given judgment so I’m, I’m now free to deal this but you’ve really got limited time because I have to be at a meeting at 4 o’clock. I’ve got bundles here, I’ve not looked at them –

Ms Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: I mean I’m just going to go on what I know about the case and well I gather Brendan Clowry’s report was a nonsense so Judge Abigail Smith tells me.

Miss Cooper: Certainly the District Judge was not impressed.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Yes, well I, I’ve, I have looked at that, eating my sandwich at lunch.

Miss Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: He’s gone completely off piste.

Miss Cooper: Well it, it is right to say –

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Well he’s gone off piste.

Miss Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: I’m putting it to one side and I doubt whether he’ll get paid.

Miss Cooper: Yes, well no doubt —

His Honour Judge Scarratt: So where are we now, that being the case.

Miss Cooper: You Honour, we are at the following bit of the case. What he had done was he had interviewed my client and my client and the mother had paid him quite a lot of money. The mother, I don’t know if you’ve seen, I did a further very short position statement, could I just briefly hand that up because I did it last night once the report had come —

His Honour Judge Scarratt: I mean at the end of the day your client’s got to accept that [T] has had enough. There’s a very poignant note to Mr Gaye, a very experienced Guardian, and last, I don’t think you were here last time.

Miss Cooper: No, I wasn’t your honour.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: No. Well can I tell you and this is the benefit of having me, judicial continuity.

Miss Cooper: Yes.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: That really last time, the application made by the Guardian being repeated today was made last time, but I felt your client should have a chance and that Clowry, who has now thoroughly blotted his copy book, I shan’t be having him again in these Courts, your, and, and I gave the chance for this to happen, but it’s not happened but, but at the end of the day I’ve got a 13 and a half year old girl there who’s saying actually, let’s have the contact, let’s have the drinks and the teas and the lunches or whatever, which have gone on. This is not a case where there’s no contact. So I think it can be finished quite, I think your client’s got to accept that contact should continue as organised between the parents. Does he agree that?

Miss Cooper: No, Your Honour.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Well, I’m not having a final hearing with this little girl dragged in now. Have you read the letter from her?”

  1. Following this opening exchange, the learned Judge went on to conduct a hearing over the course of the next hour and a half. As I have noted, in his first ground of appeal, the father also contends that during this hearing the learned Judge proceeded to make final orders without any proper consideration of the arguments being advanced by the parties with respect to that issue. Within this context, the father also complains before me in support of his grounds of appeal that the hearing descended into what the father termed a “shouting match“. The genesis of these complaints by the father is apparent from the transcript.

 

Part of the father’s appeal was that the Judge was unprepared for the hearing. Given that he was only doing it because the hearing before the DJ had gone so wrong that it was moved to a different Judge on the same day, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Judge was unprepared.  Nor, given that he candidly says that he hasn’t read the bundle and has read the expert report ‘over a sandwich’ reaching a conclusion that it was ‘nonsense’  would it be surprising for the Appeal Court to agree that the Judge was unprepared.

The conclusion of the Appeal Court is, perhaps, surprising though.

 

  1. I am not satisfied that the father has made out his complaint that the learned judge had not prepared adequately to deal with the matter on 28 November 2017, nor am I satisfied that the father has made out his complaint that the learned Judge pre-judged the matter.
  2. As is clear from passages quoted above, it can perhaps be seen why the father, as a lay person, drew these conclusions from the statements made by the learned Judge at the outset of the hearing. However, with respect to the issue of preparation, whilst the learned Judge indicated he had not looked at the bundles, he had long experience of this matter, having dealt with it on numerous occasions previously. He was therefore well versed in the key issues before the court. Whilst the learned Judge’s announcement that he had read Mr Clowry’s expert report over his sandwich at lunchtime may suggest to a lay party a certain informality of approach, the need for judges to work through lunch in order to get through the work in their extremely heavy lists is the modern reality for judges up and down the country. Within this context, the fact that the learned Judge combined eating and reading is not an indication of a lack of diligence or preparation. Rather, it is quite the opposite. The learned Judge worked assiduously through his lunch break to ensure he had considered the material relevant to the hearing he was about to conduct.
  3. In relation to the father’s complaint that the learned judge had pre-judged the matter, the learned Judge did say at the outset that “I think it can be finished quite, I think your client’s got to accept that contact should continue as organised between the parents“. After asking Ms Cooper whether the father agreed with this analysis, and being told he did not, the learned Judge did respond, “Well, I’m not having a final hearing with this little girl dragged in now“. It is clear from the transcript that the learned Judge also continued, throughout the hearing, to press the then current contact regime as the appropriate outcome.
  4. Within this context, it is the case that the learned Judge expressed himself in robust terms early on during the hearing and I can understand why the father raises this issue before me. However, I also bear in mind that the matter was listed on 28 November 2017 for a final hearing rather than a preliminary case management hearing, at which final hearing the learned Judge was required to adopt an essentially inquisitorial role in pursuance of his duty to further the welfare of the child as his paramount consideration. Within this context, at least on one reading, the learned Judge was simply exploring at the outset of the final hearing the extent of the issues between the parties at the final hearing and inviting the father to consider a reasonable view on the information available to the court. Finally, as Mr Persson points out, upon being told that the matter was contested by the father, the learned Judge did go on to conduct a hearing and to listen to certain submissions from the parties.
  5. In the foregoing circumstances, I am satisfied that it cannot be said that the learned Judge failed to properly prepare himself to conduct the hearing. I am also satisfied that, whilst perhaps falling somewhat closer to the line marking the boundary between a robust, inquisitorial approach and premature adjudication (to adopt the phrase utilised by McFarlane LJ in Re Q) than is often the case, within the context of the case being listed for final hearing, the learned Judge was not guilty of pre-judging matters.

 

And yes, I did contemplate “premature adjudication” as the title of this post, but there’s no way I’m typing THAT into Google Images.

 

The Guardian also gets a rebuke (which might ordinarily be stinging, but in the face of everything else going on in the case is mild) for promising the child that the next hearing would be the last one, which was of course outside of her control and a promise which should not have been made.

 

  1. The email from the Children’s Guardian of 4 October 2017 is, in many respects, carefully drafted. It is of concern however, that the Children’s Guardian also informed T in that email that the learned Judge had “promised” that the proceedings would end on the next occasion. This is not an accurate reflection of what the learned Judge had said and, in any event, is not a promise he could have made, not least having regard to the right of a party to appeal. The email from T of 1 October 2017 appears to have been disclosed to the father’s legal team some time after it was sent, even though it was plainly relevant to the question of expert evidence.

 

MacDonald J is critical of some drafting, in the order authorising the instruction of an expert – where the wording is reminiscent of ‘mission statements’  in that nobody could ever actually believe in or support the opposite

 

  1. The letter of instruction to Mr Clowry is contained in the appeal bundle before me, dated 18 September 2017, which letter provides as follows with respect to the instructions to Mr Clowry:
    1. “Pursuant to the order of His Honour Judge Scarratt dated 15 September 2017, you are instructed to meet with the parties and the child, as set out in your letter dated 25 August, to prepare a report setting out a robust, clinically legitimate and reputable plan of clinical work for the sound and lasting advancing of contact between T and her father.”
  2. Leaving aside the rather peculiar terms in which the instruction is couched (parties to proceedings would hardly wish a report that was not robust, clinically legitimate and reputable), the term “Pursuant to the order of His Honour Judge Scarratt” at the beginning of the instructions to Mr Clowry is a potential cause of confusion. Whilst the letter of instruction limits the instructions to Mr Clowry to the preparation of a “robust, clinically legitimate and reputable plan of clinical work”, the permission given in the order of the learned Judge is in somewhat wider terms, namely “to prepare a report in respect of the time that T should spend with her father.”

 

 

Now the expert.   We remember that the Judge had said he’d gone off piste and his report was nonsense… well, he had been asked to attend, so the Judge got him in.  Oh God, this is hard reading.

 

  1. in the context of the District Judge having expressed “severe concerns” regarding the report of Mr Clowry, and the learned Judge having stated that his report was “nonsense“, that Mr Clowry had “gone off piste“, that he had “thoroughly blotted his copy book” and that the learned Judge would be putting the report aside, and despite strenuous objection from Ms Topping, the learned Judge decided to hear from Mr Clowry, who was invited into the courtroom. His opening gambit to Mr Clowry was as follows:
    1. His Honour Judge Scarratt: Afternoon. Just, just come and sit there for a moment will you. Everyone is thoroughly disappointed with this work you’ve done. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. It not what we asked for at all.”
  2. Notwithstanding the views expressed by the learned Judge during the course of the hearing, and his level disappointment stated directly to Mr Clowry, the learned Judge then proceeded to enquire of Mr Clowry when the work he had been instructed to undertake could be completed if his instruction was continued. Mr Clowry having stated his work would not be possible if T would not agree to see him, the learned Judge also put to Mr Clowry that forcing T to see a psychologist would not work, in respect of which Mr Clowry responded as follows:
    1. Mr Clowry: Well, with respect to the language I think if that were the attitude and the way in which it was manage, forcing putting great pressure on a child but I think encouraging a child would not, might be productive.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Well to be fair that’s exactly what the Guardian has done in a response, in a, in an email response. He has encouraged her, really, really encouraged her to go.

Mr Clowry: But, I would tend to see situations like that Your Honour not in terms of black and white. Sometimes in a preliminary meeting a child who has never seen psychologist or social worker might, perhaps if I saw the child with the mother, feel then on the basis of evidence having met the person reasonably inclined to continue. If the child is caught up in a very powerful adversarial situation there’s a high probability the child is going to reflect certain of the adult attitudes and opinions. If the child were enabled to meet the psychologist whether it be me or anybody else the child might then be prepared to reconsider. I don’t know, I don’t know the child.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: So you could, you could have a plan of work available by the end of next week could you?

Mr Clowry: Yes, indeed.

His Honour Judge Scarratt: Provided the mother and [T] saw you in the week?

Mr Clowry: Yes indeed Your Honour”

  1. Whilst having heard from Mr Clowry the learned Judge told him that he was “released”, this appears to be a term of art as there is no indication that Mr Clowry was sworn, and no party was permitted to cross examine him. The status of the information Mr Clowry provided to the court is, accordingly, unclear. He did not give evidence and his report was, by common acclaim, considered deficient by all parties. However, at one point during the hearing, and despite the criticisms levelled at the report of Mr Clowry by the Children’s Guardian, Ms Topping was permitted to rely in her submissions on that self-same report as evidence that the father had not reflected on his behaviours, whilst almost in the same breath stating the report was deficient and could not be relied on.
  2. Within this context, it is also unclear what status the learned Judge attached to the report, and to the contribution of Mr Clowry at the hearing when considering his decisions with respect to the instruction of a further expert and with respect to whether to conclude the proceedings. However, immediately before giving judgment the learned Judge said:
    1. His Honour Judge Scarratt: Yes well, I’ll, on the basis no wants to say anything else I’ll, and having now heard from Mr Clowry about what he can and cannot do, I’ll make a decision.”

 

 

MacDonald J, hearing the appeal was very critical of the way counsel had dealt with their submissions. My mental picture is of a Chimps Tea party, where the tea was laced with PCP, re-enacting an episode of Jeremy Kyle, but that may be too harsh.   Like I said earlier, anyone can have a bad day, and this is best chalked off as just being one of those rather than be taken as being representative of how anyone involved generally conducts litigation.

 

  1. During the course of the unstructured and unfocused submissions regarding expert evidence, at times the Judge appeared to be dismissing the question of a further expert out of hand. At other times, the learned Judge appeared to indicate it was an issue he was prepared to decide. The precise ambit of the issue the parties are addressing in respect of expert evidence is only belatedly defined and no party ever got to the point of concluding their submissions on the question of further expert evidence, although Ms Cooper made a valiant effort to conclude organised submissions to the Judge in support of permission for a further expert or a short adjournment to allow the preparation of a properly constituted Part 25 application.

 

  1. At this point, discipline in the hearing appears to have broken down entirely. The father himself begins to make submissions to the learned Judge, Miss Cooper, Mr Persson and Ms Topping continue to make points with little order, structure or focus, and even Mr Gaye enters the arena at one point. All this occurred as the learned Judge continued to propound his view that a final order should be made at the hearing, reflecting the then current level of contact, and sought repeatedly to press the parties to agree to that course of action.
  2. Within the foregoing context, it is of particular note from the transcript that no party was ever able during the hearing to get to the stage of making submissions on the key issue before the court, namely the question of whether, if the court decided to proceed to conclude the proceedings, a final child arrangements order should be made and, if so, the nature and extent of the contact in any final child arrangements order. Whilst counsel were able, up to a point, to make submissions on the question of whether the learned Judge should proceed with the final hearing or adjourn it, the increasingly unstructured nature of the hearing meant that, as conceded by Ms Topping and Mr Persson before me, no party ever reached the stage of making submissions, nor did the learned Judge invite submissions, on what outcome with respect to contact was in T’s best interests if the learned Judge determined, against his initial instinct, that it was right conclude the proceedings then and there. This was the case even though Miss Cooper had made clear on behalf of the father that the matter was contested, and that the father would be seeking more extensive contact in any final order than that then taking place, and even though Ms Topping’s instructions from the Children’s Guardian remained that there should be no order as to contact and an order pursuant to s 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 with respect to the father for a period of 12 months.
  1. In allowing the appeal, it is difficult not to have a good deal of sympathy for the learned Judge. He sought to assist the parties by taking the matter at short notice into an already busy list after the final hearing had already commenced before a different judge. Having done so, the learned Judge tried to further assist the parties by attempting to cut through a protracted dispute between two parents in what, on any estimation, was a long running case involving a young person with her own strongly held views about the way forward.
  2. Within this context, I make one additional observation. As I have already pointed up, the transcript of the hearing demonstrates that the learned Judge was not assisted in his difficult task by the approach of the advocates in this case. Both the transcript of the hearing before the District Judge, and the transcript of the hearing before His Honour Judge Scarratt, record each of the advocates, although counsel for the father a good deal less so, regularly interrupting each other. The net effect of that approach was that, as I have observed, neither judge received properly structured submissions, in the proper order on the points that were in issue between the parties, and no issue was ever fully run to ground. It is quite clear from the transcript why the father chose to describe the hearing as having descended into a “shouting match“.
  3. I am satisfied that this unfortunate situation before the learned Judge materially contributed to the primary reason this appeal has been successful, namely that, before making a final child arrangements order, the learned Judge did not hear submissions on the key issues before the court at the final hearing of the need for a final child arrangements order and the appropriate level of contact between father and daughter if such an order were made.
  4. FPR r 12.21, deals with the order in which a court hears submissions or evidence at a hearing and confers on the court a discretion in that regard. FPR r 12.21 reflects the fact that properly sequenced submissions constitute a vital constituent of a fair hearing. The requirement for submissions to be made in a clearly defined order aims to ensure that each party has a fair opportunity to present their case on the issues that are before the court for determination. A failure by advocates to assist the court in adhering to this requirement is corrosive of that aim. In this case, the reception by the court of properly sequenced submissions was rendered extremely difficult by a concerning tendency on the part of the advocates simply to interrupt each other in an effort to advance their competing submissions. It should go without saying that this mode of advocacy does not assist the court and is to be deprecated.

 

The appeal was allowed, and sent back for rehearing.

 

  1. As I have set out above, the transcript of the hearing makes plain that, notwithstanding that the hearing was contested on the central issue of whether a child arrangements order was appropriate and, if so, what arrangements for contact were in T’s best interests, no party ever got, during the hearing, to the stage of making submissions on those key issues before the court. The increasingly formless and fractious nature of the hearing meant that no party made submissions on the need for an order or the appropriate level of contact before the learned Judge gave his judgment on those central issues, nor did the learned Judge invite such submissions. The substantive submissions made by counsel were limited to the procedural question of whether the learned Judge should deal with the final hearing or adjourn it.
  2. In the circumstances, and as conceded by Mr Persson and Ms Topping before this court, the learned Judge heard submissions on the issue of whether to proceed to determine whether to make a final child arrangements order but not on the issue of the merits of a final child arrangements order. Notwithstanding this, in his judgment the learned Judge determined both issues. Accordingly, even if one accepts that the learned Judge was operating within the wide ambit of his procedural discretion in dealing with the final hearing summarily on submissions, he dealt with the matter without hearing submissions on the merits. Even though Ms Cooper had made clear on behalf of the father that the matter was fully contested with respect to child arrangements, and that the father would be seeking more extensive contact in any final order than that then taking place, the father never got to argue that case at the final hearing, whether on submissions or otherwise, before the final order was made.
  3. The consequences of this situation are clear from the learned Judge’s judgment. In examining the judgment delivered by the learned Judge I have, of course, taken into account that it was delivered ex tempore at the end of an extremely busy list and in the context of the considerable burden of other responsibilities that routinely fall to be discharged by a Designated Family Judge at the end of the court day. I note that the learned Judge expressly states in the final paragraph of his judgment that, at “the end of a long and hard day“, he would have wanted to have time to hand down a judgment but that he felt it was important for the parties to know the outcome. One can only have sympathy with that view. Within this context, it is not the job of this court, with the greater time available to it, to undertake an overly fine textual analysis of the learned Judge’s ex tempore judgment.
  4. However, reading the transcript of the hearing and the judgment together, it is clear that the learned Judge was not able to rehearse the father’s substantive arguments on the merits for a greater level of contact in any final order, or indeed the substantive arguments of the Children’s Guardian that there should be no order for contact and an order pursuant to s 91(14) of the Children Act 1989, or the mother’s substantive arguments with respect to the nature and extent of contact moving forward, as he had not heard any of those arguments.
  5. In the foregoing circumstances, I am satisfied that there is force in the father’s complaint that the learned Judge proceeded to make a final child arrangements order without proper consideration of the arguments. Indeed, I am satisfied that, as is clear from the transcript and as conceded by Mr Persson and Ms Topping before this court, the learned Judge heard no substantive submissions on the merits of the father’s case, or indeed the case of the mother or the Children’s Guardian before making final orders. Within this context, the learned Judge moved to make a final child arrangements order in a case that remained contested without hearing submissions on the issues at the heart of the case.
  6. I accept that, in line with the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Re C (Family Proceedings: Case Management), a judge is fully entitled to deal summarily with a final hearing in an appropriate case. However, even where the court determines that it is appropriate to deal with the case in this manner, it is equally clear that in doing so, each party must first have a fair opportunity to put their case to the court before the court moves to make final orders. Within this context, even if he or she elects to determine the final hearing summarily following oral submissions, the judge must be careful to ensure, with the assistance of the advocates, that each party has had a fair opportunity to make their respective cases by way of submission on the issues that the court is required, albeit summarily, finally to decide. Issues that may often include, as in this case, whether to make a final order and if so, which order in the best interests of the child. In this case, such an approach was even more important where, as I have noted, the learned Judge did not have the benefit at the final hearing of final witness statements from the parties, nor a final report from the Children’s Guardian, and in circumstances where the expert report that had been considered by the court prior to the final hearing to be necessary to resolve the proceedings justly was deficient having regard to the terms of the letter of instruction.
  7. Within the foregoing context, I am satisfied that the fact that the father, and indeed the other parties, did not have a proper opportunity to put their case to the court by way of submissions on the question of whether a final child arrangements order should be made and if so, what order was in the best interests of the T, before the court moved to make a final child arrangements order, amounted to a serious procedural irregularity. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the appeal must be allowed on that ground alone.

An utterly misconceived application

Hi everybody !

 

I always like when the President opens a judgment with

 

“1.This is another utterly misconceived application”

 

Because it lets me know that this one has potential. It is Re SW (no 2) 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2017/30.html

 

And Re SW was one of my favourite weird cases (an application in the Court of Protection to have a best interests decision that a woman, SW, should undertake surgery in order to give a bone marrow transplant to her adopted brother. The applicant was the son of SW, asking that the surgery be carried out by husband of SW, also coincidentally a surgeon, also coincidentally who had been stuck off as a surgeon, also coincidentally he also had a friend who would assist him, also coincidentally his friend had also been struck off. Link below.  Oh, they also failed to show that the brother needed the surgery, or that SW actually lacked capacity to agree to it or refuse it.  It is fantastic in every regard)

 

 

I dismissed a previous application on 12 April 2017: Re SW [2017] EWCOP 7. Of that application, I said this (para 33):

 

 

 

“As it has been presented to the court, this scarcely coherent application is totally without merit, it is misconceived and it is vexatious. It would be contrary to every principle of how litigation ought to be conducted in the Court of Protection, and every principle of proper case management, to allow this hopelessly defective application to proceed on the forlorn assumption that the son could somehow get his tackle in order and present a revised application which could somehow avoid the fate of its predecessor.”

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2017/04/12/bone-marrow-transplants-and-struck-off-doctors/

 

 

 

This time around, SW’s son was applying to the Court of Protection for a best interests decision that the Inland Revenue be prohibited from coming into SW’s home or taking any action against her.

 

 

 

3.The present application was issued by the son on 15 September 2017, supported by his witness statement dated 6 September 2017. P was named as the applicant’s mother, who I shall continue to refer to as SW. The respondent was named as the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs (HMRC), who were described in the application as being “Competent Authority”. The relief sought was, and I quote:

 

 

 

“A Declaration from the Court, under its inherent jurisdiction, that it shall be unlawful for the Respondent to effect forced entry of the property of P or to restrict P’s liberty of movement without permission from the Court of Protection.”

4.The son’s witness statement and the various exhibits attached to it make clear that the complaint arises out of the execution on 29 September 2016 by officers of HMRC of search warrants under section 8 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 authorising the search of two properties owned by SW and in one of which SW was living at the time. The searches were in connection with suspected VAT frauds relating to companies of which the son and his father, Dr Waghorn, were directors. The son was subsequently arrested on 27 October 2016, according to a witness statement of the arresting officer “on suspicion of submitting false documentation to HMRC in order to reclaim VAT repayments contrary to s 72(1) of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 and the subsequent money laundering offences under sections 327 and 329 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.”

 

 

One might cynically think that this application benefits the son and his father more than SW, since they are the people under investigation for VAT fraud, and that they are just using the mother/wife SW as a shield or device to escape prosecution for VAT fraud. You dreadful cynic.

 

 

5.The son’s witness statement is explicit that he was not present at the events on 29 September 2016. Having set out extracts from various statements which, he says, were “given as evidence in prosecution at the Crown Court”, and exhibited documents relating to a complaint he made to HMRC and to a complaint made by Dr Waghorn to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in relation to the actions of HMRC, the son concluded his witness statement as follows:

 

 

 

“I am unaware that the Authority has obtained any authorisation, either urgent or standard, from the Court of Protection to control and manage the property of P nor to restrict P’s liberty of movement.”

6.On 22 September 2017 District Judge S Jackson struck out the application. The District Judge’s order read as follows:

 

 

 

“Upon considering an application for an order under the inherent jurisdiction of the Court of Protection and upon the court not having an inherent jurisdiction and upon the court considering that the application and statement in support is incomprehensible and therefore without merit.

 

IT IS ORDERED that:

 

  1. Application struck out

 

  1. This order was made without a hearing. Any person affected by it may apply (on form COP9), within 21 days of the date on which the order was served, to have the order set aside, pursuant to rule 89 of the Court of Protection Rules 2007.”

7.By an application dated 1 October 2017 and received by the court on 3 October 2017, the son sought an order that the District Judge’s order be set aside and that the court grant a declaration in the terms previously sought. His grounds were as follows:

 

 

 

“1) Parliament has granted jurisdiction to the Court of Protection in Deprivation of Liberty cases by introducing into the Mental Capacity Act 2005 safeguards through the Mental Health Act 2007 (which received Royal assent in July 2007), in order that those who lack capacity have the protection of law which will comply with Article 5(1) and 5(4) of the European Convention of Human Rights (“ECHR”).

 

2) P’s determination of her protected rights is envisaged in Article 6(1) of the ECHR and guaranteed in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 47 – Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial).”

 

He submitted no further evidence.

 

 

The President was able to deal with the appeal fairly simply

 

 

 

10.I can deal with the matter briefly. I agree entirely with both the decision and the reasoning of the District Judge. I add three points.

 

 

11.First, a ‘best interests court’, in which I include the Court of Protection, the Family Court and the Family Division of the High Court of Justice, has no power to regulate or adjudicate upon the decision of a public authority exercising its statutory and other powers: see, generally, A v Liverpool City Council and Another [1982] AC 363, (1981) 2 FLR 222, and, specifically in relation to the Court of Protection, Re MN (Adult) [2015] EWCA Civ 411, [2015] COPLR 505, appeal dismissed N v ACCG and Others [2017] UKSC 22, [2017] COPLR 200. But that is precisely what the son is seeking to persuade the Court of Protection to do here. He is seeking an order, albeit in declaratory form, to prevent HMRC exercising its powers “without permission from the Court of Protection.” The appropriate remedy, if one is needed, is by application to the criminal court, in a case such as this, or to the Administrative Court. I make clear that I am not to be understood as suggesting that, in the circumstances, any application the son might make to either court stands the slightest prospect of success; my view, for what it is worth, is that it would not.

 

 

12.Second, there is, in any event, no evidence before the court to demonstrate SW’s incapacity, which alone can give the Court of Protection jurisdiction.

 

 

13.Third, on the basis of the evidence which the son has put before the court, there is simply nothing to support any contention that HMCR has acted unlawfully or that it either has in the past done, or that it threatens in future to do, any of the things apparently alleged by the son: that is, to effect forced entry to SW’s property, to control and manage her property, or to restrict her liberty of movement. The son has placed before the court a number of witness statements prepared for the purpose of the criminal proceedings by officers of HMRC. He has not sought to challenge any of the facts asserted by those officers – indeed, he seeks to rely upon parts of their witness statements. And since, as I have said, he was not present, he is in any event hardly in a position to gainsay what they assert. The simple fact is that there is nothing in any of this material which even begins to suggest that what the son is asserting is even arguably right. On the contrary, what the material demonstrates is the seeming propriety with which HMRC obtained and executed the search warrants, the very proper concern which the HMRC officers involved had for the potential impact on SW of what was going on around her while the relevant search warrant was being executed, and the very proper steps which they appropriately took to protect and safeguard her welfare.

 

 

14.The son’s application as it was presented to the District Judge was, in my judgment, totally without merit, misconceived and vexatious. His application under Rule 89 is equally devoid of merit. It must be dismissed, with the consequence that the District Judge’s order striking out the original application remains in place.

 

DAM (I wish I was your lover)

 

 

An appeal about the structure of a judgment and whether it was sufficiently deficient to warrant overturning the decision (I’m sure that combination of italicised words is already making David Burrows writhe in agony…. )

 

Re DAM (Children) 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/386.html

 

(There are obvious alternative jokes about the way the case name sounds if you read it aloud, but you know me and pop music, I wasn’t going to be able to resist a Sophie B Hawkins reference)

 

But obviously, beware the eyes that paralyze

 

 

The decision being appealed was from HHJ Tolson QC.   The lead Judge in the Court of Appeal was Jackson LJ .   (If you ARE being appealed about the manner in which you construct your judgment, you probably would not elect Jackson LJ to be critiquing your judgment, in much the same way as you would not want Rodin turning up to your pottery class to tell you if your bodged-up clay ashtray is any good)

 

 

5.Judges hearing care cases in the Family Court are engaged in one of the most difficult of all judicial tasks. The decisions are of huge significance for children and their families. The evidence is often difficult and distressing, and the level of emotion high. Achieving good case management and timely decision-making, not just for the children in the individual case but for all the children who are awaiting decisions, is a demanding challenge for the specialist judges who undertake this work.

 

 

6.In every care case, the Children Act 1989 and the Human Rights Act 1998 require the court to address a series of questions. What are the facts? Has the threshold been crossed? If so, what order is in the child’s best interests? Is that outcome necessary and proportionate to the problem? There is much authority from the appeal courts about each of these questions but at its simplest every valid decision will answer them.

 

 

7.It is in the judgment that the judge’s reasoning is found. There is no one correct form of judgment. Every judge has his or her own means of expression. Different cases may call for different types of judgment. Some judgments will be given at the time and others will be reserved. What is necessary in every case is that the judgment should be adequately reasoned: Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 at [46]. That is a matter of substance, not of structure or form: Re R [2014] EWCA Civ 1625 at [18]. The judgment must enable the reader, and above all the family itself, to know that the judge asked and answered the right questions.

 

 

8.This is not to say that the structure of a judgment is irrelevant. A judgment that lacks structure or is structured in a confusing way makes the judge’s reasoning harder to follow and may raise the possibility that the process by which the decision was reached was faulty. Inevitably, that increases the possibility of an appeal.

 

 

There was an educational psychologist instructed in the case who seems to have had an idiosyncratic approach to her role

 

Dr Rothermel’s approach: – The judge described this as the most bizarre aspect of the matter. Having filed her lengthy report, she was directed on 18 July to provide copies of her notes and correspondence. She said that would take six hours and sought payment for it, having already exceeded her budget. She was then directed to bring the documents to court on the first day of the hearing. They amounted to more than a hundred pages of, in particular, email exchanges with the mother. The other parties made extensive criticisms of Dr Rothermel, and the judge summarised the material as revealing her to be an expert who had strayed far beyond her limited brief, advising the mother on the presentation of her case, gathering evidence for her and, when giving evidence, being an advocate for home education and for the mother. She disposed of the key elements of her instruction in what the judge described as a few bland lines.

 

 

 

36.The grounds of appeal included the contention that the judge was wrong to reject the evidence of Dr Rothermel as worthless in its entirety, and to conclude that the children had not been educated at home. This argument was not developed by Mr Twomey. In my view, the judge’s verdict on Dr Rothermel’s contribution was fully justified, and his finding of fact about the children’s lack of education at home could not be disturbed in this court.

 

Fundamentally, the appeal was based on the assertion that the trial Judge had wrongly approached the case as one that was decided on threshold, that having found threshold met he swiftly ruled mother out and announced his decision on orders and AFTER that, dealt with welfare matters including the welfare checklist and briefly.

 

 

33.Mr Twomey QC and Mr Boyd start their submissions with an analysis of the way the judge structured his judgment as showing that he had fallen into substantive error. They make these undeniable observations:

 

 

 

 

(1) The judge stated that the key to the case lay in the threshold criteria. [48]

 

(2) Having found the threshold to be made out [61], he immediately eliminated the mother [62] and announced his conclusion, stating that there was no other realistic option but foster care for D and A [63, 65].

 

(3) He did not carry out any welfare assessment, by balancing the advantages and disadvantages of placements at home or in foster care. He did not refer to the welfare checklist until [73], long after he had stated his decisions, and in doing so, he stated, “I check my conclusions against the welfare checklist.”

 

(4) When identifying factors in the welfare checklist, he did not mention (g), the powers of the court, such as an interim or final care order with placement at home, or injunctions or undertakings to ensure schooling and medical care, perhaps as conditions to a supervision order under Schedules 2 or 3.

 

(5) He made no proportionality crosscheck.

34.As a matter of law, Mr Twomey submits that the use of the welfare checklist as an afterthought is not compliant with s.1(4), which requires the court to have regard to the matters in s.1(3) when it “is considering” whether to make a care order. It must, he argues, be considered before a decision is reached, not afterwards. He also draws attention to the encouragement given by Baroness Hale to judges to address each of the factors in the welfare checklist in any difficult or finely balanced case so as to ensure that no particular feature of the case is given more weight than it should properly bear: Re G (Children) [2006] UKHL 43 at [40].

 

 

35.In an ambitious submission, Mr Twomey argued that the court was not entitled to make a care order separating the children from their mother without being satisfied that “nothing else will do”.

 

[For those who are not fluent in Judge, ‘ambitious’ here is not a compliment]

 

The Court of Appeal don’t explicitly mention Re B 2013, and the words of Lord Neuberger, which are what sets that particular hare running (in my respectful view)

 

 

  1. It appears to me that, given that the Judge concluded that the section 31(2) threshold was crossed, he should only have made a care order if he had been satisfied that it was necessary to do so in order to protect the interests of the child. By “necessary”, I mean, to use Lady Hale’s phrase in para 198, “where nothing else will do”. I consider that this conclusion is clear under the 1989 Act, interpreted in the absence of the Convention, but it is put beyond doubt by article 8. The conclusion is also consistent with UNCRC.

 

  1. It seems to me to be inherent in section 1(1) that a care order should be a last resort, because the interests of a child would self-evidently require her relationship with her natural parents to be maintained unless no other course was possible in her interests. That is reinforced by the requirement in section 1 (3)(g) that the court must consider all options, which carries with it the clear implication that the most extreme option should only be adopted if others would not be in her interests. As to article 8, the Strasbourg court decisions cited by Lady Hale in paras 195-198 make it clear that such an order can only be made in “exceptional circumstances”, and that it could only be justified by “overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare”, or, putting the same point in slightly different words, “by the overriding necessity of the interests of the child”. I consider that this is the same as the domestic test (as is evidenced by the remarks of Hale LJ in Re C and B [2001] 1 FLR 611, para 34 quoted by Lady Hale in para 198 above), but it is unnecessary to explore that point further

 

(Now of course in Re B, the care plan was adoption, and it might well be that those passages are intended to be read as ‘a care order where the care plan is adoption’, but the bare language is “should only have made a care order if satisfied that it was necessary to do so in order to protect the interests of the child and by necessary I mean ‘where nothing else will do’ “ )

 

I think there’s at least an argument to be had on that aspect. I have seen a Parker J case in which it was posited that this formulation applies to interim care orders as well, which I think goes too far.

 

The Court of Appeal don’t agree

 

 

 

(5) I reject the argument that a court considering whether to make a care order has to be satisfied that “nothing else will do”. A care order is a serious order that can only be made where the facts justify it, where it is in the child’s interests, and where it is necessary and proportionate. But the aphorism “nothing else will do” (which, as has been said, is not a substitute for a proper welfare evaluation and proportionality check) applies only to cases involving a plan for adoption. That is clear from the case in which it originated, In re M (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, which concerned an application for a care order with a care plan for adoption. It is clear, where it is not explicit, that all the justices were addressing a situation involving the severance of the parental relationship altogether, and not one involving physical separation under a care order, where the parent retains parental responsibility. That is confirmed by the summary given by the President in Re B-S:

 

“22. The language used in Re M is striking. Different words and phrases are used, but the message is clear. Orders contemplating non-consensual adoption – care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders – are “a very extreme thing, a last resort”, only to be made where “nothing else will do”, where “no other course [is] possible in [the child’s] interests”, they are “the most extreme option”, a “last resort – when all else fails”, to be made “only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do”: see Re M paras 74, 76, 77, 82, 104, 130, 135, 145, 198, 215.” [my emphasis]

 

I may be utterly wrong about the impact of Lord Neuberger’s words, but it is a shame that they weren’t considered explicitly, because that’s what gives rise to the suggestion that any order that permanently separates a child from birth parents has to be measured against that necessity and ‘nothing else will do’ yardstick.

 

 

On the other matters, the Court of Appeal decision is as follows:-

 

41.Despite the neat way in which the mother’s case has been presented, my clear conclusion is that the judge’s findings of fact, set out at paragraph 29 above, amply satisfy the threshold for making public law orders and adequately underpin the welfare decision. Taking full account of the matters that appear below, it has not been shown that the judge was wrong to conclude that the mother’s parenting falls so far short of what the children need, and that her approach is so ingrained and unchangeable, that care orders were necessary. He had an excellent opportunity to assess the mother’s personality and behaviour during the course of the proceedings. Nor is it irrelevant that there is now no challenge to the judge’s decision that M, who had grown up for 4½ years in her mother’s care, should remain with her father. The home circumstances that justified that decision were shared by the older children.

 

 

42.Dealing specifically with the criticisms of the judge’s approach, set out in paragraph 33 above:

 

 

 

(1) It was unwise of the judge to characterise the decision as one that turned on the threshold findings. The threshold is concerned only with harm, while the welfare checklist addresses a much wider range of factors. There are cases involving very serious abuse where the threshold definitively determines the outcome, but this was not one of them. Nonetheless, despite the way the judge expressed himself, his decision did not in fact rest on the threshold alone, but on all the welfare considerations mentioned in the judgment.

 

(2) The term “realistic options”, deriving from cases such as Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, ensures that time is not wasted on outcomes that are merely theoretical, so that attention can be focused on the genuine possibilities. In this case, the realistic options for D and A were placement at home or placement in foster care. The fact that one was discarded in favour of the other made it a rejected option, not an unrealistic one, and the judgment, read as a whole, shows that this is how the judge in fact proceeded.

 

(3) In the almost 30 years since it was devised, the ‘welfare checklist’ has stood the test of time and its value to decision-makers, as described in Re G, cannot be overstated. It is obligatory to have regard to its contents when considering what order should be made. That obligation will be discharged if it is evident that in substance all the relevant, significant welfare factors have been taken into account. I do not accept that there is an obligation to articulate a checklist analysis before announcing a decision. However, to omit any reference to the substance of the checklist, or to relegate the exercise until after the court has stated its conclusion, carries risks of the kind seen in this appeal.

 

(4) The absence of a point in the judgment where the judge can be seen to have drawn together the welfare factors for comparative evaluation is an undoubted weakness. However, analysis of the judgment as a whole shows that the judge did evaluate all the significant welfare factors, although not in a methodical order that would have made his reasoning easier to appreciate.

 

 

(6) To continue, I do not accept Mr Twomey’s submission that the judge did not consider the powers of the court, as required by checklist factor (g). He dealt with that matter squarely at paragraph 51 (see 31 above).

 

(7) I accept that the judge did not explicitly return to the issue of proportionality, but he clearly had it in mind from his self-direction and in my view his decision is not undermined by that omission.

43.I therefore conclude that the submission that the judge’s decision was wrong must fail.

 

 

The Court of Appeal did, it seems to me, consider that there were failings in the structure and approach of the judgment; but these were not such as to fatally flaw the judgment. A considered reading of the judgment answered all of the questions posited in the opening remarks in the appeal judgment and this piece.

 

However,

 

 

 

44.I would also reject the submission that the decision was unjust because the form of the judgment amounted to a serious procedural irregularity. The judge gave a substantial judgment that, on close examination, adequately reasons his decision.

 

 

45.However, I am also in no doubt that permission to appeal was rightly granted. Had the judgment proceeded simply and methodically through the stages of the decision-making process, this might have been avoided. It should not be necessary for an appeal court to undertake a laborious explanatory exercise of the kind contained in this judgment. That can only affect the parties’ confidence in the decision. In the meantime, this family has been left in a state of uncertainty for a further four months and the costs of the appeal to the public purse have, we were told, amounted to some £37,000.

Unlawful killing

 

 

 

A very peculiar case and one in which leading counsel puts self in harms way in order to demonstrate breach of article 6 and succeed in appeal.

 

Re R (Children) 2018

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/198.html

 

In this case, the central issue related to

 

On the evening of 2 June 2016 the mother of two young children died in the kitchen of their family home as a result of a single fatal knife wound to her neck; the wound had been inflicted by their father

 

The father was arrested and the two children were removed into foster care. The father faced criminal trial and was acquitted of all charges. There was a finding of fact hearing in the High Court and the father was made the subject of a finding that “he had used unreasonable force and unlawfully killed the mother”

 

He appealed that finding, successfully.

 

 

 

5.The mother’s death occurred in the context of an acrimonious relationship between the parents following the father’s discovery, in December 2015, that the mother was having an affair. The parties had separated and at the time of the killing the mother was living away from the family home where the two children still lived with their father. The mother returned to the house regularly to have contact with the children; the evening of 2 June 2016 was one such occasion. During the course of an argument between the couple in the kitchen of the property, the mother picked up a kitchen knife and slashed out with it so as to cause significant injury to the child A’s arm and to the back of the father’s head.

 

 

6.The father was able to usher A out of the immediate vicinity. He then struggled with the mother and at some stage gained possession of the knife. It was at that stage that the mother sustained the fatal wound to her neck. The knife caused a single but very substantial wound which severed most of the internal structures of the centre and right side of the neck including a complete transection of the right common carotid artery and internal jugular vein. As a result the mother experienced an immediate very substantial loss of blood causing her to collapse and die shortly thereafter. Cause of death was exsanguination due to the severity of the neck wound.

 

 

7.The father’s account, both during his criminal trial and before Theis J, was that he had done no more than was reasonable in the circumstances to protect himself and the children.

 

 

8.Although it is not my intention to descend to detail it is necessary, for the purposes of understanding an aspect of the father’s Article 6 appeal, to set out the terms of an account presented by his criminal defence solicitors to the experts in the criminal trial in a letter dated 2 December 2016 which reads as follows:

 

 

 

“He was holding the knife in his right hand by the handle. (Mother) came at him and he swung in a circular motion with the knife which connected with the left side of (mother’s) neck. The knife entered the neck at this point and went straight through the neck to the other side and in fact the tip was pointing through. The skin on the front of the neck was intact. The blade of the knife was facing [the father]. [The father] was still holding the knife in this position as the movement continued and he pushed (the mother) backwards whereby the knife was cut out of the throat as the blade was facing [the father]. The knife has come out of the neck/throat as (the mother) has fallen away. “

9.Again in very short terms, the significance of that account was, on the unanimous evidence of the expert pathologists called in the proceedings, that for the knife to go into the neck and be followed by the action of pushing the mother backwards causing the knife to slice forward and exit the neck, involved two planes of motion, whereas the shape of the wound on the mother’s body indicated a single continuous movement rather than two.

 

 

The father’s appeal was based on two major facets. Firstly, that the High Court had become very bogged down in criminal terminology when conducting the fact finding hearing (as a result of the word ‘unlawfully’ in the threshold finding sought, the defences to lawful killing – self-defence and loss of control, played a significant part in the case) and secondly that the timescales set down by the High Court for the preparation of father’s case were so short and unrealistic that it put the father in the position of having his very skilled and experienced representative feeling that she was not in a position to properly put his case.

 

 

(Being fair to the LA here – because threshold requires that a parent’s behaviour which caused the harm was ‘not being what it would be reasonable to expect’, they may well have concluded that the father if asserting that he acted in self-defence which was reasonable might have a basis for concluding threshold was not met and felt that they needed to establish a higher level of culpability on his part. It is very very tricky drafting threshold in a set of circumstances like this. I think I might have tested the water to see if something along the lines of “The children were exposed to an extreme incident of violence leading to the violent death of the mother, which would have been extremely frightening and distressing and which will be likely to have lifelong implications for their mental and emotional wellbeing” might have been accepted, but it is a lot easier to make that call in the benefit of hindsight)

 

The criminal bit first

 

 

 

 

31.For the appellant, Miss Venters’ response to the court’s interjection was to state firmly and clearly that the Family Court should not involve itself in analysis based upon the criminal jurisprudence. In particular, by reference to this case, she submitted that it was unnecessary and impermissible for the Family Court to make findings of “unreasonable force” or “unlawful killing”.

 

 

32.Miss Janet Bazley QC, leading Miss Catherine Jenkins, who both appeared below, pointed to the terms of the local authority’s pleaded case as set out in a “final threshold document and schedule of findings” dated 26 June 2017:

 

 

 

“On 2 June 2016, the father killed the mother by cutting her throat…he used unreasonable force or, alternatively, his actions were reckless in all the circumstances.”

 

Miss Bazley informed the court that the local authority had not intended to establish a link between the findings that it sought and any test within the context of criminal law. Miss Bazley pointed to the formal response to the proposed findings made on behalf of the father which asserted that he had used “reasonable force” and, for the first time, brought in criminal law concepts which, as the trial progressed, lead all the parties to address the issues in the case by reference to the relevant criminal case law.

33.However, in the local authority Opening Note the following appears:

 

 

 

“The local authority’s current position is that the preponderance of the relevant evidence is that the father was behind the mother when he caused the fatal injury. If the court concludes that this is more likely than not to have been the case, the local authority will invite the court to conclude that the father killed the mother deliberately.”

 

Miss Bazley submitted that it is permissible for the Family Court to make a finding that killing was “deliberate”. She is explained that at no time did the local authority seek a finding of “murder”. However, Miss Bazley later accepted that the local authority’s “closing submissions” document includes the following under the heading “conclusion in relation to the other findings sought”:

 

“In relation to the mother’s death, the local authority invites the court to conclude on all the evidence, that this was an unlawful killing, probably pre-meditated or otherwise carr[ied] out in anger. The court is respectfully invited to firmly reject the father’s assertion that he acted either instinctively (an accident), or in self defence, using reasonable force.”

34.More generally, and in response to this court questioning why it was necessary for the Family Court to establish precisely how the mother was killed, Miss Bazley submitted that detailed findings were important because of the difference they might make to the welfare determination that the court would have to make at the end of the family proceedings.

 

 

35.Miss Bazley submitted that it was appropriate for the Family Court to use the word “reasonable” in a non-legal manner. She also asserted that the local authority had not sought a finding that the mother’s killing had been “unlawful”. Such a finding, she submitted, was not necessary in the context of the family proceedings.

 

 

36.On the facts of this case, as found by the judge, any reference to the father acting in “self defence” evaporated as the judge rejected his account. Thus, whilst the local authority accepted their part in the collective error by the advocates in encouraging the judge to consider the criminal case law as to self defence, and accepted that the judge should not have made a finding of “unlawful” killing in the family proceedings, Miss Bazley submitted that the detailed factual findings of the judge should stand. She submitted that the references to criminal law, “unreasonable force” and “unlawful killing” were extraneous for the purposes of the Family Court process and they could be struck out from the judge’s judgment and findings without the need for a re-trial of the factual evidence.

 

 

37.For the children’s guardian Mr Malcolm Chisholm, who also appeared below, argued that, as the father’s case was that he was defending himself from an attack by the mother, a finding as to the degree of force used was important and would heavily influence the determinations about the children’s welfare that the Family Court would, in due course make. Mr Chisholm accepted that it was neither necessary nor helpful for the Family Court to analyse these issues by reference to parallel provisions in the criminal law, or, for that matter, the civil law (as for example in Ashley v Chief Constable of Sussex Police) [2008] UK HL 25). Mr Chisholm accepted the court’s observation that, in contrast to criminal or civil proceedings, the focus of the Family Court is not on the adult, or the need to establish a finding of culpability against him; the Family Court’s focus is upon the children and their future welfare. Put shortly, Mr Chisholm said that the question for the Family Court is “is he safe or is he unsafe?” Detailed findings of fact are therefore necessary to determine, for example, whether an individual has over reacted or whether they have been honest and are reliable.

 

 

38.Like Miss Bazley, Mr Chisholm urged this court to strip out the judge’s extraneous references to criminal law and the attribution of criminal law labels to her specific findings, whilst leaving the detailed findings themselves standing. Mr Chisholm submitted that there was a real integrity to the judge’s fact finding judgment as a whole. The factual findings are supported by a wealth of reliable evidence and were, in his words, “absolutely rock solid”.

 

 

39.In response, Miss Venters submitted that the whole trial before the judge and the resulting judgment were tainted by reference at every point to the need to conduct the analysis of the factual evidence and make findings in a manner compatible with the criminal law. All parties now accept that that approach was wrong and, as a consequence, the judgment as a whole cannot stand.

 

 

Conclusions on that aspect

 

 

61.Although the father’s grounds of appeal implicitly accepted that the judge had been obliged to apply the relevant elements of the criminal law directly within her analysis of the evidence and in drawing factual conclusions, at an early stage of the oral appeal hearing the court questioned whether the criminal law should have any place in a fact-finding determination made in the Family Court. As a result of our intervention, all parties before the court readily accepted that the structure and substance of criminal law should not be applied in the Family Court and, to the extent that that had occurred in the present case, the court process and the judge’s evaluation had been conducted in error.

 

 

62.The parties were right to concede the point, and to do so without argument, as they did. The focus and purpose of a fact-finding investigation in the context of a case concerning the future welfare of children in the Family Court are wholly different to those applicable to the prosecution by the State of an individual before a criminal court. The latter is concerned with the culpability and, if guilty, punishment for a specific criminal offence, whereas the former involves the determination facts, across a wide canvas, relating to past events in order to evaluate which of a range of options for the future care of a child best meets the requirements of his or her welfare. Similarly, where facts fall to be determined in the course of ordinary civil litigation, the purpose of the exercise, which is to establish liability, operates in a wholly different context to a fact-finding process in family proceedings. Reduced to simple basics, in both criminal and civil proceedings the ultimate outcome of the litigation will be binary, either ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’, or ‘liable’ or ‘not liable’. In family proceedings, the outcome of a fact-finding hearing will normally be a narrative account of what the court has determined (on the balance of probabilities) has happened in the lives of a number of people and, often, over a significant period of time. The primary purpose of the family process is to determine, as best that may be done, what has gone on in the past, so that that knowledge may inform the ultimate welfare evaluation where the court will choose which option is best for a child with the court’s eyes open to such risks as the factual determination may have established.

 

 

65.The extracts from the judgments of Butler-Sloss P and Hedley J helpfully, and accurately, point to the crucial differences between the distinct roles and focus of the criminal court, on the one hand, and the Family Court, on the other, albeit that each may be considering the same event or events within their separate proceedings. Against that background, it must be clear that criminal law concepts, such as the elements needed to establish guilt of a particular crime or a defence, have neither relevance nor function within a process of fact-finding in the Family Court. Given the wider range of evidence that is admissible in family proceedings and, importantly, the lower standard of proof, it is at best meaningless for the Family Court to make a finding of ‘murder’ or ‘manslaughter’ or ‘unlawful killing’. How is such a finding to be understood, both by the professionals and the individual family members in the case itself, and by those outside who may be told of it, for example the Police? The potential for such a finding to be misunderstood and to cause profound upset and harm is, to me, all too clear.

 

 

66.Looked at from another angle, if the Family Court were required to deploy the criminal law directly into its analysis of the evidence at a fact-finding hearing such as this, the potential for the process to become unnecessarily bogged down in legal technicality is also plain to see. In the present case, the judge’s detailed self-direction on the law of self-defence, and the resulting appeal asserting that it was misapplied, together with Miss Venters’ late but sound observations about the statutory defence of ‘loss of self-control’, are but two examples of the manner in which proceedings could easily become over-complicated and side-tracked from the central task of simply deciding what has happened and what is the best future course for a child. It is also likely that the judges chosen to sit on such cases in the Family Court would inevitably need to be competent to sit in the criminal jurisdiction.

 

 

67.There is no need to labour this point further. For the reasons that I have shortly rehearsed, as a matter of principle, it is fundamentally wrong for the Family Court to be drawn into an analysis of factual evidence in proceedings relating to the welfare of children based upon criminal law principles and concepts. As my Lord, Hickinbottom LJ, observed during submissions, ‘what matters in a fact-finding hearing are the findings of fact’. Whilst it may not infrequently be the case that the Family Court may be called upon to re-hear evidence that has already been considered in the different context of a criminal prosecution, that evidence comes to the court simply as evidence and it falls to be evaluated, in accordance with the civil standard of proof, and set against whatever other evidence there may be (whether heard by the criminal court or not) for the sole purpose of determining the relevant facts.

 

 

68.That the Family Court process in the present case fell into error in the manner that I have described is now conceded and is not in doubt. That it did so is a matter of both surprise and regret in circumstances where the highly experienced advocates for all three parties jointly advised the judge that it was necessary to rely directly on the criminal law and, so far as the local authority are concerned, where a specific finding of ‘unlawful killing, probably pre-mediated or otherwise carried out in anger’ was sought.

 

 

69.What is the impact of this error on the overall integrity of the process before Theis J and the judge’s detailed underlying findings? Miss Venters submits that the whole hearing was irrevocably tainted by focus on the criminal law and the need to achieve a finding of ‘unlawful killing’ against the father. The local authority and the guardian, conversely, argue that the high-level findings of ‘unreasonable force’, ‘unlawful killing’ and ‘loss of control’ are extraneous and can be struck out leaving the judge’s discrete factual findings intact.

 

 

70.Given the scale of the hearing before Theis J, in terms of time, endeavour and cost, any rehearing should only be contemplated if there is no alternative available course. As will be apparent from this judgment, this court has not begun to evaluate the soundness of the judge’s underlying findings and, for these purposes, I am prepared to accept that each of the 17 detailed findings made at paragraph 141 may be, as Mr Chisholm cast them, ‘absolutely rock solid’. It remains the case, however, that the court was led into fundamental error in relation to a matter of legal principle. It is clear from the local authority opening statement and from its closing submissions that it was presenting its case on the killing in the terms of the criminal law; that was the case that the father understood he had to meet and that was plainly the mindset of all three legal teams and of the judge. The fact that this appeal was being run, and responded to, as a detailed debate conducted within the criminal law of self-defence is proof enough that the fundamental error that has now been identified (and accepted) was not understood by any of the parties prior to the hearing in this court.

 

 

71.Given the importance, in terms of its scale and the potential impact upon him, I regard the fact that the court was wrongly drawn into making a finding of ‘unlawful killing’ within these family proceedings, and given the manner in which the proceedings were wrongly focused from the start on establishing culpability in the context of the criminal law, I would be minded to accept Miss Venters’ submission that the case as a whole was tainted to such an extent that it is insufficient simply to strike out certain offending words from the judgment. But, before reaching a conclusion on this all-important question, I propose to consider the father’s case more generally in relation to ‘fair trial’.

 

 

The fair trial point

 

 

The father was acquitted on 30th May 2017. The family Court had a directions hearing on 9th June 2017 setting the case down for a finding of fact hearing. The LA produced its schedule of findings sought on 26th June 2017 seeking (for the first time) a finding of ‘unlawful killing’ – the fact finding hearing was due to begin on 11th July – eleven working days later.

 

Eleven working days to effectively prepare a murder trial is obviously compressing realistic timescales considerably. Under protest from the father’s team, the Court granted a five day adjournment, giving effectively three working weeks for father to prepare. For a fact finding hearing involving 42 witnesses, from a standing start.

 

 

 

 

44.In relation to the appellant’s case under Article 6, Miss Venters makes one overarching submission and one very specific submission each pointing to the overall unfairness of the process.

 

 

45.The overarching submission can be recorded shortly. It is that, despite their very best endeavours, the father’s legal team were simply not able adequately to prepare for the fact finding hearing. Although the “criminal bundle” had been disclosed and copied to the father’s legal team in the family proceedings as the criminal process went on, it had not been read by them because the material in it was not, at that time, relevant to any factual issues that were to be litigated before the Family Court. Miss Venters, understandably, states that any time spent working on the criminal papers would, in any event, not have been covered by the father’s Family legal aid certificate at that stage.

 

 

46.In relation to equality of arms, Miss Venters points out that the local authority had taken three weeks after the conclusion of the criminal trial to consider the criminal material before disclosing, for the first time, that they intended to seek findings upon it. Thereafter, in contrast, the father was given just 7 days to file his response.

 

 

47.The specific point relied upon by the appellant under Article 6 which was, again, unfortunately, raised for the first time in oral argument, relates to the reliance placed upon the letter from the father’s criminal defence solicitors dated 2 December 2016 (set out at paragraph 8 above) during the Family Court trial.

 

 

48.I have already explained the significance placed on the 2 December account by the experts, it being the unanimous expert view that the mechanism described in that letter would involve two planes of motion, whereas the injury to the mother was likely to have resulted from one single movement of the blade.

 

 

49.Miss Venters told this court that the 2 December 2016 letter was not provided by the father’s criminal team to the advocates in the family proceedings until 1 August, a week prior to the second part of the hearing when the experts were due to attend and, thereafter, the father was due to give his evidence. During the hearing the terms of the December 2016 letter were taken by all parties, including Miss Venters, as being the father’s account. It is only, Miss Venters reports, as a result of consideration she has been able to give to the case since the conclusion of the Family Court trial, and after the judge’s judgment, that she now understands that the second part of the December 2016 account, namely that the father pushed the mother backwards, has never been an account given by him in police interviews, during the criminal trial or during the family proceedings. The December 2016 letter was put to the father in the witness box before Theis J and he simply accepted that that account had been given.

 

 

50.Miss Venters submits that the fact that she failed to notice that the pushing element in the December 2016 account was not, in fact, a description that her client had ever actually given in evidence, is but one example, albeit a very significant one, of her overall inability to be on top of her client’s case as a result of the wholly unrealistic time afforded to the father’s team for preparation.

 

 

51.Miss Venters offered as a further example, the lack of sufficient time for her to consider whether or not the eldest child, A, should be called to give oral evidence within the family proceedings.

 

 

52.Candidly, Miss Venters told the court that she is not now able to identify other specific aspects of the father’s case which, as a result of the pressure of work, were not presented to the court. Her position was, however, that, as an experienced professional she “simply did not have a grip on the evidence” in order to identify what issues should be raised in cross-examination or otherwise.

 

 

53.Miss Venters reports that, despite expressly raising in detail the many difficulties she faced, and despite taking up a dozen or so pages of her opening Position Statement at the start of the hearing listing the difficulties that were still outstanding, the court pressed on with the hearing with the result that Miss Venters told this court that she felt that she simply “wasn’t being heard in anyway” on these points by the other parties or by the judge.

 

 

And in conclusion

 

 

72.Having set out the key elements in the appellant’s case in relation to the ability of his legal team to meet the case against him in a manner that was fair and proportionate, it is possible to deal with this aspect of the appeal shortly.

 

 

73.An advocate as experienced and robust as Miss Venters deserves to be taken seriously when she tells an appellate court that, in consequence of the difficulties that she has explained, she ‘simply did not have a grip on the evidence’ and that, despite giving a clear and specific account of her professional difficulties, her client’s case in that regard was not heard. When the factual finding that the court has made is of the magnitude and, in terms of its impact in the family proceedings and elsewhere, importance as the one reached by the judge here, the need to take what is said seriously is particularly acute.

 

 

74.Although we have not drilled down to detail, or examined the trial documents and other material, there is no real dispute about the scale of the task facing the father’s lawyers when, for the first time on 26th June, they understood that the criminal evidence was all to be re-heard within the family proceedings. They had, initially, 11 working days to prepare and, although that was subsequently extended to 15 and the experts were not called until 3 weeks after that, it seems likely to me that the timetable imposed by the court on the father’s team was, in the circumstances, untenable.

 

 

75.It is of particular note that it was only in the local authority Opening Note, dated 11th July, that the father will have read for the first time that a finding of ‘deliberate’ killing was being sought against him in the Family Court.

 

 

76.Although no specific example of the father’s case not being correctly or fairly presented to the judge is pleaded in the Grounds or Skeleton Argument, Miss Venters’ late reference to the importance of the 2nd December 2016 criminal solicitor’s letter is of significance. She, as the advocate who was in charge of the father’s case, has told this court that what is said in the second part of the account in that letter has never actually been directly given in evidence by her client. It has simply been taken as read as being his account and, then, dismissed as tenable by the experts in a manner which the judge, understandably, found to be of importance. For my part I did not regard the five references to which we were taken by Miss Bazley as being conclusively against the point that is now being made; they may be or they may not be. Equally, the extract from the transcript of the father’s cross examination, rather than being reassuring that what was said in 2 December document was his accurate memory, seemed to bring the issue yet further into doubt.

 

 

77.The importance of the father’s account on whether there was one motion or two movements with the knife is plainly high. In terms of determining the issue of ‘fair trial’, it is neither necessary nor wise for this court to analyse the matter further. For my part, the fact that the father’s advocate has now raised the issue, and has told this court that, because of the speed of preparation (and the document’s late delivery), she only appreciated its significance after the end of the proceedings, may well establish that, as a result of the undue pressure of time, an important aspect of the father’s case may not have been presented fairly to the court.

 

 

 

Conclusion

78.The hearing of this appeal took an unusual course. As a result of the intervention of the court, we have not heard the full appeal. Instead, the advocates responded to and conceded the point of principle raised by the court concerning the relevance of criminal law and we then heard shortly on the ‘fair trial’ issues before adjourning to take stock of the appeal in the light of those submissions.

 

 

79.Having now undertaken the stock-taking exercise, and for the reasons that I have expressed thus far, it is clear, firstly, that a serious error occurred in the trial in relation to the relevance of the criminal law. Secondly, that error may not, of itself, justify ordering a rehearing, but the option of simply striking the offending words from the judgment may not be an adequate remedy given the significance of what had been, wrongly, said. Thirdly, whilst, again, the points made about a lack of a fair process may not establish, as night follows day, that only a rehearing will provide a remedy, what is said about the 2nd December letter, given its importance in the case, is of real concern.

 

 

80.Although an error of law may not necessarily lead to a finding that there has not been a ‘fair trial’, in the present case, when that error goes to the very focus of the fact-finding process and the judge’s analysis, I consider that the point sits squarely within the rights protected by Article 6. The two matters that I have thus far considered separately in this judgment should therefore, properly, be drawn together. If that is done then, albeit with a heavy heart, I am fully persuaded that in combination, looking at the matter overall, and taking both elements into account, this appellant has not been afforded a sufficiently fair trial in the Family Court

 

 

The Court of Appeal then give some specific guidance in relation to family Courts hearing allegations which have been tried in the criminal Court.

 

 

81.Moving beyond the circumstances of the present appeal, and building upon what is said at paragraphs 61 to 67 above, the following general observations as to the approach of a family court when trying, or re-trying, factual issues which could also be framed as a criminal charge are intended to be of assistance to all levels within the Family Court, where the need to undertake such a fact-finding exercise is by no means unusual.

 

 

82.By way of summary, the following points are, in my judgment, clear:

 

 

 

  1. a) The focus and purpose of a fact-finding investigation in the context of a case concerning the future welfare of children in the Family Court are wholly different to those applicable to the prosecution by the State of an individual before a criminal court [paragraph 62 above];

 

  1. b) The primary purpose of the family process is to determine what has gone on in the past, so that those findings may inform the ultimate welfare evaluation as to the child’s future with the court’s eyes open to such risks as the factual determination may have established [paragraph 62];

 

  1. c) Criminal law concepts, such as the elements needed to establish guilt of a particular crime or a defence, have neither relevance nor function within a process of fact-finding in the Family Court [paragraph 65];

 

  1. d) As a matter of principle, it is fundamentally wrong for the Family Court to be drawn into an analysis of factual evidence in proceedings relating to the welfare of children based upon criminal law principles and concepts [paragraph 67].

83.Where there has been, or may be, a criminal prosecution in relation to the actions of a parent or other person connected with a child whose future welfare is the subject of public or private law proceedings before the Family Court, the question of whether the factual matters that may support such a prosecution should also be litigated within the family proceedings falls to be determined by the Family Court on a case-by-case basis.

 

 

84.The Family Court should only embark upon a fact-finding process where it is necessary to do so. The recently updated Practice Direction FPR 2010, PD12J ‘Child Arrangements and Contact Orders: Domestic Abuse and Harm’, relating to private law proceedings includes the following guidance which is of more general application to all proceedings relating to the welfare of children where ‘domestic abuse’ or other potentially criminal activity is alleged:

 

 

 

 

‘Directions for a fact-finding hearing

 

 

  1. The court should determine as soon as possible whether it is necessary to conduct a fact-finding hearing in relation to any disputed allegation of domestic abuse –

 

 

 

(a) in order to provide a factual basis for any welfare report or for assessment of the factors set out in paragraphs 36 and 37 below;

 

 

 

(b) in order to provide a basis for an accurate assessment of risk;

 

 

 

(c) before it can consider any final welfare-based order(s) in relation to child arrangements; or

 

 

 

(d) before it considers the need for a domestic abuse-related Activity (such as a Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme (DVPP)).

 

 

  1. In determining whether it is necessary to conduct a fact-finding hearing, the court should consider –

 

 

 

(a) the views of the parties and of Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru;

 

 

 

(b) whether there are admissions by a party which provide a sufficient factual basis on which to proceed;

 

 

 

(c) if a party is in receipt of legal aid, whether the evidence required to be provided to obtain legal aid provides a sufficient factual basis on which to proceed;

 

 

 

(d) whether there is other evidence available to the court that provides a sufficient factual basis on which to proceed;

 

 

 

(e) whether the factors set out in paragraphs 36 and 37 below can be determined without a fact-finding hearing;

 

 

 

(f) the nature of the evidence required to resolve disputed allegations;

 

 

 

(g) whether the nature and extent of the allegations, if proved, would be relevant to the issue before the court; and

 

 

 

(h) whether a separate fact-finding hearing would be necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances of the case.’

85.In addition the factors listed at paragraphs 36 and 37 of PD12J are also likely to be relevant in deciding whether to conduct a fact-finding process in relation to ‘domestic abuse’ or any other potentially criminal activity in any proceedings relating to the welfare of a child:

 

 

 

’36. In the light of any findings of fact or admissions or where domestic abuse is otherwise established, the court should apply the individual matters in the welfare checklist with reference to the domestic abuse which has occurred and any expert risk assessment obtained. In particular, the court should in every case consider any harm which the child and the parent with whom the child is living has suffered as a consequence of that domestic abuse, and any harm which the child and the parent with whom the child is living is at risk of suffering, if a child arrangements order is made. The court should make an order for contact only if it is satisfied that the physical and emotional safety of the child and the parent with whom the child is living can, as far as possible, be secured before during and after contact, and that the parent with whom the child is living will not be subjected to further domestic abuse by the other parent.

 

  1. In every case where a finding or admission of domestic abuse is made, or where domestic abuse is otherwise established, the court should consider the conduct of both parents towards each other and towards the child and the impact of the same. In particular, the court should consider –

 

 

(a) the effect of the domestic abuse on the child and on the arrangements for where the child is living;

 

 

(b) the effect of the domestic abuse on the child and its effect on the child’s relationship with the parents;

 

 

(c) whether the parent is motivated by a desire to promote the best interests of the child or is using the process to continue a form of domestic abuse against the other parent;

 

 

(d) the likely behaviour during contact of the parent against whom findings are made and its effect on the child; and

 

 

(e) the capacity of the parents to appreciate the effect of past domestic abuse and the potential for future domestic abuse.’

86.On the basis of the guidance in PD12J, and on the basis of general principles, a family court should only embark upon a fact-finding investigation where it is both necessary and proportionate to do so, having regard to the overarching purpose of public law proceedings of (a) establishing whether the CA 1989, s 31 threshold criteria are satisfied and (b) determining the future plan for the child’s care by affording paramount consideration to his or her welfare.

 

 

87.Where, as is in the present case under appeal, one of the parents has died in the course of an altercation with the other parent, it may well be necessary to investigate the broad context of the relationships within the family and the behaviour of the parents over a period of time, but it does not follow that it will also be necessary for the court to determine precisely how the death occurred and the role, if any, that the surviving parent played in it. In each case, it will be a matter for the judge in the Family Court to decide, in the circumstance of each individual case, whether some or all of the issues that relate directly to the death need to be investigated in the family proceedings and, if possible, determined.

 

 

88.For my part, and from experience of a number of such cases over the years, the importance, in some cases, of the court and the children knowing whether or not the surviving parent’s actions were reasonable or not in relation to the circumstances of the death itself is likely to render a fact-finding hearing necessary, but this, it must be stressed, is a matter for the trial judge to determine in each case. That general observation is in line with the judgment of this court [Wall LJ and Neuberger LJ] in Re K (Non-accidental Injuries: Perpetrator: New Evidence) [2004] EWCA Civ 1181; [2005] 1 FLR 285 at paragraph 56:

 

 

 

‘… we are also of the view that it is in the public interest that children have the right, as they grow up into adulthood, to know the truth about who injured them when they were children, and why. Children who are removed from their parents as a result of non-accidental injuries have in due course to come to terms with the fact that one or both of their parents injured them. This is a heavy burden for any child to bear. In principle, children need to know the truth if the truth can be ascertained.’

89.The potential for future harm to a child where one parent has been directly involved in the circumstances that have led to the death of the other parent, is by no means limited to the risk that the surviving parent may physically injure the child. Indeed, future physical injury may be low on the spectrum of future potential harm. It is the potential for future emotional and psychological harm arising, either directly from the ‘fact’, if fact it be, that the surviving parent caused the death of the other, or indirectly from the way in which the parent will conduct him/herself in the future as a consequence, which is likely to be of far more importance.

 

 

90.Lastly, I would mention the specific matter of the use of language. The potential for the court to become drawn into reliance upon criminal law principles is demonstrated by the present appeal. Even where the family court succeeds in avoiding direct reference to the criminal law, it is important that, so far as it is possible to do so, the language of the judgment (and in particular any findings) is expressed in terms which avoid specific words or phrases which may have a bespoke meaning in the context of the criminal jurisdiction, for example ‘self-defence’, ‘reasonable force’ or ‘the loss of self-control’. Phrases such as ‘inappropriate force’ or ‘proportionate force’ may reflect the judge’s findings in a particular case, and avoid the risk that the judge’s words may be misunderstood as expressing a finding based directly upon criminal law principles.

 

 

91.At the end of the day, the often very difficult role of a judge once it has been determined that a finding of fact hearing is necessary can be reduced to the short statement that the family judge’s task in such cases is simply to find the facts. Once any facts are found, they will then form the basis of a more wide-ranging assessment of any consequent risks to the child whose future welfare needs will then fall to be determined

 

The Court of Appeal did disagree as to whether a finding of fact hearing would be necessary at all (in a minority judgment) and how the Court at a re-hearing was to determine whether father’s actions were or were not reasonable (again, in a minority judgment). We may not have had the final word on this sort of thing.    (The minority judgment was suggesting that threshold akin to my earlier formulation – that regardless of culpability for the death of the mother, the emotional harm suffered by the children by witnessing her violent death was the real issue and thus a finding of fact as to culpability for death would not always be necessary. )

 

 

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.

When I’m sixty-four (bundles)

 

A permission to appeal hearing in the Court of Appeal. Where the parents did not have legal aid and

 

(A) There were Court orders that said that they couldn’t have a copy of the judgment ; and

(B) There were sixty four Court bundles  (and even whittling it down for the appeal there were still 27 just to decide the permission application)

 

Re A and B (Children) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/1101.html

 

 

 

The impact of confidentiality on the appeal process

 

  • For sound reasons, which are not challenged in the course of these two applications for permission to appeal, Theis J imposed a highly restrictive regime aimed at maintaining total confidentiality as to the content of her fact finding judgment and the subsequent welfare determinations that she made. In short terms mandatory orders are in place which prevent any of the lay parties from having a copy of the judgments, or any part of them, in their possession at any time. The solicitors acting for the various parties, and indeed the other professionals in the case, were required to retain any copies of the judgments securely in their possession and not to pass a copy of a judgment, or any part of it, to any of the lay parties.
  • The three applicants for permission to appeal no longer have the benefit of legal representation funded by Legal Aid. They appear before this court as litigants in person. The difficulties that they face as litigants in person attempting to challenge the judge’s highly detailed and sophisticated analysis of the factual evidence is, sadly, compounded by the fact that Mr A and Miss B in particular and, to a lesser extent, Mrs A are said to suffer from learning difficulties.
  • I considered the applicants’ applications for permission to appeal on paper soon after they had been issued. The difficulties facing each one of the three applicants was plain. The suggested “Grounds of Appeal” put forward with respect to each of the two applications was, understandably, in the most general and superficial terms. The challenge for this court and for the parties was to consider how each of these three individuals, with their limited intellectual resources and acting as litigants in person, could possibly present an effective application for permission in circumstances where they were denied personal access to copies of the judgment. The applications were therefore listed on notice to the local authority for hearing before me on 19th May 2016 so that attempts could be made to enable each of the applicants to present their proposed applications for permission through a process which was as fair and as effective as could be achieved within the parameters set by the confidentiality orders made by Theis J.

 

That would make it impossible for the appellants to run their case. For those reasons, the Court and the other parties helped the appellants to liaise with the Bar Pro Bono Unit.

However, the sheer volume involved made that difficult  – doing legal work for nothing is one thing, but reading 64 bundles of evidence  is quite another (that by the way amounts to reading 21 books as long as War and Peace or The Stand. Or reading the entire Harry Potter series SEVEN times. No, I wouldn’t do that for nothing either. They did eventually find someone, but given that they were doing all of this reading for free, in between their paid job it took a little longer)

 

 

 

28th July 2016 hearing

 

  • Unfortunately, the timetable leading to a hearing on 7th July slipped, despite the apparent best efforts of all concerned, and the matter was listed once again before me on 28th July. At that hearing a number of matters were apparent. Firstly, despite the genuine endeavours of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, to whom I am most grateful, it had not been possible to engage a barrister who was willing and able to take on the very substantial task of familiarising themselves with the details of this case. To put the matter in perspective, Theis J had no fewer than 64 lever arch files of documents for the fact finding hearing and this court has already been provided with 27 lever arch files of material simply to support the decision at the pre-permission stage.
  • It was also apparent that the limited time that had been available to the applicants at their respective solicitors’ offices had been insufficient for them to engage with the detail of the judge’s judgment so as to be able to identify potential grounds of appeal.
  • In the event the court was therefore obliged to adjourn the matter further on the basis that the applicants would have additional time to consider the judgment at the various solicitors’ offices and the hope was that they would be supported in that process by an advocate or other support service. On that basis the case was adjourned until September.

 

9th September 2016 hearing

 

  • The final hearing of the permission to appeal applications took place before me on 9th September 2016. By that time the paperwork submitted by the applicants indicated that they had each spent sufficient time with a copy of the judgment to enable them to draw up a list of grounds of appeal. That the applicants and the court were able to achieve that state of affairs is undoubtedly due to a good deal of hard work on their part and, at the same time, a good deal of support and goodwill shown to them by their former solicitors and the advocates who have assisted them. So far as the former solicitors are concerned, I do not anticipate that the facilities and staff that they have made available to the applicants will be remunerated in any way and I am therefore particularly grateful to them for their contribution to this process which, without their help, may well have failed to achieve its target of enabling the applicants to engage with the detailed substance of Theis J’s decision.
  • It is also right to record that throughout this process the court has been very significantly assisted by the thorough, calmly presented and well informed submissions of Miss Sally Stone, counsel for the local authority. Having undertaken the professionally taxing role of presenting the local authority’s case before Theis J, Miss Stone was well placed to assist this court in understanding the various issues raised by the applicants. I am also grateful to the legal services department of the local authority who have provided the court with very well prepared bundles to support this process. That the applications for permission to appeal have taken over six months to determine is, understandably and rightly, a source of great frustration to those who are required to focus upon the welfare of the children. Despite that high level of professional frustration, Miss Stone has presented the local authority’s case in careful and measured terms, as opposed to taking a confrontational stance towards the applicants, in a way which has displayed insightful professionalism of the highest order and which is in the best traditions of the family Bar. Both the local authority and the children’s guardian submit that there are no arguable grounds of appeal.
  • At the conclusion of the 9th September hearing I announced my decision which was to refuse permission to appeal to all three applicants on all grounds. I reserved this judgment in order, firstly, to explain the reasons for that decision and, secondly, to do so in the form of a judgment which will be publicly available so that the details of this process can be made known. In order for the judgment of this court to be public, but at the same time in order to protect the confidentiality of the content of the proceedings before Theis J, it is necessary for this judgment to do no more than refer to the detailed allegations and the circumstances of the family members in the most general of terms. In the event, as I shall explain, because my conclusion is that the potential grounds of appeal do not really engage with the scale of the findings made against these three applicants by Theis J, it is not necessary to descend to fine detail in explaining my reasons for determining the applications as I have done.

 

The appeal itself is not that absorbing – you can read about it in the linked judgment if you wish, but this case really does throw up in a very sharp way just how daunting the task of appealing is for litigants in person and how much fairness in our system is now depending on amounts of goodwill and charity that just wouldn’t be expected in any other line of work.

If you imagine that three bundles is about average (some High Court cases go more than that), then the barrister advising these parents did the equivalent in man hours of working twenty cases for free. Can you concieve of us expecting a heart surgeon to do twenty operations for free? The Pro Bono Bar Unit and the people who help out do remarkable and extraordinary work and it is worth thinking about someone giving up their free time to do the equivalent of twenty normal cases for absolutely no money. Worth thinking about that the next time you read a Daily Mail piece on fat cat legal aid lawyers.