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The leave to oppose Tsunami

 

As anticipated,  since Re B-S showed practitioners that the historically high (perhaps even insurmountable) test for leave to oppose adoption applications had been too high, and too heavily weighted in relation to the factor of potential disruption to the child in placement, the appeals have started to come in. I understand that Ryder LJ has already spoken of a “tsunami” of appeals which are heading towards the Court of Appeal.

Here are two :-

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1481.html

Re L (Leave to oppose making of adoption order) 2013

The Placement Order had been made in Feb 2012 and the child placed with adopters in March 2012 (so we are getting on for a year and a half in placement). As the Court of Appeal observe, an unusual feature of the case is that the adopters had separated in the course of that placement – somewhat peculiarly they were jointly pursuing the adoption application though had not decided between themselves who the child was to live with. Early on in the court proceedings the prospective adoptive mother dropped out, leaving Mr X as the prospective adoptive father to carry on with the adoption application as a sole carer.

 

The Court of Appeal considered that the trial judge had not properly weighed the ultimate prospects of M succeeding in her application given the backdrop of uncertainty and change in the prospective adopters situation.

 

    1. When a judge considers a parent’s prospects of success for the purposes of section 47(5), he is doing the best he can to forecast what decision the judge hearing the adoption application is going to make, having the child’s welfare throughout his life as his paramount consideration. What is ultimately going to be relevant to the decision whether to grant the adoption order or not must therefore also be material at the leave stage.

 

    1. The judge deciding the adoption application would need to approach the hearing bearing in mind what McFarlane LJ said in Re G (supra) about the dangers of a linear approach to decision making in child care cases. He would have to make “a global, holistic evaluation of each of the options available for the child’s future upbringing” (Re G §50) before determining what would serve the child’s welfare throughout his life. In the present case, the strengths and the weaknesses of M’s situation would have to be considered in isolation, as would the strengths and weaknesses of Mr X’s situation, and, as McFarlane LJ said in §54 of Re G, each option would have to be “compared, side by side, against the competing option”. This exercise would have to be carried out remembering that adoption is only to be imposed where that is necessary, as the Supreme Court underlined in Re B [2013] UKSC 33.

 

    1. An option that might appear not to be in a child’s interests in one context might, by this process of global, holistic evaluation, carry the day in another context. Here, M’s case that she would be able to care for S, or alternatively that there should at least be a further assessment of her ability to do so, would not fall for consideration, as is usually the case, alongside a settled and stable adoptive placement which had been going on for some time. The competing option would involve an adoptive household which has been subjected to protracted disruption and uncertainty which is yet to be completely resolved. First, there was the separation of the adopters, then the change from a joint adoption to an adoption by Mr X on his own, with Mrs X withdrawing from S’s life completely. Mr X’s new relationship and the anticipated baby changed things again and there still remains the outstanding dispute over where Y will live. Even once that is resolved, it will no doubt take some time for the X family as a whole to learn to live with the consequences of these extensive changes. That there is uncertainty in both options, not just in M’s situation, may turn out to be a very important feature in determining what will serve S’s welfare throughout his life.

 

    1. It seems to me that where the judge went wrong was in failing to consider whether the uncertainty in the adoptive household might improve M’s prospects of success and to make allowance for that. Putting it another way, what I think was missing was a consideration of M’s present position in the context of the disruption and uncertainty in the X household.

 

    1. Although he went as far as contemplating that the adoptive placement with Mr X would not ultimately succeed, the judge dealt with that possibility by making the assumption that, in those circumstances, S would be moved by the local authority to carers whose parenting abilities were at least good enough and probably better than good enough (§56) and that, although there may be delay whilst they were identified, S would be cared for meanwhile “either by approved foster carers or by potential adopters known to have adequate parenting skills” (§59). Even if not entirely apposite to the legal situation arising here, one question that might at least have generated the right sort of consideration is whether, in the event that Mr X’s adoption application were not ultimately to succeed, as the judge contemplated was possible, it may in fact be appropriate to pursue further the possibility of a placement with M rather than S being placed forthwith by the local authority with an alternative adoptive family as the judge assumed would happen.

 

  1. I do not think the judge can be criticised for being cautious about a return to M on the evidence as it stood. He said that it would be “experimental” and did not think it likely to succeed (§57). However, he appears to have been looking for quite a high degree of present certainty in this regard, speaking for instance of M being unable currently to “satisfy” the court of her abilities (§58). The degree to which a court needs to be confident about a parent’s abilities at the section 47(5) stage is likely to vary, in my view, depending on the other circumstances of the case and I say a little more about this in the final paragraph of this judgment. Where the other option under consideration also has significant uncertainties, a lesser degree of confidence may sometimes justify the granting of leave and it seems to me that that was so here. In such circumstances, it may also be that greater allowance might be appropriate for the fact that there has not been an opportunity for the evidence to be tested (both that in favour of M and that which may undermine her case).

 

NOTE that this case didn’t get sent back by the Court of Appeal for re-hearing (i.e the judgment needed work) but the Court of Appeal instead granted the leave, and the contested adoption hearing will therefore take place. (That’s a step farther than Re W – though that case clearly laid the foundations for the Court of Appeal making such a decision). The Court also emphasise that although the impact on the placement isn’t as heavy a consideration for the second stage (the welfare decision) as previously considered, the stability and duration of the placement could be weighed in the balance when determining the solidity of the mother’s application (an otherwise solid application could flounder on that particular dimension)

    1. Nothing that I have said in this judgment should be taken as any indication of a view of the ultimate strengths and weaknesses of Mr X’s application or (apart from the preliminary determination necessary for section 47) of M’s case. The evidence is not yet complete either in relation to Mr X’s circumstances or M’s, and none of it has yet been tested.

 

  1. I would like to add a final few words of more general application than just this case. I am very conscious of the difficulties inherent in applications under section 47(5). The relationships and hopes of not just one family but two are imperilled and the material upon which the decision has to be taken is, of necessity, often far from complete and not infrequently has not been tested in a hearing with oral evidence. I have not intended in this judgment to be prescriptive as to the way in which such applications are handled by the expert family judges who resolve them with skill and sensitivity. Each case depends upon its own facts and the circumstances of individual cases vary infinitely. Where, for instance, a child has been placed with adopters for a protracted period, is well settled, and remembers nothing else, a court may well take the view that there has to be a degree of confidence about the parent’s ability to provide a suitable home for the child before it can even contemplate assessing the parent’s prospects as solid. And the cases show that the overall circumstances of the case may be such that the court may decide not to grant leave even where there is some confidence in the parent. Re B-S was an example of a mother who had achieved “an astonishing change of circumstances” (Re B-S, §3) but did not get leave to oppose adoption because of the situation of the children (ibid, §102). Re C (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 431 was a case of a father who could have provided for the child’s physical needs but failed to get leave where the child (who was by then 4 ½ years old) had been settled with the adopters for over 2 years and had no relationship at all with him. At the other end of the spectrum, there will be cases in which the evident deficiencies in the parent’s case are such that, notwithstanding the existence of uncertainty or other issues in relation to the adoptive placement, the parent’s case is not solid enough to justify the grant of leave to oppose.

 

[It is interesting of course that two years of placement was considered this year, by the President no less in Re C, to be quite a clear cut-off point beyond which the Court would not possibly tamper with the placement, and six months later an 18 month old placement seems to count for very little : “ C has now been settled for over two years with the adopters. How can we, how could any judge, take the risk of disturbing that?“: )

The next one, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal – so one looks for clues and guidance within it

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1480.html

Re D (Leave to oppose making of an adoption order) 2013

The child had not lived with mother since May 2011, and Placement Order was made on 18th May 2012, placement with adopters Sept 2012  (note, six months LATER than in the appeal above that was granted)

The original court was satisfied that there had been a change of circumstances on mother’s part, thus satisfying the first limb of the two stage test, but decided that the circumstances did not justify reopening the case. Fairly naturally, in the light of the jurisprudence in the latter part of this year, the mother appealed.  In fact, she got silked-up (which suggests that public funding MIGHT have been obtained for her, would be interested to know that)

The appeal was effectively on the Re B-S, Re G and Re W grounds, that the Court had not properly weighed the mother’s prospects of success (which don’t have to be for return, they can be in persuading the Court to NOT make the adoption order), that the positive aspects of an alternative to adoption and the negative aspects of adoption had not been properly weighed.

    1. Although Judge Caddick in the present case did not use the word “solidity” in connection with his assessment of M’s prospects of successfully opposing the adoption, that was clearly what he was looking for, finding it lacking as we can see from his statement that it would be “highly improbable” that the court would say the position was sufficiently different to enable M successfully to oppose the adoption application.

 

    1. Was he wrong to assess M’s chances in this way and/or did he fail to demonstrate in his reasoning how he arrived at this conclusion, as Ms Connolly said?

 

    1. In answering this question, it is important to read the judgment as a whole. As the court observed in Re B-S (see §74(ii)), the question of whether there has been a change in circumstances and whether the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave are almost invariably intertwined and so they were here. The position that the judge reached, as he said expressly in §18, was that there had been a change in circumstances but that there were also features of the period following the making of the placement order which weighed against the progress that M had made, three in particular being identified in §§18 to 26 of the judgment. The judge’s concern about these was that the offence in June 2012 and the incident in February 2013 in particular indicated remaining immaturity on the part of M; in my judgment he was entitled to take that view, even allowing for the difficult circumstances in June 2012. HHe He rightly put these events into the context of M’s previous immaturity and, although he could perhaps have reasoned this stage in his decision making more fully, we can see, I think, from §38 that, quite independently of the question of how L would be affected by delay and/or the disruption of her placement, he concluded that the overall picture was such that M was unlikely to be able to establish that her position was different enough to persuade a court that it was in L’s interests to be placed with her. He had the particular advantage of having heard M’s oral evidence in which the events since the placement order were explored and it seems to me that he was entitled to arrive at this assessment, which deprived the M’s prospects of the necessary solidity.

 

    1. It was entirely appropriate that the judge should consider L’s circumstances and those of the adopters. Re B-S underlines that what is paramount in adoption decisions is the welfare of the child throughout his or her life and that it is important for judges not to attach undue weight to the short term consequences to the child of giving leave. It does not, however, say that even short term consequences for the child are completely irrelevant and they certainly are not. Similarly, Re B-S recognises that in some cases the adverse impact on the prospective adopters, and thus on the child, is something which may have considerable force (§74(ix)) although equally it is important that undue weight should not be given to the argument for the reasons set out in that paragraph.

 

    1. I do not accept the argument that the judge omitted to consider, or to give proper weight to, the benefits to L of being brought up by her own mother. That vitally important factor is recognised in §37 of the judgment, albeit in quite short form and without express reference to the provisions of section 1 of the Act. It was also stressed in the passage which, in directing himself on the law, the judge cited from Re P, which concludes with a statement that the paramount consideration of the court must be the child’s welfare throughout his or her life. As I see it, the core of the judge’s decision was that he just did not consider that the changes in M (for which he properly recognised she should be commended) were going to be sufficient to enable a court to conclude that she could bring up L at the present time.

 

  1. I have not been persuaded by the arguments so cogently advanced on M’s behalf that the judge erred in his approach to this case or failed to set out his reasoning for his decision sufficiently. I would accordingly dismiss the appeal.

 

As seems to be happening a lot in the latter part of this year, the decision then turns on the precise detail of the judgment, rather than principles which can be extracted. In Re B-S, the Court of Appeal felt that the judgment was robust enough, in Re W, they didn’t. In Re L they felt the judgment was wrong, in Re D, they didn’t.  {Comparing these two cases, in one the change was qualified by later blips  – Re D, the other wasn’t – Re L, and in one the placement was stable and secure – Re D, and in the other it was rather more uncertain Re L – so even without the judgments, one gets some sort of flavour of the task faced by mother}

I am beginning to wonder whether the publication, in anonymised form, of the original judgment ought to be considered with such appeals. Where the appeal turns on the quality and wording of the judgment, and Judges up and down the country need to know what “passes” and what “fails” it might be helpful to see them in full.

 

 

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So tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you

 

 (A quick look at four cases that have been decided, but that I’m still waiting for transcripts of judgments on , and one that I’ve been waiting for for ages, and which turns out to be crushingly disappointing)

 

 

Not worthy of full blogs, until I see the full transcripts, because as lovely as summaries are, they do lose the subtleties of having the entire judgment to rifle through for gems.

 

But anyway, here are four up-and-coming interesting cases.  (and I am aware that the section 37 case – is it an abuse of process to make multiple ICOs pegging them on s37 directions when the LA haven’t made an application, went to the Court of Appeal last week, and there will be a judgment on that in due course. I blogged about that one previously here :-

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/08/31/ive-got-section-thirty-seven-problems-but-a-aint-one/   )       [And where else in legal blogging do you get both the Kinks and Jay-Z?  Can I get an encore/do you want more/cookin raw / with the Brooklyn Boy]

 

 

The first, and most recent is RE H (A CHILD) (2012)

 

CA (Civ Div) (Thorpe LJ, Lewison LJ, Hedley J) 26/10/2012

 

In this case, the LA were seeking final orders, and the trial judge instead made an Interim Care Order, adjourned the proceedings for three months, and directed a placement at a parent and baby foster placement. The Court of Appeal refused the LA appeal, and determined that the Judge was entitled to make those decisions, having weighed the negative and detrimental impacts on the child of delay against the potential positives to the child.  

The interest for me on this one will be  (a) how much of a bulwark it might be against the  “26 weeks is our aspiration, finish things off quicker” philosophy that is currently so “popular” and (b) whether it is actually authority for the Court having power to compel a Local Authority to place in a parent and baby foster placement. 

I assume that this, if there is such a power, derives from s38(6) and the Munby LJ decision in Cardiff, where he determined that a s38(6) placement didn’t have to be in a residential assessment centre, but could be with a family member.  

 

There are two schools currently, one is that the Court CAN compel a Local Authority to place in a mother-and-baby foster placement (or parent-and-baby foster placement) using the Munby decision, and the other is that the Court CAN’T compel, but generally achieves it by rejecting a plan of ICO and separation, and making the LA decide on the ‘lesser of two evils’ between that and having the child at home under ISOs. 

[I have to confess, that I am not at all sure which of those is right. My reading of the Cardiff case is that the Judge was stretching s38(6) very creatively to get an outcome that everyone in the case desired, but that it might reach snapping point to try to do it in a case that is actively litigious. But, there are passages in Cardiff that would support s38(6) being used to place a child whereever a Judge thinks fit]

 

I will be interested to see if the Court of Appeal grapple with that issue at all.  And of course, Cardiff was only a High Court decision, so if so, it will be Court of Appeal backing for that authority.

 

Next up

 

RE M (A CHILD) (2012)

 

CA (Civ Div) (Ward LJ, Lloyd LJ, Rafferty LJ) 22/10/2012

 

This one may fall entirely on its own facts, or it might be incredibly important, which is why I am so keen to read the full judgment and find out.  It was an appeal against a finding of fact hearing. The child was a few weeks old and had 8 separate bruises, left forearm, right arm and right thigh.  No explanations for the bruises were provided. The medical opinion was that they were non-accidental, in the absence of an accidental explanation. The Judge also found the parents evidence to not be credible and found that the injuries had been caused by them.

 

The Court of Appeal considered, on the brief note I have available, that this amounted to a reversal of the burden of proof and that it was not for the parents to explain how the injuries were caused accidentally, but for the LA to prove that they were caused non-accidentally.

 

[This quote from the summary, on a well known law reporting website, not necessarily an extract from the judgment itself – my underlining, to illustrate what seems to be a current direction of travel on medical cases]

 

“The medical evidence was that the marks were imprints or pressure marks from an object, but it was not possible to say what object or even what kind of object or how the pressure was exerted. Nor was it possible to say whether there was a momentary infliction of pain or a sustained pressure. The instant case was not one of a broken limb, or a cigarette burn or finger pressure. The court simply did not know what had happened or how. The judge had accepted the evidence of one of the doctors that in the absence of a benign explanation from the parents it could be concluded that the injuries were not accidental, but that conclusion did not follow, unless the burden of proof, which lay on the local authority on the balance of probabilities, was wrongly reversed and the parents were required to satisfy the court that the injuries were non-accidental. The judge had erred in finding that the parents had deliberately caused the injuries”

 

It may be that the case is entirely case and original judgment specific, but it would not surprise me, given the movement of the Court of Appeal in recent months away from “listen to the doctors” towards “the Court should actively contemplate the possibility that medical opinion is not always right, even if there is consensus” if it contains some important principles.

 

 

Next

 

RE C (CHILDREN) (2012)

 

CA (Civ Div) (Thorpe LJ, Munby LJ) 12/10/2012

 

Which involves private law, and a finding of fact hearing / change of residence hearing. The trial judge stopped the father midway through his evidence [after he had finished in chief] and gave judgment about the allegations the father was making, essentially dismissing them and the application for a change of residence.  The father appealed, in essence saying that had the Court heard mother’s evidence and he had the opportunity to cross-examine mother, his allegations would/might have been proved.

 

The Court of Appeal determined  (again, the quote is from the summary of the case, and not the transcript itself)

 

 

Given that the judge had heard F’s evidence in chief, it was entirely appropriate for him to direct himself as he did, namely that F had to establish on the balance of probabilities that there were compelling reasons why the children should be moved. It was the correct exercise of his discretion for the judge to say F had failed to meet that test. There was no error of law or approach either in his determining the standard by which F’s evidence was to be evaluated or to say he was satisfied that F had failed to prove any of the matters to satisfy the court that the residence order should be changed. It was a matter for the judge to determine the form of procedure to satisfy the welfare needs of the children and he was not obliged to listen to evidence if it was not appropriate and the process would be of no advantage to the children. The judge’s view was robust, but he did not exceed the ambit of his discretion. There was no error of law or misdirection in what he had said about the burden of proof or in taking the course that he did. He had taken a decision that was plainly open to him in all the circumstances and it could not be said that he was plainly wrong.

 

 This may be a gratefully received judgment for all Judges dealing with private law cases faced with clearly threadbare evidence for serious allegations, as they may be able to cut them short when it is clear they are going nowhere.  [I shall not speculate as to whether the number of such cases will increase or decrease as a result of certain political decisions about funding of family legal aid]

 

And this one

 

RE P (A CHILD) (2012)

 

CA (Civ Div) (Thorpe LJ, Lloyd LJ, Black LJ) 05/10/2012

 

 

Where essentially, very serious allegations of sexual abuse was made against the parents. The parents indicated that they did not seek the return of the child or any contact, and that on that basis, embarking on a judicial determination of the allegations was unnecessary   (as they were content for the Court to make a Care Order and did not seek any orders in relation to contact)

 

This is interesting, because it throws up what the role of the Court is – is it to get to the truth, or is it to determine the applications that are placed before it? If having a fact finding hearing doesn’t materially affect the order to be made, how can it legitimately take place on the one hand.  On the other, isn’t it important for the child’s care and future to know whether he or she was the victim of sexual abuse?

 

The Court of Appeal remitted the decision back to the trial judge who had decided not to have a finding of fact hearing, for further consideration – notably of the expert report that having resolution of this issue would be beneficial for the child and that future uncertainty would be detrimental to the child.  They also considered that the parents stance on contact might shift (and may have already shifted) and that it was appropriate for all of these issues to be taken into account.

 

 

 

And oh, I see that another one I was waiting for is now up

 

RE (1) B (2) H (CHILDREN) (2012)

 

[2012] EWCA Civ 1359

CA (Civ Div) (Thorpe LJ, Kitchin LJ, Dame Janet Smith) 01/08/2012

 

This case goes to the issue of having a finding of fact hearing where the suspected perpetrator had considerable learning difficulties. It is pertinent for me because I had similar issues come up with a potential intervenor in a case and the law wasn’t entirely clear on how the Court should decide whether to compel them to give evidence, and how the balancing exercise should be conducted.

 The trial judge in this reported case  decided not to go ahead with the finding of fact hearing, and was appealed.

 

Sadly, the appeal was unopposed, so the judgment is very short.  In effect, the Court of Appeal were persuaded that the role of a finding of fact hearing is twofold  (and this may feed into the case above)

 

The outcome of a fact finding investigation is not only to determine whether the section 31 threshold has been crossed, but also to provide an essential foundation for the trial of the welfare issues that lead to the management decision for the future of the child.

 

 

I can therefore suggest nothing further than the tack I used in my case, which was that the Court should weigh the article 6 right to a fair trial against the rights of the vulnerable person and would have to give leeway to the witness when considering confusion about dates, times, details and sequence of events where their learning difficulty impacted considerably