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When is immediate not immediate?

 

Removal of a child subject to a Care Order from a parent – if you are a parent, or parent’s lawyer this case gives information and advice about how you might stop that, and if you are a social worker or Local Authority lawyer this case tells you that it is FAR LESS simple than you might imagine, and you’d better be ready to show your working.

 

The High Court in 2014 in Re DE 2014 told everyone that their previous thinking that under a Care Order a Local Authority had the power and authority to remove a child if they wished and the remedy of the parents would be to apply to discharge the Care Order if they disagreed was WRONG.

 

A Care Order gives the Local Authority the legal POWER to remove a child without a further Court hearing. The case law says rather differently though – that just because you have that POWER doesn’t mean you are free to exercise it as you see fit. There are hoops to jump through.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/06/04/an-answer-to-an-important-question-you-didnt-know-you-had/

 

And that effectively, unless a situation arose that was the equivalent of a situation that would allow a Court to make an Interim Care Order (the child’s safety requires IMMEDIATE SEPARATION) then there was instead a long and careful process to go through before the Local Authority could trigger a removal under a Care Order.

 

To my mind, where a care order has been granted on the basis of a care plan providing that the child should remain at home, a local authority considering changing the plan and removing the child permanently from the family is obliged in law to follow the same approach. It must have regard to the fact that permanent placement outside the family is to be preferred only as a last resort where nothing else will do. Before making its decision, it must rigorously analyse all the realistic options, considering the arguments for and against each option. This is an essential process, not only as a matter of good practice, but also because the local authority will inevitably have to demonstrate its analysis in any court proceedings that follow the change of care plan, either on an application for the discharge of the care order or an application for placement order under the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This process of rigorous analysis of all realistic options should be an essential feature of all long-term planning for children. And, as indicated by Munby J in Re G, the local authority must fully involve the parents in its decision-making process.

 

While this process is being carried out, the child should remain at home under the care order, unless his safety and welfare requires that he be removed immediately. This is the appropriate test when deciding whether the child should be removed under an interim care order, pending determination of an application under s.31 of the Children Act: Re L-A (Children) [2009] EWCA Civ 822. The same test should also apply when a local authority’s decision to remove a child placed at home under a care order has led to an application by the parents to discharge the order and the court has to decide whether the child should be removed pending determination of the discharge application. As set out above, under s.33(4) of the 1989, the local authority may not exercise its powers under a care order to determine how a parent may exercise his or her parental responsibility for the child unless satisfied it is necessary to do so to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. For a local authority to remove a child in circumstances where its welfare did not require it would be manifestly unlawful and an unjustifiable interference with the family’s Article 8 rights.

In submissions before the district judge, and before this court, it was argued on behalf of the local authority that its removal of D from the family home was lawful simply by reason of the care order. That submission is fundamentally misconceived. The local authority’s removal of the child would only be lawful if necessary to safeguard or promote his welfare. Any other removal, or threatened removal, of the child is prima facie unlawful and an interference of the Article 8 rights of the parents and child. In such circumstances, the parents are entitled to seek an injunction under s.8 of the HRA.

 

The Court of Appeal have just considered, for the first time, a scenario post Re DE 2014 where a Local Authority removed under a Care Order, saying that it was an emergency, a situation akin to an ICO triggering event.

The parents disputed this, and an application to discharge the Care Order (and somewhat oddly an inherent jurisdiction application) was lodged. The Court at first instance decided that the LA were entitled to remove in the interim and arguments and decisions about whether that would be permanent would have to wait for the final hearing of the application to discharge

The parents appealed

Re K (A child) 2018

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/2512.html

 

I think there are three points of interest in this case

 

  • The emergency/non-emergency point, and how hard the LA has to work to show their full consideration of interim removal under a Care Order
  • Whether the inherent jurisdiction is the right route (hint, no)
  • And finally, the position where a Local Authority had, and declined, the opportunity to cross-examine father about allegations against him and a Judge went on to in effect make findings against the father.

 

 

I’ll deal with those in reverse order.

 

 

 

Failure to cross-examine father

 

44.The judge made findings against the mother to the effect that she was in breach of the written agreement. In particular, the judge accepted (as he was entitled to do) the evidence of PC Tonse, that the mother had told her she had been the victim of two previous assaults at the hands of the father. That she had said this was denied by the mother, who gave evidence and was cross-examined.

 

 

45.At the hearing, counsel (Mr Richardson for the father) offered to call the father in order for him to be cross-examined about the events of 30 December and, no doubt, in relation to the two earlier alleged incidents. No party required him to be called.

 

 

46.Having heard and seen both the mother and PC Tonse give oral evidence, in my judgement, the judge was undoubtedly entitled to conclude that the mother was not being honest and to accept the police officer’s account of what the mother had said to her in the flat in the early hours of the morning. The judge, however, went on (without having heard evidence from the father) to conclude at paragraph 13:

 

 

 

“So we have three assaults in three weeks. [The mother] is, unfortunately for her, telling the truth when she said that the police officer and therefore 30 December is not an isolated incident in the relationship between her and [the father]… So there was that; there was direct contact on at least, to my mind, three known occasions during which [the mother] was assaulted.”

47.And At 23:

 

 

 

“I have already found that there has been at least three incidents when he has assaulted her. There may have been, and I do not know, other occasions when he has come to the property.”

 

The Court of Appeal decided

 

 

 

71.The judge necessarily had to make findings as to what occurred on the night of 30 December. He found that the mother had seen and been assaulted by the father on three separate occasions. It follows from that finding, that the mother had not told either the police or the local authority about the two earlier occasions of violence. The judge further found that the mother’s written and oral evidence to the court was untrue and the product of her realisation of the consequences of her account of the events given by her that evening to the police.

 

 

72.In order for the judge to reach these damning findings of fact, he was required to consider all the available evidence. In my judgment, a serious error was made by the local authority in failing to cross-examine the father. It is not enough, metaphorically, to shrug the shoulders and say: “He would say that wouldn’t he?” of the father’s statement in support of the mother’s account. The father’s evidence was directly relevant. More serious still is that the judge made specific findings of assault against the father, a man who was both a party and a witness, without hearing his evidence, in circumstances when he was available and willing to give evidence and to be cross-examined. In my judgment, this was clearly unfair and a serious procedural irregularity.

 

 

73.Almost by a side wind, there is now a finding of fact that this father assaulted the mother on three separate occasions, all within a matter of weeks of each other, when a non-molestation injunction was in place, and at a time when his wife was being given (on the local authority’s case) one last chance to bring up their child. It is rightly difficult for a party to go behind a finding of fact made against them by a judge after a trial where a party has been represented. But as a consequence of the findings, all future assessments of this father, and any decisions made in respect of either K (and indeed any child this father may have in the future) will have these serious findings as their starting point. Mr Richardson submitted that, in some way, the findings carried less weight because this was an interim hearing and could be, therefore, reviewed at a final hearing; I am afraid I cannot accept that to be the case.

 

 

74.Having read and reread the judgment, it is abundantly clear that this judge was making positive findings that this father had assaulted the mother on three separate occasions, and indeed all the evidence available makes it absolutely clear that, from 7 March onwards, the local authority has proceeded on precisely that basis. These findings were made, without the father having an opportunity to give evidence in circumstances where he was present in court and willing to go into the witness box and expose himself to cross examination.

 

 

(Being old-school, I always operate on the basis that if you are offered the opportunity to cross-examine a witness and decline to do so, you are accepting the account they give. You can’t call someone a liar in submissions if you didn’t have the decency to call them a liar to their face and give them the opportunity to deny it)

 

The inherent jurisdiction

 

33.As already recorded, K was the subject of the full care order. In those circumstances, the court was bound by the jurisdictional principles which relate to care orders and care planning. That means that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be used as a means of diluting, or circumnavigating, a local authority’s right to exercise parental responsibility following the making of a care order under section 33 and subject to section 34(4) of the Children Act 1989.

 

 

34.That this is the case could not have been stated more clearly than was done by Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead in Re: S (Minors) Care Order Implementation of Care Planning; Re: W (Minors) Care Order Adequacy of Care Planning [2002] UKHL 10; [2002] 2 AC 291; [2002] 1 FLR 815 at 23:

 

 

 

While a care order is in force the court’s powers, under its inherent jurisdiction, are expressly excluded: section 100(2)(c) and (d). Further, the court may not make a contact order, a prohibited steps order or a specific issue order: section 9(1).”

35.Also, more recently in Re: W (Care Proceedings Functions of Court and Local Authority) [2013] EWCA Civ 1237; [2014] 2 FLR 431 Ryder LJ said:

 

 

 

“71. It can be stated without question that once a full care or supervision order is made the family courts’ functions are at an end unless and until a jurisdiction granted by Parliament or otherwise recognised in law is invoked by an application that is issued.”

36.Whilst the court has jurisdiction under its inherent jurisdiction to prevent the removal of a child (subject to a care order), the House of Lords made it clear in Re: S that an injunction under the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 998) can be utilised in order to achieve a similar outcome.

 

(I think there’s a missing ‘no’ between has and jurisdiction in para 36….)

 

37.From paragraph 22 onwards of Re: DE, Baker J traced the jurisdictional route to an application for an injunction under HRA 1998. Baker J noted that other potential remedies (for example, judicial review) do not ordinarily provide adequate protection for a family when a local authority is planning to remove a child, and that, as a consequence, the appropriate route will be for an application to be made under section 7 of the HRA1998.

 

 

Now, the emergency issue

 

When the Judge made a Care Order, placing K at home with the mother, the Judge said this

 

9.The judge concluded at 73:

 

 

 

“For all those reasons, I consider that the welfare of [K] demands that, if at all possible, he stay in the care of his mother and the wider family. If at all possible, it requires his parents to stay away from alcohol and it requires his parents to stay away from each other. That is not an easy thing to ask of anyone. 74. You have gone a long way down that road. It has been said that your motivation is caused by compulsion. This is arguable but I know many psychiatrists who would say that it does not matter what causes the motivation, motivation is important and the important thing is that it sticks. I am going to be making a Care Order subject to many conditions, subject to written agreements, subject to court orders and subject to you being honest not only with yourselves but with each other, with [K], with [H] and with the local authority. I believe you can do it but if you do not there is only one place where this matter will go and you will have both lost your son.”

 

This raising three issues of significance – being abstinent from alcohol, the parents staying away from each other, and the mother being honest with professionals.

 

 

What happened was that the child, K, became unwell and was admitted to hospital. The father became aware of it and went to mother’s home at about 2.00am on 30th December. There was an allegation of an altercation and a claim that father assaulted mother, knocking her unconscious. The police attended and took a statement. The mother told the officer that she had consumed three beers.

 

 

20.During the course of all this, and whilst still at the mother’s house (according to PC Tonse’s notes), the mother told her that the father had assaulted her 2 weeks previously and then again a week later, on which occasion he had punched her nose causing it to bleed. These two instances had not been reported to the police. The mother, as recorded by PC Tonse, had said “that she would not have called for the police tonight had it not been for her son, who she felt was at risk due to the father’s aggressive behaviour.” The officer’s focus, not unreasonably given the view of the paramedics, was on the assault. The mother’s focus, also not unreasonably, was on her baby. Eventually, it was agreed that the mother and K would go by ambulance to hospital.

 

 

21.When K was examined in hospital he was diagnosed as suffering from meningitis. He was admitted and remained in hospital for 10 days. The mother stayed with him day and night for the whole period of his stay in hospital.

 

 

22.A note of the doctor is recorded in the judge’s judgment:

 

 

 

“Talked to mother. Had two beers last night. First time for a long time. Father came to her house as worried about son. Mother said she asked him to leave but he hit her and she called the police.”

23.On 2 January 2018, the local authority was informed (by what means is unclear) that the mother and K were in hospital. The mother that same day was handed a letter entitled “Notice of intention to remove [K] from your care on or after 5 January 2018”. The letter referred to District Judge Alderson’s judgment (referred to above) and the written agreement, before going on to say:

 

 

 

“Due to the significant risk posed to [K] by you not being abstinent from alcohol and from other domestic violence perpetrated on you by [the father] and any contact between [the father] and you, in relation to your failure to inform the Local Authority or the police of at least two occasions in December 2017 when you subsequently alleged to the police on 30th December 2017 that you had been subjected to domestic violence from [the father], the Local Authority has determined that it is necessary to remove [K] from your care to foster care and that there is no other means of safeguarding him.”

24.According to a statement, filed upon the direction of this court on 7 June 2018, the local authority say that they first became aware that K had been admitted to the Whittington Hospital on 2 January. At about 13.30 that day, the mother was spoken to by the duty social worker, and was told at the hospital that same afternoon that K would be taken into foster care upon his discharge.

 

Without labouring the point, the triggering incident happened on 30th December (the day before New Years Eve) and the Local Authority found out about it on 2nd January, the next working day, and issued notice that they would be taking K into foster care when he was medically fit for discharge from hospital.

The LA took the view that they had learned of the mother drinking alcohol, of father coming to the home and assaulting mother perhaps on three occasions, and of a lack of honesty in mother telling them about the earlier incidents, and given what had been said by the Judge, considered that this was an immediate safety risk (if the child were to go back to mum after discharge from hospital)

 

The parents argued otherwise.

 

40.The local authority and the child’s guardian each submit that the appeal should be dismissed. The local authority submits that the issue at the hearing was to decide whether K’s welfare demanded “immediate separation”. They submit that, given their view that instant removal was required, the guidelines contained in Re: DE had not been engaged. For example, whilst they submitted that the 10 days’ notice period provided for in the written agreement had not been complied with, that was acceptable given that the local authority considered the case to be an emergency.

 

At the hearing to consider whether the child should be returned to mother in the interim (in effect whether the LA were wrong to have removed in the interim)

 

48.The judge concluded that K was at serious and immediate risk of harm as, he said, nothing could be put in place which would protect him from his father’s behaviour. At the request of counsel for the father, the judge went on, in the briefest of terms, to consider the welfare checklist. In relation to any change in circumstances, the judge noted that this was “a big change in the circumstances for [K]” but that it was a “proportionate approach”.

 

 

49.With respect to the judge, in my judgment, such a bland recording, insufficiently reflected the reality of what was happening to K. K had never been apart from his mother. All those involved throughout his life to date accepted unreservedly that the mother’s care of K was excellent, as was their attachment. At no stage had the local authority sought to limit the mother’s care of K whilst he was in hospital, which was at all times wholly unsupervised. Nowhere, in either the judgment or the local authority material, have I seen any indication of anyone considering the effect on this baby of removal from the care of his mother. K had been dangerously ill and was only starting to convalesce and to recover; then was discharged, not home to his mother and all his familiar surroundings, but to a strange place with only strangers around him. I say this to highlight why the protocol set out in Re: DE exists and should be applied in all cases.

 

 

50.In giving permission in this case, I directed the local authority to provide a statement setting out the manner in which they complied with the Re: DE protocol and, in particular, to provide full details of the involvement of the applicant in the decision-making process, and the details of the process by which the local authority – to use the words of Baker J in Re: DE – “rigorously analysed all the realistic options; considering the arguments for and against each option” prior to removing K from care of his mother. The local authority was further directed to exhibit all minutes and written recordings in relation to the decision not to return K upon his discharge from hospital, including the written records required under the Re: DE protocol.

 

 

51.The statement supplied by the local authority in response to that direction makes no mention of the case of Re: DE at all. It does not exhibit any minutes or written recordings in relation to its decision to remove; it does not explain how the mother was consulted, save to detail (by way of chronology) how the previously made decision was conveyed to her at hospital by the duty social worker.

 

 

52.Mr Parker, who has only recently been instructed on behalf of the local authority, acknowledged this to be the case and apologised to the court. The local authority could offer no explanation for the failure to follow the Re DE protocol other than to say that the local authority regarded the case as an emergency. Further, the local authority suggests that in granting permission to appeal and referencing “what is likely to be permanent removal” in respect of K, demonstrated an incorrect approach and incorrect analysis of the judgment on my part. The hearing was, they submitted, focused solely on K’s safety which required immediate removal, and the long-term plan was a matter for the application to discharge the care order. The local authority submit that it would have been premature for them to have engaged in any sort of Re: BS analysis as required by Re: DE, or indeed to “rigorously consider other options”. That, they say, could be done later.

 

 

53.I do not accept that to be the case. I would have found such a submission more convincing if it had not been patently clear from the papers that, from as early as 2nd January, the local authority had no intention of rehabilitating K to his mother once he had been removed.

 

 

54.The position as recorded on the order and confirmed orally to the judge at the hearing was that, far from consideration being given to K returning to the care of his mother, the local authority was forthwith considering placing him with a family member in Australia. This was confirmed only two weeks later in the care plan dated 21 March 2018. In addition, it is absolutely clear, by reference to the fact that the decision to remove K from his mother’s care was made the very day the local authority was informed of the crisis, that no consideration was given as to whether anything could be done to salvage the situation rather than the knee-jerk reaction of immediate removal.

 

 

55.During the course of the trial, those representing the mother sought to call and adduce evidence in respect of the quality of her care of K on a day-to-day basis, and particularly in relation to her exemplary care of him whilst he was in hospital.

 

 

56.The judge declined to hear any evidence to this effect. The judge said he was working on the assumption that the mother was able, in principle, to “look after the child”. It is because, he said:

 

 

 

“She allegedly had failed to keep to the written agreement and that she has put the child at risk. That is the issue. It is simple as that. It is a very easy, very short and very small issue.”

57.I do not agree.

 

 

The thrust is this – even if the LA assert that the circumstances are such that it is an emergency interim care order style scenario, they need to be able to evidence their decision-making process as to why this is the case, what steps they considered to manage the risk in another way, what efforts they made to communicate with the parents and if not, why not. They had to avoid a knee-jerk decision, and they had to avoid making a final decision that having removed in the interim, that was that.   (It was rather brave to claim that they hadn’t made any final decisions when it was said at the initial hearing that their plan was to consider placing the child with relatives in Australia…)

 

 

 

63.In my judgment, the absence of the availability of the guidance in Re: DE resulted in the judge having too narrow a focus and led to him failing properly to consider the wider issues. I note from Mr Richardson’s position statement at first instance that, without referring to Re: DE specifically, he urged the court to consider all possible options, an invitation declined by the court.

 

 

64.I am conscious of the submission made by both the local authority and the guardian that the court will approach “slow burn” or “gradual deterioration” cases somewhat differently from crisis cases. That is undoubtedly right. But that does not mean, where a child has been living successfully at home under a care order, that following a crisis that child can be unilaterally removed by the local authority without any of the protective processes enumerated in Re: DE having been carried out.

 

 

65.In the case of a true emergency, once the child in question has been removed there should, thereafter, be a rapid and thorough implementation of the applicable parts of the Re: DE protocol without having to wait for an application to discharge the care order being made. This is with a view to seeing whether the child can be returned home with different or further support or supervision pending a final hearing. It remains of considerable concern to me that, notwithstanding my order, no evidence has been produced in relation to the decision-making process in this case. I can, therefore, only conclude that the decision was made rapidly and has not been reconsidered since.

 

 

66.One of the things that went wrong in the present case was the delay in the matter coming to court – some 7 weeks. In my judgment, applications such as the present, properly brought under the HRA 1998, should be brought before the court with the same speed and urgency as an initial application for an interim care order where removal of a child is sought. Each application involves the proposed removal of a child from his or her home and (it is accepted by the local authority) the test for immediate removal is the same in both cases, namely: “does the child’s safety demand immediate separation?”

 

 

67.All attempts should be made to adhere to this, although I fear this may be a counsel of perfection given that a parent’s only route to court (once a full care order is made) is via an application to discharge that care order, coupled with an application under the HRA1998. Unlike care proceedings, there is no automatic right to legal aid in discharge proceedings and inevitably there is, therefore, a delay as the application for legal aid for the parents is processed. It is to the immense credit of the mother’s solicitor that he managed to obtain legal aid for her application at the speed he did.

 

 

68.Further, when making a removal order in respect of a very young child and where it is inevitable that the final hearing will not take place for several months, the court must balance the effect of long-term removal of the child from its parents with the risk of short-term harm if he or she remains with him: Re: M (Interim care order removal) [2016] 1 FLR 1043.

 

The appeal was granted and the case sent for re-hearing. That does, of course mean that K has been separated from his mother since 2nd January and a decision still has not actually been reached about interim removal.

 

(I think… I couldn’t find any reference in the judgment to the child having been returned, just that the application for discharge is still proceeding and that there’s a directions hearing coming up about it.  It does seem that if you’ve appealed the judicial endorsement of interim removal successfully, the child ought to be at home whilst that discharge hearing takes place, but I can’t see from the judgment whether that’s what actually happened)

 

 

 

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What this judgment is not

Once in a while, I come across a line in a judgment that makes me pull up sharply. Whilst my eyes rove over the screen full of Brussels II and run of the mill sets of care proceedings, every now and then you find a diamond in a sea of coal.
This is one of those.

18.What this judgment is not – Although I realise it may seem somewhat odd to include a paragraph under that heading I consider that it is necessary to do so.

Okay, you had me at hello.

This is a judgment by His Honour Judge Wildblood QC

Re ABC (A child) 2017
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2017/B75.html

So, what is this judgment not?
Therefore this judgment is not:

i) A determination by me of the merit of the grandmother’s complaints. The Local Authority, in its submissions, stresses that point whilst, at the same time, having made submissions and filed evidence to suggest that the complaints are not valid (see the submission and the social worker’s statement that were filed for 20th October 2017). I also note that, in the case of re B [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam) the now President, Sir James Munby was in a not dissimilar position (see para 49 of the judgment). As I stressed on 20th October 2017, the issue is not whether the grandmother’s complaints are correct for I am not in a position to decide that. The question is whether the grandmother should have the right to tell her story and now, whether as part of the telling of it, the Local Authority should be named.

ii) A means of stimulating public debate. My job as a Circuit Judge is to apply the law to the facts that are relevant to the issue before me. I have read the whole of the judgment in very recent case of Re B [2017] EWCA Civ 1579 and note, in particular, what is said in paragraph 27.

iii) An attempt by me at setting any sort of precedent or guidance even on a local scale. Not only would general guidance be way beyond my station or pay-grade. It would also be presumptuous and wrong. There is no new point of law or principle that arises in this case and my decision is entirely case specific. The decision that I have to make requires a very careful judgment call. As the President himself said in A v Ward [2010] EWHC 16 (Fam): ‘The present dispute is only part of an on-going debate as to where in the family justice system the lines should be drawn, where the balance should be struck, as between the often starkly opposed arguments, on the one side in favour of preserving the traditional privacy and confidentiality of family proceedings and on the other side in favour of greater ‘transparency’, to use the vogue expression. My duty here is to determine the present case according to law – that is, the law as it is, not the law as some might wish it to be’.

iv) An attempt by me to push or contain the boundaries of transparency. Not only do I have no interest in doing that but it is not for me to do.

Flipping that question round, it appears that what the judgment IS is a decision about whether a grandmother in care proceedings who put herself forward as a carer should be allowed to publish her complaint about her allegations of mistreatment by the Local Authority AND subsequently whether the Local Authority should be named.

2.At a hearing on the 6th October 2017 I made a special guardianship order in favour of a grandmother in relation to her grandchild. At that hearing she expressed profound dissatisfaction about the way in which she had been assessed and treated by the Local Authority during the currency of the proceedings. The parents each supported the grandmother in what she said. The guardian had filed a report supporting some of the points that the grandmother raised also. The Local Authority did not agree with what the grandmother said.

3.The grandmother, who is a litigant in person, stated that she wished to make her story known to others. I explained to her the availability of the complaints procedure under Section 26(3) of The Children Act 1989 but explored with her whether she was seeking to publish an anonymised account of the statement that she read out in court that day. She told (the Court) that she was.

So the complaint, if allowed to be published, must be read in the context that the Court have not resolved one way or the other whether it is a justified complaint. The Court have not had to rule on whether she is right or wrong. The Court did place the child with her, and made a Special Guardianship Order, but did not give a judgment about her specific complaints.

The Judge did rule that the Local Authority in question were wrong in their analysis of the legal position. It’s quite common for Local Authorities to operate under the same misconception (in fact, if you don’t actually have the authorities in front of you to analyse, I’d say that conservatively 95% of Local Authority lawyers (including myself from time to time) would have fallen into exactly the same trap. It is one of those areas where what we all think the law is does not equate with what the law actually is.

19.The law that applies – As the Local Authority submission suggests, the answer to the issues before me do not lie in statute. Although there are statutory restrictions on the publication of information from family proceedings heard in private (e.g. in section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 and section 97 of The Children Act 1989) those restrictions are, in any event, subject to any specific leave given by the court in a particular case. The same applies to the resultant restrictions that arise under Chapter 7 of Part 12 of Family Procedure Rules 2010 and PD 12G of those rules.

20.Where proceedings have come to an end Section 97 (2) of the 1989 Act does not operate and Section 12 of the 1960 Act does not operate to prevent disclosure of the names of parties to proceedings held in private. In the case of Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam), [2004] 2FLR 142 (which I cite below) there is an analysis of just this very point but I do wish to cite paragraph 24 of the decision of the President, as he now is, in A v Ward [2010] EWHC 16 (Fam) immediately:

‘It is convenient to start with what I said in British Broadcasting Corporation v Cafcass Legal and others [2007] EWHC 616 (Fam), [2007] 2 FLR 765, at para [12]: “It was – correctly – common ground between counsel that: (i) The care proceedings in relation to William having come to an end, the restrictions imposed by s 97(2) of the Children Act 1989 no longer operate: Clayton v Clayton [2006] EWCA Civ 878, [2006] Fam 83, [2007] 1 FLR 11. (ii) The only relevant statutory restrictions are those imposed by s 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960. (iii) Section 12, although it … imposes restrictions upon discussion of the facts and evidence in the case, does not prevent publication of the names of the parties, the child or the witnesses: Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam), [2004] 2 FLR 142. (iv) Accordingly, unless I agree to exercise the ‘disclosure jurisdiction’ (see Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam), [2004] 2 FLR 142, at [84]) [nothing] … (to the extent that it contains … material the disclosure of which would otherwise constitute a breach of s 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960) can be published, and unless I decide to exercise the ‘restraint jurisdiction’ there will be nothing to prevent the public identification of the social workers, the police officer, the treating doctors and the expert witnesses.” [25]. No-one dissents from what I went on to say (at para [13]) namely that: “both the disclosure jurisdiction and the restraint jurisdiction have to be exercised in accordance with the principles explained by Lord Steyn in In Re S (A Child) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2004] UKHL 47, [2005] 1 AC 593, sub nom Re S (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2005] 1 FLR 591, at [17], and by Sir Mark Potter P in A Local Authority v W, L, W, T and R (by the Children’s Guardian) [2005] EWHC 1564 (Fam), [2006] 1 FLR 1, at para [53], that is, by a ‘parallel analysis’ of those of the various rights protected by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 (the Convention), which are engaged, leading to an ‘ultimate balancing test’ reflecting the Convention principle of proportionality’.
21.I cite that passage (and more, later, from Re B) because the Local Authority’s submission appears to me to be advanced on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law as it applies to the naming of the Local Authority. The Local Authority submitted, on that and the other issues, that ‘these proceedings were brought under The Children Act 1989 and were heard in private. Publication of information relating to the proceedings, unless specifically authorised by a court, is a contempt of court’. The whole of the submission that was written by the Local Authority appears to be based on that erroneous contention and, further, makes no mention of the point that arises from the above passage from A v Ward and the passages that I cite below from Re B and other cases. As was the case in Re B, the boot has been put on the wrong foot by the Local Authority.

And therefore there was no reason why the grandmother could not share her story. The sole issue for litigation was whether she should be prevented from naming the Local Authority concerned.
Why in general should local authorities be named in judgments? The press made the following representations


29.I also find it very helpful that the officers of the press have made the following submission: ‘The case of B: X Council v B is also relevant – see http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed866 In that case [at para 14 onwards] Mr Justice Munby said as follows:

14 “There will, of course, be cases where a local authority is not identified, even where it has been the subject of stringent judicial criticism. A recent example is Re X (Emergency Protection Orders) [2006] EWHC 510 (Fam), [2006] 2 FLR 701. But current practice shows that local authorities involved in care cases are increasingly being identified. In addition to the two cases I have already referred to, other recent examples can be found in British Broadcasting Company v Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council and X and Y [2005] EWHC 2862 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 101, Re Webster, Norfolk County Council v Webster and others [2006] EWHC 2733 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 1146, Oldham MBC v GW, PW and KPW (A Child) [2007] EWHC 136 (Fam) and Re Ward, British Broadcasting Corporation v Cafcass Legal and others [2007] EWHC 616 (Fam). No doubt there are others.

15. I propose to adopt the same approach here as that which I set out in Re B. Is there some proper basis for continuing the local authority’s anonymity? In my judgment there is not.

16. In the first place, as the local authority very frankly accepts, whatever anonymity it enjoys is somewhat precarious, given the fact that the solicitors in the case have all been publicly identified. More importantly, however, I cannot see that there is any need to preserve the local authority’s anonymity in order to protect the children’s privacy and identities. Disclosure of the name of the local authority is not of itself going to lead to the identification of the children. In this respect the case is no different from Re B and Re X.
17. The real reason why the local authority seeks to perpetuate its anonymity is more to do with the interests of the local authority itself (and, no doubt, the important interests of its employees) than with the interests of the children. That is not a criticism of the local authority’s stance. It is simply a statement of the realities.

18. I can understand the local authority’s concern that if anonymity is lifted the local authority (or its employees) may be exposed to ill-informed criticism based, it may be, on misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the facts. But if such criticism exceeds what is lawful there are other remedies available to the local authority. The fear of such criticism, however justified that fear may be, and however unjustified the criticism, is not of itself a justification for affording a local authority anonymity. On the contrary, the powers exercisable by local authorities under Parts IV and V of the Children Act 1989 are potentially so drastic in their possible consequences that there is a powerful public interest in those who exercise such powers being publicly identified so that they can be held publicly accountable. The arguments in favour of publicity – in favour of openness, public scrutiny and public accountability – are particularly compelling in the context of public law care proceedings: see Re X, Barnet LBC v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998 at para [166].

19. Moreover, and as Lord Steyn pointed out in R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex p Simms [2000] 2 AC 115 at page 126, freedom of expression is instrumentally important inasmuch as it “facilitates the exposure of errors in the governance and administration of justice of the country.” How can such errors be exposed, how can public authorities be held accountable, if allowed to shelter behind a judicially sanctioned anonymity? This is particularly so where, as in the present case, a public authority has been exposed to criticism. I accept, as the local authority correctly points out, that many – indeed most – of the matters in dispute in this case were never the subject of any final judicial determination, but the fact remains that in certain respects I was, as my judgment shows, critical of the local authority. And that is a factor which must weigh significantly in the balance: see Re X, Barnet LBC v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998 at para [174].

20. In my judgment the balance here comes down clearly in favour of the local authority being identified.”
30.Further, they submit as follows: ‘As recognised in section 20 of the President’s Practice Guidance of January 2014 – Publication of Judgments, where a judge gives permission for a judgment to be published the public authority should be named in the judgment unless there are compelling reasons why they should not be so named. We would therefore wish to make the point that in published family judgments, it is highly unusual for a council not to be named’.

31.Finally, there are many other points of assistance from the decision of A v Ward [ibid] but I would wish to make mention of the following:

i) Professionals who give evidence, including social workers, cannot assume that they will do so under a cloak of confidentiality. There are very obvious reasons why that is so. Balcombe LJ said in Re Manda [1993] Fam 183 at p195: “if social workers and others in a like position believe that the evidence they give in child proceedings will in all circumstances remain confidential, then the sooner they are disabused of that belief, the better.”

ii) Proceedings where there are suggestions that a child might be adopted (as there were here) raise issues of exceptional gravity which are of great public interest and concern. ‘It must never be forgotten that, with the state’s abandonment of the right to impose capital sentences, orders of the kind which judges of this Division are typically invited to make in public law proceedings are amongst the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make. It is a terrible thing to say to any parent – particularly, perhaps, to a mother – that he or she is to lose their child for ever’ – see Re L (Care: Assessment: Fair Trial) [2002] EWHC 1379 (Fam), [2002] 2 FLR 730, at para [150].

iii) In Para 133 of the judgment, the President said this: ‘the law has to have regard to current realities and one of those realities, unhappily, is a decreasing confidence in some quarters in the family justice system – something which although it is often linked to strident complaints about so-called ‘secret justice’ is too much of the time based upon ignorance, misunderstanding, misrepresentation or worse. The maintenance of public confidence in the judicial system is central to the values which underlie both Article 6 and Article 10 and something which, in my judgment, has to be brought into account as a very weighty factor in any application of the balancing exercise. And where the lack of public confidence is caused even if only in part by misunderstanding or, on occasions, the peddling of falsehoods, then there is surely a resonance, even for the family justice system, in what Brandeis J said so many years ago. I have in mind, of course, not merely what he said in Whitney v California (1927) 274 US 357 at page 77: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” I have in mind also his extra-judicial observation that, and I paraphrase, the remedy for such ills is not the enforced silence of judicially conferred anonymity but rather the disinfectant power of exposure to forensic sunlight.

In the particular case, the arguments against naming the LA were as follows:-

The principal arguments that have been advanced are these:

i) Naming the Local Authority will increase the risk of the family being identified. The guardian, without analysing the point at all in any of the submissions, relies on this point. The Local Authority relies on it heavily. On behalf of the guardian it is submitted: ‘The Guardian’s view on balance is that disclosure of the identity of the local authority in this case will increase the risk of so called “jigsaw identification” of the child and its family’. She does not evaluate the risk. Nor does the Local Authority.

ii) The grandmother has a right of complaint under section 26(3) of the 1989 Act. The guardian submits: ‘The Guardian questions the motivation and proportionality of naming the local authority in this case. The grandmother of course has an avenue to complain about specific issues through the complaints procedure under S.26 of the Children Act 1989. She feels that the issue of assessment of Special Guardian’s is an issue of national public interest and that there is a need to open up the dialogue regarding assessment of kinship carers generally in respect of transparency, support and preparation through the assessment process. It is not an issue confined to this local authority’.

iii) On the facts of the case, one of the family members involved, it is said, is unlikely to be able to understand the need for confidentiality and would be likely to respond indiscreetly to press enquiry.

iv) A refusal to allow the Local Authority to be named is a ‘minor interference with Article 10 rights and is consistent with existing legislation’.

v) Disclosure of the identity of the Local Authority would lead to the Local Authority having to issue a response and that, in turn, would lead to ‘an unseemly and unhelpful trial by media’ and an ‘increased risk of jigsaw identification of the child’.

vi) Adverse publicity when no findings have been made against the Local Authority ‘would run the risk of making retention and recruitment of social workers more difficult and, therefore, of damaging the service provided for children in the area’. Although I was not referred to it, I do bear in mind what is said by McFarlane LJ in Re W [2016] EWCA Civ 1140 at paragraph 88 and onwards.

vii) The points of principle of public importance are those that the grandmother wishes to raise in relation to how family members are treated when they seek to care for family children in care proceedings. The naming of the Local Authority is not necessary for those issues to be aired.

And the arguments deployed in favour OF naming the Local Authority


The main arguments advanced are:

i) Those that arise from the authorities that I set out above. I will not repeat them. Within the submissions of the press was this: ‘The clear starting point is that a public body can have no expectation of anonymity in any reports that are permitted unless there is some justification for departure from the default position – it is for the Local Authority to make out a case, not for a journalist to establish a positive public interest in identifying the LA. Local Authorities are routinely identified in judgments’.

ii) The arguments about the suggested risk of jigsaw identification are advanced without analysis of fact or research. The reality is that, in the immediate locality of the grandmother, it will be easy for those who know the family to identify it even on the basis of the anonymised statement; the identification of the Local Authority will add nothing to that. The further reality is that, amongst the grandmother’s close friends and family, her story will already be apparent. For others, living in other areas of the Local Authority (e.g. the north of the Local Authority area) the naming of the Local Authority will not help at all in identifying the family. On a national level, naming the Local Authority area will be a matter of no significance at all to people from other areas (e.g. Birmingham or Newcastle-on-Tyne) and could not be taken as identifying the family. Given the demography, geography and population of the Local Authority identification is unlikely to take place beyond those who are likely already to know the family’s identity. I note this submission of the Press officers (which shows the extent of their researches in my opinion): ‘The fact the infant will be in the care of its grandmother is also not significant enough to identify this family. Such an arrangement is neither unusual, nor unexpected in this country. The 2011 census puts the number of children in England being cared for by a family member at 153,000, and of those, around 76,000 are being looked after by a grandparent (https://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/kinship-care-state-of-the-nation-2016). In 2017, it was reported in Community Care magazine that since 2010 there had been a 220% rise in special guardianship orders (http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2017/04/27/special-guardianship-orders-used-safely/). It is, we suggest, safe to assume that a good proportion of those being appointed as special guardians are grandparents’.

iii) The difficulty that the member of the family may have in dealing with the issues discreetly will arise whether the Local Authority is named or not. Naming the Local Authority does not increase or decrease the risk that the family member will be identified within the local community.

iv) It is utterly wrong in fact and principle to say that the non-disclosure order sought is only a minor interference with the grandmother’s Article 10 rights. The Local Authority’s approach seems to be based on its misunderstanding of the principles of law (i.e., in Re B language, on which foot the boot is) and also its failure to consider any of the relevant decisions of the President that I have set out above. To say to this grandmother that she was not allowed to name the Local Authority involved would be a very major interference with her right to expression under the Convention.

v) Insofar as there is a risk of identification, that risk is outbalanced by the importance of the freedom of expression enshrined by Article 10 (1). Further, the grandmother (who will be caring for the child and is an intelligent woman) and the mother both support that identification. I consider that their submissions about the Article 8 rights of their own family carry significant weight.

vi) There is a real and genuine interest within the local community in knowing how its Local Authority is acting. That is part of the democratic process. Members of a local community, like this grandmother, should be able to raise their complaints and concerns about local institutions.

vii) It would be quite wrong to try to limit the grandmother to the use of the procedure under Section 26(3) of the 1989 Act or any other complaints procedure. It is for the Local Authority to justify non-disclosure of its name and it is not for the Local Authority to dictate the means by which the grandmother exercises her Article 10 rights. By way of example – could it really be said in the Crown Court that someone who wished to complain about the treatment she had received in a prosecution must exhaust the police complaints procedure first?

viii) The suggestion that naming the Local Authority will result in a trial by media is riddled with errors of principle and fact. First, the press are the eyes and ears of society and press reporting cannot be swept aside on the basis of trial by media. Second, the emotive term ‘trial by media’ is not apposite – the issue is whether a member of the public should be able to voice a complaint against a local and public institution. Third, the extent to which there is a dispute within the public domain will depend on how the Local Authority chooses to conduct any response within the ambit of the law. Fourth, even without naming the Local Authority, it is highly foreseeable that some form of response will be made by the Local Authority and any response that is given should not be conducted by it behind a veil of anonymity.

ix) The court must not be seen to act as a shield for other public institutions.

x) There is no attempt by anyone involved in this case to identify specific social workers in the material that is made public. Naming the Local Authority does not mean that it becomes necessary to name the individual social worker and I have had no requests or suggestions that this should occur.

xi) The issues of importance are not confined to those relating to the treatment of family members in care proceedings. The issues that arise will be of most interest to those who live in the locality of this Local Authority and relate to how the authority is performing. Local issues matter (see the passage in from Re S above).

The Court felt that the case for naming the Local Authority was overwhelming (and having allowed a brief period to allow them to consider whether to appeal) and therefore named them.

36.Opinion on naming the Local Authority – In my opinion the arguments in favour of naming the Local Authority are overwhelming. I do not think that the Local Authority has got anywhere near justifying the non-disclosure of its identity. I accept each of the arguments advanced in support of that disclosure in the terms that I have set out above and consider that the authorities that I have cited point very strongly to it being ordered. I depart from the views of the guardian and of the Local Authority for the reasons stated within the accepted arguments that I have set out above in favour of disclosure. I do not think that the Local Authority or the guardian has given the issues or principles covered by this judgment sufficient or correct analysis.

The grandmother’s statement is appended to the judgment – again, the caveat is that these are the things that she wished to say about how she felt she was treated, and they are not a set of judicial findings.

Contextual statement as drafted by the parties

This statement is written by a capable and educated grandmother who has successfully raised her own family as a single parent and recently put herself forward to be assessed as a Special Guardian for her infant grandchild. The circumstances were such that it was not going to be possible for the parents to care for the baby and the alternative would have been an adoptive placement.

It can be seen that she felt unsupported through the assessment and that it was a difficult and protracted process. While rigorous assessment is of course important in the process of considering family members as prospective special guardians, what this grandmother writes raises important questions about whether there needs to be a re-evaluation by local authorities nationally of how family members putting themselves forward in these situations can be better prepared, informed and supported through the process.

The grandmother’s statement

These are the facts that I would like to disclose to the press, concerning my experiences during the assessments for a Special Guardianship Application and the events that have followed.

This has been an extraordinary experience to me, even though in the course of my life I have previously had to face some remarkably difficult challenges .It is important to me that some good should come from what has happened in this case, to this baby, her parents and to me.

It has seemed that the local authority is unused to being questioned or called to account for their conduct, decisions or even their misinformation. Emails are frequently not acknowledged, questions not answered most of the time. When false information or advice is given it leads to a great deal of anxiety and sometimes extra costs. This has happened throughout this process. Yet no one takes responsibility for their actions. It struck me that social workers are unused to the clients they work with demanding to be treated with respect, honesty and efficiency. There is a reliance on procedure without examining the particulars of a situation.

The reasoning which led to the local authority initial decision to contradict their very positive first report about me was a very narrow interpretation of my character and behaviour. It seemed there was only one way to show commitment and as I had expressed it a different way I was not committed. It was put to me that I had failed because I had not wanted to take the baby straight home from hospital. That I ought to be expressing that I wanted her. I reason that this is a vast decision for anyone to make, and that to respond purely emotionally or instinctively would be a less appropriate way to decide. I have been very open about my deliberations and judged negatively for that. Instead of helping to explore and understand, pejorative notes were taken and not discussed with me to further understand. I was even required to sort out all the typo errors in the first report which is most unprofessional.

I have responded robustly to the addendum report. I would add, however, that I was shocked by the references to identity and attachment, which do not bear examination. Indeed, I felt obliged to explain the meaning of a smile in small babies to the independent social worker such was the degree of her misunderstanding of this. As a final flourish, it was put to me by her that I ought to express commitment in the absence of clear health understanding or a financial assessment, which I felt was an outrageous transfer of responsibility from the local authority to me for their failings.

A complex issue which I feel has been inappropriately dealt with is the baby’s health. Both her parents have health difficulties which may complicate her future health. They may also have a huge impact on my capacity to cope in the future. The local authority followed their set routines in this area and failed completely to respond to my concerns that I needed to have as much knowledge as possible. This desire to have information was to guide my decision but also to ensure the best care now for this vulnerable child. Early investigations would have led to greater understanding. For example, a simple blood test could have been informative on one aspect of this. I fail to believe that this is not possible in complex cases.

A financial assessment is an integral part of this process. I have been given numerous accounts of how this works, how no finance would be offered, that I was ineligible even for assessment. I had to use voluntary agencies and research on line for the facts. The first social worker simply failed to turn up for an appointment to assess me. The baby’s social worker took a few notes and didn’t tell me the outcome though indirectly I was informed I was ineligible as I have some savings, which is completely incorrect. Ultimately, after explaining the process to the uncommunicative unit responsible, I have been offered some support. Following further unacknowledged emails to add information to my case, which explained my understanding of the assessment guidelines, further support has been offered. Is this an acceptable way for this to be conducted? It has led me to have to delay giving notice to my employer until I had discussed the outcome with a solicitor, leaving the baby in care for weeks longer.

There have been unexplained delays, which cannot be helpful for a baby awaiting a permanent placement. Weeks would pass without explanation, or even communication. Was this a suitable case for a newly qualified social worker who would move on, to be followed, by a part time person who would be away on leave without informing those concerned?

I have wondered how this would have ended if I had been a less vocal, expressive or determined person. I am under no doubt that this baby may have been adopted, that others may be, because many people who find themselves in this position do not have the personal resources to cope effectively. It has left me utterly exhausted and feeling shattered by the lack of kindness and understanding I experienced in such a painful context. To add insult to injury, I am accused of being problematically subject to stress by the social worker for the baby in her final statement.

I need to put this process behind me. I will, but I would hope that by airing these facts that those concerned might improve their practice. The central cog in this process needs to be well informed, efficient and dare I say kind, in such a sensitive situation. Their actions have cost me around £700 in legal fees which ought not to have been needed. I could have left this court with no financial support if I had not undertaken to investigate independently and share my knowledge with the local authority, to press for adherence to the D of E guidelines.

Ultimately, and above all, this baby has remained far longer than was justifiable, in foster care. Her parents have experienced a protracted agony of uncertainty. And, we go forward without full medical understanding. I would like to pay tribute to the exemplary care of the foster mother who has loved and cared for this baby and to the Guardian for her faith in my integrity.

The Order of Special Guardianship has now been made. I will love and care for this baby in every way. She will enjoy contact with her parents and develop a positive sense of Identity, drawing on the love of her family and our wonderful friends.

Human rights, damages and costs – important case

Not sure this is the last nail in the coffin of HRA damages claims piggy-backing on care proceedings, but the bag of nails certainly isn’t full any more.

Be grateful it is nails. As the LA is Kirklees, I've been trying to think of a Shatner reference...

Be grateful it is nails. As the LA is Kirklees, I’ve been trying to think of a Shatner reference…

 

The High Court have given judgment in Re CZ (Human Rights Claim:Costs) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/11.html

 

The fact that there was a breach is impossible to deny and the LA accepted it. (Even looking at the recent steer from the Hackney authority that failure to follow guidance does not amount without more to an actionable claim, this one goes far beyond that)

12.CZ was born by emergency caesarean section at X Hospital on 6 November. It was a traumatic birth and CZ was for a short time placed on the Special Care Baby Unit (‘SCBU’). The baby was slow to feed, and showed temporary normal post-birth weight loss. That said, no child protection concerns were raised by the staff on SCBU nor on the ward to which he was discharged.

13.On 10 November 2015, the Local Authority received a referral from the X Hospital maternity ward; concerns were raised regarding the long-term parenting capacity of this mother and father. It was suggested that the mother had no family support, and that the father was expressing unorthodox views about the need for sterilisation of bottles, and the benefits of formula milk. It was nonetheless noted, in the referral, that the paternal grandmother of the baby was being supportive to the couple and was planning to move in with them at least in the short-term after discharge from hospital.

14.On the following day, 12 November 2015, the maternity ward staff reported to the social worker that CZ had put on weight, but that they remained concerned about the feeding plan and wished to monitor him further. The social workers did not visit on this day.

 

15.On 13 November 2015, the social worker visited the hospital at about lunchtime and was advised by staff that CZ had again gained weight; the staff had no further concerns about the baby, who was reported to be well enough to be discharged. This was, indeed, planned for later that day.

The LA made an application on 13th November 2015 on short notice to Court for an ICO. The parents did not attend that hearing. The LA assured the District Judge three times that the parents had been informed of the hearing. They also assured the District Judge that the parents agreed with the plan for the child to be placed with grandparents. A Guardian did not attend (the LA emailing CAFCASS minutes after the hearing apologising for forgetting to notify them)

 

It turned out that the parents had NOT been informed of the hearing. They had been told by the social worker that the LA planned to start care proceedings but not that there was a hearing imminently and when it was. Whilst the mother had agreed s20 accommodation, the father had not.

At a hearing on 20th January 2016, the parents through their solicitors gave notice that they wanted to challenge the ICO. At a hearing on 27th January 2016, the LA attended and set out that they did not consider that the threshold criteria was met any longer and sought to withdraw their application. The proceedings ended and the child returned to the parents.

The HRA claim was made on the basis of breaches of article 6 and article 8.

33.The Local Authority concedes that I should make the following declarations:

  1. i) It breached the parents and child’s right to a fair trial, pursuant to Article 6 ECHR when it failed to inform them and/or Cafcass of the urgent hearing which was held at 3p.m. on Friday 13 November 2015; this breach is compounded by the fact that the Local Authority repeatedly informed the court that the parents had been so notified;
  2. ii) Between 13 November 2015, and, at the latest, 7 December 2015 (the next hearing date), the Local Authority breached the rights of those named above to a family life as enshrined in Article 8 ECHR. The parents did not live in the same household as their son for that period albeit they enjoyed extensive contact to one another. The child was placed with the paternal grandparents in their home.

These concessions were made at an early stage of the process, and were shared with the court on 14 July 2016,

 

Cobb J ruled that :-

41.In this case, I am satisfied that the breaches of the Claimants’ ECHR rights were serious, a view which I expressed in the presence of the lay parties at the hearing. This was plainly not an exceptional case justifying a ‘without notice’ application for removal of a baby from the care of his parents (see Re X (Emergency Protection Orders) [2006] EWHC 510 (Fam), and it is questionable whether there was a proper case for asserting that CZ’s immediate safety demanded separation from his parents at all: Re LA (Children) [2009] EWCA Civ 822. The failure of the Local Authority to notify the Claimants that the hearing was taking place on the afternoon of 13 November was particularly egregious; misleading the District Judge no fewer than three times that the parents knew of the hearing aggravates the culpability yet further. This infringement will rightly be subject of a declaration of unlawfulness (see above), and to a very great extent this represents the essential vindication of the right which they have asserted.

42.The separation of a baby from his parents represents a very substantial interference with family life, and requires significant justification. In this case, my assessment of the seriousness of the interference has been moderated by two facts: first, because the actual arrangement effected under the interim care order, with CZ living with the paternal grandmother for the period while the parents enjoyed virtually unrestricted contact, was a variation of a plan which the parents had formed with Health Professionals prior to and following the birth in any event, namely for the paternal grandmother to reside with them for that period, and secondly, because once the parents and Cafcass obtained legal representation and were able to consider the situation with legal advice, none of them sought to challenge the living arrangement immediately and did not in fact do so until 20 January 2016.

 

 

The fundamental issue here was that the damages sought amounted to just over £10,000 and because they arose out of care proceedings, in order for the parents and child to receive a penny of those damages those representing them also sought costs orders not only for the HRA claims but for the care proceedings.

 

That is because the statutory charge bites on the damages, not only for the HRA claim costs (which is sensible) but for the care proceedings (which is hard to explain, but it is clear that it does).

section 25 LASPO 2012; this statutory provision reads:

 

 

 

 

“25 Charges on property in connection with civil legal services

(1) Where civil legal services are made available to an individual under this Part, the amounts described in subsection (2) are to constitute a first charge on—

(a) any property recovered or preserved by the individual in proceedings, or in any compromise or settlement of a dispute, in connection with which the services were provided (whether the property is recovered or preserved for the individual or another person), and

(b) any costs payable to the individual by another person in connection with such proceedings or such a dispute.

(2) Those amounts are—

(a) amounts expended by the Lord Chancellor in securing the provision of the services (except to the extent that they are recovered by other means), and

(b) other amounts payable by the individual in connection with the services under section 23 or 24″.

 

The total costs were £120,000.   (To be fair, Cobb J has included the LA’s costs within that calculation, and the LA would be paying their own costs in any event. So the costs are really £80,000)

You do not have to be a hot-shot civil lawyer to suspect that spending £80,000 to recover £10,000 is not a viable proposition.

Cobb J considered this case in a very detailed way and said some very important things.

 

  1. The cunning solution in P v A Local Authority [2016] EWHC 2779 (Fam) http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2779.html , a case in which Keehan J found a way of facilitating the grant of the award of damages to the Claimant in such a way that it was unaffected by the LAA’s statutory charge. On the facts of that case, the applications under the HRA 1998 and under the wardship were quite separate and unconnected; he said this: “P’s claim is and was always based upon his Art. 8 Convention right to respect for his private and family life. The claim had nothing to do with the declaratory relief granted to P in the wardship proceedings” [71] (emphasis added).

Did not work here, and would not work in the majority of the HRA claims that we are concerned with, since they did arise out of the care proceedings or a prelude to them (s20)

 

 

  1. The fact that s25 LASPO meant that the statutory charge swallows all the damages does not mean that the Court is pushed into HAVING to make an award of costs to ensure that the claimant gets something.58.I reject the Claimants’ arguments on this first basis for the following reasons:  i) I do not accept that the very wide discretion afforded to me under section 8(1) has to be condensed to one option only (i.e. to make a substantive award of costs) simply in order to achieve a ‘just’ outcome under section 8(3);ii) If it had been the intention of Parliament that damages awarded under the HRA 1998 would be exempt from the statutory charge, it would have provided for this in the revised Statutory Charge Regulations (2013); it did not; iii) Most awards of damages would be likely to be reduced to some extent by the incidence of assessment/taxation of the litigant’s own bill. While this may not apply so harshly to publicly funded litigants, it seems to me that the Claimants could not be insulated against the eventuality that the shortfall in any assessment would in itself lead to the obliteration of a modest award of damages;iv) The award of non-pecuniary damages under section 8(3) is intended to reflect the Court’s disapproval of infringement of the claimants’ rights, in providing “just satisfaction” to the claimant; it is not intended to be, of itself, a costs award. I would regard it as unprincipled to increase the award of damages by a significant sum (which on the instant facts could be approximately seven-fold) to reflect the costs of the proceedings. Parliament has devised a legitimate mechanism for the recovery of the costs incurred from those who benefit from state-funded support to pursue their litigation, and however unfairly it may operate in an individual case, it must be respected;
  2.  
  3.  
  4.  
  5.  
  6.  
  7.  
  8. He tackles the principle of financial damages over and above the declaration of breach of human rights.  39.In deciding (i) whether to award damages, and/or (ii) the amount of an award, I must take into account the principles applied by the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the award of compensation under Article 41 of the Convention (Article 41, though not incorporated into English law, deals with ‘just satisfaction’). It is not necessary for me to review the significant European or domestic case-law on this point, more than to identify the following extracts from speeches and judgments on the point which have guided my views:  i) The Court of Appeal (Lord Woolf CJ, Lord Phillips MR and Auld LJ) in Anufrijeva v Southwark London Borough Council [2003] EWCA Civ 1406, [2004] QB 1124, [52-53], and [57-58]: “The remedy of damages generally plays a less prominent role in actions based on breaches of the articles of the Convention, than in actions based on breaches of private law obligations where, more often than not, the only remedy claimed is damages. … Where an infringement of an individual’s human rights has occurred, the concern will usually be to bring the infringement to an end and any question of compensation will be of secondary, if any, importance” [52/53].
  9.  
  10.  
  11.  
  12. 38.An award for damages for infringement of Convention Rights is warranted where the court concludes that it is “necessary to afford just satisfaction to the person in whose favour it is made” (section 8(3) HRA 1998). There is no specific formula or prescription for what amounts to “just satisfaction”, but in considering the issue, statute requires me to consider “all the circumstances of the case” including any other relief or remedy granted (including the grant of a declaration, and I suggest a formal apology) and the consequences of any decision of the court.

 

I interject here, to say that this is not the way that damages claims under the HRA in care proceedings has been developing, and it is a noteworthy reminder.

 

 

“Our approach to awarding damages in this jurisdiction should be no less liberal than those applied at Strasbourg or one of the purposes of the HRA will be defeated and claimants will still be put to the expense of having to go to Strasbourg to obtain just satisfaction. The difficulty lies in identifying from the Strasbourg jurisprudence clear and coherent principles governing the award of damages….”

 

 

And then quoting from the Law Commission:

 

 

“Perhaps the most striking feature of the Strasbourg case-law, … is the lack of clear principles as to when damages should be awarded and how they should be measured”. [57/58]

 

  1. ii) Lord Bingham in Regina v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) ex parte Greenfield [2005] UKHL 14, [2005] 1 WLR 673 at [9] and [19],

 

 

“The routine treatment of a finding of violation as, in itself, just satisfaction for the violation found reflects the point already made that the focus of the Convention is on the protection of human rights and not the award of compensation.” [9]

 

 

“The Court [in Strasbourg] routinely describes its awards as equitable, which I take to mean that they are not precisely calculated but are judged by the Court to be fair in the individual case. Judges in England and Wales must also make a similar judgment in the case before them.” [19]

 

iii) Lord Reed in R (o.t.a. Faulkner) v. Secretary of State for Justice [2013] UKSC 23 at [13](4)/(7):

 

 

“(4) [T]he quantum of awards under section 8 should broadly reflect the level of awards made by the European court in comparable cases brought by applicants from the UK or other countries with a similar cost of living

 

 

(7) The appropriate amount to be awarded in such circumstances will be a matter of judgment, reflecting the facts of the individual case and taking into account such guidance as is available from awards made by the European court, or by domestic courts under section 8 of the 1998 Act, in comparable cases”.

 

  1. iv) And in a passage which directly chimes with the facts of this case, Wilson LJ in Re C (Breach of Human Rights: Damages) [2007] EWCA Civ 2, [2007] 1 FLR 1957 at [64]

 

 

“… the European Court generally favours an award of damages in cases in which local authorities have infringed the right of parents under Article 8 to respect for their family life by shortcomings in the procedures by which they have taken children into care or kept them in care, whether temporarily or permanently” [64]

40.I further take account of the Practice Direction issued by the President of the European Court of Human Rights (2007; re-issued September 2016) on ‘just satisfaction’:

 

 

 

 

“The purpose of the Court’s award in respect of damage is to compensate the applicant for the actual harmful consequences of a violation. It is not intended to punish the Contracting Party responsible. The Court has therefore, until now, considered it inappropriate to accept claims for damages with labels such as “punitive”, “aggravated” or “exemplary”.” [9]

 

 

“It is in the nature of non-pecuniary damage that it does not lend itself to precise calculation. If the existence of such damage is established, and if the Court considers that a monetary award is necessary, it will make an assessment on an equitable basis, having regard to the standards which emerge from its case-law.” [14]

 

 

“Applicants who wish to be compensated for non-pecuniary damage are invited to specify a sum which in their view would be equitable. Applicants who consider themselves victims of more than one violation may claim either a single lump sum covering all alleged violations or a separate sum in respect of each alleged violation”. [15]

 

It is convenient to cite here also what is said in the Practice Direction (at [17]) about costs and expenses (to which I make reference at [58(vi)] below):

 

 

“The Court will uphold claims for costs and expenses only in so far as they are referable to the violations it has found. It will reject them in so far as they relate to complaints that have not led to the finding of a violation, or to complaints declared inadmissible”.

 

And thus that damages are not a natural consequence of an identified breach – the claimant must specify what damages they seek and why they are sought. Why are the breaches such that only an award of damages will provide ‘just satisfaction’?

 

(I will return to this, because if the damages are just going to the LAA because of the stat charge, HOW CAN the claimant really argue that the award is to provide ‘just satisfaction’? On the face of it, all that is achieved is punishing the public body by making them write a cheque to the LAA, and that’s specifically ruled out by para 9 of the Practice Direction…)

 

Note however, what Wilson LJ said in Re C, quoted above, that the ECHR does make damages awards where the breaches have caused a parent to lose their child, “whether temporarily or permanently”

 

  1. Awarding costs of the care proceedings due to egregious conductCobb J ruled that the LA had conducted part of the proceedings in a way that triggered a justification for a costs order under the Supreme Court guidance in Re S and Re T, but not the whole of the proceedings, and the costs order should be limited to that.
  2. 67.In relation to the costs of the CA 1989 proceedings, the Claimants have failed to demonstrate in my judgment that the Local Authority behaved “reprehensibly” or “unreasonably” otherwise than in the circumstances in which it launched the proceedings and conducted the hearing on 13 November. This had ramifications (i.e. the placement of CZ away from the parents’ care) until 7 December. In my judgment, applying ordinary costs principles, the Claimants would be entitled to the costs of the CA 1989 proceedings for the limited period from 13 November to 7 December 2015.
  3. The Claimants litigation conduct had a bearing on the costs award in relation to the HRA claim – not making efforts to try to settle the case and not responding constructively to offers had a bearing on this.          
  4. On ordinary costs principles, I am of the view that the Claimants should be entitled to recovery of their costs of the HRA 1998 proceedings from the grant of certificates up to and including 14 July, but no further.
  5. vi) On the information available to me, the Claimants have not complied with the direction which I made (on 5 October 2016) to make open proposals for settlement in a timely way, or at all.
  6. v) So far as I can tell, there was no response to the offer made on 15 July 2016;
  7. iv) Further ‘without prejudice’ offers were made on the days either side of the Case Management hearing on 14 July, without any meaningful response. On the 14 July itself, at court, Ms. Irving QC made an open offer. On 15 July 2016, the offer was increased to £2,500 on an open basis, together with the HRA 1998 costs; the Local Authority proposed a further ’round table’ discussion but this fell on deaf ears;
  8. iii) The mother and Children’s Guardian did not respond positively to the request to provide costs schedules at an early stage or an order to the same effect, and none of the Claimants complied with my direction for the provision of open offers of settlement;
  9. ii) The Claimants were invited from 22 February 2016 to indicate a ‘settlement amount’ in relation to any prospective HRA 1998 claim, but they did not apparently (i.e. from the correspondence – including that marked ‘without prejudice’ – which I have now seen) do so;
  10. i) They failed to respond constructively to the Local Authority’s efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement; from an early stage (i.e. February 2016: see [45](i) above), through until July and beyond, the Local Authority was making appropriate overtures to sort out this dispute, but the Claimants were ostensibly unreceptive;
  11.  
  12. 66.On the facts of this case, the Claimants have succeeded in their HRA 1998 claim, and ordinarily therefore they could look to the “unsuccessful” party (Local Authority) to pay their costs under Part 44.2(2)(a); however, I consider that the Claimants’ litigation conduct is such that they have forfeited this entitlement. In particular:
  13.                 In any evaluation of costs whether under the CPR 1998 or the FPR 2010, I am obliged to have regard to the parties’ litigation conduct, and whether costs are reasonably or not reasonably incurred. The Claimants’ approach would require me to ignore or forgive any reckless, wasteful or profligate manufacture of costs in order to ensure that the Claimants receive their award; this cannot be right. In this case, as will be apparent from my comments below, the Claimants did not conscientiously attempt to settle their claims, whereas I am satisfied that the Local Authority did make genuine efforts to do so
  14. A suggestion was made to multiply the child’s damages by 3, and award the total damages to the child, so that only the Child’s public funding certificate had the stat charge arise, and thus make only costs order to cover the child’s certificate in full.

 

Mr. Taylor further submitted that I could award an aggregate damages award of £11,250 (£3750 x 3) to the child, and order the Local Authority to pay all of the costs of the Children’s Guardian; in that way, (i) this would reduce the financial outlay for the Local Authority than the alternative route contended for by the Claimants, and (ii) at least one of the parties would actually benefit from a damages award. Ms. Irving QC indicated that if the Court approved it, the Local Authority would not contest this approach. The LAA was, sensibly, consulted about this proposal, and rejected it for the contrivance which it undoubtedly is. I could not in any circumstances sanction this approach. I have awarded damages to each of the three Claimants; the figure awarded is what I regard as “necessary” to give “just satisfaction” to each of them. The proposal outlined undermines the principles on which I have resolved the claims.

 

 

 

 

Decision

 

75.I shall make the declarations proposed and conceded, set out in [33] above.

 

76.I shall award each of the three Claimants £3,750 by way of damages, to be paid by the Local Authority, under section 8(3) HRA 1998. It is, I acknowledge, regrettable that because of the costs order I propose to make, the Claimants are unlikely to receive these sums.

 

77.I shall make an order that the Local Authority makes a contribution to the publicly funded costs of the Claimants, limited to the following periods:

  1. a) 13.11.15-7.12.15 (all Claimants: CA 1989 proceedings);

 

  1. b) From the date on which the LAA granted extensions to the Claimants’ existing certificates (issued for the CA 1989 proceedings) for them to pursue HRA 1998 claims to 14.7.16, excluding the costs incurred by those who attended on behalf of the mother and the child at the meeting arranged by the Local Authority on 17 March 2016 (save as provided for herein, all Claimants: HRA 1998 proceedings).

78.That is my judgment.

 

Quantum-wise, a sum of damages of £3,750 per party, for the child being removed under an ICO hearing where the parents had not been given notice and the Court was misinformed that (a) they had and (b) they consented to the plans, where the LA withdrew the proceedings just months later because threshold was not met, compared to some of the very high s20 damages awards makes interesting reading. Cobb J was very specifically addressed on quantum and the principles to be applied and this case (together with the Hackney case) sets down a considerable marker that there is unlikely to be sufficient diamonds in the mine to justify the digging costs save in a highly exceptional case.

To escape the stat charge and ensure that the client receives any of the compensation, either the costs will need to be very small, or the damages very large, or a better case for a costs order than this one….

 

Law for social workers (Part 1)

This piece is aimed at social workers, but it isn’t exclusively for them. Basically, the law has moved very fast in care proceedings since I started writing this blog, and on Twitter yesterday there was a conversation about there not being an easy place for social workers to find out what they now need to know.  So the idea here is two short(ish) pieces that tell you all of the important legal principles and then in part 2, what the specific tests are for each sort of order.

 

None of this is intended to be a substitute for getting legal advice from your own lawyer, it is just a guide to what sort of things the Court is looking for, and what tests they are applying. If you’re very confident about the basics, you can skip to Part 2  (though not immediately, because I am still writing it!)

 

The Acts

 

We all know, I think, that there are two main pieces of legislation involved in care proceedings.

 

The Children Act 1989

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/contents

 

and The Adoption and Children Act 2002

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/38/contents

 

There are a few others that come up occasionally – the Mental Capacity Act 2005,  the Care Act 2015, the Children and Families Act 2014 and various mental health Acts, Housing Acts, if you’re really really unlucky Education Acts.  And of course, the Human Rights Act 1998 permeates everything. In terms of the Human Rights  Act – the big bits that you need to know is that a social worker, as part of the State, owes parents duties under the Human Rights Act – they owe parents an article 6 right to fair trial (which is not limited just to Court, but involves fairness in all decisions) and interference by the State with parents Article 8 rights to private and family life, which can only be done where it is PROPORTIONATE and NECESSARY.

 

Key principles of the Acts

 

  1.  The Child’s Welfare is the Court’s paramount consideration when making any decision – it won’t be the only consideration, but it is the main one.
  2. The Court can only make an order if satisfied that doing so is better for the CHILD than making no order  (the ‘no order principle’)
  3. Any delay is harmful to the child, and has to be justified (the ‘no delay principle’)
  4. The Court should try to make the least serious of the orders available to it, if that will meet the child’s needs  (‘the least interventionist principle’)
  5. There’s a set of guidance of the main issues for the Court to consider when making decisions about children – the Welfare Checklist. Parliament has given us that as a valuable toolkit to reach the right decisions, and you stand the best chance of making the right decisions if you use it.

 

And from Human Rights, the key principles are :-

FAIRNESS  – in all decisions, strive to be fair – take things into account, even when they don’t fit with your hypothesis or initial thoughts, listen to what parents have to say, be honest about what you are seeing, recognise change when it is happening, be willing to consider that you might be wrong. Try to approach the task of working with a family in the way that you would hope someone would work with you if the roles were reversed. Recognise that for a parent, the State can be a scary and powerful force – you might not feel powerful yourself, but be alive to the possibility that that is the way the State can come across. Imagine someone coming into YOUR home, looking in YOUR cupboards, criticising YOUR relationship. It might need to be done, but be aware that it doesn’t feel nice to be on the receiving end.

NECESSITY – is it NECESSARY to do X or Y?  Not just is it helpful or useful or desirable, but did it NEED to be done? And even if it NEEDED to be done, did it NEED to be done in that particular way?

PROPORTIONALITY – looking at what you’re worried about and what you want to do about it, and thinking hard about whether what you want to do is proportionate to the worries that you have.

All of those principles really boil down to being a REASONABLE person – if you are reasonable, and try to do the job in a REASONABLE way, the Court’s are more likely to be receptive to what you’re saying and you are going to be less exposed in the witness box than someone who goes around like a bull in a china shop.

 

The threshold criteria

 

In order for the Court to make an Emergency Protection Order, or a Care Order or Supervision Order, or Interim Care Orders or Interim Supervision Orders, they need to be satisfied that the threshold criteria is met. If there’s no threshold criteria, the Court CANNOT make the order.

The burden of proof (who has to prove it) is on the Local Authority. It is for the Local Authority to PROVE that the child has suffered significant harm, or is at risk of such harm, NOT for the parent to prove that the child isn’t.

The standard of proof (how sure does the Court need to be) is the BALANCE OF PROBABILITIES.  If a Court thinks that something is MORE LIKELY THAN NOT to have happened (in percentage terms 50.000001% or higher) then that is sufficient.  If a Court thinks that the LA has NOT proved that, even if there’s a 49.99999999% chance of it having happened, then in law it did NOT happen. When it comes to factual issues, the law is binary – if it is MORE LIKELY THAN NOT to have happened, then it happened, if not, it DIDN’T.  And if it is exactly 50-50 (which doesn’t happen often, but it HAS happened) then the burden of proof means that the LA failed to prove it was more likely than not, so it DIDN’T happen.

The threshold criteria itself

 

s31 (2)A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied—

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

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

(i)the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or

(ii)the child’s being beyond parental control.

 

The likely to suffer has been quite tricky to resolve over the years – basically, if you’re going to say that a child is LIKELY to suffer significant harm, you need to :-

 

(a) Prove some facts

(b) Prove that those facts mean that there is a risk of significant harm

(c) Prove that it is MORE LIKELY THAN NOT that the risks involved ‘cannot sensibly be ignored’

 

So you don’t HAVE to show that the risk is MORE LIKELY THAN NOT to materialise.  Sometimes, if the level of the possible risk would be very serious, there can be a lesser chance of it happening as long as there is a FACTUAL basis for saying that the risk exists and it cannot be ignored.

 

Case law

The Acts themselves only give you so much – most of the legal arguments are about how to intepret those Acts – what precisely does such and such a word mean, what has to be taken into account when deciding whether such and such applies. Rather than different Courts across the country having the same arguments over and over and coming to different decisions in different places, when an important point of principle is decided  (for example – WHEN does the threshold criteria have to be satisfied? When proceedings were issued? When they finish? What if the child was in foster care for 2 months before issue – the child wasn’t at any risk in that placement…)  a senior Court – the High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court decides a case that deals with that point, and that’s the answer from then on  (in this example, threshold has to be satisfied when the Local Authority ‘took protective measures’  – that could be by issuing, or it could be by a section 20 placement or written agreement)

The next time THAT issue comes up, the Court is able to say ‘well, that’s been decided now, there’s a PRECEDENT for it, and we’ll follow that’.   The Children Act has been around for over 25 years and you would think that all of these technical and interpretation questions would have been sorted out years ago now, but they still keep coming, and occasionally the interpretations change or shift a bit.

For basically ALL of the things that a social worker might want to do, or ask the Court for, knowing what the Act itself says is just the tip of the iceberg. The really important information, and the wording that you are working to is set out in case law.  And as I said, it changes.

 

Part 2 is going to tell you what the current case law says about the various tests – and I’ll keep this up to date when it changes. The law is moving quickly at the moment, particularly in relation to adoption.

 

 

I hope this has been useful, feel free to pass it on, email it around, print it out and stick it on notice boards.

If this is your first encounter with Suesspicious Minds – normally there is more sarcasm and 80s pop culture, and weird cases that might make you wince or cry or laugh, so pop in again.

 

If you enjoyed the piece, or the blog, please visit the website about my book, and if it takes your fancy, pre-order it.  I’m 85% of the way to getting it published now, thanks to loads of support and help from very cool people. Be like Fonzie and be cool too.

 

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

 

Settlement Conferences

Settlement Conferences are a new idea in English (and Welsh) family law, though they have been used in other jurisidictions, including Northern Ireland. The thinking is rather like the Financial Dispute Resolution in ancillary relief – you get all of the evidence together, the parties go in front of a Judge who will NOT be hearing any contested hearing and together as a group they try to see if there is a way of agreeing the case that everyone can live with. If they really can’t agree, everything discussed at that hearing is locked away and isn’t used by anyone at the final hearing which will be before an entirely different Judge and all they will know is that agreement wasn’t reached (they won’t be told what the first Judge suggested or indicated, or who gave ground and who didn’t, or what the sticking points were)

The idea is to settle the case by agreement, instead of having the stressful, time-consuming and (for the State/taxpayer) expensive final hearing.

In a money case, that’s always a live possibility – since going to a final hearing costs each side money (even if they are legally aided, their legal costs have to be paid back at some point out of the money they recover) and you know, money has loads of different ways of being divided and some of those ways can result in each side getting something they are happy with.  In a Children Act case where the social work plan is adoption and the parents want the child home, there’s rather less room for compromise – it’s not easy to come up with a way where everyone leaves happy. So it can feel a bit more like a Settlement Conference is one side being told that they are LIKELY to lose at final hearing and to give up.

 

Sarah Philimore sums it all up very well here

 

Guidance from the Ministry of Justice about ‘Settlement Conferences’

 

The Association of Lawyers for Children have published guidance to their members and it is strong, punchy stuff

 

http://alc.org.uk/uploads/ALC_Guidance_to_Members_on_Settlement_Conferences_July_1st_2016.pdf

 

For example

Care and adoption proceedings are a grave interference in family life by a public authority. They can have consequences for several generations.
We believe the scheme may be in breach of the ECHR Article 6 and 8 rights of both parents and children.
The right of individuals to communicate privately with their legal representatives is a cornerstone of access to justice.
The right to professional advocacy is wholly undermined if lawyers are expected to remain silent.
A child cannot have a fair hearing if his parents have not.

 

and

 

5…. The essential difference between a conventional IRH and the settlement conference lies in the judge seeking directly to persuade the parties to agree
with his or her view of the likely outcome , and expecting the parent or other parties to speak directly to the judge, without the protection of professional
advocacy and legally privileged advice.
6. The judge taking the settlement conference will not be the allocated judge,and therefore the scheme undermines judicial continuity, which has been a central
aim of the family justice system for many years. The settlement conference judge will not have the depth of knowledge and nuance of the case and may
therefore arrive at the wrong conclusion about the merits.
Apart from the issue of further delay, there is a risk, particularly in the smaller court centres, that the judge who deemed the case suitable for a settlement conference will
communicate their disappointment to the trial judge if the conference fails to produce a settlement.
7.Lawyers are to be present at settlement conferences, but they are discouraged from speaking, and therefore their presence provides only a semblance
of legal representation and due process.
The judge may ask a question directly of the lay client which the lawyer objects to, but the client may answer before the objection
can be made. The judge may attempt to restrict the lawyer’s interventions as an undermining of the process.
The passive presence of lawyers will not best serve the parents’ or child’s interests, but will serve to make appeals from “consent” decisions more difficult
to launch. We believe it will be very difficult if not impossible for our members to discharge their overriding professional duty to
promote the interests of their clients in such an environment.
8.The parents in care cases are usually vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals, a disproportionate number of who have learning disabilities and mental
health problems. They find it difficult to articulate their experiences and present their views effectively in a court room setting. They are inevitably under considerable
emotional stress when attending court about their children. Being directly addressed by the judge and expected to reply is likely to be experienced by the
parent as a form of pressure to make concessions, no matter how tactful and skilled the judge may be. The scheme is intended to produce settlement by
bypassing lawyers and using the judge’s authority and personality toproduce concessions. If it were not, it is difficult to see why the settlement
conference should produce a better rate of settlement than a properly conducted IRH.
9.The scheme will seriously undermine public confidence in the fairness and transparency of judicial decision-making in the family courts.Public confidence in the
“secret” family justice system is shaky.
Final decisions for the permanent removal of children from their parents made “by consent”, without parents having the benefit of legal representation and
privileged advice, will be highly suspect.
This will further damage public trust in family justice.
It would be fair to say that there are still some kinks to work out. Shame that there wasn’t a consultation and dialogue before launch of the pilot to let these issues be ventilated. Whilst the pilot only covers a few local authorities, these are real families and real children who are undergoing a pilot scheme to make these life-changing decisions in a way that is critiqued as savagely as this.
Perhaps the pilots should cease whilst the MOJ get round a table with the ALC to discuss things.
I’d say the ALC response is a takedown that Brock Lesnar would be proud of.
Who is Brock Lesnar?
Only The Beast Incarnate, that’s who.
"My client, BRRRROCK Lesnar"

“My client, BRRRROCK Lesnar”

Something something oranges something part 2

 

You may recall the recent Holman J case in which a 16 year old subject of care proceedings had told the social worker and Guardian something personal which he did not want his parents to know, and the social worker and Guardian were divided as to whether this was something which could legitimately be kept from the parents

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/04/21/something-something-oranges-something/

The application, this time with the parents represented, was decided by Mrs Justice Roberts.

Local Authority X v HI and Others 2016

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/1123.html

It raises some interesting questions.

The Court was aware of what the information was, as were the social worker and the Guardian. The mother and father did not know what it was. All of the barristers knew the information, having agreed (upon instructions from their clients) that they would know it but not share it with them.  It is almost impossible to fathom what the parents counsel were supposed to do if the parents were making guesses as to what it might be – save for just being plummy and saying “I can’t indulge in speculation”

The parents, who were the only people in the room who didn’t know what their son’s personal information was,  really then had to work on the basis of Holman J’s categorisation of the information

  1. As to the substance of the information which I has shared, it was described by Holman J in an earlier judgment[1] in this way:-
    1. “Relatively recently, the child concerned imparted some information to a social worker, which he has repeated also to the guardian. I stress that the information does not relate or pertain at all to either of his parents or his stepmother, but relates and pertains essentially to himself. Nothing in the information is in any way critical of anything done or not done, or said or not said, by either of his parents or his stepmother. The child himself has said very strongly that he does not wish either of his parents or his stepmother to know the information in question. The guardian considers that that confidentiality should be respected and that the information should not be disclosed or revealed to either of the parents or the stepmother. The local authority are very mindful and respectful of the confidentiality of a 15-year old child who is in their care, They do not consider that, realistically and objectively, the information could or should affect any issue at the forthcoming final hearing of the care proceedings. But they do consider that if one or other or both parents did know the information, one or other or both of them might wish to seek to deploy it in some way as part of their case in the care proceedings.” (The emphasis is mine.)

The argument came into these two camps

A) The Guardian arguing that just as a doctor has a duty of confidentiality to a young person who has capacity (see Gillick) so do a social worker and Guardian have a similar duty if a young capacitous person tells them something and says that they want it to go no further.  (also relying on the  PD v SD, JD and X County Council [2015] EWHC 4103 (Fam).  which was the young person who wanted to undergo gender reassignment and did not want his adoptive parents to have any detailed information)

Thus, on the Guardian’s case as advanced by Dr Bainham, the duty of confidentiality which was found to exist as between a Gillick competent child and a doctor or other medical professional advising on, or offering, medical treatment would necessarily be extended so as to cover social workers and other professionals engaged with the young person concerned.

B) The Local Authority and the parents arguing that that was correct IF the case was not in Court, but once there were Court proceedings, the Article 6 right to fair trail would outweigh such a right to confidentiality, unless there were compelling circumstances.

  1. Specific guidance in relation to the obligations on a local authority in care proceedings was provided by Lord Mustill in the leading case of Re D (Minors)(Adoption Reports: Confidentiality) [1996] AC 593. At page 615 D to H, his Lordship set out five principles with which the members of the full court were in agreement.
    1. “1. It is a fundamental principle of fairness that a party is entitled to the disclosure of all materials which may be taken into account by the court when reaching a decision adverse to that party. This principle applies with particular force to proceedings designed to lead to an order for adoption, since the consequences of such an order are so lasting and far-reaching.

2. When deciding whether to direct that notwithstanding rule 53(2) of the Adoption Rules 1984 a party referred to in a confidential report supplied by an adoption agency, a local authority, a reporting officer or a guardian ad litem shall not be entitled to inspect the part of the report which refers to him or her, the court should first consider whether disclosure of the material would involve a real possibility of significant harm to the child.

3. If it would, the court should next consider whether the overall interests of the child would benefit from non-disclosure, weighing on the one hand the interest of the child in having the material properly tested, and on the other both the magnitude of the risk that harm will occur and the gravity of the harm if it does occur.

4. If the court is satisfied that the interests of the child point towards non-disclosure, the next and final step is for the court to weigh that consideration, and its strength in the circumstances of the case, against the interest of the parent or other party in having an opportunity to see and respond to the material. In the latter regard the court should take into account the importance of the material to the issues in the case.

5. Non-disclosure should be the exception and not the rule. The court should be rigorous in its examination of the risk and gravity of the feared harm to the child, and should order non-disclosure only when the case for doing so is compelling.”

 

Obviously an important issue to resolve – young people do tell social workers and Guardians things, and sometimes they would prefer that their parents did not know. If the Guardian is right here that the approach should be in line with Gillick, then the decision would be made by the individual social worker and Guardian, and if not, the decision would be made by the Court, with non-disclosure being the exception and not the rule.

 

In the context of the present application, it is important to state that the information in respect of which I seeks to maintain privacy is not information which will have a bearing on any evaluation undertaken by the court in relation to the issue of whether or not the care which the second and fourth respondents have given, or may give in future, to I is likely to cause him to suffer significant harm such as to justify the making of a final care order. In my judgment, it will have no bearing whatsoever on any judicial investigation into the quality of the care they have provided in the past or the care they are likely to offer to I in the future in terms of the sort of care it would be reasonable to expect a parent to provide. Further, the local authority accepts that the information has not, and will not, affect or influence their decision-making for I in terms of the final care plan which is now before the court.

 

It would be very difficult to withhold from the parents information which went to whether a particular allegation in the case was true or false, or where the child was expressing a view about where his future home should be, but in this case, the Court was saying that the information was personal and not something that would have any bearing on the outcome of the case.

Father’s counsel disagreed,

  1. In his written skeleton (para 117), Mr Day on behalf of I’s father says that his client wishes to utilise the material at the forthcoming final hearing. He raises concerns that I “will become involved [in] gang culture and criminality and that corporate care will not be in his best interests. The sensitive information very much supports and grounds that contention and is required for there to be a fair trial.”
  2. With respect to Mr Day (who knows the nature of the confidential information), I can see no correlation at all between the information which I has imparted and the likelihood of his becoming involved in gang culture or the sort of criminality which is sometimes associated with such involvement or membership. The link between the two is not even tenuous in my judgment. Furthermore, the statement of intent to use the information at the forthcoming trial is made in an evidential vacuum. As matters stand, I’s father does not know anything about the information and he will not know unless and until the court authorises its disclosure. Mr Day seeks to widen the ambit of his assault on confidentiality by asserting that the material is relevant to that part of his client’s case which relates to an allegation that the local authority will not provide appropriate care for I if a final order is made. It seems to me that this is a matter for the trial judge who will be responsible for scrutinising with the utmost care the final plan advanced by the local authority.

 

What was the right test? And was the information relevant?  The Judge decided this

 

Analysis and Discussion

  1. The local authority was absolutely right to make this application. In my judgment, Holman J was also absolutely right to rule that the matter must come back to be dealt with on notice to the respondents.
  2. In terms of the correct approach to the issue of disclosure, I do not accept that I can consider issues flowing from I’s ‘personal autonomy’ in a vacuum. In my judgment, Mr Day is correct on this point. Gillick and Axon were both cases which did not involve any consideration of the engagement of Article 6 rights. In each, the applicant was seeking declaratory relief but no more. In this case, both Article 6 and Article 8 rights are engaged and accordingly the Re D test must form a part of the overall balancing exercise which I have to perform. However, it seems to me that the principles to emerge from Gillick and Axon become relevant at the stage of the balancing exercise where judicial focus is on the welfare of the child or young person. Respect for his or her views and the consequences of overriding those views where they are genuinely and strongly held must, in my judgment, form part of those welfare considerations.
  3. Dr Bainham makes the valid point on behalf of the Guardian that if Gillick principles are not accorded priority, any ‘looked after’ child in these circumstances would be at a disadvantage since his views would be accorded less respect because of the fact that he is at the centre of contested care proceedings. Whilst I can see the force of that submission, it does not in my judgment mean that I can disregard the equally important considerations which flow from the engagement of the respondents’ Article 6 rights. I’s views are important. They are entitled to considerable respect but they are one aspect of the overall balance which has to be achieved in this case. In my judgment, they are not determinative of outcome. Further, the fact that neither of his parents is currently exercising day to day parental care for I does not dilute the parental responsibility which they currently share with the local authority.
  4. The first question which must be addressed is that of relevance. Nothing which was said by I impinges upon, or affects in any way, the local authority’s case in relation to the respondents’ allegedly deficient parenting. On behalf of the local authority, Mr Krumins submits that it is important to distinguish in this context between the relevance of the information and the weight which can properly be attached to it. In relation to relevance, he contends that the threshold is low. Nevertheless, he concedes that the information is unlikely to assist the trial judge and will ultimately make no difference to outcome. I bear in mind the observation of Thorpe LJ in Re M (Disclosure) that if there is anything within the local authority’s care plan which gives rise to concerns, that may well be adverse to the respondents’ case should disclosure be withheld. However, where the principal challenge to, and defence of, the care proceedings amounts to a denial by the second and fourth respondents of the poor parenting which gives rise to the perceived risk of significant harm to I, it is difficult to see how a care plan which involves removal from that harmful environment can be said to raise independent concerns. That will be the central issue for the trial judge to determine.
  5. I have significant concerns about whether or not the information for which protection is sought is truly relevant to these proceedings. Whatever subjective views Mr Day may seek to advance on behalf of I’s father, it is difficult to see how any objective analysis of the information could lead to the conclusion that it has any relevance to the issues to be determined later this month. However, for the purposes of my judgment and on the basis that Mr Day is right and it has some tangential (or greater) relevance, I must go on to apply the balancing test set out in Re D.

 

Having decided to approach the matter on the Re D principles, the Judge went on to consider whether disclosure would present some risk of significant harm to the child

 

  1. Thus, the next question to be answered is whether disclosure of this information would involve a real possibility of significant harm to I.
  2. The Guardian and the local authority are not agreed on this aspect of the case. The local authority accepts that disclosure would be likely to expose I to an awkward and embarrassing situation, but no more. Within the material which has been put before the court is a statement prepared by a social worker on behalf of the local authority. It is dated 8 April 2016. In that statement, the social worker, AB, expresses the view that I may be embarrassed or ashamed as a result of disclosure. However, she acknowledges, too, that he may in future be reluctant to share information with professionals if the information is revealed to his parents against his wishes. Her statement also raises an issue as to whether what he said was true in any event.
  3. The concerns of the social worker find strong reflection in the Guardian’s evidence. She tells me that, knowing what she does about I’s father and step-mother, she believes neither ‘would … be able to respond to the information in a child-centred way at all, and that this could have emotionally devastating consequences for [I]’. She sets out in her evidence a report which she had received from a colleague who was present at a recent LAC review which was attended by I’s father and step-mother. One of the issues for discussion on that occasion was their willingness to engage in some work with an appropriate professional in order to assist their understanding of I’s needs. Their presentation on that occasion was said to be “extremely oppositional, even in [I’s] presence”. The report which emanated from that meeting is recorded in the body of the Guardian’s statement in this way.
    1. “It was appalling … [I’s father] totally took over, attempting to intimidate the professionals, leading to … [I] putting on the hood of his jacket and pressing his forehead onto the table in what appeared to be a combination of anxiety, frustration and sheer embarrassment. His wife [I’s step-mother] then started a wholly inappropriate and crass attack on the social worker – how can she do the job at her age, not having children. Basically, following father’s continued ranting and finger-pointing at me, I had no choice but to prematurely bring the review to an end. I’m far from convinced that the LA should be promoting contact for [I] with them. Before there can/should be any relationship work undertaken, perhaps father in particular should be advised to see his GP regarding having anger management and/or counselling. He certainly won’t be invited to the next review unless he makes some radical changes.”
  4. The Guardian expresses her very real concerns that the good relationship which I has managed to establish with his social worker and foster carer may be damaged by disclosure of the information which he wishes to keep private. Those relationships are important to him because they enable him to confide in these professional carers and, in turn, to receive appropriate support and guidance. To override his express wishes may undermine his trust in professionals making it difficult for them to offer the level of help and support from which he has so clearly benefitted to date. This would be entirely counter-productive and inimical to his best interests. She has no confidence in either the father’s or step-mother’s ability to respond appropriately or sensitively to something which I regards as a personal and embarrassing episode and she regards the prospects of disclosure as being ‘highly detrimental’ to his welfare.
  5. Thus, it seems to be common ground that disclosure to the parents will cause I emotional upset and some distress. The disagreement centres on the level of emotional harm and whether or not this is likely to be “significant”.
  6. On behalf of the father, Mr Day submits that “the worst reaction could be that the father is dismayed, disappointed and at worst may remonstrate with his son”. On behalf of I’s step-mother, Mr Fletcher reminds me that I has been told by his social worker that it is not possible for her to provide him with a guarantee that anything he tells her will remain private as between them. He points to the absence of any direct statements by I himself as to his fear of his parents’ reaction. He invites me to consider whether any perceived harm could be mitigated by putting in place safeguards so as to ensure that I was protected from any such reaction from his father and step-mother as that anticipated by the Guardian.
  7. I have to bear in mind that I is a very vulnerable young man. He is not yet 16 years old and has already been the subject of two separate sets of care proceedings. He has been found to have suffered neglectful and abusive parenting at the hands of his mother. His experience of life was fractured when he left his home with her to live in a completely different part of the country with his father and step-mother. His unhappiness and distress in that placement is reflected in his attempts to abscond and his absolute resistance to any return to that household and any form of continuing relationship with his father and/or his present wife. Whilst I accept that it is an untested account, I regard the record of what transpired at the recent LAC review as providing a valuable insight into what I is likely to be experiencing at the present time in terms of the conflict which appears to exist between his family and the professionals who are currently caring for him. The picture of I which emerges from the record of that meeting is one of a young man who has few, if any, coping strategies for dealing with that conflict. I do not accept that the absence of a specific reference by I to fear of his father’s reaction should lead me to a conclusion that he has no such fear. On behalf of the mother, Miss Bartholomew supports the Guardian’s position that there is a real risk of further significant harm to I in the event of disclosure. She records in her written submissions the mother’s historic and ongoing concerns about the aggressive and inflexible behaviour demonstrated by his father. She is concerned that his reaction to the information may well place I at risk of significant harm.
  8. In my judgment, whether one applies the label of “significant” or “real” harm to the question, there is indeed a real possibility of significant and detrimental harm to I if this information is disclosed. In his evidence in response to the local authority’s case, I’s father has denied entirely that his son is suffering, or has suffered, from any significant emotional harm. He accepts that he has shouted at I but justifies this on the basis that, “If you don’t stand up as a parent, the children are going to walk on you”. It is said that he referred to I in highly derogatory terms because of his educational difficulties. He does not admit using any such inflammatory terms but still refers to I in his statement as “this little boy”. I am satisfied that there is a clear risk that the consequences of disclosure of this material may well result in I’s disengagement from the professionals who have provided him with guidance and support since his reception into care. He has been damaged by his experience of family life in recent years and findings in relation to threshold have already been made in the context of the interim care order which sanctioned his removal from his father’s home. If his current support structure were to be put at risk for any reason, he may well withdraw and internalise issues thereby putting his happiness and future wellbeing at significant risk.
  9. I bear in mind, too, that whether or not the trial judge makes a final care order at the conclusion of these proceedings later this month, any prospect of repairing the relationship between I and his father will inevitably have to involve some form of therapeutic input from an appropriate professional or professionals. In this respect, it is essential that I believes that he can repose trust and confidence in those professionals and the care and support they will be providing. It would be harmful to him, and significantly so, if the chance to restore some form of relationship between parent and son in future were jeopardised because of a disclosure now of information which he regards as confidential.

 

The next step was to balance the article 6 rights and article 8 rights.

 

  1. In these circumstances, the final step is to weigh the interests of the respondents in having the opportunity to see and respond to the material. This involves a rigorous consideration of the engagement of their Article 6 and Article 8 rights.
  2. Given what I have already said in my judgment, I can dispose of the issue in relation to their Article 8 rights in fairly short order. These rights, whilst engaged, cannot take precedence over I’s Article 8 rights and he is clearly expressing a wish for no communication with his father or step-mother at the present time. As Yousef makes clear, the child’s rights are the paramount consideration in any balancing of competing Article 8 rights.
  3. As to the respondents’ Article 6 rights, the relevance of the information to outcome has already been addressed. In my judgment, it is of tangential or minimally indirect relevance at its highest and is completely irrelevant at its lowest. The local authority accepts that it will not impact upon outcome or future planning for I. The respondents’ rights to a fair trial are, of course, absolute but, as Lady Justice Hale acknowledged in Re X, in deciding how to conduct a fair trial, it is perfectly reasonable to take account of the facts and circumstances of the particular case with which the court is dealing. The concept of a fair trial is inviolable but the content (including the evidence) which is placed before the court is flexible and depends upon context and the issues with which the court is dealing. Whilst I accept that any departure from the usual requirements in relation to the disclosure of evidence in an adversarial trial must be for a legitimate aim and proportionate to that aim, the Court of Appeal has held that protecting the welfare of vulnerable young persons is a specific and undoubtedly a legitimate aim.
  4. In my judgment, the harm which would be caused by disclosure of information which has very little, if any, relevance to the issues which need to be determined by the court would be wholly disproportionate to any legitimate forensic purposes served. I am entirely satisfied that depriving the respondents of the opportunity to have this information will not deny to any of them a fair trial. Disclosure would, however, be a breach of I’s Article 8 rights.
  5. Considering all these matters in the round, I have reached the clear conclusion that the case for non-disclosure of the information which is the subject of the Guardian’s current application is compelling. The circumstances of this case, looked at in the round, do make it exceptional and I regard it as entirely necessary that I’s confidence and privacy in this information is maintained. I cannot overlook the fact that, as a Gillick competent young person, he has expressed in the clearest terms his wish that the family should not have access to the information. Those wishes deserve the court’s respect, albeit in the context of the overall balancing exercise which I have conducted

 

This particular passage has some broader significance – the right to a fair trial does not mean that a person gets to run the case exactly as they please, the Court controls the content and nature of the hearing whilst still having the duty to secure that the trial is FAIR

 

The concept of a fair trial is inviolable but the content (including the evidence) which is placed before the court is flexible and depends upon context and the issues with which the court is dealing

 

Finally, the Judge recognised that the parents knowing that something was being kept from them (even if most of us can guess what it might be) was difficult

 

Finally, I would conclude by echoing the words of Holman J which are exquisitely apt in this case. I, too, am deeply conscious that whenever disclosure issues of this kind arise, there is inevitably a problem once parents or other interested respondents are put on notice that there exists some information in respect of which the court has supported an application for non-disclosure. As Holman J observed, ‘”conspiracy theory” and imaginings may inevitably take over’. The parents and step-mother may well be concerned that the information is graver than it actually is. I would hope to reassure them by my finding in relation to the likely relevance of the information to the issues which are at stake.

Woman who sparked versus Magical Sparkle Powers

You might remember this Court of Protection case

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/12/02/a-life-that-sparkles/

where a woman was found by the Court of Protection to have capacity to refuse medical treatment, even though doing so would be likely to bring about her death. The woman had some unusual (though capacitous) ideas about how she wanted to live, and she preferred to leave life whilst she still felt glamourous and sparkling, rather than to limp on in life and eventually fade away. It was an interesting case, with a lot to debate. As a result of this decision, she did die, leaving three children, one of whom was still a minor. Very sad case.

Sadly, some of the mainstream Press, having spent years sobbing outside the doors of the Court of Protection wanting to be let in to report responsibly, rather let themselves down, with the reporting they carried out

 

 

  • The application came before me on 9 December 2015. In summary, the statements filed in support of it show that:

 

i) V and G have been distressed by having to be involved in the COP proceedings, and by the extensive media interest in the information about C and their family that was provided to the COP, which appears to them to have been precipitated not only by a wish to report and comment on the bases on which the COP reached its decision but also to attract prurient interest in their mother’s sexual and relationship history (including her relationship with her children V, G and A).ii) At the time of the hearing before MacDonald J, neither V nor G anticipated the possibility that C and her family would be named in the press and that photographs of them would be published. Their attention was entirely taken up with the decision the COP was required to make and its implications.

iii) C’s youngest daughter, A, is a teenager who was already suffering from fragile mental health which has manifested itself in her physical conduct. The suicide attempt of her mother and her subsequent refusal of life-sustaining treatment despite A’s request to her to accept treatment, with which A had a direct and stressful involvement, have understandably had an appalling impact on A’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.

iv) A has already been negatively affected by the media coverage of the family, despite attempts by her father to shield her from it. Inevitably, A has now been told about certain very limited aspects of the COP’s reasoning, including negative descriptions of her mother’s character, which have upset her further. A’s father and one of her teachers are sure that if her mother is named, this will have an even more serious effect on A’s mental wellbeing and her ability to cope at school. V also asks the court to have regard to the serious risks of harassment of A not only directly from people around her, e.g. at school, but also on the internet including and in particular through social media.

v) There have been numerous attempts by journalists to contact the family and people with a previous relationship with C and her children.

vi) Family photographs have been obtained and published in a pixelated form.

 

  • Before the reporting restrictions order was extended:

 

i) At around 5.30 pm on Wednesday 2 December 2015 a reporter from the Daily Mail went to the home of A’s father (an ex-husband of C) where A lives. A answered the door and without saying who she was the reporter asked to speak to her father using his name, V asked who she was and was told that she was a journalist from the Daily Mail, A’s father came downstairs and the journalist asked if he would talk to her about his ex-wife. He refused and the journalist left.ii) On the evening of 2 December 2015 a reporter from the Mail on Sunday was asking questions about C in one of the pubs in the village where A and her father live. This was reported to V by friends in the village.

 

  • More generally, the evidence indicates that on unspecified dates (a) the Daily Mail and the Sun contacted C’s third ex-husband in America, and (b) a journalist went to see the husband of the housekeeper of flats where G had once lived seeking G’s current details on the basis that he was writing a memorial piece about G’s mother and was sure that G would want to speak to him. During his visit he opened C’s Facebook page.
  • Some of the coverage contains pixelated photographs of C, V and G. It is plain that some of these photographs have been chosen as photographs that emphasise the aspects of the published accounts that are of prurient interest and there is at least a risk, particularly in respect to C, that she would be recognised by some people.
  • Examples of reporting in the Times (4 December), the Daily Mail (6 December) and the Sun Online (6 December), are highlighted by V:

 

i) the Times ran a pixelated photograph of C on its front page with a caption “Voluntary death. The socialite allowed to die at 50 rather than grow old had a narcissistic disorder, doctors said. A court ruling blocked her identification. Page 7”. The article at page 7 was under the headline: “I won’t become an old banger” there was a further pixelated photograph of C standing by a car and a pixelated photograph of one of C’s adult daughters,ii) the Daily Mail at pages 26 and 27 published the same pixelated photograph as that on the front page of the Times and the article had the headline: “Revealed: Truth about the socialite who chose death over growing old and ugly —- and the troubling questions over a judge’s decision to let her do it”. Near the end of the article it is stated: “For the husband and daughters she leaves behind, the manner of her death is heartbreaking”, and

iii) the Sun Online has two headlines: “Mum who fought to die was “man eater obsessed with sex, cars and cash” and “A Socialite who chose to die at 50 rather than grow old was a “man eater obsessed with sex, money and cars”, a pal claimed yesterday” and published two pixelated photographs of C at a younger age each showing her with a drink in hand. In one in which she is wearing a low-cut party dress and in the other she is raising her skirt, standing by a vintage motor car and wearing what appears to be the same outfit as she is wearing in the photograph on the front page of the Times and in the Daily Mail.

 

There’s an old Aesop fable about a frog and a scorpion. The scorpion wants to cross a river and asks the frog if he can ride across on the frog’s back. No, the frog responds, you’ll sting me and I’ll die. Wait, says the scorpion, if I was foolish enough to sting you whilst we were crossing, we’d both die – you from the sting, but I would drown, so it won’t be in my interests to sting you. The frog agrees. Midway across the river, the scorpion begins stinging the frog. The frog shouts, if you keep doing that, we’ll both die. The scorpion says, I know, but it’s in my nature.

 

frog-scorpion

It really isn’t in the longer term interests of the Press to sting the frog of transparency by using that additional access to behave so irresponsibly and despicably, but it’s in their nature.

Anyhow, this is Charles J’s decision on the Reporting Restriction Order.

V v Associated Newspapers Ltd 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2016/21.html

 

The first law Geeky point, hence the title, is what jurisdiction the Court of Protection have to make a Reporting Restriction Order. The argument goes like this :- (a) The Court of Protection exists to determine whether a person has capacity, and if not, what is in their best interests and you have already ruled that this woman HAD capacity, so your involvement stops and (b) as she is now dead, whatever jurisdiction you had over her affairs is now gone. Decent points.

Charles J concluded that the CoP did still have jurisdiction, and in any event, if they don’t, then the High Court will just use Magical Sparkle Powers (TM)

 

  • I have concluded:

 

(1) The COP has jurisdiction after the finding that C had capacity and her death to make the reporting restrictions order sought by the Applicant but insofar as it may be necessary or appropriate I will also make it as a High Court judge.

There is a longer answer here:-

Jurisdiction of the COP to make a reporting restrictions / anonymity order after it has determined that C had capacity and/ or after C’s death

  • As I have already mentioned this jurisdictional point is raised by the media Respondents but they do not resist me making an injunction as a High Court judge. They base the argument on the finding of capacity made by MacDonald J. The Applicant addresses the relevant jurisdictional effect of this finding and of C’s death.
  • The media Respondents rely by analogy on In re Trinity Mirror Plc and others [2008] QB 770 concerning s.45(4) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 which provided that in “all other matters incidental to its jurisdiction” the Crown Court was to have the like powers, rights, privileges and authority as the High Court. The Court of Appeal held that the Crown Court has no inherent jurisdiction to grant injunctions and that unless “the proposed injunction is directly linked to the exercise of the Crown Court’s jurisdiction and the exercise of its statutory functions, the appropriate jurisdiction is lacking”.
  • Section 47 of the MCA is worded slightly differently and provides that: “the court has in connection with its jurisdiction the same powers, rights, privileges and authority as the High Court”. It is generally accepted that the COP does not have an inherent jurisdiction so the issue is whether it can grant an injunction because it is exercising that power “in connection with its jurisdiction“.
  • At the time that the reporting restrictions order was made in this case by Moor J, sitting as a judge of the COP, I consider that it is clear that he was making that order in connection with the jurisdiction of the COP to determine initially whether or not C had capacity. In my view, it follows that he could in reliance on s. 47 have made that order for a period extending beyond any finding made that C had capacity, or the death of C (as to which see further below), if he had thought that that was appropriate. He did not do so.
  • The effect of the argument of the media Respondents is that if the hearing on 13 November 2015 had been before a judge, other than a High Court judge (which is not the practice in serious medical treatment cases but could occur in other cases) that judge having determined and announced his decision that C had capacity as a judge of the COP had no jurisdiction to continue, vary or discharge the injunction granted by Moor J. To my mind, that would be an unfortunate and odd result particularly, for example, if C had asked for it to be discharged. However, in my view, it does not arise because I consider that the termination, continuation or variation of an injunction made by the COP in the exercise of its jurisdiction conferred by s. 47 would also be within the jurisdiction so conferred as being “in connection with its jurisdiction”.
  • However, by its terms the injunction that was granted by Moor J expired on the death of C and so the present application is for a new injunction that was made at a time when for two reasons the COP no longer had jurisdiction over C and was therefore functus officio.
  • The Applicant points to a number of sections in the MCA which give the COP jurisdiction to make orders in respect of persons whether they have or lack capacity (see ss 15 (1)(c), 21A, 23 and 26(3)) but, in my view, this does not provide an answer because in this case the COP was not exercising jurisdiction under any of those sections.
  • To my mind the question on this application is whether the COP has power to grant a new injunction because it relates to proceedings that were before it although by reason of its decision and/or the death of P it no longer has any jurisdiction to make the welfare order sought. The answer is determined by considering whether in those circumstances it is exercising a power “in connection with its jurisdiction“. In my view the answer is that it is. This is because, in my view, the nature and extent of the relevant Article 8 rights relied on flows from the existence of the earlier proceedings before the COP, in which it exercised its jurisdiction and I see no reason to construe s. 47 to limit the power it confers to the period during which that jurisdiction continues to exist over the subject of the proceedings.
  • Indeed, I agree with the Applicant that the principle that legislation should be interpreted so far as possible to be compatible with Convention rights supports this conclusion because:

i) it promotes the grain of the legislation (the MCA), andii) it enables the court best placed to carry out the balancing exercise between competing Convention rights to perform that exercise.

  • That grain links back to the points I have already made that the jurisdiction of the COP invades not only the life of its subject P but also on many occasions the lives of others and in particular P’s family members.
  • Conclusion. I can make the injunction sought as a judge of the COP and I do so. However to avoid any jurisdictional argument in the future, and if and so far as this is necessary, I also make it as a High Court judge exercising the jurisdiction of that court.

 

The central issue here was whether the Press could report the story, and deal with both the human interest angle and the issue for public debate (the case being categorised – incorrectly, as a ‘right to die’ case, which is always interesting to the public – in fact, it is not a development of law at all, because people with capacity have always been able to refuse medical treatment, which is all that happened here) WITHOUT identifying the woman at the heart of the story. Clearly, the Press knew who she was, because they were able to doorstep people who knew her, look at her Facebook page and print pixelated images of her.

 

 

  • The naming propositions are reflected in the following points made by Mr Steafel:

 

The Daily Mail considers it has a duty to the public to report fairly and accurately on what happens in the courts. In order to engage the interest of members of the public in the kinds of issues the court decides, it is however necessary to publish articles and reports that people actually want to read. That means telling our readers about the facts of the cases, including the real people and places involved, and sometimes publishing pictures that relate to these people and places.

Where proceedings are anonymised, it is more difficult to engage our readers as the real people involved in the cases are necessarily invisible and the stories therefore lack a vital human dimension. It is human nature to find it more difficult to take an interest in a story about problems arising from, say, dementia or the right to die if the story does not feature identifiable individuals. If we cannot publish stories about important issues that people are drawn to read, this will inevitably limit and reduce the quality of public debate around these issues. It is in my view important in a democratic society that we should encourage informed debate I believe that the media, including the popular press, fulfils a vital function in this regard. By reading about the experiences of others, readers are likely to be able to identify with those people and understand what they are going through. But they are much less engaged – and correspondingly less focused on the surrounding public debate – where they cannot identify with real people, places and events. Pictures are a hugely potent way of engaging readers and one of the problems with covering anonymised cases is that it is impossible to include pictures in our stories which identify those involved.

 

  • I agree that fair and accurate reporting is vital if the public interest is to be promoted and I acknowledge that whether something is fair involves a value judgment and does not equate to it being balanced.
  • On the intense scrutiny that is required of the rival propositions relating to anonymisation I consider that a distinction can be made between (a) cases where pursuant to the default or general position under the relevant Rules or Practice Directions the court is allowing access (or unrestricted access) to the media and the public, and (b) cases in which it is imposing restrictions and so where the court is turning the tap on rather than off. But, I hasten to accept that this distinction:

 

i) simply reflects the strength of the reasoning that underlies the relevant COP Rules and Practice Directions, the established Scott v Scott exceptions and the positon referred to by Lady Hale that in many, perhaps most cases, the important safeguards secured by a public hearing can be secured without the press publishing or the public knowing the identities of the people involved, and soii) provides weight to the general arguments for anonymity to promote the administration of justice by the COP generally and in the given case, and does not

iii) undermine the force of the naming propositions as general propositions, with the consequence that the COP needs to remember that it is not an editor.

 

  • As I have already said (see paragraphs 94 and 95 above) the weight to be given to (a) the naming propositions, and (b) the conclusion on what generally best promotes the administration of justice will vary from case to case and on a staged approach to a particular case the weight of the naming propositions, and so this aspect of the factors that underlie and promote Article 10, will often fall to be taken into account in the context of (i) the validity of the reasons for their application in that case, and (ii) the impact of a departure in that case from the general conclusion on what generally promotes the administration of justice in cases of that type. This means that those reasons and that impact will need to be identified in a number of cases.
  • As I have already mentioned, although he refers to and relies on the naming propositions Mr Steafel does not say why in this case the relevant public interests, rather than the gratification of a prurient curiosity or interest of the public:

 

i) would be or would have been advanced by the identification of C and members of her family in the publicity that took place,ii) was advanced by the reporting that contained pixelated photographs and focused on C’s lifestyle, or

iii) why he says the balance will change on A’s 18th birthday between reporting that does not name C and her family and reporting that does.

Accordingly he does not say, as an editor, why in this case the view expressed by Theis J that “there is no public interest in C or her family being identified” either is wrong or will become wrong when A is 18.

 

The Press had the chance to set out arguments and provide evidence as to why naming the woman was necessary for the proper and accurate reporting, rather than to gratify prurient curiousity, and they did not do so. Nor did they take up the Court’s offer of the ability to file evidence setting out why they felt the previous reporting and methodology were appropriate…

 

  • S0, to my mind, in this exercise the COP needs to consider why and how the naming propositions, and so the proposed naming or photographs of C and her family members that links them to the COP proceedings, would or would be likely to engage or enhance the engagement of the interest of the public in matters of public interest rather than in those of prurient or sensational interest.
  • This has not been done in this case. But in contrast evidence has been put in on the likely harm to the relevant individuals that such reporting would cause.
  • The ultimate balance in this case on the dispute relating to duration. On one side are:

 

i) the Article 8 rights of all of C’s children,ii) the weight of the arguments for a reporting restrictions order in this case, and so of the general practice in the COP of making such orders in analogous COP cases where the family do not want any publicity and have given evidence of matters that affect their private and family life and that of P of a clearly personal and private nature,

iii) the acceptance by the media Respondents that until A is 18 the balance between the Article 8 rights and Article 10 rights in this case justifies the grant of a reporting restrictions order,

iv) the compelling evidence of the extent and nature of the harm and distress that reporting that identifies C and any member of her family as respectively the subject of (or members of the family of the subject of) the COP proceedings and so of MacDonald J ‘s judgment would cause, and

v) the ability of the court to make a further order if and when circumstances change.

 

  • On the other side are the general propositions relating to the benefits of naming the individuals involved.
  • I accept that Thiess J’s statement that “there is no public interest in C and her family being identified” and my indications of agreement with it at the hearing go too far because of the well-known and important naming propositions and the public interests that underlie them. But, in my view, the absence of an explanation of why:

 

i) the accepted balance changes on A’s 18th birthday and so of why identifying C and her family and linking them to the COP proceedings and the publicity at the end of last year would then promote the public interests that underlie Article 10, or why those public interests could not in this case then still be properly and proportionately served by reporting that observes the reporting restrictions order, orii) more generally why any such identification would at any other time promote (or have promoted) or its absence would harm (or would have harmed) the public interests that underlie and promote Article 10

means that the naming propositions have no real weight in this case and balance of the competing factors comes down firmly in favour of the grant of a reporting restrictions order until further order.

 

As there was to be an Inquest, and Inquests are open to the press and public, the Court did need to consider whether the Reporting Restriction Order should cover the naming of this woman or her family emerging from the Inquest.

The extension of the order to cover C’s inquest.

 

  • The earlier orders provide that the injunction does not restrict publishing information relating to any part of a hearing in a court in England and Wales (including a coroner’s court) in which the court was sitting in public. It seems to me therefore that the result the Applicant seeks would be achieved by changing the word “including” to “excluding”.
  • This is much closer to the position in Re S and Potter P addressed such an application in Re LM [2007] EWHC 1902 (Fam) where he said:

 

The Overall Approach

53. In approaching this difficult case, I consider that I should apply the principles laid down in Re S, ————-

54. There are obvious differences between proceedings at an inquest and the criminal process, most notably that the task of the Coroner and jury is to determine the manner of the death of the deceased and does not extend to determining questions of criminal guilt. In various cases that has been held to be a matter of weight in respect of witnesses seeking to protect their own personal safety. However, in this case, the inquest to be held is into the killing of a child, L, in the situation where a High Court Judge has already found as a matter of fact that the mother was responsible for L’s death and the application is made because harm is indirectly apprehended to a child who is a stranger to the investigative process. It is presently uncertain whether criminal proceedings will in fact be taken against the mother. If so, and the Coroner is so informed, then no doubt he will further adjourn the matter pursuant to s.16. of the Coroners Act 1988. If that is done, then the question of publicity and reporting restrictions in those proceedings will fall four square within the principles propounded in Re S. If not, and if, as seems likely, the mother continues to pose a danger to any child in her care, then, if continued, the reporting restrictions in the care proceedings would prevent that fact from reaching the public domain, despite its clear public interest and importance.

 

  • He carried out a detailed balance between the competing rights emphasising the strength and importance of a public hearing of the inquest and so the general conclusion on what promotes the administration of justice in such proceedings. Having done so he refused the injunction sought that the parents should not be identified.
  • Here the important issue of child protection is absent.
  • In the note of counsel for some of the media Respondents dated 28 January 2016 points are made about the importance of a proviso permitting the reporting of other proceedings conducted in open court, including a coroner’s court. But after the Applicant sought this extension junior counsel responded (as mentioned in paragraph 49 above) that his clients are neutral on this point.
  • As the approach of Potter P confirms an application for restrictions on the reporting of other proceedings conducted in open court engages important and powerful interests against the making of such an order. However, in my view:

 

i) the expressed neutrality of some of the media Respondents reflects a responsible and understandable stance that in isolation the inquest is unlikely to give rise to issues of public interest or to any such issues in respect of which the general propositions in favour of naming C or her family will have any significant weight, andii) in any event, I consider that that is the position.

 

  • The essential question is therefore whether, unless the court makes a further order, C’s family should be at risk of publicity relating to the inquest that makes the connection between them and the COP proceedings and so effectively of suffering the harm and distress that any other reporting that identifies them and makes that link would bring.
  • The history of the prurient nature of some of the earlier reporting is a clear indicator that such reporting might be repeated. But, even if that risk is discounted I have concluded that the balance comes down firmly in favour of extending the order to cover the inquest.
  • The main factors to be taken into account overlap with those to be taken into account in respect of the duration of the order.
  • On the one side are:

 

i) the points set out in paragraph 167 (i) to (v) as the inquest is likely to take place before a is 18 andii) the points set out in paragraph 175.

 

  • On the other side are:

 

i) the powerful and weighty reasoning that underlies the conclusion and practice that the administration of justice is best served by inquests being heard in open court without reporting restrictions, andii) the general and accepted force of the naming propositions absent any evidence or reasoning that they found a need for reporting of the inquest that makes the link with the COP proceedings.

 

And the order therefore stops the Press naming the woman as a result of reporting on the Inquest – they can still report on the Inquest itself. It obviously doesn’t mean that the Inquest itself is barred from naming her.

 

The judgment also annexes some helpful procedural guidance on applications for Reporting Restriction Orders within the Court of Protection.