RSS Feed

Tag Archives: baker j

The Hungarian Games

 

A peculiar case where the parents were agreeing to adopt their child and the fight was about whether that would be in the UK or Hungary.

Hence the title. And not by any stretch of the imagination, a cheap opportunity for a Jennifer Lawrence photo.  Goodness looking through those photos to find a decent one was a terrible hardship.

 

 

I mean, seriously, I had to research the heck out of J Law for this piece

I mean, seriously, I had to research the heck out of J Law for this piece

 

Re AO (Care proceedings) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/36.html

 

And yes, this Judge was setting me up for an A-O Let’s Go, Ramones * title, and I spurned it. I feel bad and all, but c’mon. J Law!

(*yes I lost my mind in first draft and put the Buzzocks)

In this case then, the parents were both Hungarian, but had been living in England for some time. They had a baby and didn’t feel able to care for the baby, so they contacted the Local Authority to say that they wanted to relinquish the baby for adoption. They understood what was involved and freely agreed to it.  The LA felt that the baby should really grow up in Hungary, to be in touch with the parents culture.  The parents were adamantly against this. That argument meant that the only way the baby could be adopted in Hungary would be if the LA obtained a Placement Order. And in order to do that, they would need to prove that the section 31 Children Act threshold criteria were met – that the child was suffering significant harm, or likely to do so.

Tricky to do.

Let us see how the LA argued that threshold was met.

 

 

  • In this case, the local authority’s case was that, by failing to care for AO themselves and by relinquishing her to be looked after by the local authority, the parents had caused her to suffer significant emotional harm and to be likely to suffer further such harm, that harm being attributable to the care given to her not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to provide. The local authority further contended that the fact that the parents said that they were content for AO to be placed for adoption in England did not reduce the harm in question because the harm and likelihood of harm arose from AO

 

(a) having to be permanently removed from her mother at birth;

(b) having to be cared for by a foster carer, however caring and competent, rather than her own parents;

(c) having in due course to be moved to another carer, whether in England or in Hungary;

(d) being deprived of any relationship with her birth parents and possibly with their extended family;

(e) being deprived in her early weeks and months of experiences consistent with her Hungarian culture and heritage;

(f) being likely to become an adopted person rather than being brought up by her birth family, and having in due course to learn that her parents chose not to bring her up themselves.

 

  • In oral submissions, Mr Stuart Fuller on behalf of the local authority conceded that not every case where a child is given up for adoption would satisfy the threshold criteria. He submitted that in this case, however, the parents’ actions in not only giving AO up but also insisting that she should not be placed in Hungary either with her birth family or with adoptive parents was unreasonable and was causing, or likely to cause, harm to AO in depriving her of the opportunity to live with her birth family and/or in her birth culture.

This position was supported by the children’s guardian. He submitted that neither parent had in fact provided AO with any care at all. He concluded that it was in her best interests to live in Hungary. The parents’ withholding of information concerning the family would prevent her having a complete understanding of her background and history and would impinge on her emotional welfare

 

I think this is skilfully put together, but it is nowhere near establishing threshold.

Unusually, the parents here shared the same silk, Frank Feehan QC, but each had their own junior counsel. I haven’t ever come across that before. But if you think that Frank Feehan QC (of Re B fame) was going to swallow that threshold, you haven’t been paying attention.

 

 

  • On behalf of the parents, Mr Frank Feehan QC, leading Ms Grainne Mellon for the mother and Ms Katherine Dunseath for the father, submitted that the threshold criteria were not satisfied in this case. They reminded me of the definition of “harm” in section 31 (9), and also reminded me of the provisions of section 31(10):

 

“where the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the chart’s health or development, his health or development shall be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child”.

Mr Feehan and the juniors representing the parents further cited the well-known observation of Hedley J in Re L (Care: Threshold Criteria) [2007] 1 FLR 2050 at para 70:

“society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent. It follows too that children will inevitably have both very different experiences of parenting and very unequal consequences flowing from it. It means that some children will experience disadvantage and harm, while others flourish in atmospheres of loving security and emotional stability. These are the consequences of our fallible humanity and it is not the provenance of the state to spare children all the consequences of defective parenting. In any event, it simply could not be done.”

 

  • The core submission made on behalf of the parents was that the factual assertions made by the local authority and accepted by the mother did not amount to a finding of significant harm. It was submitted that to find that, as a relinquished child born in this country and now highly adoptable, AO would suffer significant harm as a result of growing up English rather than Hungarian would be a distortion of the statutory criteria. These parents took a decision as to the future of their child which many do not take: that they are simply not ready and not able to care for her and others should do so. They were in early contact with the authorities and fully cooperated with arrangements to ensure more than adequate care. In addition, it was submitted that, contrary to the suggestion that no information had been given by the parents as to AO’s background, the parents had in fact given brief but full details of their own families and background and upbringing.

 

 

 

The Judge, Mr Justice Baker, was also mindful of public policy issues – if you make it too difficult and too onerous and too intrusive for a parent who wants to give their child up for adoption to do so, well then you’ll return to the days of children being left in wicker baskets on the doorsteps of hospitals and police stations. There has to be a balance

 

 

  • In my earlier judgement, I considered earlier reported cases in which a child had been given up by parents for adoption. In particular, I cited the observations of Holman J in Z County Council v R [2001] 1 FLR 365 :

 

“Adoption exists to serve many social needs. But high among them has been, historically, the desire or need of some mothers to be able to conceal from their own family and friends, the fact of the pregnancy and birth. So far as I know, it has not previously been suggested, nor judicially determined, that that confidentiality of the mother cannot be respected and maintained. If it is now to be eroded, there is, in my judgment, a real risk that more pregnant women would seek abortions or give birth secretly, to the risk of both themselves and their babies …. There is, in my judgment, a strong social need, if it is lawful, to continue to enable some mothers, such as this mother, to make discreet, dignified and humane arrangements for the birth and subsequent adoption of their babies, without their families knowing anything about it, if the mother, for good reason, so wishes.”

I observed (at para 47 of Re JL, Re AO)):

“It might be thought that giving up a baby for adoption is a dereliction of responsibility. In many such cases – perhaps most – the truth will be very different. Anyone who has read the accounts of persons who have given up a baby in those circumstances will soon come to see that it is usually a decision taken only after a great deal of thought and anguish, by parents who realise that they cannot look after the baby and wish to give the baby the best opportunity to grow up in a loving home.”

 

  • As I pointed out in the earlier judgment, very few babies nowadays are given up for adoption at birth. In the first half of the 20th century, when illegitimacy still carried great social stigma, the numbers of babies adopted at birth were very much greater. As the stigma has evaporated, so the numbers of deduction so the numbers of babies relinquished for adoption have dwindled. New techniques for reproduction have provided different ways of meeting the requirements of couples who are unable to have children themselves. But there remain a few isolated cases where a mother concludes that she is unable to look after her child. It may be because her past history demonstrates that she is incapable of caring for a child. Or it may be that she feels that she cannot keep the baby for other reasons. A civilised society must accommodate such feelings and decisions, as societies always have. These feelings and decisions come within the range of diverse parenting to which Hedley J was referring in Re L. If society does not tolerate and facilitate such decisions, mothers who feel that they cannot keep them babies will be driven to take other measures.
  • It follows, therefore, that the fact that the mother has given up her baby does not by itself satisfy the threshold criteria under section 31. When a baby has been simply abandoned on a doorstep, it is likely that criteria will be satisfied – each case will, as always, turn on its own facts. In cases where the mother has reached the difficult decision that she cannot keep the baby, notified the local authority in advance, and made responsible plans for the relinquishment of the baby in a way which minimises the risk of harm, it is in my judgment unlikely to be the case that the threshold criteria will be satisfied. It is likely that a baby deprived of her mother’s care will suffer some form of harm but that will be diminished if the baby is swiftly moved to another carer in a planned way. Even when a baby suffers harm from being deprived of her mother’s care, it does not follow in these circumstances that the harm can be described as being attributable to the care given to the child not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give. A mother who concludes that she cannot care for her baby, and who notifies the authorities and makes responsible plans for relinquished in the baby at birth, is not, in my judgment, acting unreasonably.
  • The local authority argued that, in this case, the relinquishment has been accompanied by an insistence on the baby being placed in England, and a reluctance to co-operate with attempts to contact the Hungarian extended family or place the child in that country. As a result, A had suffered harm through being deprived of links with her extended family and culture. I agree that on one view this could be considered detrimental, but it is doubtful that it can be regarded as significant harm and, even if it can, I do not consider that the parents can be said to be acting unreasonably. It is not unreasonable for them to want the baby to be placed for adoption in this country. Such views also fall within the range of diverse parenting identified by Hedley J. Unless society tolerates and facilitates such decisions, mothers who want their children to be placed in this country will be driven to take other steps.
  • Accordingly, I concluded that the local authority has failed to prove the threshold criteria for making a care order under section 31 in this case.

 

 

 

As it was not possible to make a Placement Order without either parental consent or satisfying the threshold criteria, it wasn’t NECESSARY for the Judge to rule whether it might be better for the child to grow up in Hungary rather than England  – but Baker J made it plain that he would not have done so in any event

 

Welfare

 

  • In the light of my decision as to the threshold criteria, it was strictly speaking unnecessary to determine whether the local authority plan for placing AO in Hungary would be the best outcome for her welfare, having regard to the provisions of section 1 of the Children Act. As I indicated at the conclusion of the hearing, however, it is my view, having considered the arguments, that such a plan would not be in AO’s overall interests, and I here set out the brief reasons for so concluding.
  • The local authority’s consistent view throughout these proceedings was that it was in AO’s interests to be brought up in Hungary. She is a Hungarian citizen whose heritage is Hungarian. Other than the place of her birth and placement with her foster carer for the last six months, she has no connection with this country. She has no extended family here. In addition, the local authority submitted that, were she to be adopted here, she would in due course be told of her background and would learn that she has Hungarian parents and extended family. It was argued that, were she then to learn that she had been “turned into” an English child because that was what her Hungarian parents wanted, she would be likely to suffer identity confusion which in turn could lead to emotional harm and stress within her adoptive family. In addition, if she is brought up in England, by the time she learns of a Hungarian background it will be extremely difficult if not impossible for her to make any meaningful connection with her heritage.
  • In reply, the parents’ consistent view throughout these proceedings has been that it would be better for AO to be brought up in this country. In addition, she was by the date of the hearing nearly seven months old and settled with her English carer. If she was moved to Hungary, she would move to a country where she is unfamiliar with the surroundings and language. In addition, if placed in Hungary, she would be subjected to at least two further moves of family – an initial preliminary foster placement to be followed by a move to a permanent family. In contrast, if she remained in this country, she would stay with the current carers until such time as an adoptive placement has been found.
  • The children’s guardian supported the local authority’s plan for moving AO to Hungary. He attached particular importance to her cultural heritage which would not be sustained if she was placed with an English family. A further concern highlighted by the guardian was that Hungary would be unlikely to recognise the adoption in England of a Hungarian child. This could create difficulties were AO to visit Hungary. Her ability to get to know Hungarian culture and background would therefore be impeded. The guardian feared that this might impinge adversely on her ability to gain a true sense of her identity, which in turn could lead to a sense of injustice with adverse consequences for her self-esteem, development and behaviour.
  • Set against that, however, the guardian expressed concern that with every passing week AO was becoming more attached to her current placement. He also pointed out that, if she was to be adopted here, a transition plan would be formulated involving both carers offering reassurance to help her with the change of primary care. In contrast, if she were to be placed in Hungary, the transition timespan would inevitably be much shorter which might cause difficulties in adjustment. Although it had been agreed that her carer and social worker would take AO to Hungary and take part in the transition arrangements, that process would, as the guardian identified, inevitably take place over a shorter period of time than in England. While supporting the local authority’s plan, the guardian was concerned that the details of how a Hungarian adoption would be arranged remained unclear, in contrast to the clarity of the process by which an adoption would be arranged in this country.
  • I accept that, other things being equal, it would be in AO’s advantage to grow up in her own culture. However, other things are not equal. AO is settled with her English foster carer and a move to Hungary would in my judgment be far more disruptive and damaging than an adoptive placement in this country which will involve only one change of carer, no language difficulties, and a transition that can be arranged at a pace and in a way that best meets AO’s needs. It is, of course, very important that AO should be brought up with an awareness of her cultural background, but in my judgment this can be addressed by carefully selecting adopters who are able and willing to accept that she has such needs which they as her permanent parents will have to meet. I acknowledge the potential difficulties if Hungary refuses to recognise an English adoption of a child that it regards as Hungarian, but in my judgment this factor, and the others identified by the local authority, do not outweigh the clear benefits of proceeding to place her for adoption in this country. Accordingly, had I been required to do so, I would not have accepted the local authority care plan as being the right option to meet AO’s needs.

 

 

 

A good decision, in my book. And it clarifies the position for other Local Authorities, and indeed parents.

 

Sometimes the law can be fair and kind, despite all the complex language and mystique.

Oh boy, did someone say “Mystique?”

 

Yes, these images are completely necessary to convey the legal niceties of the case

Yes, these images are completely necessary to convey the legal niceties of the case

Advertisements

An answer on relinquished babies and Re B-S

 

FINALLY! An answer to whether Re B-S and Re B apply to relinquished babies. Also an answer to mind-blowingly tricky stuff about whether a foreign parent who has a baby in England can relinquish without their home country being told, and how the heck to do a foreign placement with a relinquished baby. It is all here.

 

 

  • Where parents have relinquished their baby and expressed a wish that he or she be adopted outside the natural family, the degree of interference with family life rights is less than where the parent-child relationship is severed against the parents’ wishes. The fact that the parents have taken this decision is an important consideration when determining whether the interference is necessary and proportionate. It follows, therefore, that approval of adoption in such cases does not depend on the local authority or court reaching the conclusion that nothing else will do. Instead, they must approach the case by applying s.1 of the 2002 Act as set out above, making sure that they give paramount consideration to the child’s welfare throughout his or her life and allocating such weight as they consider appropriate to the comprehensive list of factors in s.1(4) In such cases, the local authority and the court must consider the parents’ wishes that their child be adopted in the context of all of those factors, including the child’s background, the likely effect on the child of having ceased to be a member of the original family and the ability and willingness of any of the child’s relatives to meet the child’s needs. As in the case of step-parent adoptions, the manner in which the statutory provisions are applied will depend upon the facts of each case and the assessment of proportionality.
  • It follows therefore that in all adoption cases – non-consensual and consensual – the local authority is under an obligation to carry out a thorough analysis of the realistic options for the child, as highlighted in Re B-S. Indeed, a thorough analysis of all the realistic options should surely be carried out in all cases where a local authority is making plans for a child’s future.

 

The analysis of the realistic options applies, but the test of “nothing else will do” does not. Just in case it wasn’t clear enough up there, the Judge says it again.

 

(2) The decision of the Supreme Court in Re B [2013] UKSC 33 concerned non-consensual adoptions. Where parents have relinquished their baby and expressed a wish that he or she be adopted outside the natural family, the degree of interference with family life rights is less than where the parent-child relationship is severed against the parents’ wishes. The fact that the parents have taken this decision is an important consideration when determining whether the interference is necessary and proportionate. It follows, therefore, that approval of adoption in such cases does not depend on the local authority or court reaching the conclusion that nothing else will do. But the parents’ wishes, although important, are not decisive. They must be evaluated along with all the other factors in the welfare checklist in s.1(4) of the 2002 Act. In all adoption cases – non-consensual and consensual – the local authority is under an obligation to carry out a thorough analysis of the realistic options for the child, as highlighted in Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146.

 

[Also, the Court ruled that with a child of foreign nationals who are relinquishing their baby for adoption, there is NO duty on the Local Authority – or the Court when later considering an adoption application to notify the foreign consulate in accordance with the Vienna Convention. ALTHOUGH, you now need to make sure that the Court doesn’t appoint a Guardian at the adoption hearing, or the Vienna Convention duties do arise. Damn.]

 

(3) Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963 does not apply in cases where a child has been relinquished for adoption because the child in those circumstances is not being “detained”. Following the decisions in Re E [2014] EWHC 6 (Fam) and Re CB [2015] EWCA Civ 888, Article 37 of the Convention applies where a guardian is appointed in placement order or adoption proceedings.

 

 

Baker J in Re JL (2016)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/440.html

 

He goes on to outline the five options that a Local Authority has when parents relinquish their baby for adoption  (agree to have their baby adopted, in plain English)

 

 

  • Having carried out its assessment, the local authority will reach one of the following conclusions.

 

(1) It may conclude that adoption in this country is in the best interests of the child. In such circumstances, it can proceed formally to obtain the parents’ consent. If consent is given in the prescribed way, the local authority becomes “authorised” to place the child for adoption under s.19. As I read s. 22, if the local authority is authorised under s.19, it is not obliged under s.22(1) to apply for a placement order as the condition in s.22(1)(b) is not satisfied and, unless the child is subject to a care order or of ongoing care proceedings, it has no power to apply for an order under s.22(2) or (3). In such circumstances, therefore, it is neither necessary nor possible for the local authority to apply for a placement order.

(2) It may conclude that the child should be placed with family members or fostered in this country. In such circumstances, it may place the child under s.20 provided that the provisions of that section, and the other provisions of Part III of the Children Act 1989 and the associated regulations, are satisfied. In particular, under s.20(7) it may not arrange such accommodation if a parent with parental responsibility is able and willing to accommodate or arrange accommodation for the child themselves objects to the local authority’s proposal and in the absence of consent must apply for a care order. S. 20 has been considered in a number of cases, most recently by the Court of Appeal in Re N, supra, (see in particular the judgment of Sir James Munby P at paragraphs 157 to 171). Although both JL and AO are at present accommodated under s.20, that jurisprudence does not impinge on the issues in either of the cases before me and need not be considered further in this judgment.

(3) It may decide to place the child with family members in the country of origin. If the parents give their consent, it may proceed to arrange the placement without court approval. If the child is subject to a care order, however, it may only do so with the approval of the court: Children Act 1989, Schedule 2 para 19(1) and (2).

(4) It may decide that the child should be placed with prospective adopters that have been identified in the country of origin. In those circumstances, the procedure under s.84 may be available, and if so schedule 2 para 19 does not apply: schedule 2 para 19(9).

(5) It may decide to send the child to the foreign country so that the authorities there can arrange the adoption. This last course is the option which the local authority considers to be best in AO’s case. In those circumstances, s.85 will prevent the local authority sending the child to the foreign country unless the child is subject to a care order and the court makes an order under Schedule 2 para 19.

Number 3 is obviously the important one with relinquished babies.  In care proceedings, parents get to put forward family members who they wish to be assessed as potential parents. What happens with parents of a relinquished baby if the Local Authority WANT to assess family members, or need to rule them out, but the parents want privacy and don’t want them approached?

Well, the Court of Appeal had previously ruled  in Re C  v XYZ Local Authority 2007  http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed1147  that :-

3. In my judgment, for the reasons given below, when a decision requires to be made about the long-term care of a child, whom a mother wishes to be adopted, there is no duty to make enquiries which it is not in the interests of the child to make, and enquiries are not in the interests of the child simply because they will provide more information about the child’s background: they must genuinely further the prospect of finding a long-term carer for the child without delay. This interpretation does not violate the right to family life. The objective of finding long-term care must be the focus of making any further enquiries and that means the court has to evaluate evidence about those prospects. That did not happen in this case. The judge consequently directed himself according to the wrong principle and his exercise of discretion must be set aside. This court must exercise the discretion afresh.

It has been a bit ambiguous as to whether this still stands, and it would not if the Court rule that relinquished adoptions are subject to the “nothing else will do” test of Re B. Baker J has cleared up that they aren’t, so Re C v XYZ 2007 remains the law for relinquished children and assessing wider family – only if the enquiries genuinely further the prospect of finding a long-term carer without delay.  The LA aren’t obliged to rule out individual members of the family, just to explore those who would satisfy that test.  Re C v XYZ seems to me to be completely compatible with Baker J’s strictures here that the LA must consider the ‘realistic options’ for the child, even where the parents have agreed or requested adoption.

 

OK, take custody

 

The High Court in Re D (Children: Abduction) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/3990.html

dealt with a private law dispute between parents over their children.  (I know that most family lawyers are gritting their teeth, wincing and in agonies about the use of the word ‘custody’ in the heading, but it is a direct quote from the key part of the case).

There seemed to be a lot of unhappiness between the parents as to the amount of maintenance that the father was paying to the mother.  The mother and children lived in France, the father in England.  They had a frank exchange of views by email and texts – starting about mother’s request that father extend his holiday with the children for two days and then getting very heated.  Unfortunately for the mother, this exchange of views happened whilst father was having holiday contact with the children so they were in his care, and she at one point used the words ‘OK take custody’

The father duly did, and when the mother sought the return of the children to her care and made an application to that effect relying on his abduction, the father’s case was that the mother had given clear and unequivocal consent in the message “Ok take custody” for the children being in his care, which is a defence to the Hague Convention abduction remedies.

On the face of it, “Ok take custody” is not a wise thing to say to someone when you are arguing about where the children should live, but it is also important to look at the context. Mother’s case was that the words were heat of the moment in a heated and difficult exchange and not to be taken seriously, father’s case was that she meant them literally and clearly and unequivocally consented.

Let’s look at the whole exchange :-

 

 

  • In the summer of this year the parties agreed that the father would bring the children to England for a holiday lasting about five weeks. It was agreed that he would collect them on 26th June and return them on 30th July. Prior to the children’s departure to England, and over the first few days after their arrival, the parties engaged in a lengthy email exchange arguing about a range of matters. Translations of all the relevant emails have been put before me. Initially, they argued about whether the father could keep the children for two further days. It was the mother’s request that he do so; the father refused. The mother asked again; the father refused again. In so doing, he alluded to the fact that he was paying what he described as an “enormous amount of maintenance”.
  • That led to a lengthy email from the mother in which she said inter alia about his payment of maintenance:

 

“It’s your duty to do that. You’re not doing it for me. Don’t pay maintenance if you don’t want to, couldn’t care less. What are you complaining about? Do you want to swap roles, even though my maintenance won’t be such an enormous amount as yours, as you make so clear?”

In his reply the father said inter alia:

“If you’re not there to pick them up on 30th July in the afternoon I will file a written record of your absence and they will go back to school in England.”

In her reply, the mother said:

“Okay, if it was so simple then separated parents would send their children here and there without worrying about their wellbeing. Instead of filing a solution, you threaten me. Okay, I’m waiting to see. Bring them back the last week at school or else I’ll file a complaint for kidnapping.”

The father replied:

“It’s very simple, you agreed to take them back on the 30th of July and I cannot keep them any longer.”

A little later:

“There’s no point in making a fuss about nothing, everything was very clear and the dates were clearly stated.

You’re the one who wants to change the dates, so it’s up to you to come up with a solution.

This is my last email on this subject.”

 

  • All those emails took place on 20th and 21st June. That was the end of the exchange. The children were collected by the father and brought back to England on 26th June for their holiday.
  • On 1st July the email exchange resumed with further arguments about money. In the course of these arguments, at 14.49 on 1st July the father sent an email saying inter alia:

 

“If you’re not happy with the maintenance you get I can take custody back. I’m fed up of you treating me like a bank.

I’m waiting for you to confirm about the 30th of July.”

The email exchange then continued as follows. At 15.12 the mother sent an email saying simply: “OK take custody.” A minute later she sent a further email to the father saying:

“You must still be in Paris? Pop round to pick up the rest of their belongings.”

At 15.23, that is to say some ten minutes later, the father replied:

“I will need a letter from you saying that I have formal custody starting today, I will also use this email.

It’s not very important about their belongings.

You need to pay about €450 maintenance.

I let you have custody because you were creating problems when I had them last year. Unfortunately you carried on creating problems once you had custody.

This time you’ll have to get sorted, it will be the last time they move, you’ll have to sort visits out the best you can.”

At 15.33, some ten minutes afterwards, the mother replied:

“You know the procedures.

Start by making an appointment with the Family Judge.”

At 15.42, nine minutes later, the father replied:

“They are in France because I agreed to it, and that was following procedures in their original place of residency.

This time is simply them coming home.”

At 15.52, some ten minutes later, the mother replied:

“Oh no. They go to school in France and their primary residence is in France. You want to go to prison, abduct them. You will need the French judge’s ruling to put them in a school. Good luck.”

At 15.55, some three minutes later, the father replied:

“Abducting? You just told me to take custody.

I’m not playing around here.

No worries about the judge in France, seeing as you’re the one who enrolled them in school in France and they were staying with you. I’ll let you fill in the questionnaire which you can find here.”

He then attached a website link, presumably to the French court office. At 16.01, some six minutes later, the mother replied:

“Why should I fill this form in? You sort it out.

End of conversation.

Have a good day.”

If you can read that without wanting to bang both of their heads together, I’d like to thank you for visiting the blog St Francis of Assisi. Quick reminder that these people are actually adults, who have responsibility for looking after children.  My take here is that mother was not clearly and unequivocally consenting (things like “You want to go to prison, abduct them” are pretty suggestive that she’s not agreeing to a change of residence), but that she was also pretty foolish in not picking up that the father was more than willing to call her bluff on the sarcastic ‘ok take custody’ email.

  • The leading case on the question of consent in this jurisdiction under Article 13(a) is the decision of the Court of Appeal in Re P-J (Children)(Abduction: Habitual Residence: Consent) [2009] EWCA Civ 588. Consent is a defence which the defendant has to prove. At para.48 Ward LJ identified the following nine principles to be applied when the court is considering a defence of consent:

“(1)  Consent to the removal of the child must be clear and unequivocal. 

(2)  Consent can be given to the removal at some future but unspecified time or upon the happening of some future event. 

(3)  Such advance consent must, however, still be operative and in force at the time of the actual removal.

(4)  The happening of the future event must be reasonably capable of ascertainment.  The condition must not have been expressed in terms which are too vague or uncertain for both parties to know whether the condition will be fulfilled.  Fulfilment of the condition must not depend on the subjective determination of one party, for example, ‘Whatever you may think, I have concluded that the marriage has broken down and so I am free to leave with the child.’ The event must be objectively verifiable.

(5)  Consent, or the lack of it, must be viewed in the context of the realities of family life, or more precisely, in the context of the realities of the disintegration of family life.  It is not to be viewed in the context of nor governed by the law of contract.

(6)  Consequently consent can be withdrawn at any time before actual removal.  If it is, the proper course is for any dispute about removal to be resolved by the courts of the country of habitual residence before the child is removed. 

(7)  The burden of proving the consent rests on him or her who asserts it.

(8)  The enquiry is inevitably fact specific and the facts and circumstances will vary infinitely from case to case.

(9)  The ultimate question is a simple one even if a multitude of facts bear upon the answer.  It is simply this: had the other parent clearly and unequivocally consented to the removal?”

  • It is the father’s case here that the mother in her emails made statements which amount to “clear and unequivocal consent”. He points in particular to her use of the word “consent” in the email to which I have alluded and the subsequent emails, which he invites the court to read as clearly indicating that the mother was genuinely consenting and inviting him to go to the French court to obtain a formal order to avoid being accused of abduction. This is his interpretation of the references in the email exchanges which I have quoted to the court forms.
  • On the other hand, Dr. Rob George on behalf of the mother submits, first, that there was no clear or unequivocal consent and, secondly, even if the mother did give consent in the email exchanges on 1st July, that was plainly withdrawn on 23rd July, seven days before the end of the holiday on 30th July which constituted the point at which the children were retained in this jurisdiction.
  • I have no hesitation in accepting Dr. George’s submissions. First, I do not regard the mother’s words as I have quoted in the email exchanges on 1st July as amounting to “a clear and unequivocal consent”. Plainly what she said in those emails was said in the heat of the moment, and I remind myself of the observations of Ward LJ in the passage from Re P-J which I have just quoted, namely that: “Consent, or the lack of it, must be viewed in the context of the realities of … the disintegration of family life.” This exchange took place in the course of a heated conversation between the parties in which the mother was becoming frustrated and angry about what she saw as the father’s unreasonable behaviour so far as the precise timing of the contact was concerned, the date on which the children would be returned, and matters of money. Whether or not she was justified in becoming frustrated and angry, I know not, but what is clear to me is that her statements made in the emails have to be viewed in that context, and I do not in those circumstances regard them as clear or unequivocal. To my mind, the fact that she referred to abduction only a few minutes later in a further email further shows that the emails do not amount to “a clear or unequivocal consent”.
  • Secondly, even if I am wrong about that and the statements made in those emails were “a clear and unequivocal consent”, manifestly that consent was withdrawn before the children were retained.
  • Accordingly, applying, as I do, the principles in Re P-J which relate to removal by analogy to the retention of the children, any consent that was given was plainly withdrawn on or by 23rd July in the email which I have just read out. This, to my mind, is a blatant example of unlawful child abduction and my plain duty under the Hague Convention is to order the summary return of all three children, which I shall now do.

 

 

Adoption and parents who had been people trafficked

 

This is the hottest of hot potatoes that can be thrown at a Judge at the moment.  (And for me, in writing about it, because it involves Brussels II  and Slovakia, which always irks my commentator Andrew when I say “Slovakian” at any point rather than Slovak or the Slovak Republic.  For this particular occasion, any use of Slovakian is taken entirely from the judgment itself, and is not my own creation)

 

Re N and P Children 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/4.html

The children concerned had been born in England. At the time of the decision, one was just over two and the other just over one.

The mother was Hungarian, but had been raised “on the street in Slovakia as part of a homeless family.”

The father, who is 36 years old, is Slovakian but also speaks Hungarian”

It is alleged that the parents were the victims of people trafficking. The mother’s account is that on arrival at Dover they escaped from the traffickers and travelled across England, staying at various locations, but ending up in Bournemouth.

 

Care proceedings were taken as a result of domestic violence / disturbance incidents.  in early 2015, the parents were evicted from their accommodation and subsequently returned to Slovakia and have had no further contact since that date. Their present whereabouts are unknown although it is understood that the mother has given birth to another child.

The parents did not play any further part in the proceedings, and their whereabouts is unknown.

 

 

  • On 19th January 2015, HH Judge Bond made a further case management order directing the local authority to write to the Slovakian Embassy to inform them of the proceedings and invite a representative to the following hearing and further directed the local authority to liaise with the Embassy to ensure that any independent social worker instructed to undertake an assessment of the grandmother in Slovakia received appropriate clearance. In a series of emails, the local authority was informed that the Slovakian authorities would not support an English independent social worker undertaking the assessment and instead offered the services of the relevant local authority in Slovakia to prepare a report. At the next hearing on 11th February, which so far as I am aware was not attended by a representative of the Slovakian Embassy, the court gave directions facilitating the assessment of the grandmother by the Slovakian authorities. The assessment was duly arranged by the Central Office of Labour Social Affairs and Family and carried by social workers in the branch of that office local to the area where the grandmother lives.
  • In March 2015, the Central Office indicated that the paternal grandmother was willing to care for the children, but the final assessment by those authorities revealed that there had been serious concerns about the grandmother’s care of her own children, including allegations of neglect, and the unexplained death of a baby some years earlier. The condition of the grandmother’s home was also described as unsuitable. The assessment concluded that the grandmother was an irresponsible person who had neglected her obligations to care for her own children and recommended that neither N nor P should be placed in her care.

 

That was then leaving the Court with two options – to make Care Orders and Placement Orders, with a plan of adoption – or to transfer the case to “the Slovakian authorities ” as per their request.

 

Those authorities had set out what they would do with the children if they were returned.

 

 

  • The recent letter from Ms Marcinova has clarified the plans of the Slovakian Authorities for the care of the children, if they are sent to that country. Ms Marcinova stated that “the facility for enforcement of court decisions is a children’s home” which “temporarily replaces a child’s natural family environment or a substitute family environment.” She explained that children’s homes provided care by means of two types of organisational arrangements, namely autonomous groups or professional families. An autonomous group, in which care is provided to a pre-determined number of children, is set up in a separate family house or in a separate section of the children’s home. Professional families are also organisational units of children’s homes. A professional parent is an employee of a children’s home; he or she takes care of 1 to 3 children in a family house or flat provided by the children’s home, or in a property owned by the professional parent. The professional parent has all the powers and responsibilities normally vested in birth parent, although no legal relationship is created between the professional parent and the child. Ms Marcinova stressed that the care provided by a professional family is not the same as substitute family care, but it did provide an opportunity for the provision of individual care to a child placed in institutional care by decision of a court.
  • Ms Marcinova confirmed that the placement of a child institutional care, whether it be in an autonomous group or in a professional family, was regarded as a temporary solution, the aim being to return the child to its original family as soon as possible provided the family was able to resume care. In the alternative, if this was not possible, the child would be placed in a substitute family – foster care or adoption.
  • Upon arriving at the children’s home, a child may first be placed in an autonomous group where they can meet and interact with the professional parent identified as a potential carer. An assessment process is carried out, which may include psychological assessment and counselling. Once the child has been placed with the professional family, there are regular checks and assessments, and the children’s home and other agencies co-operate with the biological family in drawing up a joint plan of social work with the aim of facilitating the child’s return to the natural family
  • Ms Marcinova stated that a secure placement at the children’s home at Renetske Hamre is available for N and P. They could be placed together with a professional parent, in a flat with above-average modern furnishings and equipment, situated in the centre of the town with good access to all relevant facilities. The professional parent identified is Slovak. Ms Marcinova advised that she does not speak English but would be able to communicate with the aid of a dictionary. If necessary, the children could be helped by an interpreter during the adjustment phase. After placement, the authorities would cooperate in providing support to and mobilising the biological family with the aim of securing substitute care for the children within the family. A decision to place the children within the family would be a matter for a court.

 

The Court therefore had to decide whether the proceedings should be transferred under Brussels II, where that would be the plan, or kept in England, where the only concievable plan was adoption.

 

  • In analysing the options, the welfare of the children is my paramount consideration and I must assess the relative merits of the options by reference to the statutory welfare checklist.
  • The advantage of moving the children to Slovakia would be that it would provide an opportunity of either being placed with members of their birth family or having greater contact with the family. It would also provide them with the best opportunity of growing up with an understanding and experience of their culture of origin. Cultural needs are important, but in my judgment in this case they are manifestly outweighed by the children’s emotional needs for stability and security. At present, their needs – physical and emotional – are being met very successfully by their current carers with whom they have formed a close attachment. Given the disruption they endured in the first months of their lives, when they were neglected and ill-treated by their parents, their future security and stability are vital. A move to Slovakia would cause a sudden interruption to their lives, however sensitive and skilful the professional parent to whose care they were entrusted. Such a move would inevitably cause great distress and, I am satisfied, a high degree of emotional harm to two children who have already suffered significantly in this regard.
  • In short, in terms of the statutory welfare checklist, I conclude that in this case the physical and emotional needs of the children, the capacity of their current carers to meet those needs, the adverse consequences of a change in their circumstances, and the very strong probability of harm they would suffer if moved to Slovakia, all outweigh their needs for maintaining a relationship with their birth family and the opportunity to grow up within their culture of origin. In any event, I am satisfied that their need to acquire and maintain an understanding of their culture will to a very substantial extent be met by their current carers, who have been selected carefully for this very purpose.
  • The disadvantages of a placement in Slovakia in this case are in fact so great that I do not regard it as a realistic option. To my mind, the only realistic option is that they remain in their current placement. The realistic options are therefore long-term foster care or adoption. Having regard to the factors already identified and all relevant matters in the statutory welfare checklists, in particular their need for stability and security, the balance plainly comes down in favour of adoption. I take account of the likely effect on the children (throughout their lives) of ceasing to be members of their birth family. In my judgment, any disadvantages are outweighed by the emotional security they will acquire as adopted persons.
  • I therefore accept the clear recommendation of the local authority and guardian. I repeat my expression of gratitude to the Slovakian authorities, and in particular Ms Marcinova, for their careful and thorough response. Given the particular needs and circumstances of these children, and the length of time since they were removed from their family, I do not consider that placing them in temporary care of a professional parent in Slovakia, with the prospect of a further move in due course, to be a realistic option. Although long-term foster care in this country would in theory enable the children to maintain relations with their birth family, the reality is that these children have been abandoned by their parents and such links as exist with the birth family are extremely tenuous. The children are currently in an excellent placement where they have thrived and are being well cared for. Their carers have links with eastern Europe, in particular Slovakia and Hungary and are well qualified to maintain and nurture the children’s sense of identity.
  • It is manifestly clear that this is a case where only an adoption order will fully meet the needs of these children. I therefore approve the local authority care plan and make a care order in respect of both children. I conclude that the children’s welfare requires them to be placed for adoption, and for that reason dispense with the parents consent to such a placement and make a placement order in respect of both children.

 

[What doesn’t occur in this case, which could have occurred, is the Hungarian authorities putting in their own claim for the children. The children were born in England and have lived here for their entire yet short lives. The mother was born in Hungary. The father was born in the Slovak Republic. The English Courts have had a hell of a job trying to decide between two competing jurisdictions. We are surely going to get a case soon which involves three competing jurisdictions. Or four.  What are we going to do with the first children who live in England, but were born in Ghana, and have a Lithuanian mother and a Peruvian father?]

Cases like this tend to be fact specific – the balance might well have tipped if the parents whereabouts were known, and they or the extended family might have continued to have contact. As it stood, the Judge was balancing cultural issues against the benefits of permanence, and decided that in this case, permanance prevailed (though in this specific case the children were fortunate enough to have carers who could meet the cultural needs). Different facts could result in a very different outcome.

 

 

 

Opposed adoption – outcome is child being placed with grandparents

 

Having gone 13 years without a successful opposition to an adoption order under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (until Holman J’s case in December last year) and now we’ve had two in two days.   (Re S and T 2015 and this one)

 

Re LG (a child) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/52.html

In this case, the Court was being asked to consider an application by a parent for leave to oppose an adoption application. The Court granted that application, and as a result the prospective adopters withdrew their application, and hence the child has gone to live with grandparents. So the judgment didn’t actually finalise what the Court would have done if it had gone on to a fully contested adoption (but I’m sure that the prospective adopters saw that the writing was on the wall and didn’t want to subject themselves to further pain and subject the child to delay)

 

It was common ground that the grandparents were able to offer good care for the child and that had they been considered during the care proceedings, the child would almost certainly have been placed with them.

So why was it that they WEREN’T considered during care proceedings? That would have avoided the child being placed for adoption and been with prospective adopters for nine months?

It is the father’s case before this court that he declined to tell his family about L’s existence because he felt “scared” to tell them as “he had embarrassed and shamed [his] family and let them down again”. As a result, the extended paternal family had no knowledge of L’s existence during the currency of the care proceedings. The father was pressed by professionals, including the allocated social worker and his own solicitor, to explain why he did not want his family to be involved. During the course of these discussions, he alleged that he had suffered physical abuse at the hands of his own father, L’s paternal grandfather. His case before this court is that this allegation was completely untrue and was said with a view to “getting people off his back”.

 

A word immediately springs to mind about this father, and that word rhymes with ‘glass’  (if you are from the South of England).  He really was an absolute glass in this case.

 

it is obvious to everyone in these proceedings, and it will be obvious to everyone reading this judgment, that these events have been brought about by the father’s conduct. He is a young man, and he has not had the opportunity to explain his conduct in oral evidence before me. On any view, however, it must be acknowledged that as a result of his actions, a number of people have suffered very greatly. Mr and Mrs A, and their older child, have had to endure the terrible ordeal of losing the little girl to whom they had made the extraordinary commitment that all prospective adopters make. Furthermore, his daughter, L, has to cope with the distress and upheaval of moving from the home where she is settled and thriving to live with people she does not know. All this has come about because of the father’s misleading and deceptive behaviour. I hope he will now do whatever he can to ensure that L’s life with his family is as secure as possible.

 

It is quite hard for me, as someone who does Local Authority work all the time, to see how the LA could have gone ahead with their own assessment of the grandparents given that the father didn’t want them to be approached and made a child protection allegation against them.

The system that we have in place involves the parents putting forward family members – these days the issue is raised at every single hearing and included in the order and parents are warned that if they delay in putting forward a family member it may be difficult to get them assessed later on. Or sometimes, the family member comes forward themselves.

It is effectively an “Opt-in” situation – a family member is approached about being a possible carer for the child if and only if their hat is thrown into the ring.

But in a situation as here, where the family member doesn’t know about the proceedings and the parent doesn’t want them to be told, what can you do?  Remember that the reasons for care proceedings can be very sensitive and parents in care proceedings don’t always have a close relationship with their family. As this father said, there can be a sense of shame in your wider family finding out that you have been accused of something or that you are said to be a bad parent.

From a legal perspective, the fact that a parent is in care proceedings is Sensitive Personal Data for the Data Protection Act, and without parental consent, the circumstances in which you could share that information with a family member is really limited.

 

And then, looking at the Family Procedure Rules about the sharing of information about proceedings  (which, in the absence of a parents consent would also include that such proceedings even exist) seem to me to be a bar to telling a grandparent that there are care proceedings in order to explore whether they would put themselves forward  – unless there is leave of the Court.

Finally, there are the article 8 considerations.  The father here (even if we think he has some glass-like qualities) has a right to private and family life, and that can only be interfered with if it is proportionate and necessary.

So, all in all, I think that if there’s a scenario in which family members are known about but the parent objects to them being involved, that’s an issue that has to come before the Court and a decision made.  (I can think of a LOT of situations where a father or mother would be perfectly legitimate in not wanting members of their family to be involved)

I’m not sure that even that is a total solution.

 

Suppose a Court (or a Practice Direction) says that in any case where adoption might be the alterantive that rather than an “opt in” (throw your hat in the ring) system that instead the LA will get out there and chase down and assess any family member who might be suitable.

Okay, you might catch grandmother and grandfather in your net that way, but only if the parent is willing to give you their details so that you can find them.  How big is the net? Do you stop at Uncles? Great-Uncles? Cousins? Don’t forget friends – the Act is all about connected persons -or families and friends. You might be able to get a family tree out of a parent  (though good luck in doing it with parents who are in the grip of heroin use and who don’t engage with the process at all), but are you going to get a full and exhaustive list of all of their friends too? What if they make new friends between the care proceedings and the adoption application?

If you cast the net wide enough to catch everyone, then you are going to have an unholy amount of investigation and checking to do to give the Court information about everyone in the net to be sure that there’s not someone there who could be a carer for this child. You aren’t going to do that within 26 weeks. Hell, even finding some of these people can take longer than that.

And is a Local Authority (or a Court) really going to push for an assessment of a grandfather in a case where his own son (as here) says “When I was a child, this awful thing happened to me”?   On a twenty-six week timetable? I think not.

So I see what Baker J is getting at when he says this :-

 

although I have no specific criticism of this local authority’s work, (which I have not had an opportunity to examine in detail), this case illustrates the crucial importance of identifying at an early stage in public law proceedings any potential family members with whom a child can be placed. Local authorities must strive to identify the best possible methods of identifying such placements, and must not easily be distracted by comments made by natural parents which may conceal the truth.

 

I am not at all sure that this sentiment survives any contact with the real world, when you think what is involved.

The Judge is as nice as he can be to the prospective adopters, but I’m sure these words are as small a consolation as the consoling words given to parents after  care proceedings are

    1. My final observations are addressed to Mr and Mrs A. I can hardly begin to appreciate the anguish that you, and your older child, must now be feeling at losing the little girl whom you accepted into your care and looked after in an exemplary fashion. Although the birth family undoubtedly had a strong argument for opposing adoption, I do not know for certain what order I would have made at the conclusion of a contested hearing. You have made the courageous decision not to proceed with your application and to allow L to return to her birth family as soon as possible. I had not been told in detail the reasons for your decision but, from what I have read, I am confident that you would not have taken this step unless you believed it to be in L’s best interests. In those circumstances, I have nothing but admiration for your actions. I know that there will be some contact between L and you and your other child, although the details are yet to be agreed. I am sure that, as she grows older, L will come to understand and appreciate the wonderful things that you have done for her, both in looking after her for the past eight months, and in making this great sacrifice that has enabled her to be returned to her birth family.

 

 

There is a legal argument about the fact that father’s case at this hearing was really both an application for leave to oppose an adoption order AND a simultaneous application by the grandparents for a Special Guardianship Order, and thus whether the grandparents application (which required leave) should be heard under that test. The Court weren’t persuaded by that.

Counsel for the prospective adopters made what I think are some telling and important points about public policy – they didn’t succeed, but as more cases about adoption involve long-drawn out contested court hearings and a degree of unpredictability about the outcome, that is going to inexorably lead to less and less people being willing to put themselves through that.  I’ve represented adopters in the past and they all utterly dreaded the Court hearings and didn’t sleep and worried about the outcome – and that was in the days when I’d be able to advise them that the prospects of the adoption order not being made were vanishingly tiny.

As Ms Hyde of counsel says – the only real way for adopters to protect themselves and the child that they are considering as a family member in Court proceedings, is to delay the application so that it has been two or three years since the child came to live with them, so that no Court would contemplate moving the child.  That’s the exact opposite of what the Government are trying to achieve with adoption, and I’m sure that also there are many good reasons why that lack of finality and the order itself is not good for the family dynamics  (otherwise why ever have the adoption order? Just stay on a Placement Order forever)

 

Miss Hyde submits that the court should give particular weight to policy considerations. She contends that, if the court now allows an application which may thwart a successful adoption application, there will be grave and wide-ranging policy consequences. First, Miss Hyde submits that it will lead to a reduction in the pool of prospective adopters who will be discouraged from coming forward if there is perceived to be an increased risk of a late challenge to the adoption after the child has been placed. Secondly, she submits that the advice to future prospective adopters would inevitably be to refrain from making the adoption application until the child has been placed with them for a number of years so as to reduce the risk that the application will be opposed. This would be contrary to public policy because it would extend the period of uncertainty for the child. Thirdly, she contends that it will be extremely difficult for any court to control the timetable for assessment of family members in care proceedings, and thus the policy of identifying such placements as quickly as possible, which is an important feature of the Public Law Outline, (now in Practice Direction 12A of the Family Procedure Rules), will be undermined.

 

I think Miss Hyde is right on every single aspect. Does it mean that the Court were wrong in this particular case? No, I don’t think so. But these legal decisions can’t be looked at in isolation.  They are an interesting discussion point for us lawyers, but if you are a prospective adopter who has taken a child into their home and into their heart, a case like this is a shockwave.

The Judge said this

  1. The crucial point, however, is that the purpose of all these policies is to serve the overall welfare of children. Where the law requires the court to give paramount consideration to the welfare of the individual child, and her welfare clearly points to one particular outcome, it would be manifestly wrong to allow her welfare to be overridden by any policy considerations.
  2. Furthermore, anyone reading this judgment will realise that the circumstances of this case (the father’s deceptive and misleading conduct, and the subsequent discovery that the birth family is, on the written evidence, manifestly able to care for the child) are very unusual. I hope, therefore, that prospective adopters will not be discouraged from coming forward as a result of this case. Adoption has a crucial role to play in our society and it is very important that people should not be discouraged from putting themselves forward as adopters. Those who do must, however, be advised that, where placement orders have been made, the law allows parents to be granted leave to oppose an adoption application where there has been a change of circumstances and the court concludes that the child’s welfare, which is the paramount consideration, requires that leave be granted. Applications for leave will only be made in a minority of cases and in most cases are unlikely to succeed, but Parliament has allowed the right to apply for leave to oppose adoption applications in such circumstances and all prospective adopters should be advised that this is the law.

When I wrote about Holman J’s case, I wrote that an easy inference about the case was that it was an extraordinary set of circumstances that would never arise again and it could be discounted,  it was a stable door that could be shut although one horse had got through and bolted

 

but that a closer inspection of the case showed that at heart, it was about a family member who wasn’t assessed within care proceedings and could demonstrate that this wasn’t their fault.  That is a set of circumstances that could potentially apply to any case.  This case proves the point.

How can I know, how can adopters know in any case, that every family member who might concievably come forward in a years time, two years time, was considered and dealt with in the care proceedings?  Maybe they weren’t in a position to care THEN, but they are now…

Is there such a thing any longer as an adoption application that is water-tight and can be considered as a sure thing?

 

This isn’t the last of these. Not by a long shot.

 

I look forward to seeing the Myth-busting document on these developments.

 

 

Inherent jurisdiction – extending an injunction past 18th birthday

 

Regular readers will probably know that I feel uncomfortable about phrases like “the powers of the inherent jurisdiction are theoretically limitless” and that cases are developing which extend the previous usage of the inherent jurisdiction a bit further, and then those cases are relied on next time around to push it a little further still.  It is mission creep, and it makes me nervous.

In this case, Baker J  (who makes my Top Five Judge list, comfortably), had to decide on a mother’s application to extend an existing injunction that prevented a father contacting his daughter or coming near her, past the child’s 18th birthday. In effect, for the rest of her life.

Re SO (a Minor) 2015

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed145192

 

I am somewhat puzzled that the child was not represented in these proceedings, as the orders were all about her, and she was nearly 18 and thus presumably in a position to have a view even if it was felt unsuitable for her to attend Court.

The rationale behind wanting to protect the child was decent. The father had been convicted of offences of arranging to have the mother killed, and continued to deny those offences. One can see why the Court would want, while SO was a child to protect her from her father.  He is palpably not a nice man. I can absolutely see why the mother would be genuinely very fearful of him and genuinely want to protect herself and her child from him.

The issue for me, whilst not really having any sympathy for the father in this case, is whether the State, in the form of the Court should be making orders protecting SO from things as an adult on someone else’s request rather than SO making an application to the Court for protection.

 

The injunction sought (and made) was in these terms, and I think that these are orders that could easily have been made by way of SO making an application for a non-molestation order if she decided she wanted that protection.

“It is ordered that

(1) the respondent, whether by himself or instructing, inciting or encouraging any other person be restrained until further order from

(a) using or threatening violence or attempting the same against the applicant or S;

(b) intimidating, harassing or pestering the applicant or S;

(c) coming within a 50 miles radius of, entering or attempting to enter, any property at which he believes, knows or suspects the applicant or S to be present or living or of any educational establishment or place of work at which he believes, knows or suspects the applicant or S may attend or work;

(d) communicating or making contact with the applicant or S by letter, telephone, Skype, text message, email, any means of electronic communication, or through any social networking sights including Facebook, save through the offices of Messrs Thomson, Snell and Passmore, the applicant’s solicitors;

(2) any person on whom this order served, or who is aware of its terms, is restrained until further order from making disclosure to the respondent, or to any other person on his behalf, which would in any way identify the current whereabouts of the applicant or S, from identifying to the respondent the name or identity under which the applicant and S may be known or is currently living and/or registered;

(3) the applicant and/or her solicitors are authorised to disclose this order and any other information relating to these proceedings to:

(i) the police in the United Kingdom;

(ii) the Home Office, and any agency acting on its behalf, and any relevant government authority in Scotland;

(iii) the Department of Community Services in Australia and

(iv) the Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police Force and any other relevant police authority and state correctional services, whether publically funded or privately managed.

An obvious question arises about the Australian element, and that might be a reason why not to use the statutory power of a Non-Molestation Order – because there might be problems with enforcing that if the father was living in Australia.  But hold on, it appears that everyone involved was living in Australia

Meanwhile the mother and S, in respect of whom of a series of non-molestation injunctions have been made within the wardship proceedings dating back to an order of Black J (as she then was) dated 14th June 2000, themselves moved some years ago to Australia, living at an address which, it was assumed, was unknown to the father. S has flourished in her mother’s care in Australia and has now embarked upon tertiary education, following the conclusion of the schedule 1 proceedings in the course of which I made a substantial order for her financial provision. Nonetheless, both the mother and S have continued to live under the shadow of the threats by the father to the safety of the mother and, indirectly, S.

[I’m somewhat mystified as to why a High Court injunction in England is the best route to protect an 18 year old girl living in Australia. It is legally permissable because:-

(4) When, as here, the court has jurisdiction at the start of wardship proceedings on the grounds that the child is habitually resident in England and Wales, that jurisdiction continues until the conclusion of the proceedings, notwithstanding the fact that the ward has become habitually resident elsewhere. That is sufficient to provide jurisdiction in this case for the making of the orders sought by the applicant. In addition, the court may have jurisdiction on the grounds that the ward is a British national. In either case, the question is, as Baroness Hale observed in Re A whether it is appropriate to exercise the jurisdiction in the particular circumstances of the case. ]

You will note from the terms of the order, which the High Court made “until further order”  (i.e possibly for the rest of the lives of those involved) that it would prevent the father replying to any attempt by his daughter to contact him.  I’m not sure if she would ever want to, but it seems odd that if she initiated contact he would be unable to respond.  Actually, SO would be in breach of this order if she contacted her father and told him her address or new name…

As a matter of law, I think that Baker J was right to rule that he had the power to make such an injunction on an adult  (I just think that the law that has laid those foundations is wrong, and built on a gradual move away piece by piece from the spirit and intent of the inherent jurisdiction. All of the individual decisions have been the Court doing what they thought was best for a person, but autonomy means that where a person has capacity they and they alone have the right to decide what is best for them. )

Let’s look at, for example, the case that set the Inherent Jurisdiction for adults hare running in the first place.

Re SA 2006  http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed1678  when the issue of Forced Marriage was just becoming apparent and there was not yet a statutory mechanism to protect people from it. The inherent jurisdiction had been used to prevent a minor from being forcibly married, and in Re SA Munby J (as he then was) had to decide whether that protection could continue into adulthood.

“It would in my opinion be a sad failure were the law to determine that [the court] has no jurisdiction to investigate and, if necessary, to make declarations as to T’s best interests to ensure that the protection that she has received belatedly in her minority is not summarily withdrawn simply because she has attained the age of 18.””

But in the same judgment, this passage appears

“There is, however, in my judgment a common thread to all this. The inherent jurisdiction can be invoked wherever a vulnerable adult is, or is reasonably believed to be, for some reason deprived of the capacity to make the relevant decision, or disabled from making a free choice, or incapacitated or disabled from giving or expressing a real and genuine consent. The cause may be, but is not for this purpose limited to, mental disorder or mental illness. A vulnerable adult who does not suffer from any kind of mental incapacity may nonetheless be entitled to the protection of the inherent jurisdiction if he is, or is reasonably believed to be, incapacitated from making the relevant decision by reason of such things as constraint, coercion, undue influence or other vitiating factors.”

 

There’s no evidence here that SO lacks capacity to make decisions for herself about whether she wants to see her father or be contacted by him, or whether she might want to apply for legal orders to protect herself.  I am struggling to see why the Court should use its inherent jurisdiction to make an order that affects the rest of SO’s life when she has not applied for such an order.

 

{I can see why the desire to protect her from something that most people would just as being an unhealthy or unpleasant influence leads to the order being made, but it is not the job of the State to protect adults with capacity from unpleasant events. If SO wants to be left alone by her father and he is not likely to acquiesce to her wishes, then there’s a statutory remedy – non-molestation order. If she applies for it, the State in the form of the Court makes a decision about whether the order is justified. But here the State is deciding for someone who has capacity and is about to become 18 something that will have an impact on her life because it thinks that is what is best for her. I can also see why the mother and the Court felt that the father was so dangerous and toxic that they didn’t want to put SO through the risks of making her own application.  }

 

28. In my judgment, it is imperative that this court makes the order within the wardship jurisdiction, or alternatively under its inherent jurisdiction to protect vulnerable adults, extending the protection provided hitherto beyond S’s 18th birthday. In the circumstances of this case, it is essential that, in order to ensure the protection is extended for S, the mother is also kept within the ambit of the injunction.

 

There is nothing in the case to suggest that SO herself is  a vulnerable person, that there are any inherent characteristics in her that are vulnerable – the reason she is ‘vulnerable’ is because of external things not because she herself has any inherent vulnerability.  She is not a vulnerable person, she’s a person who happens to be vulnerable because of external factors. It might seem a trivial distinction, but I don’t think that it is.

What prevents that line of thinking becoming that the State has the power to forcibly remove a woman from a violent partner? She has capacity to decide that she wants to be with that awful man, but she is ‘vulnerable’ because of the risks that he poses, so  can the inherent jurisdiction  decide that it would be best for her to be protected from that man? The powers are theoretically limitless – if she is considered vulnerable….

A twenty year old decides to have a relationship with a fifty year old who has had some criminal convictions including drug use. Her relatives disapprove and think that she’s vulnerable to getting used and ending up being broken hearted. Is she vulnerable? Can the State be asked to make injunctions to protect her?

A sixty year old man with a large fortune falls in love with a twenty five year old. The family are worried that he is being taken for a ride and that this girl is a gold-digger. Is he vulnerable?

It isn’t problematic or unreasonable in this case to say that SO is vulnerable and needs protection, but the concern is that this case becomes cited in the next case along to make inherent jurisdiction orders about adults who have capacity to decide things for themselves, and then that next case gets cited in the one after that, and so on.  It feels like the classic slippery slope scenario.  As a matter of law now, the inherent jurisdiction is a theoretically limitless power, but should that be the case?

At the very least, when the Court is using such a theoretically limitless power, shouldn’t there be a very detailed analysis of proportionality and necessity, considering article 8 of the Human Rights Act?

The tussels from Brussels

 

{Warning, this post contains some Brussels II stuff, but it also has something potentially important – I’ll try to keep it short}

 

A v D and Others 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/3851.html

 

It involves a 3 year old girl, mother is Polish, father English. They lived together in England but then separated. Father became worried that mother would remove the child to Poland, and applied to the English Courts for an order preventing that.

In April 2012, the father, concerned that the mother might remove E to Poland, issued proceedings in the Bournemouth County Court seeking a prohibited steps order preventing her from removing the child from the jurisdiction, together with a parental responsibility order. After two preliminary hearings, the matter came before District Judge Dancey on 3rd May 2012. A transcript if that hearing is now available. The mother, who was represented, gave evidence on oath stating that, if she were permitted to take the child to Poland for a visit between 14th May 2012 and 16th July 2012, she would return E to this jurisdiction at the end of that period. The father, who was acting in person, indicated that he would not oppose the mother taking E to Poland for a holiday, although he expressed some unhappiness at the length of the proposed visit. On the basis of the mother’s undertaking, the District Judge made an order permitting the mother to remove E to Poland for the purposes of a holiday between 14th May and 16th July 2012.

 

It will not surprise any of you cynical hard-bitten readers to learn that she never came back from that holiday.

 

  1. Shortly after arriving in Poland, the mother applied to a court in that country for a custody order and subsequently wrote to the Bournemouth County Court stating that she did not intend to return. On 24th July 2012, the father filed an application with the Central Authority for England and Wales under the Hague Child Abduction Convention 1980 and Council Regulation (EC) 2201/2003, (hereafter referred to as Brussels II Revised), seeking the summary return of E to this jurisdiction. On 10th August, the father’s application in the county court was adjourned generally with liberty to restore. The father’s application under the Hague Convention was pursued via the Central Authorities but on 17th December 2012, it was dismissed by the district court in Ruda Slaska in Poland. The father’s appeal against that decision was subsequently dismissed on 24th October 2013.
  2. On 30th April 2014, the father made an application in the existing English proceedings seeking an order committing the mother for contempt of court, an order for parental responsibility and a contact order. The application was transferred to the High Court and listed before me in July 2014 to consider as a preliminary issue whether or not the court had jurisdiction to entertain the application. In the reserved judgment delivered 31st July, I held that this court had jurisdiction to entertain the father’s application for orders concerning matters of parental responsibility. In the course of legal argument at the hearing, however, I indicated to Mr Edward Devereux, counsel for the father, that I proposed to consider whether the court should exercise its power under Article 15 of Brussels II Revised to transfer the case to Poland. Mr Devereux thereupon submitted that the court had no power to transfer proceedings under Article 15 because no party to the proceedings accepted the transfer, but seeing that this argument did not initially find favour with the court, he asked for further time to consider the issue, having regard to the fact that it had only arisen in the course of argument.

 

I’ll dash through it quickly, because everyone hates Brussels II. A Court can, and now must, consider whether the proceedings ought to be transferred to another EU Country to deal with, if they are better placed to deal with them AND the child has a connection to that country.

 

For these purposes, the connection is either:-

That the mother, who has PR, is now habitually resident in Poland

OR

that the child has acquired habitual residence in Poland AFTER the English Court started to deal with the case

 

The father’s case (and I have a huge amount of sympathy for him here) is that the mother and child are only in Poland because mum abducted him and breached Court orders, yet she is now being rewarded by having the Court case on home turf – to transfer would be to reward her for her wrong-doings.

 

  1. First, Mr Devereux informed me that this case presents a factual situation which, so far as counsel have been able to discover, has not been considered before in any reported case, that is to say a proposal, arising in private law proceedings following the unlawful retention of a child, to transfer the proceedings under Article 15 to the country in which the child has been unlawfully retained. Mr Devereux stressed the fact that E is only in Poland as a result of a wrongful act perpetrated by her mother. On any view this is a blatant case of child abduction and it is not right for a court to reward a party who has acted unlawfully. Furthermore, the mother appears to have committed perjury before the English court. A transcript of the proceedings before District Judge Dancey has now been obtained and demonstrates clearly that the mother gave a promise on oath that she would return E to the jurisdiction of this court in July 2012 at the conclusion of the holiday. The father has launched committal proceedings for contempt of court arising out of the mother’s breach of her undertaking and it is asserted on behalf of the father that he will continue to press this application. In those circumstances, proceedings will in any event be continued in this jurisdiction. Mr. Devereux submitted that it would therefore be undesirable for proceedings to be continuing in both countries.
  2. Mr Devereux further contrasted the respective abilities of the parties to participate in proceedings in the two countries. The mother was able actively and properly to engage in proceedings in this country. She has a good understanding of the English language, as is plain from her oral evidence before District Judge Dancey. She was able to give a promise on oath which the judge felt able to accept. In contrast, the father asserts that he has no knowledge of the Polish language and no understanding of the procedures of the Polish courts. He does not have the means to travel to Poland and stay there to participate in proceedings. Poland has a system of legal aid but, as demonstrated in he expert report from Dr Kasinska-Wiercinska, there are in practice a number of difficulties facing a litigant in the father’s position who wishes to apply for such assistance.
  3. Mr Devereux further submitted that, all things being equal, E’s best interests would be served by having a relationship with her father and her father being involved in her upbringing. This court can ensure that this happens speedily by making a child arrangements order for contact and issuing an Annex III certificate which could be automatically enforceable in Poland. In contrast, if the case is transferred to Poland there is, submitted Mr Devereux, no guarantee that any application made by the father would be heard expeditiously nor, if and when it was heard, that he would be granted contact with his daughter.

 

As the Judge was Baker J, the law is flawlessly applied and set out, and the approach was really to answer the three questions posed by Munby J (as he then was)

In AB v JLB Brussels II Revised Article 15 [2009] 1 FLR 517 at paragraph 35 Munby J (as he then was) identified the three questions to be considered by a court when deciding whether to make a request under Article 15:

“First, it must determine whether the child has, within the meaning of Article 15(3), ‘a particular connection’ with the relevant other member State. . . . .Given the various matters set out in Article 15(3) as bearing on this question, this is, in essence, a simple question of fact. For example, is the other Member State the former habitual residence of the child (see Article 15(3)(b)) or the place of the child’s nationality (see Article 15(3)(c))?

Secondly, it must determine whether the court of that other Member state ‘would be better placed to hear the case, or a specific part thereof’. This involves an exercise in evaluation, to be undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular case.

Thirdly, it must determine if a transfer to the other court ‘is in the best interests of the child.’ This again involves an evaluation undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular child.”

Baker J found that the answer to all three questions was yes, and that the Polish authorities should be asked to take over the case.

Part of his thinking here was that with a mother who was living in Poland and adamant that she would not return to England and play no part in any Court proceedings in England, there was no likelihood of any actual contact for father getting underway.  [My reading of the case is that father was seeking to spend time with the child, rather than have the child live with him full-time. That might have made a difference, it is hard to say]

 

25. ..without the mother’s cooperation and participation in the proceedings, it is highly unlikely that any court will make any order for contact in this case. All the evidence suggests that the mother does not intend to take part in these English proceedings, and without her co-operation the father’s application for contact cannot be resolved by the English court. The fact that the father is intending to pursue his application in this jurisdiction to commit the mother for contempt makes her participation in any English proceedings concerning parental responsibility and contact even less likely. She may also be reluctant to take part in proceedings in Poland, but crucially the Polish court would have the power, should it choose to exercise it, to oblige her to participate. Although the father would be at a considerable disadvantage were he required to participate in proceedings in Poland, it is reasonable to expect him to do so to the best of his ability. It may be possible, however, for ways to be found to assist his participation in Polish proceedings.

  1. When one turns from the fact-finding hearing to the welfare stage of the proceedings, it is plain that the balance of the evidence on welfare matters lies in Poland. I agree with Miss Green’s observation that the Polish courts have a very real advantage by reason of the child’s presence within their jurisdiction. This makes it possible for all necessary enquiries and investigations as to her welfare to be carried out there. E is living in Poland. Her life centres round her mother and friends and family in that country. Any contact will inevitably have to start in Poland. There would of course have to be some investigation of the father’s circumstances, which would involve consideration of his home and life in this country. But the preponderance of evidence as to welfare matters will arise in Poland.

 

I don’t doubt that this is the right decision in law – I’m a fully paid-up member of the Baker J fan-club  (I have the badge, and I know the secret handshake), but God, this seems utterly unfair to this father. He did the right thing – he got an order from a Court to stop mum taking the child to Poland, only to find that in the teeth of someone who was prepared to breach it, Article 15 of Brussels II rewards her and punishes him.

And this happened without mum even ASKING for Brussels II to apply.