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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;
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  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].
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  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;
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  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….

 

The Re W rehearing (placement with grandparents versus adoption order)

 

You might remember the Re W case – in which the Court of Appeal surprised most family lawyers by saying that in care/adoption there was no presumption in favour of the birth family – maybe you remember the situation in which some of the brightest minds in the country talked vividly about see-saws for what seemed like an eternity.  You might also remember it as the case where one of the plans for moving the child from prospective adopters to grandparents was to engineer a chance meeting in a park and just have the grandparents leave the park with the child and the adopter leave without the child ?  Oh yeah, that one.

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/07/29/re-w-no-presumption-for-a-child-to-be-brought-up-by-a-member-of-the-natural-family/

 

This time round it is  Re Adoption : Contact 2016    (which is a pithy title, but it is rather like Orson Welles calling his film “Citizen Kane – it’s a sledge”  or  M Night Shyamalan calling his  “The Sixth Sense – Bruce is a ghost”.    I mean, it’s really obviously not called Re A : Return to grandparents 2016, so the judgment lacks that vital component of suspense)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/3118.html

 

 

 

The fulcrum is positioned dead centre   – no party starts with any advantage before the evidence is heard  (either the family on “nothing else will do”  OR the prospective adopters on “status quo”)      [At least, that’s the position in law TODAY….  over the last three years adoption law has developed a habit of tilting this way and that like well a see-saw]

 

 

18.There is no presumption in this case one way or the other; the fulcrum is positioned dead centre. I apply a straight welfare test. Significantly, I note that there is no right or presumption in favour of a placement of A within her natural family; at [71] of [2016] EWCA Civ 793 McFarlane LJ said:

 

 

 

 

“The only ‘right’ is for the arrangements for the child to be determined by affording paramount consideration to her welfare throughout her life (in an adoption case) in a manner which is proportionate and compatible with the need to respect any ECHR Art 8 rights which are engaged.”

 

He added at [73] that the phrase “nothing else will do” (from Re B [2013] UKSC 33):

 

 

“… does not establish a presumption or right in favour of the natural family; what it does do, most importantly, is to require the welfare balance for the child to be undertaken, after considering the pros and cons of each of the realistic options, in such a manner that adoption is only chosen as the route for the child if that outcome is necessary to meet the child’s welfare needs and it is proportionate to those welfare needs”.

19.Equally, there is no presumption in favour of a ‘status quo’, notwithstanding the powerful words of Ormrod LJ in D v M (Minor: Custody Appeal) [1982] 3 All ER 897, recently cited in Re M’P-P [2015] EWCA Civ 584 at [67]. That said, important in the welfare evaluation is the fact that A has been in her prospective adoptive home for approximately 4/5ths of her life. As the Court of Appeal said at [65] ([2016] EWCA Civ 793), the welfare balance to be struck must inevitably reflect these particular circumstances, which of course are different from the circumstances when the placement order was made. The balance at the placement stage naturally would have tilted towards a family placement if relatives had been assessed, as these grandparents would probably have been, as being able to provide good, long term care for a child within their family.

 

 

 

 

You may recall that this was the case where the Court of Appeal expressed hope that the case might not be an ‘all or nothing’ and that the child might have a relationship with both sets of important people, so contact was an important aspect  (again you’ve guessed that from the  “Rocky – he wins in the end” title   *     – actually Rocky doesn’t win at the end of the first movie, common misconception.  Even now, many of you are saying  “Of course he does, he wins the title”  – nope, he wins in Rocky 2. All he really wanted to do was go the distance with Apollo Creed – the Master of Disaster, which nobody else had ever done. And he did that. But lost on points. Nobody remembers that)

 

Okay, so THIS guy also remembers the result of the fight.

Okay, so THIS guy also remembers the result of the fight.

 

From the first four Rocky movies  (I cannot accept the later ones as part of canon), the fights we actually see Rocky have, his record is Loss, Win, Draw (with Hulk Hogan), Loss (Clubber Lang), Win (Clubber Lang), Win (Ivan Drago).  It’s not that great.  His win rate is 1:1.  He won 1 fight for every fight that he didn’t win.  To put that in context, Herbie Hide won ELEVEN times as many fights as he lost.  Yes, I am claiming here that Herbie Hide would have had a chance against Rocky.  Even Audley Harrison had a win rate of 5:1.

 

I’ve digressed.  Back to law.

46.Direct and indirect contact: When they first made their application, Mr. and Mrs X had agreed to indirect contact taking place between A and the birth parents once per year, albeit not to include photographs, gifts or celebration cards. This stance was, at least in part, attributed to the standard preparatory pre-adoption training which they had received, where this is described (according to Mrs. Gaskin) as the ‘norm’. Over the course of this protracted litigation, and particularly recently, their position has changed in significant respects. They told the adoption social worker:

 

 

 

 

“When we first thought about the adoption process, we did not envisage direct contact with any birth family. However, with circumstances as they are, we see the advantages of contact with siblings. We think the challenges are the emotional aspect but in time [this] will get easier”.

 

And more recently still in their written evidence:

 

 

“We are also very aware of the importance of [A] having some knowledge of her birth family and importantly some relationship with her siblings. Whilst we have acknowledged to the experts our commitment to some level of direct contact if that is felt in the best interests of [A], we do not wish such contact to be disruptive to her continued placement with us, or confusing to her in her development and security. The purpose of the direct contact needs to be carefully considered and the contact tailored to that end”.

 

Mr. X augmented this in his oral evidence, speaking for himself and his wife:

 

 

“We would like A to have contact with the [birth] family if possible… We do genuinely understand the pain… If the chance of contact is available, then this needs to be explored for us and for A so that she can have the right to know her birth family and have a good life.… It’s not about the adults, it is about the children. We have to put her needs first. Happy to do the contact; it would be great for A and her brothers; hopefully we can have a bond (with the paternal grandparents); we can ask them for advice and go to birthday parties…”.

47.I was quite particular in my attempts to establish whether Mr. and Mrs. X felt pressurised by their rather vulnerable situation to agree an arrangement with which they did not feel entirely comfortable; having listened to Mr. X in his oral evidence, and having read and heard the evidence of those with whom they have spoken frankly about this issue away from the court room, I was satisfied that he and his wife genuinely had come to appreciate the benefit to A in there being direct contact between A and her birth family. Mrs. Gaskin spoke of them as people with integrity (see below); from all that I could see and read of them, I concur.

 

 

The ISW, Ms Gaskin said this on the issue of contact :-

 

 

“Mr. and Mrs. X have suggested that initially they feel they could cope with four times per year, rising to six times in the light of positive progress. Of course in time, Mr. and Mrs. X would be the final arbiters of the frequency and duration of contact, and they would make this decision on the basis of [A]’s needs. I am of the view that they are people of integrity and truly want what is best for [A]. They are very clear that they believe that [A] should have a relationship with her birth family and this is something that they have always considered to be the case… They believe that it is important for [A]’s emotional well-being in the long term that she has a relationship with her brothers and paternal family.”

 

61.The obligation on me to consider “whether there should be arrangements for allowing any person contact with the child” (section 46(6) of ACA 2002) is accentuated in this case by the real prospect (accepted by the prospective adopters, as in A’s interests) of direct contact between A and her birth family post-adoption. This indeed adds a new and important dimension to this difficult case. The proposal to introduce a relationship between an adopted child and her birth family after adoption by way of direct contact is in my own experience unique. I was not at all surprised to hear from the adoption team manager that it was unprecedented in this authority’s experience, and in the experience of Barnardo’s (with their wealth of adoption knowledge) whom they consulted on the issue. This proposal reflects the resourcefulness of all those involved – coupled with the creativity of the professionals, and the selflessness of the proposed adopters – to divine an outcome for A which best meets her needs. As I have indicated above, if contact were to happen in the way proposed, it would be likely to play a highly material part in neutralising A’s possible sense of rejection by her birth family, while remaining in the Xs care, at the stage of her development when she is considering more maturely the difficult issues around her identity.

 

 

That is a very unusual amount of contact for prospective adopters to be proposing, and it was clear that everyone had taken on board the hope of the Court of Appeal, which is good to see.  (

 

 

 

 

Discussion and Conclusion

52.No one can doubt the colossal pressure which this litigation has heaped on the prospective adopters and the paternal grandparents over a sustained period of time, and through two rounds of litigation; while commendably uncomplaining about the legal process, it is reasonable to conclude that they have found the repeated forensic scrutiny of their lives unacceptably intrusive, and the uncertainty as to the outcome unbearable. Doubtless each of them has had to develop strategies of self-preservation to protect themselves from the outcome that A is not ultimately to be in their care. All the adults will have found it hard to be assessed and reassessed, but I sensed that each recognised why this needed to happen; to their great credit, and I believe A’s ultimate benefit, they have all engaged fully.

 

 

53.I have listened with great care to the evidence. I was impressed by the ability of Mr. X and the paternal grandmother to reflect generously and sincerely their concern for the other in these difficult circumstances; they all strike me as people of integrity with a deep respect for family. I have been struck by the thoughtfulness of those professionals who have endeavoured to chart these very uncertain waters. I was greatly assisted by the high quality of professional expertise in this case, in a way which, it is clear, Bodey J was not. Mrs. Gaskin described how she had “agonised” over the assessment – “this has been one of the most difficult cases I have had to deal with”. Dr. Young offered appropriate and helpful expert advice; the Children’s Guardian’s report was one of the best of its kind I have seen. She for her part observed that “this has been one of the most testing and difficult cases that I have been asked to report on in my 29 years of practice as a Social Worker…”.

 

 

54.A is, and has been, at the centre of my decision-making. I do not propose to repeat my description of her set out above; it is sufficient for me to record at this point that she has in my judgment had her global needs met in a safe and secure way for the whole of her life thus far; her security and her attachments have enabled her to explore, socialise, and master developmental stages confidently and appropriately. A has attached to Mr. and Mrs. X whom, according to Dr. Young, she identifies as her secure attachment figures.

 

 

55.I am satisfied that both sets of applicants have something genuine and valuable to offer A now and throughout her life. I am of course influenced in reaching my conclusion by the fact that A is securely attached to Mr. and Mrs. X, whom she regards as her parents, and is embedded in their family whom she has come to know as her natural relations. She will have little knowledge or recollection of any life which is different; the continuity and high level of care which she has received has nurtured a strong sense of security with these primary attachment figures. I am influenced too by the knowledge that the paternal grandparents, rightly described by the Guardian as “child-centred people”, are currently raising their grandson with evident love and skill; that they would – I accept – have been more than likely to have been favourably assessed to care for A had they been considered over two years ago, and had that been so, then A would be living with them now. Their belief that A would be best placed in their care is both sincere and passionately held. If A is placed with the grandparents, she would have the considerable additional benefit of being raised in a household with one of her siblings, and in close proximity to the other.

 

 

56.I am equally satisfied that risks are attached to each outcome for A. In evaluating the respective cases, it has been necessary to make some informed predictions about the future, conscious of my obligations to consider the issues by reference to A’s whole future life. In the home of the Xs, there is a clear and identifiable risk that A will feel, perhaps strongly, a sense of rejection when she comes in due course to realise that her brothers are cared for within the birth family, and she is not. This may have significant implications for her sense of identity and self-esteem. This risk, if it materialises, will not arise for a number of years. If it does, it is likely to be moderated by a number of factors, including:

 

 

 

  1. i) That A and the Xs have developed a secure attachment over the last 24 months, which it is reasonable to expect will continue to grow and consolidate; this will operate as an inherent protective defence against disruption of placement;

 

  1. ii) The ability and willingness of the Xs to be open with A about her adoptive status as she is growing up; Dr Young believed that the “key” is in how Mr. and Mrs. X support A to make sense of her status, and advocated adoption ‘talk’ with her from an early age;

 

and

 

iii) The introduction and maintenance of a direct relationship between A and her birth family, namely siblings and other relatives, through contact.

 

57.The risks of medium-term or long-term damage to A by her making her primary home with the paternal grandparents flow directly from the consequences of a move. No question is raised about short-term harm; it is assessed as being inevitable. The professionals spoke of the serious possibility of medium-term and long-term emotional and psychological damage to A by the traumatic severing of the secure attachments which she has formed with the Xs, with the consequent risk of disruption to her placement if these risks materialise and are not adequately addressed. Dr. Young opined that “a significant move such as this at this stage of her development will have a significant detrimental impact on her, of which the long term consequences would be uncertain, and thus any decision must proceed with this knowledge in mind” (emphasis by underlining added). While I am satisfied that there would be no shortage of love, and willingness on the part of the paternal grandparents to assuage the evident hurt for A in the event of a move, which may help A to some extent, the ability (or inability) of the adults around A to address the risk of deeper damage would be affected by a combination of the following factors:

 

 

 

  1. i) A real possibility that A simply does not forge attachments, let alone secure attachments, with new carers, having suffered the traumatic severance of secure attachments with the Xs; there is limited optimism that she will be able to deploy her “an internalised blueprint” (see [27] above);

 

  1. ii) Helplessness on the part of any of the adults around her to explain, in language which a 2½ year old will understand, why this change has been foisted upon her;

 

iii) The lack of experience on the part of the paternal grandparents to deal with the sophisticated and complex challenges facing A in these circumstances, and the evidence, which I accept, that they somewhat underestimate those challenges;

 

and

 

  1. iv) A possible adverse reaction by J to the arrival into the family home of A, and by A who would no longer be an only child in placement, and the risk that the grandparents may be overwhelmed by having to cope with challenging behaviour from A and/or J, or that A will become withdrawn and this will not be detected.

 

The risks of long-term damage are likely to be exacerbated (though in what ways, and to what extent it is difficult to assess confidently) by the fact that none of the transition plans are deemed by the experts to be in A’s best interests. The least bad alternative, which the experts reluctantly favoured among them, would involve summary (and so far as A is concerned unplanned) removal from the Xs care. It is hard to imagine, as Mr. Richardson emphasised, how an infant will react to having lost all her emotional and practical reference points overnight.

58.I should say at this stage, that I was extremely impressed with the way in which the Xs have already displayed many of the qualities which the professionals would advocate in order to mitigate the risk of harm if A were to remain with them; they have prepared a thoughtful, child-friendly, life-story book for A which I have seen, which identifies honestly and in age-appropriate terms who are the key people in her life – birth parents, foster parents and prospective adopters all featuring with explanations of their roles and importance to A. They have maintained contact with the foster carers who looked after A for her first seven months, allowing A to develop a real appreciation of her life-journey; I felt that this ability to embrace wider aspects of A’s life would be likely to carry through into an ability to involve the birth family in A’s life. They have developed in their own adoption ‘journey’ to a position of accepting direct contact between A and her birth family. The risk that A may develop a sense of rejection may be further mitigated by it being explained to her as she grows older – when the language would then be available to explain what has happened to her in a way which an adolescent will understand – that the difference between her situation and her brothers is not about her, but about the context and circumstances in which they each respectively began their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

64.In reviewing the competing options for A I have of course considered the proportionality of the outcomes proposed, particularly where one outcome, namely adoption, involves the creation of a new legal identity for A, and the court’s affirmation of a permanent, enduring relationship between her and a couple with whom she has no blood ties. Drawing all of these powerful factors together, I have reached the clear conclusion that it is in A’s best interests that she should live with Mr. and Mrs. X, where she has established solid, loving, and secure emotional foundations; from that ‘secure base’ she will be able in a wider and more general sense (as she did in a more limited and specific sense when Dr. Young visited her home earlier this year) to explore the world, and importantly with confidence explore and embrace new relationships, including those with her birth family. This outcome is the one which, looked at in the round, is most likely to contain and mitigate the risk of harm which is feared (section 1(4)(e)), and permit A to preserve and enjoy all of the important relationships in her life, including those with the people who she has come to know as her parents, and her birth grandparents and siblings. This outcome most faithfully promotes “the likelihood of” the continuation of important relationships for A and the “value to [A] of [them] doing so” (section 1(4)(f)(i) ACA 2002).

 

 

The Judge decided that there should be contact at least twice per year but that given that the prospective adopters were in agreement, there should not be an order.

Risk-taking and the Court of Protection

 

I’m always interested in Court of Protection cases that drill down into the key principles of autonomy v safeguarding – the dilemma between whether someone should be free to make decisions that an onlooker would consider to be bad or dangerous, or whether the freedom to make such mistakes is how we learn and grow. Of course, in law, the principle consideration is whether the person has capacity to make the decision – which does not necessarily mean that they understand every nuance of it and have weighed it up like Mr Spock – in daily life, we all make decisions without necessarily giving each and every one much thought.

This case also has important things to tell us about just how rotten a society we live in where someone with autism can be exploited on television for a cheap laugh because they don’t have a great singing voice, and even worse that there are sick men in our society who see someone fragile on television or social media and try to exploit them sexually.

Re Z and Others 2016

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

 

Z is a 20 year old woman who is autistic. There was a time when she was very focussed on becoming a celebrity and wanted to become a singer. As a result, she appeared on the auditions for a television talent show (the show is not named, but readers are not ignorant and can probably narrow it down to one of two or three).

 

 

  • Z attended mainstream school, and told me (I am not sure how reliably) that she had obtained a number of GCSEs. She reported that she had many friends at school, although contemporaneous records in fact show her to have been rather isolated and a loner. After school she went on to train in the field of beauty therapy at a local education college, but her passion has always been, and is, music; Z keenly wishes to be a singer. In 2012, Z appeared in a televised talent show; it was not a success. Sadly she now regards the experience as humiliating and she is embarrassed by her performance. She dropped out of college and became depressed. A referral was made to CAMHS. She started to display risky behaviours; her performance was available to view on the internet, and she was deluged with contacts through web-based social media, mainly from men. She met with some of those who contacted her, some of whom allegedly abused or exploited her. She became sexually disinhibited, and some of her sexual experiences were believed to be non-consensual. Over a period of time, Z received support from SECOS (Sexually Exploited Children’s Outreach Services); although she appeared to show some insight into the risks of her behaviours, it became apparent that she did not always apply this insight or learning into practice, and continued to place herself at risk. The last evidence of this kind of risky behaviour with men now goes back to 2013 or (at the latest) 2014.
  • In 2013, Z was assessed by a clinical psychologist who concluded that she did not have a diagnosis of learning disability, and she retained capacity to make decisions about social contacts.
  • Like many young people, Z occupies her time on different forms of social media. Unlike many, at one time she removed all the privacy settings on her account, and was alleged to post up provocative material about herself. It was said (though she denied it, and I make no finding about it) that she had at one time sent naked photos of herself over the internet for money. For a time, though in my judgment to a much lesser degree now, she craved publicity for her singing, and was focused on becoming a celebrity.

 

 

  • In the January 2015 interview, it appears that Z demonstrated a good degree of insight into the debacle of her talent show audition, indicating that she would decline further opportunities for a repeat for the time being (“not at the moment, I don’t think I’m ready”). She showed a realistic, if not cynical, view of why men had shown such interest in her following her television appearance (“it’s obvious, men wanted sex with me…”). She denied inappropriate use of social media (“I have kept away from social media … I don’t want to go back to square one”), showing an understanding that people contacting her through social media “might be a risk to me”.
  • Dr. Rippon considered that Z showed interest in fame and celebrity status to an “unusual” degree. Dr. Rippon considered that Z had misinterpreted the talent show judges’ comments, and had formed a misguided appreciation of her impressive progression through the audition stages (as a possible object of ridicule rather than through talent). Dr. Rippon was concerned about Z’s “difficulty in processing information particularly that of an abstract nature”, and was of the view that

 

“… during the course of the proceedings, [Z] would struggle to be able to understand the evidence, either in written or verbal form, that is given in Court, process this information and use it to instruct her counsel appropriately. I also do not believe that [Z] would be unable (sic.) to think through the consequences of the instructions which she is providing to her solicitor or understand the risks to herself of any instructions given”.

 

and again later, the Judge describing Z’s presentation in Court and in her evidenc

 

She showed insight into her dismal talent show audition (“it was overwhelming … my nerves seemed to overtake my vocals… it was vocally bad”). She discussed the way in which she had been exploited by men who had contacted her, saying that there was a “bad light” around her at that time

 

The issue for the Court in this case was whether there should be a declaration as to Z’s capacity to

 

i) Choose her residence;

ii) Make contacts with others;

iii) Deal with her care;

iv) Litigate in these proceedings.

 

It was clear that Z had capacity to consent to sexual intercourse – she understood the mechanics of the activity, understood that pregnancy could result and how to mitigate against that and understood the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and how to protect herself.

We have dealt with this issue before as to whether a person who has capacity to consent to sex has the capacity to put him or herself in the position with a potential partner who might pose a risk to them of taking that risk.  Most dramatically in this piece

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/04/30/lets-find-you-a-nice-young-man/

 

where the Court of Protection were trying to put in place a regime for a man who wanted to have homosexual sex and had capacity to consent to it, but no real understanding of how to weigh up a partner as to whether they would meet his needs or treat him violently and badly.  Re A Local Authority v TZ no 2 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2014/973.html

(and I personally think that the CoP got themselves in a tremendous pickle in that case, with good intentions, but ending up with a regime that was utterly unworkable for a real person)

 

 

In this case, the Judge had to weigh up whether Z had capacity in relation to those issues, the dominant one being in making decisions about friendships and relationships

 

  • The Local Authority was perfectly justified in initiating proceedings in June 2014, at what was a very low point in Z’s life when her self-destructive behaviour was posing a significant threat to her well-being, and her capacity to process key decisions was significantly in question. I am inclined to the view (this is not, for obvious reasons, a finding) that she probably did lack capacity to make decisions on the matters under review at that time. However, having reviewed the contemporaneous material with care, and on the evidence available to the court at this hearing, I have reached the conclusion, on a fine balance, that the local authority has not rebutted the presumption of Z’s capacity in relation to the matters under review in this case, at the present time.
  • There is no dispute in this case that Z does suffer from an “impairment of … the mind” within the meaning of the MCA 2005, namely her autistic spectrum disorder, with a secondary component being her learning difficulty. The issue as to her capacity focuses in this case on the functional element of the test. At the heart of the dispute is the assessment of Z’s ability to ‘use or weigh’ information (section 3(1)(c)) about risk to herself, and her ability to keep herself safe in independent living, and in her social contacts. Only if I were to find that Z is “unable” (section 3) (and I emphasise ‘inability’ rather than ‘impairment’ – see again [15] above) to process information relevant to risk (in the ways defined in section 3(1)) could I find her incapacitous in relation to the matters in dispute. As the wording of the statute makes clear, the point in time at which I must capacity is to be tested is now (i.e. “at the material time”).
  • In order to determine Z’s capacity, it is not necessary for her to use or weigh every detail of the respective options available, merely the salient factors (see CC v KK and STCC: [12] above). In this case, it is apparent to me that Z does indeed understand the essential implications of living at home or living independently; as indicated above, Z acknowledged the benefit of having some “guidance” on living independently. She recognised that she would reasonably expect to be allocated a flat, and was able to distinguish between the ‘good’ areas and ‘bad’ areas of town in which to live. I am (perhaps unlike Dr. Rippon) sufficiently persuaded that Z recognises at a material level the benefit of third party support in the event that she is to live on her own. She showed insight into the possible loneliness of living independently; she felt that one of the downsides of leaving home is that she will lose the benefit of having her mother’s “shoulder to cry on” when things are getting her down. She has an outline knowledge of her financial circumstances, and currently appears able to perform basic budgeting. She seems aware that her life is easy now, as all the bills are paid, and she is cared for; I felt that she recognised that she would be giving these comforts up if she were to move. Overall, I am satisfied that Z is able to ‘use or weigh’ the evidence relevant to the matters set out by Theis J in LBX v K and L (see above) at [14].
  • In relation to social contacts, Z needs to be able to weigh up the risks of associating with strangers, particularly those whom she meets through the internet – something which she says that she has indeed learned to deal with through experience. Dr. Rippon acknowledged that, other than with A, there was no evidence of Z making contacts through social media which were of any concern. The fact that she has rejected any ongoing support or care from Dimensions is not evidence in itself that she lacks the capacity to decide on its usefulness. She has articulated her reasons: she does not feel that she currently needs the package, and she feels that the workers are constantly talking about the past not the future, and they ‘talk down’ to her.
  • Dr. Rippon expressed the view in November 2014 (see [29] above), that with time and increased maturity, Z’s ability accurately to assess risk may improve; it is my view that the evidence now available (December 2015) indicates that time and increased maturity, and the benefit of learning from experience, have indeed had that effect. There is no real issue but that 2015 has been a period of relative stability for Z; she has engaged (to a limited extent at least) with the support which is provided for her through Dimensions, and even within the limits of that work, she has impressed the workers with her display of increased maturity. In 2014, Dr. Rippon advised that it would be sensible to re-assess Z’s capacity in “two to three years time”, plainly contemplating a potential future change in capacity, but timescales of this kind are notoriously difficult to gauge, and in my view the evidence appears to have revealed change rather sooner.
  • While it may have been that Z showed an “unusual” degree of interest in fame and celebrity in the past (to some extent in 2014, when first interviewed by Dr. Rippon), and a limited appreciation of the quality of her talent-show performance, I do not find that she continues to hold or display these views. More recent discussions (including her evidence in court) reveal a good degree of awareness of the deficiencies of her performance, and a more realistic appraisal of her quest for fame. At the hearing before me, she impressed as someone who was more than just aware that “people should treat you with respect”, apparently mindful that people had not done so in the past. Dr. Rippon expressed scepticism in her 2014 report about Z’s ability to understand the evidence which was to be given in Court, process this information and use it to instruct her counsel appropriately; this scepticism was I believe misplaced. Z showed a good level of attention to the evidence, gave instructions to her solicitor and counsel, and – even on Dr. Rippon’s own view – answered questions in evidence better than she had during the three previous interviews.
  • Dr. Rippon entirely fairly observed that young adults are generally able to learn from negative experiences, and use this to support their future decision making. She felt that Z had failed to do this; I do not agree. Z’s behaviour in 2013 and 2014 was, I am prepared to accept for present purposes, intensely destructive; I accept Z’s own assessment that she has at least to some extent “learned how to make decisions”. I accept that she has changed, and I was impressed with her own assessment that “… everything has happened for a reason. It made me stronger and made me more mature” (see [30] above).
  • Dr. Rippon indicated that she would be looking for Z to develop and display insight, that she is not putting herself in risky situations and is understanding of other people’s motives; the trip to Brighton to stay with A was risky to some extent, but not more than usually risky for a young person who is in love, and who has met the object of her affections a number of times on home territory before heading off to see her at her home. Moreover, when the Brighton trip became intolerable, she left.

 

 

 

The Judge here recognised that capacity can fluctuate, and that there had been a time when Z had lacked capacity to keep herself safe but had learned from those experiences and now had the capacity to make decisions for herself about who she wanted to spend time with. Will she make the right decision every time? Probably no more than you or I have always made the right decision about friendships or relationships. Getting things wrong is part of life. If you never get these things wrong, you never have the life-enriching experience of getting them right and finding a true friend or a soul-mate or both.  It isn’t for the Court to worry about outcome or to wrap a person in forensic cotton wool – if they have the capacity to make a decision, then they are free to make it, even if you think they are likely to make some bad ones along the way.

 

 

  • As indicated at the outset of this judgment, some risk-taking in adolescents and young adults can be perfectly healthy, such as in sporting activities, or artistic and creative pursuits, travelling, making new friends (including internet dating and friendship groups), or entering competitions. Healthy risk-taking helps young people to learn. Some adolescent risk-taking can be unhealthy and dangerous – casual sexual relationships, unprotected sex, driving too fast on the roads, excessive consumption of alcohol, consumption of non-prescribed drugs, dealing with anger and confrontation. These forms of risk-taking are inherently unwise and unsafe. In dealing with risk issues in relation to a young person in the context of assessment under the MCA 2005, it is necessary to separate out as far as is possible the evidence which indicates that second category of risk taking (unhealthy, dangerous, unwise) from that which reveals or may reveal a lack of capacity. As Lewison LJ said in PC v City of York (above) “adult autonomy” includes the freedom “to make unwise decisions, provided that they have the capacity to decide” (see [64]).
  • Lewison LJ also referred in the same case (PC v City of York) to the need for a “solid evidential foundation” on which the judge’s decision as to capacity can rest. In this case, as I have earlier mentioned, Mr O’Brien invites me to ‘infer’ a continued existence of risk, and Z’s inability to ‘use or weigh’ information relevant to such risk. An inference can barely be described as an evidential foundation, let alone a ‘solid’ one.
  • I have not found this a particularly easy decision, in the main, because more than a year had passed between the filing of the principal evidence and the hearing. Moreover, I am conscious that I am differing in my conclusion from Dr. Rippon, who in many ways was an impressive and helpful witness and who, as I have indicated above (see [52]) also found the case “incredibly difficult”. In differing from Dr. Rippon, I remind myself that her role and mine are distinct: the expert advises and the court decides. While the opinion of an independently instructed expert in a case such as this is “likely to be of very considerable importance” (Baker J in PH v A Local Authority [2011] EWHC 1704 (COP)), as indeed I find her evidence to be, the decision as to capacity is a judgment for the court (see Re SB [2013] EWHC 1417 (COP)), weighing the expert evidence against my findings on the other evidence. I consider that Dr. Rippon may well have been right in her assessment as to Z’s capacity over a year ago (November 2014), but in my judgment, the passage of time and Z’s greater maturity, coupled with some support from Dimensions and enhanced self-esteem through her music, Z appears to have matured, learned from her mistakes, and developed sufficiently in her capacity to make relevant decisions, and keep herself safe. While the Brighton trip illustrates some unwise decision-making, in fact its greater significance lies in its revelation to me (in contrast to Dr. Rippon) that Z had developed sufficient ability to ‘use or weigh’ information which indicated risk, and insight into the consequences of her choices. In the way she described the visit when giving her unsworn evidence, it is apparent that she was alert throughout the trip to the potential hazards (i.e. the events which made her uncomfortable) and when the relationship with A appeared to be deteriorating badly, she took the appropriate step, entirely independently, of returning home.
  • I have conscientiously cautioned myself against considering outcome when determining Z’s functional ability; I repeat this point, as I am conscious that Z is a vulnerable young person who deserves to have, and should be persuaded to receive, support from adult social services going forward. It is tempting for the court to take a paternalistic, perhaps overly risk-averse, approach to Z’s future; but this would be unprincipled and wrong. I am satisfied in any event that Z currently has a reasonably fulfilling life, which enjoys; she has a loving relationship with her mother who currently cares for her well and who, I hope, could be encouraged to do so for a while longer while Z grows further in maturity and confidence.
  • That is my judgment.

 

If you are wondering, this decision and Re TZ are not in conflict, because the Judge here was satisfied that Z had capacity to make the decisions, whereas in Re TZ the Court was satisfied that TZ did not have the capacity to assess risk for himself  (though had capacity to consent to sex) and thus tried to construct a workable framework in his best interests that would allow him to express his sexuality and desire whilst keeping him safe.  Whether you think that they did so successfully is a matter of opinion….

 

 

appeal – no contact, section 91(14) and judicial conciliation

 

Re T (A child) (Suspension of Contact) (Section 91(14) 2015 has some peculiar quirks, and one point which is probably important. It is a Court of Appeal decision, written by Cobb J.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/719.html

 

When I give you this little extract about the father

We have read the e-mail from the director of Contact Centre A (dated 29 May 2014) to the child’s solicitor which describes the conversations thus:

“… [the father] has obsessively / repeatedly called our organisation in the last couple of weeks. On each occasion he was extremely abusive, consistently making racist remarks, intimidating and threatening staff …. It is evident that centre staff are scared by the experience of dealing with [the father] and further dealings or contact arrangements at [the contact centre] are likely to pose significant risks to both his child and the centre staff. For the above reasons, [the contact centre] is not in a position to facilitate supervised contact sessions between [the father] and his daughter”.

 

You might be somewhat surprised that, doing this appeal in person, he bowls four balls of appeal  (well, he actually put in 19 in his grounds, but the Court of Appeal kindly found him his best four) and three of them hit middle and off and get the result. One is considered wide, but that’s a strike rate to be proud of.   [Taking three wickets out of 19 balls is still pretty decent]

 

The litigation history here is dreadful

 

8. The multiple court hearings, and judgments and orders which have flowed from them, reflect an extraordinarily high degree of conflict in the parental separation. By the time the proceedings were listed before HHJ Hayward Smith QC on 12 December 2011, he expressed a concern that the case was “in danger of spiralling out of control”, a fear which has in our view regrettably all too obviously come to pass. Not only have the parents been in relentless conflict with each other, but the father has also raised repeated and serious allegations of professional misconduct against E’s court-appointed Guardian, against counsel instructed in the case at various times, and against some of the judges. Family related litigation was at one time unacceptably being conducted simultaneously in three family court centres in different parts of the country, and even when co-ordinated in one location, there has been a regrettable lack of judicial continuity (even though it had been explicitly acknowledged by many of the judges involved to have been “essential” to maintain firm and consistent management of the case).

  1. In our own review of the background history we recognised that there was a risk, by which in our view this experienced Judge allowed herself to be distracted, that the truly dreadful chronology of litigation, and the behaviours of the adults towards each other and the professionals, would divert attention from, and ultimately eclipse, the essential issue, namely E’s relationship with both her parents

 

 

Here are the four grounds of appeal, as polished up by Cobb J

 

i) Did judicially-assisted conciliation between the parties in respect of child arrangements for E (specifically E’s living arrangements and contact) at a hearing on 13 May 2014, disqualify the Judge from conducting a subsequent contested hearing on 3 July 2014?

ii) Did the Judge err in making substantive orders on 3 July 2014 (including a section 91(14) order restricting any application under section 8 CA 1989):

a) In the absence of the father?

b) On the basis of factual findings made without forensic testing of the documentary material, of some of which the father had no knowledge?

And/or

c) Having indicated to the parties that she would not conduct any hearing in relation to residence issues?

iii) In ordering the indefinite suspension of contact, did the Judge pay proper regard to section 1(1) CA 1989 and the statutory list of welfare factors (section 1(3) ibid.), and to the Article 8 rights of the father and the child, all of which were engaged in such a decision?

iv) Was the order under section 91(14) CA 1989 appropriate in principle, and/or proportionate?

 

We shall take these in turn

i) Did judicially-assisted conciliation between the parties in respect of child arrangements for E (specifically E’s living arrangements and contact) at a hearing on 13 May 2014, disqualify the Judge from conducting a subsequent contested hearing on 3 July 2014?

 

This arose because at a hearing where the issue was intended to be about whether the child could or could not go to a family wedding, but  father was advancing a case of a change of residence for the child (which was an argument with no prospect of success) the Judge moved into conciliation mode with a view to trying to broker an agreement.  This is an accepted model now, but what hasn’t been previously determined was whether a Judge who undertakes that conciliation approach (of trying to move the parties towards an agreement) is able to then make decisions in the case where agreement is not reached.

  1. The father’s application in relation to the wedding celebration was heard by HHJ Hughes QC on 13 May 2014; she refused the application. At the hearing, the Judge, entirely appropriately in our judgment, took an opportunity to conduct some in-court conciliation between the parties in an effort to break the deadlock on residence and contact. At that hearing, the following exchange took place between the Judge and the father (as recorded by the father, but which we do not believe to be challenged):

    Father: “Your Honour, can I ask that this is heard….? If you are going to hear this as a conciliation attempt then you cannot hear the hearing”

    Judge: “That is absolutely fine with me. I will not hear the hearing. I am trying to deal with this now.”

    At the conclusion of the 3 July 2014 hearing in delivering judgment (para [2]), the Judge characterised this exchange thus:

    “During the hearing the father accused (sic.) me of attempting to conciliate and suggested that I should therefore recuse myself”.

    The description of the manner in which the father challenged the Judge (an ‘accusation’) may reveal a little of the father’s tone of lay advocacy not revealed by a transcript.

  2. The father does not currently challenge the Judge’s assessment of the prospects of his case on residence, or her stance in advising him of them. She later described her conciliation attempt thus:

    “I suggested to him that an application for residence of [E] was actually not going to be very successful because he had not seen [E] for ten months, and he accepted that at the time.” (see transcript of the hearing on 3 July 2014).

    His account is similar:

    “It was agreed by all parties before HHJ Hughes on 13 May that the hearing regarding residence should be adjourned with liberty to the father to restore if and when he believed it appropriate to [E]’s interests … I accept that there are no realistic prospects of a Court allowing [a change of residence] at the present when there is no contact taking place. I accept that [E]’s residence in the immediate future is likely to be with her mother” (see father’s letter to the Court 2 July 2014).

 

This Judge did, however later go on to make an order that the father should have no contact with his child at all, and make a section 91(14) order that he be barred from making any other applications without leave of the Court.  Grounds 1 and 2 of the appeal therefore raise the questions  (1) COULD the Judge do this and (2) SHOULD the Judge have done this?

 

The Court of Appeal ruled that the Judge COULD conduct a conciliation style hearing AND then go on to conduct a traditional hearing resolving a dispute.

  1. We wish to emphasise that the facilitation of in-court conciliation at a FHDRA (or indeed at any other hearing in a private law children case) does not of itself disqualify judges from continuing involvement with the case, particularly as information shared at such a hearing is expressly not regarded as privileged (PD12B FPR 2010 para.14.9). Were it otherwise, the “objective” of judicial continuity from the FHDRA (where, as indicated above, conciliation may have been attempted in accordance with the rules) to the making of a final order (see PD12B FPR 2010 para.10) would be defeated. The current arrangement should therefore be distinguished from:

    i) Old-style conciliation appointments, which operated prior to the implementation of the ‘Private Law Programme’ in 2004, the predecessor to the CAP (see Practice Direction [1982] 3 FLR 448; Practice Direction: Conciliation – children: [1992] 1 FLR 228: i.e. “If the conciliation proves unsuccessful the district judge will give directions (including timetabling) with a view to the early hearing and disposal of the application. In such cases that district judge and court welfare officer will not be further involved in that application”.);ii) Non-court dispute resolution (by way of mediation / conciliation) conducted by professionals outside of the court setting: see Re D (Minors) (Conciliation: Privilege [1993] 1 FLR 932, Farm Assist Ltd (in liquidation) –v- DEFRA (No 2) [2009] EWHC 1102 (TCC)), and the Family Mediation Council Code of Practice for family mediators, paras 5.6.1 and 5.6.4;

    iii) A Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) Appointment in a financial remedy case; the judge conducting such a hearing is not permitted to have any further involvement with the application, save for giving directions: see rule 9.17(2) FPR 2010. In a financial case, of course, the Judge is likely to have been armed to conciliate with the provision of all the privileged communications between the parties.

  2. Private law proceedings in the family court have become more than ever “inquisitorial in nature” (Re C (Due Process) [2013] EWCA Civ 1412[2014] 1 FLR 1239 at [47]) in large measure attributable to the overwhelming number of unrepresented parties who require and deserve more than just neutral arbitration; in such cases, particularly at a FHDRA or a Dispute Resolution Appointment, there is presented to the judge “a real opportunity for dispute resolution in the same way that an Issues Resolution Hearing provides that facility in public law children proceedings” (per Ryder LJ at [47] in Re C (Due Process)). We recognise that in exceptional cases, it is possible that a judge may express a view in the context of judicially-assisted conciliation which may render it inappropriate for that judge to go on to determine contested issues at a substantive hearing. Recusal would only be justified, we emphasise exceptionally, if to proceed to hear the substantive case would cause “the fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, …[to]… conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased”: see Porter v Magill, Weeks v Magill [2001] UKHL 67, [2002] AC 357, [2002] 2 WLR 37, [2002] 1 All ER 465, [2002] LGR 51.
  3. As we indicated at [18] above at the 13 May hearing the Judge enabled the father to recognise that his residence application was not currently likely to succeed; the father, for his part, appears to have accepted the judicial steer. We do not see why that indication on its own should at that stage of the case have caused the Judge to disqualify herself from maintaining case responsibility. It is not apparent that the parties took any position or made any other offer of compromise which would have given rise to any other potential conflict for the judge.

 

However, ground 2, the father immediately triumphs on the third part – the Judge having said at the conciliation style hearing that she would not go on to decide any contested matters ought not to have later done so.

ii) Did the Judge err in making substantive orders on 3 July 2014 (including a section 91(14) order restricting any application under section 8 CA 1989):

a) In the absence of the father?

b) On the basis of factual findings made without forensic testing of the documentary material, of some of which the father had no knowledge?

And/or

c) Having indicated to the parties that she would not conduct any hearing in relation to residence issues?

 

Starting with (c)

 The father was entitled to the view that the Judge had earlier given the impression that she would not herself deal with such issues, giving him ‘liberty to apply’ at the earlier (13 May 14) hearing. In short, in making these substantive orders (which directly impacted upon the father’s prospective residence claim), the Judge did, in our judgment, precisely that which she had told the parties she would not do. In this respect we have reluctantly concluded that the Judge materially fell into error, leaving the father with an understandable sense of grievance, and reaching a conclusion which is in the circumstances unsustainable.

 

On the other aspects of this ground, the Court of Appeal were content that father had had notice of the hearing and it had not been improper to proceed in his absence (a),  but that it had been wrong to proceed to make serious orders that he had not been put on notice about and to do it on ‘evidence’ which he had not been able to challenge

  1. However, the father’s absence was a significant factor which contributed to two material errors which in our judgment fundamentally undermine the integrity of the Judge’s conclusions:

    i) She made findings of fact on documentary material of which the father had no notice, and on which he had had no chance to make representations;ii) She made substantive orders fundamentally affecting his relationship with his daughter, and his access to the court, having previously told the father that she would not ‘hear the hearing’ of any such substantive application.

    In [39-41] and [42] we enlarge on these points.

  2. The judgment of 3 July 2014, and orders which flow from it, is predicated upon findings of fact which the Judge reached on written documentation (e-mails and position statements) which was not in conventional form (see rule 22 FPR 2010). We make no criticism of that per se, but consider that the judge should have cautioned herself about the possible deficiencies inherent in making findings in these circumstances, particularly where the evidence was not tested. She found that the father’s conversations with Contact Centre A displayed “a truly monstrous display of manipulation” yet the father’s written representations (dated 19 June and 2 July 2014), which she had apparently considered in reaching that conclusion, do not address this evidence in detail; indeed the father makes no specific reference at all in his submission to the e-mail from Contact Centre A (see [22] above). We cannot be certain that the father had even seen it.
  3. Of more concern, the Judge refers to, and appears to rely on as evidence of the father’s generally disruptive and belligerent conduct, an e-mail from a solicitor (unconnected with the case) who is reported to have overheard a heated conversation (“raised voices”) between the father and the Children’s Guardian following the 13 May 2014 hearing. The Judge at the 3 July 2014 hearing told those present that she “has no reason to distrust” the author of the e-mail, which she describes as “quite shocking”. Again, the father, so far as we can tell, was unaware of this evidence and had no opportunity to challenge it; the father had as it happens separately written to the Court complaining that after the 13 May 2014 hearing the Guardian had threatened to report the father to his local social services department, but the Judge does not bring in to her reckoning the father’s complaint.
  4. It also appears that the father had not received the Guardian’s report prior to the 3 July 2014 hearing; certainly he claims not to have seen it at the time he sent in his written representations to the court on the day prior to the hearing. We found no evidence that he had had seen the position statement of the child’s solicitor which (by admission) “went a little further” than the Guardian’s report/recommendation. The father had had no opportunity to comment on any of this material which rendered the judge’s conclusions, in our judgment, highly vulnerable.
  5. More significantly, at the hearing on 3 July 2014 the Judge made orders which went further than had previously been intimated, bringing to a formal end the father’s relationship with his daughter for the foreseeable future, and curbing his ability to pursue an application under section 8 CA 1989 in relation to her for many years.

 

So the appeal would be granted on this basis and sent for re-hearing.  The other two grounds were comfortably made out, that the judicial analysis of the circumstances that would warrant making an order that would mean father having no contact fell far short of what the law requires, and that the legal and procedural protections for a party when making a section 91(14) order had not been met.

 

In final summary, the Court of Appeal had this to say

 

  1. Conclusion
  2. No one should underestimate the challenges to family judges of dealing with cases of this kind. A number of experienced family judges have laudably tried different methods, alternately robust and cautious, to achieve the best outcome for E, but appear to have failed. While we are conscious that the case has presented significant management issues, largely attributable it appears to the conduct of the father, regrettably judicial continuity has not been achieved and this may have added to the faltering process.
  3. By allowing this appeal, we are conscious that we are consigning these parties to a further round of litigation concerning E; this is particularly unfortunate given the history of this case, and the inevitable toll which it is taking on all of the parties, evident from our own assessment of them in court.
  4. In remitting the case for re-hearing, we do not intend to signal any view as to the merits of the mother’s applications, or the likely outcome of the same. We are conscious that E has had virtually no relationship with her father for over half of her life; the Judge could not be criticised for observing, as she did, that a contact regime has thus far proved impossible to sustain. Our own summary of the relevant history above may demonstrate this sufficiently. However, given the life-long implications for E, her parents and family, of the orders which have been successfully challenged by this application and appeal, it is imperative that a proper determination is achieved, as soon as practicable, in order that fully-informed welfare-based decisions can properly be made in the interests of E.

 

 

 

 

Your Honour, I am afraid that I have not done a position statement, but may I just hand this up?

I think this summarises our position

I think this summarises our position

 

 

I thought of that gag this morning, and kudos to Cobb J for giving me the opportunity to deploy it.

 

Newcastle City Council v WM and Others 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/42.html

 

When a High Court Judge asks why you haven’t filed and served a position statement, don’t do THIS

 

 

  • I return to consider some of the matters outlined at the beginning of this judgment.
  • At the outset of this hearing not one of the respondents’ advocates had troubled to prepare a Position Statement. Counsel addressed me on the first morning of the hearing to explain the absence of these documents addressing me as if the requirement for such a document were a personal idiosyncrasy of mine. It is not. May I, for the record, remind counsel again of the following points: PD27A para.4.3:

 

At the commencement of the bundle there shall be inserted the following documents (the preliminary documents) –

(a) an up to date case summary of the background to the hearing confined to those matters which are relevant to the hearing and the management of the case and limited, if practicable, to four A4 pages;

(b) a statement of the issue or issues to be determined (1) at that hearing and (2) at the final hearing;

(c) a position statement by each party including a summary of the order or directions sought by that party (1) at that hearing and (2) at the final hearing;

(d) an up to date chronology, if it is a final hearing or if the summary under (i) is insufficient;

(e) skeleton arguments, if appropriate;

(f) a list of essential reading for that hearing; and

(g) the time estimate (see paragraph 10.1).

 

  • May I draw to their further attention PD27A, §4.4:

 

Each of the preliminary documents shall be as short and succinct as possible and shall state on the front page immediately below the heading the date when it was prepared and the date of the hearing for which it was prepared. Where proceedings relating to a child are being heard by magistrates the summary of the background shall be prepared in anonymised form, omitting the names and identifying information of every person referred to other than the parties’ legal representatives, and stating the number of pages contained in the bundle. Identifying information can be contained in all other preliminary documents

And PD27A para 6.4:

The preliminary documents shall be lodged with the court no later than 11 am on the day before the hearing and, where the hearing is before a judge of the High Court and the name of the judge is known, shall (with the exception of the authorities, which are to be lodged in hard copy and not sent by email) at the same time be sent by email to the judge’s clerk

Sadly, this is once again one of those cases where poor planning and preparation had led to massive delays for the children,  and unfairness in the process, and once again, the misuse of section 20 played a part

  • The burden of judicial decision-making has regrettably been made significantly more complex by the failures of the professionals and child care systems involved with this family. To give prominence to those failures, I highlight some of them at the outset of this judgment:

i) At the time of the final hearing, the children have been in foster care for 93 weeks awaiting a decision about them;ii) The children were accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (“CA 1989”) from July 2013 until March 2015, when interim care orders were made (under section 38 of the CA 1989) at the Issues Resolution Hearing;

iii) The ‘letter before proceedings’ (prepared pursuant to PD12A FPR 2010) was sent to the parents in January 2013, 73 weeks before the proceedings were ultimately issued (July 2014);

iv) The final hearing is taking place in the 43rd week, not the 26th week following issue (see section 14(2)(ii) of the Children and Families Act 2014);

v) The mother has significant learning disability; she has an assessed IQ of 61. She is assessed to lack capacity to litigate in these proceedings. There is a significant question whether she ever had capacity to consent to the accommodation of her children (it is said, per Dr. Thorpe, consultant psychiatrist, that “she did not appear to understand the reasons why her children had been placed in foster care”), and whether, in the circumstances, the children were for the extended period referred to above lawfully accommodated;

vi) On any of the outcomes proposed for the children, they will have to be separated; as indicated above, the family placement on offer is for the two older children only. The Local Authority does not contemplate an adoptive placement for all three siblings together;

vii) The youngest child has spent more than half his life waiting for a decision about his long-term future, which is, and has been for some time, essentially undisputed;

viii) The Children’s Guardian and Local Authority propose radically different outcomes for the older children. The Social Worker and the parties were only made aware of the final recommendation of the Guardian on the first morning of the hearing.

ix) The maternal aunt, who wishes to care for the children, suffers a serious and debilitating eye condition; it is identified and briefly described in the independent social work assessment of her capacity to care for the children. The aunt’s lawyers did not apparently explore the implications of this condition before the hearing began. The extent of her significant visual disability was astonishingly only revealed at the conclusion of her oral evidence, and only when I asked to describe it (she had obviously been struggling to read from the documents presented to her while giving evidence); this led to a short adjournment during the hearing to obtain necessary expert medical evidence;

x) In a case which generates a range of possible outcomes, and in which some of the key parties have vacillated about their preferences during the proceedings, none of the respondent advocates had prepared position statements prior to the final hearing (I exonerate Ms Moulder as she stepped in on day 2 of the final hearing to replace counsel who had unavoidably had to relinquish the brief at short notice, and for entirely legitimate reasons), leaving me, when reading into the case, to speculate about their final preferred outcomes;

xi) There was no attempt by the Local Authority to provide one pared-down trial bundle of the relevant material; I was provided with four lever arch files; no reading list and no reading time.

  • Lessons are obviously to be learned from the sorry state of affairs described in paragraph [3] above. I suspect that the facts outlined above speak for themselves. Lest they don’t, I expand more about them in the judgment which follows, and (in relation to (x) and (xi)) in the post-script which follows the judgment (see [105-111]).

 

I think that we are really close to the judiciary making human rights compensation orders in these cases – these children had on that reading been unlawfully accommodated for around 21 months, as the mother did not have capacity to consent to such accommodation.

 

Even more wretched than that, is that when the case was finally litigated, the Judge concluded that two of the children should be placed with a family member, their aunt. That could have been done much much earlier, and the children spent more time in care than was necessary. That’s a tragedy.

 

The judicial analysis and approach is excellent, and the judgment as a whole is worth reading.

 

Lest you think the whole thing is critical, the Judge was more than willing to lavish praise on those who deserved it.

 

 

  • Having identified some of the failures in the case, I turn next, and briefly, to one of its significant redeeming features. The role of the intermediary service.
  • I wish to pay particular tribute to Clare Jones and Rebecca Fletcher from Communicourt Limited who offered an excellent intermediary service to the Court for the mother in this case. The mother has significant communication difficulties, both with understanding and using language; this is likely to be attributable in part to her learning disability, and in part to acquiring English as a second language.
  • Ms Jones’ report, dated 20 February 2015, was clear and practical, providing guidance about how best to manage the case in a way which would optimise the mother’s participation. Ms Jones was regrettably unable to attend the final hearing, and the intermediary service was therefore provided by Ms Fletcher, who performed her role with great skill and discretion. Ground rules had been set by HHJ Hudson at the IRH; these were re-visited at the outset of the hearing. Specific ground rules were set for the mother’s evidence, which we all endeavoured conscientiously to observe.
  • Overall, I was satisfied that the mother had been enabled to participate in the process as fully and effectively as could possibly be achieved. I am indebted to the intermediary service for its assistance

 

 

forced sterilisation

I normally canter through a judgment, picking out the salient bits, but I think this one really needs to be read in full to appreciate it. It would not be fair for me to look at individual passages.

This is a follow-up to this piece

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/07/08/barbecue-tongs-and-police-being-given-power-to-force-entry-to-a-home/

 

In which Cobb J, sitting in the Court of Protection, gave a ruling that a caesarean section was in a woman’s best interests and even that the police could force entry. It was a very unusual case.

This follow up is the same Judge, in the same Court, considering whether the woman, who lacked capacity to make decisions for herself, should be sterilised without her consent. And again whether there could be powers to forcibly enter her home, remove her and take her to hospital.  The Court do decide that these things are in her best interests.

There’s no getting away from this, the fact that a Court even have these powers makes anyone feel uncomfortable.  Critics of the system have the right to say that this feels wholly and utterly wrong, no matter how carefully it is explored.  It does end up smacking of eugenics, and the nasty side of eugenics at that. Even thinking for a minute about how terrifying it must be for this woman when the police knock down her door and she is taken to hospital for surgery she doesn’t want and doesn’t understand makes your flesh crawl.

My personal take is that I think Cobb J gives a very careful and thoughtful judgment and tries to balance the competing factors.  Parliament have given the Court of Protection this authority to make such decisions, and if they have to be made, doing it in the way Cobb J has done is the best way to do it. I think he is also right to set out that this is a truly exceptional case, with truly exceptional facts – all efforts to engage and develop the woman’s understanding about the health risks to her of further pregnancies were unsuccessful, and the health risks are life-threatening.  But we have sadly seen that unique and exceptional cases do sometimes end up being used in ones that are slightly less so, and on and on until authorities bear little resemblance to the original case.

 

The Mental Health Trust and DD 2015  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/4.html

 

Even if you end up disagreeing with Cobb J’s decision (and I think you’re perfectly entitled to – this is one of those really moral and ethical arguments) please do him the courtesy of reading the judgment first. It must be a thankless job having to make decisions like this.

The placement of an adult away from their family

This Court of Protection decision LBX v TT and Others 2014  touches on some important issues. It is a case involving a 19 year old girl, and the decision of the Court that she lacked capacity to make decisions for herself and that it would be in her best interests to continue to live in foster care.

 

 

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/24.html

 

The background to this is that there were allegations of serious sexual misconduct by her step-father, who awaits criminal trial. The case had been set down for what would have been quite a long and tricky hearing, particularly in the Court of Protection, to determine the truth of those allegations.  Since, if they were not true, the best interests decision would be very different, or potentially very different.

That starts to look like care proceedings, but on a vulnerable adult rather than on a child.

An additional complexity is that whilst mother and probably stepfather would have been entitled to free legal advice to fight the case in care proceedings, that’s not the case in the Court of Protection.

 

The Judge, Cobb J, said this  (MJ is mum, JJ stepfather)

At the outset of the hearing on 7 July, MJ and JJ made an application to adjourn the proceedings to obtain legal advice. They told me that they had been advised that they did not qualify for legal aid (on grounds of means) and did not have funds to instruct a solicitor privately. They had tried, without success, to obtain a litigation loan from the bank. I had been advised at the pre-trial hearing that the Bar Pro Bono Unit could not offer counsel for this hearing.
 

I recognise the considerable disadvantage to someone in the position of MJ and JJ appearing unrepresented in proceedings of this kind; their article 6 ECHR rights are imperilled. However, as there seemed no realistic prospect of MJ or JJ obtaining representation in these proceedings, and given the need to reach conclusions at this hearing, I refused the application to adjourn.
 

I was advised that JJ had solicitors acting for him in the criminal proceedings. I caused a message to be communicated to those solicitors over the short adjournment expressing my hope that they would be able to offer JJ some advice. I was very pleased to see Mr Levy at 2pm appearing on a pro bono basis.
 

On the third day of this hearing, MJ attended court with a McKenzie Friend. I considered it appropriate to allow this gentleman to assist MJ, and in doing so, applied the Guidance offered by the McKenzie Friends Practice Guidance Civil and Family Courts (12 July 2010): this Guidance is said to apply to civil and family proceedings in the Court of Appeal (Civil Division), the High Court of Justice, the County Courts and the Family Proceedings Court in the Magistrates’ Courts. I have assumed, and unless advised to the contrary will continue to conduct hearings in my court on this basis, that it applies to proceedings in the Court of Protection.

 

A further problem was the unwillingness of the police to provide any of the source material, which would have been vital to the conduct of any finding of fact hearing. In the event, the finding of fact hearing did not take place, due to MJ’s position at the hearing on 9th June 2014:-

I arranged a hearing on 9 June 2014 to consider the viability of the fact-finding hearing. At that hearing the case took an unexpected turn; MJ and JJ (who were helpfully represented by counsel instructed by the Bar Council Pro Bono Unit) indicated that they intended to remain together as a couple, irrespective of the allegations &/or the outcome of any trial of the allegations, and did not propose to offer TT a home, now or in the long-term. Specifically, they conceded that:
 

 

i) MJ could not envisage a situation in which she would separate from JJ “even if findings were made against him”. 

ii) TT should not return to live with MJ and JJ; she should remain living with KK (MJ: “we cannot offer her a home”).

iii) That the decision that TT should remain with KK is a “long-term decision” on the part of MJ;

iv) JJ was “is not willing to, and will not, have any contact with TT in the future. Contact is defined as direct and indirect contact and facebook/social media messaging”. He further agreed not to attempt to have any contact.

 

 

Within the case, the Official Solicitor (representing the 19 year old, TT) argued that the Court should still conduct the forensic exercise about the allegations and what happened to this young woman, and went further in suggesting that the Court had a duty to do so.

The Official Solicitor, on behalf of TT, contended that I am under a duty, or, if not under a duty should nonetheless exercise my discretion, to hear oral evidence in order that I can determine a solid factual basis for establishing TT’s best interests orders, even on an interim basis. Mr. McKendrick referred me to Re W [2008] EWHC 1188 (Fam) where McFarlane J held at paragraph 72:
 

“It is important that the planning in the future for these children, particularly C, is based upon as correct a view of what happened to R as possible. It is not in the children’s interests, or in the interests of justice, or in the interests of the two adults, for the finding to be based on an erroneous basis. It is also in the interests of all of the children that are before this court for the mother’s role to be fully understood and investigated.”
He contended that the principles outlined above could be appropriately transported from the Family Division to the Court of Protection. I interpolate here to say, as will be apparent later, that I agree.

The Official Solicitor’s argument was developed further thus:
 

 

i) Section 48 provides jurisdiction to make interim ‘best interests’ orders where it is necessary to make those orders “without delay”; this phrase in section 48(c) imports into the section a degree of expectation that this provision should be used very much as an interim measure; 

ii) While the evidential bar is lower on determination of capacity in section 48(a), there is no qualification to the court’s approach on ‘best interests’; therefore unless the case is urgent, there ought to be a reasonable and proportionate enquiry into best interests;

iii) That I should endeavour to resolve the facts so far as I can at this stage; many of the issues will need to be grappled with at some point in time and it is better to do so while the events are fresher in people’s minds; this hearing was set up for that purpose, and the witnesses are available;

iv) MJ has expressed a wish for unsupervised contact in the future: see §9 above. Indeed, the Official Solicitor observes that the Applicant itself accepts that “it is … foreseeable that [MJ] will seek unsupervised contact in the future, after the conclusion of the criminal trial”;

v) That ‘best interests’ decisions should be made on the most secure evidential footing; this is particularly so where

a) interim orders are expected to last for a considerable period (the criminal trial may not be for many months);
b) interim orders are inconsistent with TT’s expressed wishes (see §95-98 below);
vi) Prolonged interference with TT’s Article 8 ECHR rights for unrestricted contact without a clear determination of facts is not proportionate;

vii) That particular caution is required before the Court proceeds to make determinations largely on the basis of concessions offered by an unrepresented party (MJ), particularly where that party is plainly distressed by the issues.

 

 

As a family lawyer, it interests me that lawyers in the Court of Protection are placing reliance on McFarlane J ‘s (as he then was) decision in the family Court in Re W, which is a decision I wholeheartedly agree with, when the Court of Appeal in dealing with family cases are taking quite the reverse view about finding of fact hearings in family cases.  My support for the latter stance is somewhat less than wholehearted.

 

Cobb J goes on to borrow some principles from family law cases to provide guidance for if and when to embark on a finding of fact exercise in the Court of Protection, and these would now be rules or guidelines to follow in such cases

By analogy with the position in family law, the judge would in my judgment be well-served to consider the guidance of Butler-Sloss LJ in the family appeal of Re B (Minors)(Contact) [1994] 2 FLR 1 in which she said as follows:
 

“There is a spectrum of procedure for family cases from the ex parte application on minimal evidence to the full and detailed investigations on oral evidence which may be prolonged. Where on that spectrum a judge decides a particular application should be placed is a matter for his discretion. Applications for residence orders or for committal to the care of a local authority or revocation of a care order are likely to be decided on full oral evidence, but not invariably. Such is not the case on contact applications which may be and are heard sometimes with and sometimes without oral evidence or with a limited amount of oral evidence.”
It is acknowledged that the ‘spectrum’ may now be narrower than that described in 1994 following the revisions to rule 22.7 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, but the principle nonetheless remains, in my judgment, good.

Butler–Sloss LJ went on to define the questions which may have a bearing on how the court should proceed with such an application (adapted for relevance to the Court of Protection):
 

 

i) whether there is sufficient evidence upon which to make the relevant decision; 

ii) whether the proposed evidence (which should be available at least in outline) which the applicant for a full trial wishes to adduce is likely to affect the outcome of the proceedings;

iii) whether the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses for the professional care or other agency, in particular in this case the expert witnesses, is likely to affect the outcome of the proceedings;

iv) the welfare of P and the effect of further litigation – whether the delay in itself will be so detrimental to P’s well-being that exceptionally there should not be a full hearing. This may be because of the urgent need to reach a decision in relation to P;

v) the prospects of success of the applicant for a full trial;

vi) does the justice of the case require a full investigation with oral evidence?
In deciding whether to conduct a fact-finding hearing at all, I consider it useful to consider the check-list of considerations discussed by McFarlane J in the case of A County Council v DP, RS, BS (By their Children’s Guardian) [2005] EWHC 1593 (Fam) 2005 2 FLR 1031 at [24]. Following a review of case-law relevant to the issue he stated that:
 

“… amongst other factors, the following are likely to be relevant and need to be borne in mind before deciding whether or not to conduct a particular fact finding exercise:
(a) the interests of the child (which are relevant but not paramount)
(b) the time that the investigation will take;
(c) the likely cost to public funds;
(d) the evidential result;
(e) the necessity or otherwise of the investigation;
(f) the relevance of the potential result of the investigation to the
future care plans for the child;
(g) the impact of any fact finding process upon the other parties;
(h) the prospects of a fair trial on the issue;
(i) the justice of the case.”
There is some (but not universal) acknowledgement at the Bar in this case that this list (with modifications as to (a) to refer to the best interests of ‘P’ rather than ‘the child’) provides a useful framework of issues to consider in relation to the necessity of fact finding in the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection.

 

Those principles are familiar to family lawyers (or at least they were, before the Court of Appeal took its newer position) but are probably fresh to Court of Protection lawyers.

 

The Court decided not to embark on a full-blown fact finding hearing, but did take evidence on some limited allegations which were of particular import. As part of that judgment, the Judge also clarified that hearsay evidence is permissable in the Court of Protection.

 

Hearsay: The factual allegations which I have been required to investigate rely very extensively on what TT has reported to third parties. She has not been called to give evidence at this hearing (no party proposed that she should), and I have therefore had to rely on a range of hearsay accounts, and on records, and interpretations, of her behaviours.
 

Hearsay evidence is plainly admissible in proceedings of this kind; as McFarlane J made clear in LB Enfield v SA [2010] 1 FLR 1836. While ruling (at §29-30) that proceedings in the Court of Protection under the MCA 2005 must fall within the wide definition of ‘civil proceedings’ under section 11 of the CEA 1995, they are civil proceedings before a tribunal to which the strict rules of evidence apply. He went on to conclude (§36) that:
 

“COPR 2007, r 95(d) gives the Court of Protection power to admit hearsay evidence which originates from a person who is not competent as a witness and which would otherwise be inadmissible under CEA 1995, s 5. Admissibility is one thing, and the weight to be attached to any particular piece of hearsay evidence will be a matter for specific evaluation in each individual case. Within that evaluation, the fact that the individual from whom the evidence originates is not a competent witness will no doubt be an important factor, just as it is, in a different context, when the family court has to evaluate what has been said by a very young child”
In all the circumstances, I guard against accepting without careful consideration of the evidence as a whole, the hearsay evidence of what TT told LT and WT as proof of the substance of what is alleged against MJ; this is particularly so given the unchallenged evidence of Dr Joyce that TT has a “very limited understanding of the oath”.

 

This is, as always with Cobb J, a very detailed and well-structured judgment, and he eventually reaches these conclusions about the declarations sought

 

Conclusions

Having regard to the matters listed above, I propose to make the following orders/declarations:
 

 

i) For the reasons fully set out above at §25-29, I declare (under section 15 MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to litigate these issues; 

ii) For the reasons fully set out above at §25-29, I declare (under section 15 MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to make decisions about her care and residence;

iii) For the reasons fully set out above at §25-29, I declare (under section 15 MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to make decisions about her contact with others;

iv) For the reasons fully set out above at §28 and §30, I declare that there is reason to believe (section 48 of the MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to consent to sexual relations;

v) For the reasons fully set out above at §30 and §105, I declare that there is reason to believe (section 48 of the MCA 2005) that it would be in TT’s best interests for any education about sexual relations to await the outcome of the criminal trial (in which JJ is a defendant);

vi) For the reasons fully set out above at §8(ii), and §100-102, I find that it is in TT’s best interests that she should continue to reside with her foster carer KK (and that I should make this order under section 15 of the MCA 2005);

vii) For the reasons fully set out above at §8(iv), §100 and §104, I find that it is in TT’s best interests to have no contact with JJ (and that I make this order under section 48 of the MCA 2005);

viii) For the reasons fully set out above at §100 and §103, I find that it is in TT’s best interests to have restricted supervised contact with her mother; this order is made under section 48 MCA 2005; I propose that this should be at a frequency of about twice per week, although with a degree of flexibility. For the time being, the contact should be supervised at least until the conclusion of the criminal trial. At the conclusion of the criminal trial, urgent consideration will be required in relation to whether on-going supervision of contact is in SS’s best interests.

 

 

It does raise important questions – not least being that if the Court of Protection is going to develop a jurisprudence of quasi-care proceedings about vulnerable adults then shouldn’t the parents/carers of those vulnerable adults have access to free legal advice and representation to deal with what can potentially be very grave issues and (as here) potentially extremely serious findings against them of sexual misconduct?