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Contempt of Court and right to silence

This is an intricate, but important, decision by the Court of Appeal. A man here was sentenced to six months imprisonment for failure to comply with an order, and the Court of Appeal overturned that decision.  It does seem that the man spent about five weeks in prison, and the Court of Appeal found that the decision was procedurally flawed in some significant ways.

 

Re L (A child) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/173.html

It relates to an application to commit to prison the Uncle of a child for contempt. The child had been the subject of care proceedings in 2004  (yes, 2004), and the parents had fled the country with her. The High Court had made some orders under the inherent jurisdiction, including importantly the “collection order” in this case, which included this provision

 

“If the Defendants[1] or any other person served with this order is not in a position to deliver the child into the charge of the Tipstaff, he or she[2] must each:-

(a) inform the Tipstaff of the whereabouts of the child, if such are known to him or her; and

(b) also in any event inform the Tipstaff of all matters within his or her knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist him in locating the child.”

The Uncle, Mr Oddin, was brought to Court AS A WITNESS in July 2015

  1. On 30 June 2015, Keehan J discharged both the care order and the freeing order. L remained a ward of court. On 30 July 2015 Keehan J made an order which, so far as material for present purposes, was in the following terms:
    1. “UPON the court being satisfied that the attendance of Mr Gous Oddin to attend court for the purpose of examining the whereabouts of the parents [that is, L’s parents] and the welfare and whereabouts of the child [that is, L] is necessary

… IT IS ORDERED THAT

1 Leave is granted to the local authority for a witness summons to be issued, whereby Mr Gous Oddin shall attend court at 9.30am on 8 October 2015 before Mr Justice Keehan sitting at … for the purposes of being examined as to the whereabouts of the parents and the welfare and whereabouts of the child, L …

2 Mr Gous Oddin … shall attend the hearing on 8 October 2015 for the purpose of examination as to the whereabouts of the parents and whereabouts of the child L …”

Mr Oddin gave evidence before the Court on 8th October 2015  – remember that he was there as a witness, and that he was NOT at that point subject to an application for committal. However, the Court was not satisfied that he was giving honest answers.

  1. On 8 October 2015 Mr Oddin attended before Keehan J as directed. We have the Transcript of the proceedings. The local authority was represented by Mr Stefano Nuvoloni and L by Miss Roberta McDonald. Unsurprisingly, since he was there as a mere witness, Mr Oddin was not represented. The judge asked Mr Oddin to “come forward to the witness box.” Mr Oddin affirmed, gave his name and address and explained, in answer to questions from the judge, that he was L’s paternal uncle. Keehan J then said this:
    1. “Now, Mr U, I want you to understand something very clearly. You are here today to give me all the information you know about the current whereabouts of L. If I come to the view that you have not told me the truth or you have not told me everything you know about the current circumstances and whereabouts of L, you will be liable to be found in contempt of court. If I find you to be in contempt of court, you then fall to be punished for the contempt. That punishment can consist of a fine or it can result in your committal to prison. Do you understand?

A. Yeah.

You are today in a very, very serious position. I should tell you now that, subject to anything that is said by Mr Nuvoloni or by Miss McDonald, what I propose to do is to take evidence from you today. If I am not satisfied with your answers, I will adjourn the matter for a period of time to hold a committal hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. If that comes to pass, I would very strongly advise you to seek legal representation for that hearing. Do you understand?

A. Yeah.”

  1. Mr Oddin was then questioned, at the judge’s invitation, first by Mr Nuvoloni and then by Miss McDonald. From time to time the judge asked Mr Oddin questions. Mr Nuvoloni asked a few more questions, concluding “My Lord, I do not think I can take it further.” The Transcript continues:
    1. “THE JUDGE: (Long pause) Mr U, I am very sorry to tell you that I do not believe you have been telling me the truth. I do not believe that you have given me all the information that you can. This is what I propose to do. I am going to list this matter at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Wednesday, 28th October. It will be listed for half a day. It will be listed as a committal hearing, when I will consider whether you are in contempt of court, and if you are in contempt of court, I will then proceed to decide what punishment you should face for that. Do you understand?

 

THE WITNESS: Yeah.”

The case was duly listed for a committal application, and Mr Oddin was represented. Keehan J gave him a six month prison sentence. It is worthy of note that Mr Oddin’s passport was taken from him in 2004 and he had not been able to travel abroad since that time.

Counsel for Mr Oddin at the committal hearing attempted to establish whether Mr Oddin was charged with contempt for BREACHING the collection order of 2004, or whether he was charged with contempt in the face of the Court for not answering Keehan J’s questions.

We have the Transcript of the hearing on 18 January 2016. Before the evidence was called, Miss Norman sought clarification from Keehan J as to “what the contempt is that my client faces.” She made the point that the collection order required the provision of information that might reasonably assist the Tipstaff in locating the child, whereas the judge’s observations at the end of the hearing on 8 October 2015 had been in very much wider terms, referring to the whereabouts of the parents and the welfare and whereabouts of the child. She continued, “what I am not clear about is, is the contempt as your Lordship might see it not answering your Lordship’s questions, or is the contempt going back to the 2004 order?” The judge replied, “It is going back to the 2004 order.” Miss Norman took the point no further (nor, for that matter, did anyone else) and the judge proceeded to hear the only witness called in support of the allegation of contempt, L’s guardian.

  1. In the course of her closing submissions Miss Norman returned to her opening point:
    1. “MISS NORMAN: My Lord, I expressly asked the question were we dealing with the 2004 order or were we dealing with contempt in the face of the court, and I understood your Lordship to say we were dealing with the 2004 order.

MR JUSTICE KEEHAN: The two are related, though, because if I find that I do not accept the evidence that Mr Oddin gave me on 8th October, or if I do not accept the evidence he has given me today and I find that he is lying to the court, I am then entitled, or may well then be entitled on that basis to be satisfied that he is not telling the truth, that he knows more than he is telling and is therefore in breach of the 2004 order.

MISS NORMAN: My difficulty is this, as I have suggested to your Lordship earlier on, that your Lordship found him to be at fault in a much wider area than the 2004 order. The 2004 order was matters which might reasonably assist in locating the child and that was it, nothing about welfare or parents or anything else. And so if we focus on that issue …”

  1. After Miss Norman had concluded her submissions there was a short adjournment, after which Keehan J returned to court and gave judgment.
  2. In paragraph 3 of his judgment the judge framed the issue in these terms:
    1. “This matter is listed today before me for committal proceedings against one of the father’s brothers, Mr Gous Oddin. The issue is, do I find that he is in breach of the order made consequent upon that abduction on 30 December 2004.”

He then quoted paragraph 3 of the collection order. In paragraph 5 of his judgment, he said this:

“The question was raised by Ms Norman, on behalf of Mr Oddin, at the start of this hearing as to precisely on what grounds Mr Oddin was being considered for committal and contempt proceedings. I made plain that that related solely to the order of 30 December 2004. But very plainly when considering whether there has been a breach of that order, I am entitled and I must consider the totality of the evidence before me and, in particular, whether I find that Mr Oddin is telling the truth or not. If I find that he is not telling the truth, I then have to consider the reason or possible reasons for him lying to the Court.”

The Court of Appeal make it very plain that a person faced with an application to commit him for contempt has a right to silence – such right extending further than just an ability to refuse to answer individual questions but an ability to refuse to go into the witness box at all.

  1. The absolute right of a person accused of contempt to remain silent, which carries with it the absolute right not to go into the witness box, was established in Comet Products UK Ltd v Hawkex Plastics Ltd [1971] 2 QB 67, where this court held that such a person is not a compellable witness. This right is to be distinguished both from the privilege against self-incrimination and from legal professional privilege, each of which may entitle a witness in certain circumstances to decline to answer a particular question but neither of which entitles the witness to refuse to go into thewitness box or refuse to take the oath (or affirm): see Re X (Disclosure for Purposes of Criminal Proceedings) [2008] EWHC 242 (Fam), [2008] 2 FLR 944, para 9.
  2. As both Re G and Hammerton v Hammerton illustrate, the principle in Comet has repeatedly been emphasised in this court; see also Re K (Return Order: Failure to Comply: Committal: Appeal) [2014] EWCA Civ 905, [2015] 1 FLR 927, para 61, to which we were referred. Most recently, so far as I am aware, the relevant principles were summarised by Jackson LJ, with whom both Lewison LJ and Treacy LJ agreed, in Inplayer Ltd and ors v Thorogood [2014] EWCA Civ 1511, paras 40-45:
    1. “40 A person accused of contempt, like the defendant in a criminal trial, has the right to remain silent: see Comet Products UK Ltd v Hawkex Plastics Ltd [1971] 2 QB 67. It is the duty of the court to ensure that the accused person is made aware of that right and also of the risk that adverse inferences may be drawn from his silence.

41 If the committal application is heard at the same time as other issues about which the alleged contemnor needs to give evidence, he is placed in the position where he is effectively deprived of the right of silence. That is a serious procedural error: see Hammerton v Hammerton [2007] EWCA Civ 248. This is precisely what happened in the present case. Furthermore no-one told Mr Thorogood that an alleged contemnor has the right not to give evidence.

42 If the contempt application had been the subject of a separate hearing and Mr Thorogood had been informed of his right not to give evidence, he might have exercised that right. He could then have dealt with the contempt allegations by way of submissions. In that regard it should be noted that the judge based her two findings of contempt upon answers which Mr Thorogood had given under skilful cross-examination.

43 Mr Milford points out that Mr Thorogood was reminded of his right not to incriminate himself. That is true, but it is not sufficient. Mr Thorogood should have been told that he was not obliged to give evidence. Furthermore the litigation should not have been managed in a way that forced Mr Thorogood into the witness box.

44 Mr Milford submits that even if there had been a separate hearing of the contempt application, the result would have been the same. If Mr Thorogood gave evidence, he would have been caught out in cross-examination. If he had declined to give evidence, the court would have drawn adverse inferences.

45 What Mr Milford says may well be true. Indeed, as things have turned out, Mr Thorogood may be a very lucky man. Nevertheless there can be no question of upholding findings of contempt against a person who has been deprived of valuable safeguards in the circumstances of this case.”

What we have here is a man who was compelled to Court to give evidence, and made to then answer questions – such answers as he gave then became evidence against him in the committal proceedings – although if he had been served with an application for committal, he never would have had to go into the witness box at all. That doesn’t seem very satisfactory – if the committal was for breach of the 2004 order, then it must have been a live possibility when he started to give his evidence in the October 2015 hearing. He was not legally represented, as a witness, and he was not advised by the Court that he had a right to silence.

In fact, looking again at Keehan J’s words in October 2015, committal was obviously a possible outcome of his evidence, yet he was being urged to give evidence and provide answers

  1. “Now, Mr U, I want you to understand something very clearly. You are here today to give me all the information you know about the current whereabouts of L. If I come to the view that you have not told me the truth or you have not told me everything you know about the current circumstances and whereabouts of L, you will be liable to be found in contempt of court. If I find you to be in contempt of court, you then fall to be punished for the contempt. That punishment can consist of a fine or it can result in your committal to prison. Do you understand?

The problem here arises because Keehan J was making use of the evidence given by Mr Oddin in that October hearing at the committal hearing in January 2016. He was deprived of the safeguards (legal representation, being made aware of his right to silence) and was a committal hearing where a defendant had been deprived of such safeguards legitimate?

  1. In my judgment, no criticism can be made of what happened on 8 October 2015; the problem arises because of the use that was made on 18 January 2016 of the evidence given by Mr Oddin on the earlier occasion.
  2. It is quite clear that on 8 October 2015 Keehan J was exercising, and exercising only, the jurisdiction which I have described in paragraph 9 above. By then, Mr Oddin was no longer a party to the proceedings. He attended court as a witness in answer to the witness summons which Keehan J had directed on 30 July 2015. Mr Oddin was a compellable witness. He was compelled to give evidence. Despite being a compellable witness he would have been entitled to plead the privilege against self-incrimination as a reason for declining to answer a particular question. He was not advised of that right, though in the event nothing, in my judgment, turns on this fact.
  3. Keehan J was appropriately robust in spelling out the implications for Mr Oddin if he did not tell the truth: namely that if he did not tell the truth he stood in peril of committal proceedings for contempt. Keehan J said nothing at that point about the collection order; the species of contempt he had in mind was plainly contempt in the face of the court, not contempt arising from breach of the collection order. The warning, though robust, was entirely proper, indeed only fair, so that Mr Oddin be left in no doubt as to the seriousness of the proceedings before the judge. It is precisely the kind of warning that I have myself given on many similar occasions. As McFarlane LJ said in Re K (Return Order: Failure to Comply: Committal: Appeal) [2014] EWCA Civ 905, [2015] 1 FLR 927, para 77:
    1. “The situation that faced Russell J in the various hearings leading up to the final committal hearing not infrequently arises in the context of international children cases before a High Court judge. A judge may be required to deploy the court’s considerable powers to compel parties or others to attend court or to bring about the return of the child to this jurisdiction. At a hearing in which pressure is brought to bear on an individual, and injunctive orders are made, the judge may be justified in presenting a very robust demeanour and, in so doing, making reference to the potential consequences if court orders are disobeyed. In the present case, the judge did just that, and no criticism has been sustained in relation to her actions.”

However, as he went on (para 78):

“The difficulty that can arise … occurs if and when the court is later required to hear committal proceedings arising out of an alleged breach of an earlier order … The more robust the judge has been in delivering a coercive message at the earlier hearings, and the more the judge has emphasised the consequences of breach, the more inappropriate (or impossible) it will be for the same judge to conduct the committal process.”

  1. A comparison of the language used in the order which he had made on 30 July 2015 with the language used in the orders Keehan J subsequently made on 8 October 2015, 28 October 2015 and 9 November 2015, shows clearly, in my judgment, that the contempt in relation to which Mr Oddin was required to attend before Keehan J on 18 January 2016 was in respect of his untruthful evidence to Keehan J and not in relation to the collection order. It is the point which Miss Norman correctly identified on 18 January 2016. Each of the three later orders identified the contempt as being “not providing the court with” all the information Mr Oddin had “as to the whereabouts of the parents and the welfare and whereabouts of the child” (emphasis added). The inconclusive discussion between Miss Norman and the judge on 30 November 2015 did not, seemingly, change matters, though, as her question to Keehan J on 18 January 2016 indicated, it left Miss Norman somewhat unsure as to what exactly the contempt was which the judge was intending to consider at that hearing.
  2. At the beginning of the hearing on 18 January 2016, as we have seen (paragraph 34 above), Keehan J made clear that the contempt he thought he was considering was not contempt in the face of the court on 8 October 2015 but rather contempt for breach of the collection order. It was at this point, in my judgment, that the proceedings took a fatal turn.
  3. It rather seems that Miss Norman’s main concern may have been as to the ambit of the factual inquiry before the judge at the hearing on 18 January 2016. Be that as it may, the salient, and very regrettable, fact is that no-one – no-one – thought through the implications of the answer Keehan J had given Miss Norman; no-one thought through the implications of the fact that the judge was about to embark upon the hearing of committal proceedings, based on an alleged breach of the collection order, in the course of which much weight was obviously going to be attached to the evidence Mr Oddin had given under compulsion on 8 October 2015. And, even after all the evidence had been given and Miss Norman was making her closing submissions (paragraph 38 above), no-one thought through the implications of what had happened or of the fact that, as the judge put it, the collection order and the evidence he had heard on 8 October 2015 were “related” in the way he described.
  4. The confusion is revealingly illustrated by what the judge said in paragraph 6 of his judgment, where he referred to “the start of these committal proceedings … on 8 October 2015.” The committal proceedings had not started on 8 October 2015; and if they had, there would have been the plainest possible breach of the Comet principle on that occasion.
  5. The consequence of what I have just described was a serious, and in my judgment irremediable, procedural error. Because of the use that was made against him during the hearing on 18 January 2016 of the evidence which had been extracted from him under compulsion on 8 October 2015, Mr Oddin was denied the safeguards which anyone facing proceedings for committal is entitled to: in particular, and fatally, the right to remain silent, the right to refuse to go into the witness box. The court had forced him into the witness box on 8 October 2015 and then used his evidence against him, not in committal proceedings for perjury committed on that occasion (which would have been entirely permissible) but in support of committal proceedings in relation to a previous order. In my judgment, this amounted to a clear, serious and irremediable breach of the Comet principle, necessitating, for the reasons given in Hammerton v Hammerton and Inplayer, that the appeal be allowed. As Jackson LJ said in the passage from Inplayer which I have already quoted, “there can be no question of upholding findings of contempt against a person who has been deprived of valuable safeguards in [such] circumstances.” I add, lest it be thought I have overlooked the point, that there is, in my judgment, nothing in the decision of this court in Dadourian Group International Inc and others v Simms and others (No 2) [2006] EWCA Civ 1745, [2007] 1 WLR 2967, which can be relied upon to save what happened here.
  6. On this ground alone, the appeal must, in my judgment, be allowed.

The issue that Holman J raised in Re DAD  2015  – that the standard orders have been wrongly drafted in a way that puts the warning about consequences of breach on page 5, when for committal the consequence MUST BE CLEAR on the FACE OF THE ORDER is raised again

  1. There is a further problem with the collection order. FPR 37.9(1) requires that, if an order is to be enforced by committal, it must contain a penal notice in appropriate form “prominently displayed, on the front of the copy of the … order”. In this case, the penal notice was on the fifth page. I can do no better than to repeat and endorse what Holman J said of a similarly defective collection order in Re DAD [2015] EWHC 2655 (Fam), para 12:
    1. “the use of those words in that paragraph on the fifth page of the order simply does not comply with, or satisfy at all, the requirements of rule 37.9(1). In the first place, the warning cannot be said to be “prominently displayed”. It is merely a part of several pages of somewhat indigestible text. In the second place, it most certainly does not appear, as the rule requires, “on the front of the copy of the … order”. It will be recalled that rule 37.9 is emphatic and prohibitive in its terms. Unless the penal notice is prominently displayed on the front of the copy of the order, “a judgment or order … may not be enforced …” In my view, the words “may not be enforced” where they appear in that rule do not import a discretion in the court. Rather, they are a mandatory direction to the court that it cannot and must not enforce the order by committal.”

 

 

The Court was also perturbed about a collection order that was made in 2004 being used to commit  a person to prison for breaching it some eleven years later, and at the length of time that Mr Oddin’s passport had been withheld from him.

 

The collection order

  1. Once we had announced our decision to allow the appeal, the question arose as to what should happen about the collection order which had been made on 30 December 2004. We indicated our view that it should be discharged. No opposition to this course having been voiced either by Mr Bennett or by Mr Maynard, we discharged the collection order and directed the immediate return of the passports.
  2. Three factors, in my judgment, pointed very obviously and, in the event, decisively to that outcome:
  3. i) First, it is wholly wrong in principle that a collection order should be left in place, hanging over peoples’ heads like the sword of Damocles, for anything remotely approaching the eleven years throughout which this collection order has been in force.

ii) Secondly, it is undesirable, to put it no higher, to allow an order to remain in force which is not compliant with FPR 37.9(1).

iii) Finally, and decisively, the perpetuation, beyond a comparatively short period, of the passport order (paragraph 4(b) of the collection order), essentially for purposes of coercion, was wrong in principle and fundamentally objectionable: see In re B (A Child) (Wrongful Removal: Orders against Non-Parties) [2014] EWCA Civ 843, [2015] Fam 209, [2015] 1 FLR 871, paras 24-33. This should never have been allowed to happen. Mr Oddin’s protests as set out in his three witness statements (paragraphs 22, 24 and 27 above) were well-founded. It is very much to be regretted that Mr Oddin and other members of his family should have been deprived of their passports for so long and without any proper justification. They have been badly ill-used by the court.

This appeal, even more than the decision of Holman J in Re DAD, has focused attention on a number of disquieting problems arising in relation to collection orders made prior to the new form of order which was introduced in July 2013. It is idle to imagine that the collection order we have been considering in this case is unique. On the contrary, there is every reason to fear that there are significant numbers of elderly collection orders still in force and which, it might be thought, ought, for the reasons set out in paragraph 65 above, to be discharged. I propose, therefore, to identify, with the assistance of the Tipstaff, just how many such orders there are, with a view to taking appropriate steps to investigate whether those orders should or should not be allowed to remain in force.

 

The Court of Appeal also touched upon the delicate issue of whether a Judge who is considering committal of a person ought to be a different Judge to the one who conducted the hearing in which the contempt is said to have arisen. They are cautious about that – but I read this as being a cautious suggestion that it is probably safer to have it heard by a different Judge

  1. As McFarlane LJ said in Re K (Return Order: Failure to Comply: Committal: Appeal) [2014] EWCA Civ 905, [2015] 1 FLR 927, para 77:
    1. “The situation that faced Russell J in the various hearings leading up to the final committal hearing not infrequently arises in the context of international children cases before a High Court judge. A judge may be required to deploy the court’s considerable powers to compel parties or others to attend court or to bring about the return of the child to this jurisdiction. At a hearing in which pressure is brought to bear on an individual, and injunctive orders are made, the judge may be justified in presenting a very robust demeanour and, in so doing, making reference to the potential consequences if court orders are disobeyed. In the present case, the judge did just that, and no criticism has been sustained in relation to her actions.”

However, as he went on (para 78):

“The difficulty that can arise … occurs if and when the court is later required to hear committal proceedings arising out of an alleged breach of an earlier order … The more robust the judge has been in delivering a coercive message at the earlier hearings, and the more the judge has emphasised the consequences of breach, the more inappropriate (or impossible) it will be for the same judge to conduct the committal process.”

I referred in paragraph 50 above, to what McFarlane LJ had said in Re K about the circumstances in which a judge who had conducted the kind of hearing which took place in the present case before Keehan J on 8 October 2015 ought not to conduct subsequent committal proceedings. That issue, which was at the heart of the appeal in Re K, is not one which, in the event, arose for determination here, so I say no more about it. The point to which I draw attention, is simply this. Quite apart from the Comet principle, which, as we have seen, would prevent the use in subsequent committal proceedings of the evidence given by someone in Mr Oddin’s position at a hearing such as that which took place on 8 October 2015, it is possible that the rule in[2008] 2 FLR Hollington v F Hewthorn and Company Limited and another [1943] KB 587[15] might in certain circumstances prevent the use in subsequent proceedings of any findings made by the judge at the first hearing. That is a complicated matter which may require careful examination on some future occasion; so, beyond identifying the point, I say no more about it.

Theis J’s judgment draws together some very important practice issues, and is worth reading in full, so I set it out here.

  1. The powers of the court to make, and enforce, orders to secure the return of children who have been wrongfully removed from those who care for them is an essential part of the family court’s powers to protect vulnerable children from harm.
  2. Before any court embarks on hearing a committal application, whether for a contempt in the face of the court or for breach of an order, it should ensure that the following matters are at the forefront of its mind:
  3. (1) There is complete clarity at the start of the proceedings as to precisely what the foundation of the alleged contempt is: contempt in the face of the court, or breach of an order.

(2) Prior to the hearing the alleged contempt should be set out clearly in a document or application that complies with FPR rule 37 and which the person accused of contempt has been served with.

(3) If the alleged contempt is founded on breach of a previous court order, the person accused had been served with that order, and that it contained a penal notice in the required form and place in the order.

(4) Whether the person accused of contempt has been given the opportunity to secure legal representation, as they are entitled to.

(5) Whether the judge hearing the committal application should do so, or whether it should be heard by another judge.

(6) Whether the person accused of contempt has been advised of the right to remain silent.

(7) If the person accused of contempt chooses to give evidence, whether they have been warned about self-incrimination.

(8) The need to ensure that in order to find the breach proved the evidence must meet the criminal standard of proof, of being sure that the breach is established.

(9) Any committal order made needs to set out what the findings are that establish the contempt of court, which are the foundation of the court’s decision regarding any committal order.

  1. Counsel and solicitors are reminded of their duty to assist the court. This is particularly important when considering procedural matters where a person’s liberty is at stake.
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Missing child – left in police station

 

In this case, Newton J was very critical of both London Borough of Brent and the advocate who had originally appeared (who is not named and who is NOT the Mr Bain representing the Local Authority at this hearing)

 

London Borough of Brent and K 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/658.html

 

B was a 16 year old child, in foster care. She had had a very difficult life and had been drawn into Child Sexual Exploitation as a victim. She absconded from her foster home. The Local Authority applied to the High Court for a collection order, and the Court was told that arrangements were in place for what would happen if and when the police located her.

 

In actuality, what happened was that the police located her that same day, at 7.30pm. They notified Brent of this. Brent were told at 7.58pm, by which time the case was with their Emergency team. Nobody turned up to collect this child until 2.30am, during which time she had remained at a police station. She didn’t leave the police station to go to a foster placement until 3.02 am

What happened in those intervening hours is nothing short of disgraceful. The Local Borough of Brent was told at 19:58 that the order had been executed. The Duty Team responded half an hour later. When they did respond it was to say that no adequate arrangements were in place, either for placement or transport. 

 

Remember that in making the collection order, the High Court had been told that afternoon that such arrangements WERE in place.

The strong message must go to all authorities that what occurred in this case is totally unacceptable, it has failed everyone, but principally B. It must not happen again.

 

What was happening in the meantime for B was deeply wrong

  1. The police, who self evidently ought to be dealing with other matters, had two response officers to sit with B, this vulnerable young person for several hours whilst the business of a busy police station continued around them. It hardly needs stating how inappropriate such an environment must have been for B. As a result of that, six extra officers were needlessly kept on overtime to cover their duties, at considerable expense. The police in this, as in other examples, in my experience discharged their responsibilities with enormous skill and care, not sadly reflected by the Local Authority.
  2. The police endeavoured to contact the emergency duty team in fact run by a different Authority, Harrow Social Services. The only information that was available to them were the details of the emergency duty team social worker, which, of course, the police already had, and who appeared to be quite unable to assist. The response was slow, she had received no arrangement details (because none existed), and seemed unable to put any in place. They refused to give details of anybody else in authority. The police were able eventually to speak to the emergency duty team social worker, but only after they had called her repeatedly. She refused to give the number of anybody in authority and able to take any decision, and in fact it was only, as I understand it, late in the evening (at 23:50) that the police were eventually given the number and name of the operations director for social care (who had been involved since 21.50), there continued to appear to be a lack of urgency. As a result, in desperation, the police contacted the council call line which is in Liverpool; it is a national call line dealing with all manner of emergencies. They had no contact numbers for Brent. The individuals there were unfortunately unhelpful, and refused even to identify themselves. As a result, B continued to be held in police custody for over seven hours. She was extremely distressed. Whilst I could not fault the dedication and professionalism of the police, it is difficult to imagine a more unsuitable environment.
  3. Eventually an escort arrived at 2.30am. Inexplicably, the Tipstaff were not notified when B had been collected from custody, nor were they notified subsequently of the details of the placement.
  4. It must be clearly understood by all authorities that when they apply to the court for these important and urgent collection orders that firm and appropriate arrangements MUST be in place, and MUST be held in place whilst the child is located. It is simply not acceptable for an application to be granted, as it most usually is, by a Judge and only then for enquiries to be made as to (a) placement and (b) transportation. Failure to do so is a failure by the individuals concerned and by the Authority amounting to abuse upon an already vulnerable child who has a right to protection.

 

 

The Judge was clear that in seeking the collection order itself, Brent had done the right thing and did not want to discourage Local Authorities making such applications when they were warranted, but that there had to be proper plans in place for what would happen when the police located the child, and proper lines of communication between the Local Authority and the police.  It seems ridiculous that the police in this case were driven to ringing numbers for a Council in Liverpool to get some communication with an out of hours service.

  1. What I say should not be thought to be an impediment on authorities making applications for such orders. They have parental responsibility and clearly such orders must be urgently sought in order to protect vulnerable young people, but it is totally unacceptable for them to have to remain in police custody while some sort of plan is cobbled together and then put in place.
  2. I have on this occasion deliberately not named the social workers involved in this case. It is now apparent that details were available to the Emergency Duty Team, because no arrangements had been put in place. [Suesspicous Minds note – I think that should read ‘no details were available’]It is unacceptable, to say the least, that the information given to the court was either inaccurate or misleading, or that placements or transport arrangements were allowed to fall, leaving it to the emergency duty team to try to devise a plan for placement for B, which they were not apparently well placed to do. I have the gravest reservations that the emergency systems in this authority are not remotely suitable or fit for purpose.
  3. The purpose of this judgment is to make sure that the practical arrangements on which the order is based must be in place and durable. Authorities must ensure that they are properly represented by advocates who understand what is required, and are able to give the information that is required by the court, accurate information, that the placements and consequent transport arrangements are ones which are available now and will be retained until the child has been safely recovered.
  4. If this situation ever arises again each individual can expect to be publicly named and shamed. It is incumbent on Authorities to ensure that robust processes are in place. That leaves aside any issue that the child or children concerned may have in their own right in applications or actions against the authority for a lack of care. I make it clear that what has happened in this case demonstrates a lack of proper practice and responsibility and must be rectified.

 

All of this would apply equally to applications for Recovery Orders (save for the bit about notifying the tipstaff) and Recovery Orders are somewhat more common than collection orders.

London Borough of Ealing v Connors (committal hearing)

I wrote recently about a committal hearing arising from a breach of orders made in private law proceedings. This is one that relates to public law proceedings. The committal hearing was held in open court, thus it is possible to report the names of those involved.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/3493.html

 

The background which led to orders being made on these children is very worrying. The Court report it in this way

    1. This matter concerns two girls, A born on 12th October 1999, who will be 14 years of age tomorrow, and B, born on 22nd November 2001, who is now 11 years of age, nearly 12. The Respondent is the mother and the father has taken no part in the proceedings. The children have an older brother C who is now 16 years of age. There are seven half siblings as a result of the mother’s previous marriage, or relationship.

 

    1. Both of these young girls were made the subject of emergency protection orders on 23 September 2013 and interim care orders on 1 October 2013. Both of those orders were accompanied by recovery orders as the girls had gone missing and their location was unknown. Immediately prior to the emergency protection order on 23 September 2013 they had been living with their mother. Neither child has been seen since 23 September 2013. On the application of the Local Authority on 8th October 2013 I made a Collection Order to assist the Local Authority in seeking to locate the whereabouts of the children.

 

    1. There is a background to this matter which is carefully set out in the case summary provided by the Local Authority. In summary, there has been involvement between this family and the Local Authority since about October 2012, following A being admitted to hospital with suspected meningitis. Further investigations were undertaken in relation to her medical position. She is currently under treatment for rheumatic fever and requires monthly injections of penicillin. Since May of this year there has been inconsistency in relation to her attendance for these injections. She missed her August injection, was late for her September injection, and, as far as I am aware, has not had her October injection. So the medical position in relation to A is extremely worrying.

 

    1. The Local Authority have sought to engage with the mother around issues concerning lack of school attendance and A’s behaviour. Unfortunately, that has not been very fruitful. There have also been issues in relation to domestic violence within the home with the father. He is reported not to live at the home, but attended there in April when there was an incident and he was asked to leave by C. The father damaged the property and left before the police arrived. C has been arrested in relation to a criminal matter concerning a burglary, and has been bailed back to the home.

 

    1. The matters that precipitated the issue of these proceedings occurred on 19 September when it is alleged that A was assaulted by being kicked repeatedly and punched by C and her father in the family home. At the time of the incident those present were A, C, the father, the mother, and a five year old niece and young six month old nephew. A reported that the brother and father had called her a prostitute and accused her of sleeping with her uncle. It is alleged that during the argument C specifically put on steel toe capped boots to carry out the assault, and it is alleged that the father punched and kicked her, pulled her hair, and threatened to kill her.

 

    1. The mother was noted to be intoxicated by the London Ambulance Service when they attended, and A was observed to be shaking, crying and extremely distressed. There was swelling on her leg, redness to her face and ribs, and she was taken to hospital and kept overnight. It is clear from the examinations that subsequently took place there were a number of injuries on A’s body which are consistent with the account of assault that had been given, including bruising, grazing, and areas of redness in various parts of her body. A was discharged to the home of her cousin K on 20th September.

 

  1. The whereabouts of B are unknown. C has been bailed in relation to the assault back to the home address. The question of police protection was discussed. The Local Authority undertook home visits on 20 and 23 September. The mother was not at home, and it had not been possible to contact the mother. On 23 September the EPO and recovery orders were granted without notice.

 

Over and above the concern then that children whom the Court had determined there was reasonable grounds to believe had suffered significant harm, in the form of both assaults from adults and intoxication of their main carer, there were considerable health reasons why A needed to be found so that her treatment for meningitis could be resumed. It is no great surprise that the Court made what is called a Collection Order (this being one of the powers of the High Court, to authorise an officer of the Court known as the Tipstaff, to conduct investigations as to the whereabouts of a child and to recover them if possible. I like to think, personally, that the Tipstaff looks like the motorcycle cop robot from Terminator 2.   I note from a quick search for information on Tipstaffs/Tipstaves that they are the only people permitted to arrest a person within the precincts of the Royal Courts of Justice – which given that there are only two of them and it is a massive, massive building, is slightly unnerving)

In terms of that investigatory/recovery process, the Court said this

    1. This matter came back before me the following day, 9 October, because the Tipstaff had arrested the mother on the Tuesday evening for alleged breach of the Collection Order. The actual order required her to deliver the children into the charge of the Tipstaff, or inform the Tipstaff of the whereabouts of the children, or in any event inform the Tipstaff of all matters within her knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist the Tipstaff in locating the children.

 

    1. The record in relation to the visit when the mother was arrested states that the police officers attended the address and spoke with the mother. She informed the police that the children were with Paddy and Mary in Manchester and she had no contact details for them. Further, she said that the children may now be with a different unknown family. The suggestion by the mother that she did not understand the terms of the order, and that she may be arrested, is not supported by that account because she must have clearly understood the terms of the order requiring her to give information otherwise she would not have given the information that she did. So as of Tuesday evening that was the information that the mother had given.

 

    1. When she attended court on 9 October and was asked by her legal team about the whereabouts of the children she said that they were with her sister-in-law, BC at an address in Edgware. She gave oral evidence on that day when she said she had not seen the girls since 23 September but had “heard” from others that they had been in Manchester with her cousins, Paddy and Mary. She said she had been told by one of her older daughters, called M, that the children had returned to London on Monday of this week and were staying with BC. Her daughter M told her she had seen them there; she had seen them playing outside BC’s home.

 

    1. When the police attended on the Tuesday evening the mother agreed she knew what the order required her to do, but she did not disclose this important information as to the whereabouts of the children to the police. I remanded the mother in custody on Wednesday until the following day so that the police could make enquiries at BC’s address to see if the children were there. They attended at BC’s property on three occasions; once at about 9 o’clock on the Wednesday evening, when BC was there but denied that she had the children; again in the early hours of the morning of 10 October, when there was no response to their knocks on the door; and, finally, yesterday afternoon when BC was arrested. BC was going to be brought before me this morning, but I have been told this morning that she had been taken ill overnight and is currently in hospital waiting to be seen by a consultant.

 

    1. Once it became apparent yesterday afternoon that the children were not at BC’s home I heard further oral evidence from the mother. She was adamant that the children were with BC. I remanded the mother in custody again to this morning as it was expected BC would be brought to court.

 

    1. In her oral evidence given on Wednesday and Thursday the mother accepted that there have been many opportunities when she could have produced the children, but did not do so as she did not want them to come into care. She accepted that at any time she could have got the children back. She maintained she had no address or phone number for Paddy or Mary, who allegedly had the children in Manchester. She further maintained that she did not have A’s mobile telephone number, although she did accept that A had a mobile phone. She revealed that when the police sought to execute the recovery order at BC’s home on about 23 or 24 September, after the EPO was granted, the children had in fact been there but they were hiding; and that is why they were sent to Manchester. The mother said in her oral evidence that she would now co-operate with the Local Authority and that she was concerned about A not receiving her injections.

 

    1. When the matter was listed before me this morning counsel for the mother, Mr. Nosworthy, who has been present at all the hearings made an application that I should adjourn this matter until the court could hear from BC. I rejected that application, for the reasons that I have given earlier. Importantly, on his instructions, he said that if the mother is given the opportunity to speak to K (who is the daughter of BC) and gives the instruction for the children to be brought to Social Services they will comply with her instructions. She believes K will be at BC’s accommodation looking after BC’s children. Mr. Nosworthy stated as follows:

 

“Once the mother relays her permission that the children are to be brought to Social Services whoever has them will do so.”

  1. That demonstrates to me that this mother has always known where these children are, she has always known that they would be able to be brought back at her command, but for reasons which are known only to her she has chosen not to do that.

 

The issue then was whether this conduct on the part of the mother amounted to a breach of the Collection Order punishable by committal for contempt.

    1. I remind myself, of course, that the test in this matter is that I have to be satisfied to the criminal standard, namely, that it is beyond reasonable doubt. I have to be satisfied so that I am sure. Having seen the mother it is quite clear there are strong emotions felt by her about the orders made by the court regarding the children and she opposes them. Her lack of co-operation with the court process to date in locating the children supports that view. I have made clear to the mother that any orders I make today are not final decisions about the children, those are for another court on another day. It is extremely regrettable that due to the circumstances of this application, and the mother’s behaviour, a hearing set in Willesden County Court for today to consider a contested interim care application cannot take place. The mother has failed to act in the children’s interests by denying them the opportunity to attend that hearing.

 

    1. I am satisfied so that I am sure that this mother knows perfectly well where these children are, or at least where they can be contacted or located and she knew that when she was arrested on Tuesday. She acknowledged as much in answer to questions from Ms Hall in her oral evidence yesterday, when she accepted that she could have got the children back any time prior to her arrest by the Tipstaff if she wanted to. Despite saying that she has refused to give any details about the whereabouts of the children other than them being at BC’s house when clearly they were not. She told the police on 8 October, just prior to her arrest, that they were in Manchester, which on her own account to the court the following day was a lie.

 

    1. I have reached the conclusion that it is inconceivable that as their mother who had their full time care prior to 23 September she has taken no active steps to find them or speak to them. Her evidence is inherently unreliable due to the inconsistencies in her accounts, coupled with her acknowledgment that she does not wish the children to be placed in care. In that context, her expressed intentions of future co-operation with the Local Authority rings very hollow. That is reinforced by the submission made by her counsel, on her express instructions this morning, that once she relays her permission to the family that the children should be produced at Social Services they will do so. That, in my judgment, makes it very clear it is within her control to ensure that these children are produced to the Local Authority and she has failed to do so.

 

  1. Therefore, I am satisfied so that I am sure she is clearly in breach of paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Collection Order that I made on 8th October, and she has failed in the continuing duty to provide information in relation to the whereabouts of the children.

 

There then followed a plea in mitigation (i.e mother’s lawyer setting out the reasons why this breach should not result in imprisonment, or if it did, that the sentence should be lenient.

    1. Mr. Nosworthy has very thoughtfully and eloquently made submissions on behalf of the mother in relation to the sentence that this court should impose in relation to the contempts that I have found. He has very properly referred me to the case of Hale v Tanner, reported at [2000] 2 FLR 879, and the guidance that is given in that case, in particular at paragraphs 26 and 29, and the summary in the head note in relation to the matters that the court should take into account, and I do take those matters into account.

 

    1. In mitigation he says that the mother has a clear sense of remorse, which of course I accept at face value, but I have to take into account that that remorse has not been coupled with any kind of direct action by her to assist in recovering the whereabouts of these children. He also says that the evidence is clear, she has failed to co-operate in the past but now wishes to co-operate. Again, I understand why that submission is made, but there has not been co-operation in relation to locating the whereabouts of these children.

 

    1. In relation to the cultural background, whilst of course that is an important consideration that the court has to bear in mind, in particular the concern by this mother that she may be ostracised by her community if she worked together with the Local Authority. Whilst it is a factor it does not give her an entitlement to be able to disobey orders of the court.

 

    1. I accept the difficult background this mother has had, as is clear from the papers that I have read, which have included unhappy relationships with her partners, and also difficulties with a number of her children. I also take into account that she has, I think, two other children living with her, C who is 16 years of age, and M, who is 24 years of age. But I look at that in the context of what has been clear in this case, there is a wider family that step in and support where necessary.

 

  1. I take into account the mother has spent three days in custody, and also that there may be difficulties in relation to her rental payments and practical matters as regards her living accommodation. However, I am very clear that the message needs to go out loud and clear in relation to court orders relating to the whereabouts of children. It is an extremely serious matter when the court is unable to trace the whereabouts of children, and it is particularly serious when the court is unable to do that because the person who can assist in that will not provide the help to locate the children.

 

The Court imposed a custodial sentence of 28 days, taking into account the 3 days that the mother had already spent in prison, but reminded her that if she remained in breach of the order (by not providing the details of where the children were) that a further application for committal could be made and that the maximum sentence would be 2 years. The Judge urged the mother to consider her situation, and that she could purge her contempt at any point (comply with the order, apologise, and be released/have her sentence reduced)

 

It is worth noting that however much you disagree with orders made by the Court, and however much you want to fight those orders, there are significant consequences and risks for taking that challenge or fight out of the Court room and taking things into your own hands.

 

I suspect the Tipstaff can't turn his arms into metal knives. he wouldn't get through the security checks at the RCJ entrance

I suspect the Tipstaff can’t turn his arms into metal knives. he wouldn’t get through the security checks at the RCJ entrance