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A word in your shell-like

Appeals, adoption, writing a cheque for costs and ‘informal discussions’

 Re C (A Child) 2014

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/70.html

 It is no longer any great surprise when the Court of Appeal overturn a Placement Order, but just when I was getting jaded with this new spirit, along comes something to raise an eyebrow. In this one, the Court of Appeal overturned the Placement Order AND made an order for costs, in the sum of £22,000 against the LA.

 It also raises a couple of important issues of principle.

 The first is the need for a Judge to take care on an appeal – in this case, the whole thing started with a DJ refusing a placement order and the Local Authority appealing it to Keehan J.

 Keehan J found all five grounds of their appeal met, granted the appeal (fine) but then went on to make the Placement Order.

 As the Court of Appeal pointed out, Keehan J therefore made a Placement Order whilst only seeing the documents in the appeal bundle (which were of course very limited) and had not seen all of the documents that would be necessary to properly consider whether or not a Placement Order was the right order.

 It is quite obvious that Keehan J was concerned at the delay in planning for S’s future care needs, which delay is statutorily recognised as inimical to the welfare of the child (Children Act 1989, s 1(2)). Unfortunately, his understandable desire to move the matter forward appears to have blinded him to the significantly defective appeal bundle created and provided by the appellant which actually rendered him incapable of proceeding with the hearing on the notice of appeal filed, let alone providing the necessary evidence to support the making of a placement order. Put shortly, there were no transcripts of evidence and some of the documents before the district judge had been removed from the bundle….

 

There was an obvious lacuna in the materials presented to Keehan J in his appellate capacity to dispose of the appeal, still less to subrogate his own assessment of the facts in making a placement order. (See paragraph 8 above). I know that he would now only too readily acknowledge that his expressed reasoning in deciding that it was right to do so is insufficient and does not comply with the subsequently reported Re B-S (CHILDREN) 2013, EWCA Civ 1146.

 

 The Court of Appeal raise an interesting point, which may well come back to bite them, about transcripts of evidence rather than just the judgment. I happen to agree with them, but it is still something of a hostage to fortune.

Keehan J’s judgment was that the district judge “misconstrue[d] the evidence of Dr Bourne”, “was wrong to conclude that [an option] was viable or available…because the social worker gave evidence to him…”; reached “a conclusion which…he was [not] entitled to reach on the totality of the evidence before him”; and, that in relation to the care plan “was plainly wrong to come to that judgment and assessment”. He concluded that “The care plan of the local authority was entirely clear”. In my judgment, these findings and conclusions simply cannot subsist in the absence of a critical appraisal of all the evidence that was before the district judge (rather than relying on such statements as he had and the summary within the district judge’s judgment. Oral evidence will necessarily colour the picture otherwise presented by the statements and reports prepared before hearing. As is obvious from the judgments of District Judge Simmonds, that is precisely what happened in this case.

 

 

  1. In challenging Counsel for the Respondent local authority as to the absence of any transcript of evidence before Keehan J when hearing the appeal, her response clearly reflected the position taken by the local authority in the first appeal. That is, that transcripts were unnecessary since the district judge had specifically summarised the oral evidence as was obviously relevant to the judgment.
  1. This submission reflects an inability to recognise the failures of the local authority in the first appeal process which I would otherwise have hoped may have occurred to its legal advisers after reflection upon the contents of the present appellant’s notice and recourse to notes of evidence. It also flies in the face of paragraph 9 of District Judge Simmonds’ first judgment, vis:

“The fact that I do not mention something in this judgment does not mean that I have not fully considered it, but it is impossible to set out in this judgment everything that I have heard and read. My analysis of the evidence and findings, although made after each witness, are on the basis of hearing and reading the entire evidence and analysing the evidence in its totality.”

  1. This observation is entirely consistent with the well established principle derived from the speech of Lord Hoffmann in Piglowska v Piglowski [1999] 1 WLR 1360 at p 1372:

“The appellate court must bear in mind the advantage which the first instance judge had in seeing the parties and the other witnesses. This is well understood on questions of credibility and findings of primary fact. But it goes further than that. It applies also to the judge’s evaluation of those facts. If I may quote what I said in Biogen Inc v Medeva plc [1997] RPC 1 , 45:

The need for appellate caution in reversing the trial judge’s evaluation of the facts is based upon much more solid grounds than professional courtesy. It is because specific findings of fact, even by the most meticulous judge, are inherently an incomplete statement of the impression which was made upon him by the primary evidence. His expressed findings are always surrounded by a penumbra of imprecision as to emphasis, relative weight, minor qualification and nuance … of which time and language do not permit exact expression, but which may play an important part in the judge’s overall evaluation.”

  1. Over time, inevitably and regrettably, this conspicuously articulated wisdom is diminished by familiarity and may often, as in Keehan J’s judgment, become eroded by a concisely expressed but imprecise phrase. Lord Wilson’s judgment, endorsed in this respect by Lord Neuberger in RE B (A CHILD) (CARE PROCEEDINGS:THRESHOLD CRITERIA) above is a potent reminder of the need for all appellate courts to do more than pay lip service to the doctrine. At paragraph 42, after quoting Lord Hoffmann in Piglowska he said:

“Lord Hoffmann’s remarks apply all the more strongly to an appeal against a decision about the future of a child. In the Biogen case the issue was whether the subject of a claim to a patent was obvious and so did not amount to a patentable invention. Resolution of the issue required no regard to the future. The Piglowska case concerned financial remedies following divorce and the issue related to the weight which the district judge had given to the respective needs of the parties for accommodation. In his assessment of such needs there was no doubt an element of regard to the future. But it would have been as nothing in comparison with the need for a judge in a child case to look to the future. The function of the family judge in a child case transcends the need to decide issues of fact; and so his (or her) advantage over the appellate court transcends the conventional advantage of the fact-finder who has seen and heard the witnesses of fact. In a child case the judge develops a face-to-face, bench-to-witness-box, acquaintanceship with each of the candidates for the care of the child. Throughout their evidence his function is to ask himself not just “is this true?” or “is this sincere?” but “what does this evidence tell me about any future parenting of the child by this witness?” and, in a public law case, when always hoping to be able to answer his question negatively, to ask “are the local authority’s concerns about the future parenting of the child by this witness justified?” The function demands a high degree of wisdom on the part of the family judge; focussed training; and the allowance to him by the justice system of time to reflect and to choose the optimum expression of the reasons for his decision. But the corollary is the difficulty of mounting a successful appeal against a judge’s decision about the future arrangements for a child. In In re B (A Minor) (Adoption: Natural Parent) [2001] UKHL 70, [2002] 1 WLR 258 , Lord Nicholls said:

“16 …There is no objectively certain answer on which of two or more possible courses is in the best interests of a child. In all save the most straightforward cases, there are competing factors, some pointing one way and some another. There is no means of demonstrating that one answer is clearly right and another clearly wrong. There are too many uncertainties involved in what, after all, is an attempt to peer into the future and assess the advantages and disadvantages which this or that course will or may have for the child.……Cases relating to the welfare of children tend to be towards the edge of the spectrum where an appellate court is particularly reluctant to interfere with the judge’s decision.”

 

 

Is that authority for “in an appeal, a transcript of the entireity of the evidence should be obtained?”    – well, not quite, but I would certainly say that attention should be paid as to whether it should be obtained, and advocates be prepared to defend their decision about it either way. (Frankly, I would cover my back and include within the appeal notice a position as to whether the oral evidence given is intrinsic to the appeal and the Court is invited to direct whether a transcript be obtained)

 

A major issue in the case was whether in the original hearing, the oral evidence developed to a point where an alternative to adoption (namely the child continuing to be fostered by the existing foster carers) emerged as a credible alternate plan. That plan was the one that the District Judge approved – hence him making a Care Order but no Placement Order. At the appeal before Keehan J (who of course saw the written evidence and submissions that this was not an option on the table) what appeared to be the case was that the DJ had refused the LA plan and tried to foist upon them a plan that did not in truth exist as an option, which would of course have been wrong in law.  The Court of Appeal, having seen the transcripts of the oral evidence, felt that the option that the DJ selected was in fact an option open to him based on the evidence, and that thus not only was Keehan J wrong in granting the appeal but the LA had been wrong in issuing it.

An interesting aspect of the case was the Court of Appeal’s take on the ‘informal discussions’ that took place between counsel for the LA and the original District Judge. There is obviously a fine line between the duty to raise points of clarifications before an appeal and back-door pressure, and the Court of Appeal felt that this was wrong side of the line territory.

  1. Counsel for the local authority e-mailed the district judge timed at 3.33 am on 25 February seeking to “clear misunderstandings” as to the thrust of her closing submissions which had apparently not been accepted. The district judge responded at 9.07 in short order restating the pertinent bases of the decision reached and indicating that the order would follow. Remarkably, and with great temerity in my view, Counsel then responded “with the greatest of respect, I do not agree with your analysis”. Having re-iterated shortly the basis of his decision the district judge quite properly made clear that he was “not prepared and [would] not deal with this matter in e-mail correspondence.”
  1. Whilst other advocates were copied into the second e-mail and the first e-mails disclosed to them subsequently, apparently have made no complaint and may well regard it to be orthodox procedure, I regard this to be an entirely inappropriate, unacceptable and unsatisfactory practice. Not only was this an unwarranted ex parte approach by unconventional medium but it is a practice that lends itself to accusations of taint, bias, closed door justice and “stitch up” in the absence of an adequate and reliable method of recording what transpired. In the circumstances, the district judge was extraordinarily restrained in his responses.

And

I agree with the reasons given by Macur LJ for allowing this appeal and I agree with the order proposed. I would particularly like to associate myself with the remarks that Macur LJ has made at paragraphs 11 and 16 of her judgment. The attempt to get the District Judge to change his judgment and order after the he had delivered his judgment was quite unjustified and inappropriate. Counsel should know better than to attempt such an inappropriate exercise, even if the client urges it. (I do not say that happened in this case; I do not know).

 

 

And

  1. I agree with both judgments. Having seen the judgments in draft, Ms van der Leij has expressed concern about the comments at paragraphs 10-11 of Macur LJ and paragraph 36 of Aikens LJ dealing with the e-mail exchanges subsequent to the hearing. She observes that “it is by no means unusual for practitioners in the Principal Registry to e mail district judges directly seeking clarification of matters raised in a hearing”. It is one thing, if invited, to make submissions in relation to the terms of an order provided that every communication is copied to every party; it is another to express dissent and seek to engage in further argument. If that is not unusual, it is important that the problems which it generates should be recognised and that the practice should cease. First, it suggests (even if it is not the case) that advocates can go behind the scenes to resolve issues in favour of their clients and, as Macur LJ observes, will give rise to allegations of ‘stitch up’. Secondly, it will encourage litigants in person (who do not have the same understanding of the law or practice) to adopt a similar approach thereby disrupting the finality of the judgment of the court and generating continued uncertainty.

I completely agree with all of this – it is hard to know what was going on here, but the best way to deal with this sort of thing is transparently, where everyone (including and particularly the parents) sees exactly what is being said to the Judge and has an opportunity to comment.

 On to costs.

The Court of Appeal point out, with a degree of acidity, that if the parents had been legally represented at the first appeal, to the circuit judge, it would have emerged that the oral evidence had been markedly different to the papers that Keehan J had seen and that the DJ had been within his rights to view that oral evidence as being that an alternative plan than adoption – namely long term fostering with the existing foster carers, was not only an option that he could chose, but one that he should.

They point out that in saving a very small amount of costs in legal aid for that hearing, substantially greater costs, and delay for the child have been incurred because that appeal itself had to be appealed.

The fact that the parents were faced with an appeal before Keehan J without any professional representation because their legal aid had been withdrawn must have been a factor which unfortunately led the judge to be persuaded to act as he did, despite the fundamental procedural failure of the respondents’ lawyers. This was, of course, their failure to produce on appeal the transcripts of the very oral evidence which the appellant alleged that the first instance judge had misconstrued/misunderstood. As Macur LJ has commented, if the parents had been represented by competent counsel this failure would doubtless have been pointed out and the appeal may never have seen the light of day. As it is, further public expense has been incurred because of the need for a further appeal to this court. What might have been saved in legal aid fund costs has been lost by incurring public expense on another (but related) part of the public purse.

They did refute the parents claim that because they had not been represented at the original appeal their article 6 rights had been breached – i.e this would not be a ground for appeal in and of itself, although it provided context as to why the original appeal had gone awry and needed to be appealed

 

 The fact that parents comprise the vastly increased number of litigants in person which appear before the courts in child public law cases since they do not qualify for non means tested legal aid is all too apparent and unavoidable as a consequence of the present regime. As here, non represented parents will often be ranged against legally qualified advocates opposing them. They have access to justice in accordance with their “Article 6 rights” but are often daunted by the process and feel understandably outgunned. In itself, this fact does not found a meritorious ground of appeal but necessarily it comprises a context for the other complaints that are raised in this application. I have every reason to expect that, if they had been legally represented by a competent advocate, this appeal may never have seen the light of day.

 

 

An application for costs was made. As readers will know, costs in care proceedings are fairly unusual, although possible,

  1. The mother is now legally aided. However, during the preparation for this appeal it appears that there were periods when it was withdrawn. In any event, the mother apparently is at risk of future recoupment from the Legal Aid Agency. She applies for costs of the appeal. Written submissions and revised cost schedules have been submitted.
  1. The local authority relies on Re T (Costs: Care Proceedings: Serious allegation not proved) [2012] UKSC 36 to resist the application. It argues that it has not adopted an unreasonable stance or been guilty of reprehensible behaviour. For the reasons above I believe that the position that it has taken to have been unreasonable. In the alternative, it cites London Borough of Sutton v Davis (Costs) (No 2) [1994] 1 WLR 1317 as authority to the effect that this court should not make an assessment but should order costs to be paid in a sum assessed by the director of the LAA. This proposition is based upon the obiter dicta remarks of Wilson J, as he then was. He urged reform of the then current legal aid regulations. They do not endure in the light of the 2010 Standard Civil Contract entered into between the mother’s solicitors and the Legal Aid Agency, section 1, General Provisions 1.50B of which provides: “This paragraph represents our authority pursuant to section 28(2)(b) of the Act, for you to receive payment from another party….and to recover those costs at rates in excess of those provided for in this Contract or any other contract with us. This court must address the claim for costs with a view to the context in which it arises. The director of the LAA is not in a position to assess whether the same have been unreasonably incurred.
  1. The necessity for this appeal emanates from the local authority’s failures to address the issues correctly in front of Keehan J. I would order them to pay the costs of the mother claimed in the sum of £22,756.68

The Court of Appeal don’t formally say that the informal approaches by counsel to the DJ played any part in this decision, but they hardly take pains to point out that they played no part. Those might have been very expensive emails.

 

[I am grateful to one of my readers for politely, judiciously and correctly letting me know that Keehan J is of course not a Circuit Judge, as I had been wrongly designating him – I have now edited out those incorrect references. ]

“When they begin, to intervene…”

Sorry, the titles just get worse.  (but I bet you’re humming it already)

 Two important cases on Interveners in fact-finding hearings, or  “Re T for two”

 

The first is the Supreme Court decision in Re T.

 

http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/docs/UKSC_2010_0244_Judgment.pdf

 

 

This relates to an appeal from the Court of Appeal, which in turn considered an appeal from a County Court.  It related to the order at the conclusion of a finding of fact hearing (which took 5 ½ weeks) that one of the Interveners, who was not publicly funded and who was not found to have perpetrated the injury, should have his costs paid by the Local Authority, who had brought the care proceedings.

 

This was a very important case for both Local Authorities and those who represent Interveners, particularly those who would not financially qualify for legal aid.

 

The costs that the Intervener had to pay was £52,000 so one can see why the  Court of Appeal were looking around for someone to foot that bill, since the Intervener was found to be blameless.

 

The children had made allegations of a sexual nature against the father and six other men, all of whom intervened. Five received public funding, the sixth did not.

 

All of the interveners were exonerated at the finding of fact hearing.

 

4. It was and is common ground that the Council could not be criticised for advancing in the care proceedings the allegations made against the grandparents. The judge, His Honour Judge Dowse, summarised the basis of their application for costs as based “on the apparently inequitable fact that they have largely succeeded in defending the allegations made against them but must bear their own costs”.

The judge dismissed their application. He did so on the basis that it was not usual to order costs in a child case against a party unless that party’s conduct has been reprehensible or its stance unreasonable. In support of that proposition the judge cited authorities that included the judgments of Wilson J inSutton London Borough Council v Davis (No 2) [1994] 1 WLR 1317 and Wilson LJ in In re J (Costs of Fact-Finding Hearing) [2009] EWCA Civ 1350; [2010] 1 FLR 1893.

The judge expressed the view that it was unacceptable that more and more people in the position of the grandparents were faced with “potentially life-changing allegations” without being able to gain some financial assistance from the State.

 

 

I don’t disagree with that at all, and I think the judge at first instance got this entirely right. It is deeply unfortunate that someone faced with allegations as grave as this, particularly where they are disproved has to pay their own costs, but that misfortune can’t extend to making the Local Authority pay unless their conduct in bringing the case is reprehensible or unreasonable.  Otherwise one runs the risk of very serious cases not being put before the Court as a result of fear of costs orders being made if the allegations are not established.

 

[Frankly, I think non means, non merits legal aid ought to be available to any party who is able to satisfy the Court that they should be involved within the proceedings, whether as an Intervener or a party given leave to make an application; but that was obviously beyond the scope of the Courts]

 

This is interesting, from paragraph 6  (and these were some heavy-hitters in the world of counsel)

 

It is a remarkable fact, and ironic in an appeal about costs, that all counsel are appearing pro bono. We would like to express our gratitude for the assistance that they have given.

 

CAFCASS in the case submitted that the Court of Appeal decision was the first one where a Local Authority were ordered to pay costs where there was no criticism of its conduct of the litigation  (effectively adopting a civil – “loser pays” philosophy)  and that, of course, is why the case was important enough to make it to the Supreme Court.

 

Particularly, this passage at para 18 of Wilson LJ’s judgment in the Court of Appeal on this case  (the ‘general proposition’ being that costs orders shouldn’t be made in family proceedings in the absence of unreasonable conduct)

 

            “I consider that, where in care proceedings a local authority raise, however appropriately, very serious factual allegations against a parent or other party and at the end of a fact-finding hearing the judge concludes that they have not established them, the general proposition is not in play.”

 

 

The Supreme Court sum up the issues admirably here:-

 

39. The question of whether it is just to make an award of costs against a public authority must be distinguished from the question of whether a litigant’s costs should be publicly funded. The former question is for the court; the latter for the legislature. Whether a litigant’s costs should be publicly funded involves issues in relation to access to justice and the requirements of article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Mr Hale invoked that article in support of his argument that where allegations made against an intervener are not made out, the local authority which advanced those allegations should be liable for the intervener’s costs. We consider that this argument was misconceived. The requirements to provide public funding in the interests of access to justice and of compliance with article 6 apply at the outset of legal proceedings, not when they are concluded, in the light of the result.

 

40. The Funding Code prepared by the Legal Services Commission pursuant to section 8 of the Access to Justice Act 1999 makes provision for public funding in proceedings under, inter alia, section 31 of the Children Act 1989. The effect of the code is that children, parents and those with parental responsibility are granted funding without reference to means, prospects of success or reasonableness, but such funding is not available to interveners who are joined in such proceedings: see volume 3C-427 of the Legal Services Commission Manual. There may be a case for saying that this results in injustice in the case of interveners in the position of the grandparents in the present case, but it does not follow that justice demands that any deficiency in the provision of legal aid funding should be made up out of the funds of the local authority responsible for the care proceedings.

 

 

And I would suggest that the Supreme Court here were expressing a deal of sympathy for the suggestion that the LSC ought to be stumping up for interveners, but are obviously bound by the funding code  [in the absence of a judicial review challenge to the construction of that funding code or its exercise in a particular case]

 

 

And they conclude the case here:-

 

41. If in principle a local authority should be liable for the costs of interveners against whom allegations have been reasonably made that are held unfounded, then this liability should arise whether or not the interveners are publicly funded.

In the present case, the five men who intervened and were exonerated should also have sought and been awarded costs. The burden of costs awarded against local authorities in such circumstances is likely to be considerable. When considering whether it is just to make an award of costs against a local authority in circumstances such as those of the present case it is legitimate to have regard to the competing demands on the limited funds of the local authority.

 

42. In the context of care proceedings it is not right to treat a local authority as in the same position as a civil litigant who raises an issue that is ultimately determined against him. The Children Act 1989 imposes duties on the local authority in respect of the care of children. If the local authority receives information that a child has been subjected to or is likely to be subjected to serious harm it has a duty to investigate the report and, where there are reasonable grounds for believing that it may be well founded, to instigate care proceedings. In this respect the role of a local authority has much in common with the role of a prosecuting authority in criminal proceedings. It is for the court, and not the local authority, to decide whether the allegations are well founded. It is a serious misfortune to be the subject of unjustified allegations in relation to misconduct to a child, but where it is reasonable that these should be investigated by a court, justice does not demand that the local authority responsible for placing the allegations before the court should ultimately be responsible for the legal costs of the person against whom the allegations are made.

 

43. Since the Children Act came into force, care proceedings have proceeded on the basis that costs will not be awarded against local authorities where no criticism can be made of the manner in which they have performed their duties under the Act. Wilson LJ in In re J at para 19 disclaimed any suggestion that it was appropriate “in the vast run of these cases to make an order for costs in whole or in part by reference to the court’s determination of issues of historical fact”. But, as I have indicated, there is no valid basis for restricting his approach in that case to findings in a split hearing. The principle that he applied would open the door to successful costs applications against local authorities in respect of many determinations of issues of historical fact. The effect on the resources of local authorities, and the uses to which those resources are put would be significant.

 

44. For these reasons we have concluded that the general practice of not awarding costs against a party, including a local authority, in the absence of reprehensible behaviour or an unreasonable stance, is one that accords with the ends of justice and which should not be subject to an exception in the case of split hearings. Judge Dowse’s costs order was founded on this practice. It was sound in principle and should not have been reversed by the Court of Appeal.

 

 

I’m usually a believer in Kim Hubbard’s remark “Whenever someone says, ‘it’s not the money it’s the principle’ it is always the money”    but in this case, the Local Authority involved (Hull) have clearly taken this case up to the appropriate level of judicial decision-making as a matter of principle  (they’d already paid the grandparents their costs, and weren’t seeking to recover them), and I thank them for it.

 

 

Just when I thought I was out – they pulled me back in – Michael Corleone

 

 

The second case also involves a very heavyweight group of counsel, and a case involving an Intervener. 

 

Again, it is Re T  (how thoughtless)   but this time RE:  T (Children) [2011] EWCA Civ 1818

 

 

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed99436

 

(That also contains a very good summary of the case, and is indupitably going to be better than my attempt)

 

Within care proceedings, allegations were made of physical abuse and sexual abuse against one of their uncles ‘DH’  who was 18 by the time the appeal was heard, and one must assume an adolescent/child at the time the allegations were said to have occurred.

 

There were a raft of other threshold concerns in the case, and it was accepted that findings of sexual abuse, though capable of being made, were going to be challenging as opposed to straightforward.

 

The Local Authority sought, amongst other matters, a finding against the father that he had sexually abused DH and that it was this sexual abuse that had led to DH in turn abusing the other children.

 

 

At the pre-hearing review, DH did the smartest thing I have ever seen an Intervener do within care proceedings, and that is to say in terms “this doesn’t seem to be a very good idea for me to be involved in this, and I’m out”   (I hope he said it in a Duncan Bannatyne accent, but given that he was being represented by the splendid Rachel Langdale QC – my third favourite Rachel/Rachael, I somewhat doubt it)

 

The Judge agreed that he should cease to be an Intervener, and instead give evidence as a witness.  The Local Authority, supported by the father, appealed that decision.

 

The Court of Appeal determined that the appropriate decision on whether any particular allegation proceed to a finding of fact hearing is as set out in

RE A County Council v DP, RS, BS by the children’s guardian [2005] where MacFarlane LJ said:

“The authorities make it plain 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.”

 

 

And then went on to consider whether the allegations that the LA made that directly involved DH  (that he had abused the children, and that had arisen because he had himself been abused by father) were such that they needed to remain live issues in the case.  The resonant (though unpleasant to the squeamish) phrase “the allegations of sexual abuse have come dripping in during the course of the proceedings”  kept being used in the judgment.

 

The finding of fact hearing that was already listed was down for 20 days, and had five silks, six if Miss Langdale QC remained representing DH.

 

The father’s case was essentially that DH could not be relied upon as a witness and was of bad character – as a witness there would be limits in what could be put to him, whereas as an Intevenor, it would be possible to go further. There were, the father submitted, significant problems in the LA seeking a finding that the father had sexually abused DH without considering what was the root of that finding (the allegations that DH had abused the other children)

 

The Court of Appeal considered that it was a matter for the trial judge to determine what allegations it was appropriate to consider in a finding of fact hearing and which were peripheral, and therefore whether DH was required to be an Intervener, or whether he could be discharged as an Intervener and merely be a witness

 

24. The problem, therefore, is essentially one of case management.  Was the judge entitled to regard this as peripheral?  In my judgment, yes.  The main complaint is of emotional abuse.  The main complaint of sexual abuse lies at the door of M, not of P or DH.  The sexual allegations against them towards children of the family are not strong.  The sexual allegations relating to KE when he was nine or ten and she was five or six are buried in the dim depths of history. It is, it seems to me, quite unfair to charge a boy now 18, damaged as he may be by life’s experiences at his home and in care, with inappropriate sexual shenanigans between those young children.  And it may not be the best pointer towards his disposition or sexual tendencies as he grows up.  I think he has a girlfriend.  I know not.  The allegations against N are again the allegations made against a boy of 13.  And the extent, therefore, to which the local authority can rely upon findings of that kind to portray that this boy in his present condition is a danger to children is a matter upon which I for my part, though it will be a matter for the judge eventually, am rather sceptical.

25. So I agree this is a peripheral issue in the case and in the context of the case the judge is also entitled to think it is disproportionate to extend this already extended trial by raising three separate allegations or two other allegations, namely N and KE, as a complication to an already complicated case.

26. I said it was a matter of case management and it is.  As things stand at the moment, it would be for the judge to judge the credibility of this boy.  He may be able to say “I am not satisfied by him, therefore I cannot be satisfied that the complaint against the father is made out.”  That is the end of it.  He can, of course, come to a conclusion that, having heard DH, he is quite satisfied that DH has in fact abused KE and N and, although he said he is not intending to make findings, he may be driven not to make findings in the care proceedings as such, but to explain his judgment by expressing his conviction in that way.

27. In any event, he, the judge, will deal with this on the disposal.  He will have seen four weeks of this case.  He will know full well how much weight to place upon the various factors and how important it is in the life of these five children whether or not this boy has done what is alleged against him. 

 

 

Unfortunately, though the principles are interesting, it is quite case specific, and doesn’t really analyse whether an Intervener can actually bail out as a strict matter of choice, having seen the totality of the evidence and taking a view that he no longer wishes to participate. 

 

It is clear that someone cannot be compelled to intervene in proceedings or compelled to be a party, because we always ‘invite X to consider becoming an intervener’   but once they are in, are they in for the long-haul, or not?

 

I think that I would argue that since one cannot stop a father, say, in care proceedings from simply ceasing to give instructions or attend Court, and effectively playing no role  [save for the possibility of witness summonsing him to give evidence]  it cannot be right that someone is forced to continue as an Intervener against their will.  But it is of course an application for leave to withdraw, and with any application, it must be at least theoretically possible for a Judge to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’  since if not, it isn’t an application at all, but a rubber stamp.

 

In this case, if the Court of Appeal HAD considered that the allegations against DH did warrant a finding of fact hearing, they could have overturned the decision to give LEAVE for DH to withdraw as an Intervener, but the Court would have been fairly powerless had DH said “I am sacking my legal team, I will not file any statement and I will not attend the hearing or make any representations unless I am witness summonsed, whereupon I will attend only to give evidence”   – he would have been an intervener in name, but not in reality.

 

I had thought that I recalled a case that findings against a non-party could only ‘stick’ if they had been an intervener, but I can’t find it, and my memory of it is going back to the late nineties, so I am probably wrong.  [It did lead me down an interesting sideline of seeing just how many of the 1990s cases about inteveners were a judicial “I should coco, sunshine, on your bike” whereas we now have people intervening at the drop of a hat]

 

 [So the long and the short of it is – as an intervener, you won’t get your costs so you may as well ‘get your coat’]