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You’ll find us all, doing the Lambeth Walk (oy!)

 

Gosh, it’s been ages.  Not been any juicy cases to write about, as the big beasts of the High Court are all on holiday, but this is an odd one.

 

It is a Court of Protection case, involving a woman who lacked capacity and whether she should be transported back to her home country of Colombia, interminable wrangling about the costs of transporting a wheelchair, a Court hearing where nobody shows up much to the Judge’s chagrin, and an eventual description of the approach of the public bodies as ‘verging on petulant’  with costs orders following.

London Borough of Lambeth v MCS & Anor [2018] EWCOP 14 (31 August 2018)    

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2018/14.html

 

  1. The documents do not reveal a clear picture, but it appears at least likely that P may have been ready for discharge in 2014; self evidently by the date of P’s assessment on 9 January 2017 P was clinically stable and ready for discharge. In fact I am certain that those conditions arose much, much earlier. It should be recalled that the original application to the Court (made by P’s RPR) was itself an application dated 20 December 2016, challenging P’s deprivation of liberty, pursuant to section 21A of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, made out of frustration because, despite the local authority and the Lambeth CCG supporting P’s wish and desire to return to Columbia, they had simply failed to progress it. “Support” has always been offered, and is still, but when something concrete had to be done, they have been found wanting. Even with the institution of proceedings, it has taken a year to achieve what should have been organised much, much earlier, and significantly, proceedings should have been, and were, unnecessary; all of this could and should have been achieved outside any application.

 

Bear in mind that this woman was ready for discharge in 2014 and the unit she was in was costing £2,000 per week, there ought to have been at the very least a financial incentive to move this along and get her back to Colombia where she wanted to be.   It has cost nearly a third of a million pounds to keep someone in a place where she didn’t want to be, when she could have gone back to her home country.

(Having been rebuked on Twitter during the World Cup for conflating Columbia – the city, with Colombia the country, I am spelling it correctly during this piece, although the judgment does not)

 

The Judge captures the human misery of this awful situation very well.

 

  1. There has never been any formal provision supporting P’s need for Spanish speaking staff, which at best has been provided on an ad hoc basis. P is distressed by receiving care from people who cannot speak Spanish, this has happened almost every day, several times a day, for over 3 years. It takes very little imagination to consider how additionally miserable and isolated she must have felt. Reports describe her as distressed, feeling like she is drowning, feeling scared, complaining of pain, each impacting severely on her everyday wellbeing.

 

  1. Having now had several hearings (in an application that itself was, or should have been, as I have said, unnecessary), I can only begin to imagine P’s sense of frustration and loss at being kept here for years against her wishes, and for no good reason. As even the proceedings have demonstrated so fully, the arrangements could and should have been established and implemented long ago, years ago, but because of disorganised, muddled and unfocused decision making, and what has at times verged on an arrogance, P has just had to wait. It should be remembered that P had been kept here against her wishes, at a cost to the taxpayer of over £2,000 per week. If the authority had done what it should have done in a timely professional manner, not only could they have saved themselves over £100,000 a year, and saved the cost to the taxpayer of these protracted High Court proceedings, they could have avoided P the years of misery from being kept a prisoner here, against her will.

 

Some of the hearings in this case were just a debacle

 

 

  1. At the hearing on 16 November 2017, very distinct progress towards repatriation had finally been achieved. Frustratingly, there were however, still significant details missing, not just an interim plan if there was a delay, but there was no detailed transition plan. I have seen some of the documents in relation to this and they are depressingly scant; frankly, they are unedifying. I entertained the hope, since the remaining matters seemed really very straightforward, that it might even have been possible to agree a draft order encompassing the transfer to Columbia and the deprivation of liberty involved in that move. Accordingly I felt able to make qualified declarations (including being transported to Columbia). But a detailed and realistic transfer plan was obviously still necessary. A proposed draft transfer schedule was provided for that hearing, but it was a poor document lacking any detail, proposing transfer on 20 December 2017.
  2. In view of the history, the shocking history, I made provision for a “long stop” hearing on 13 December 2017 whilst sitting on circuit (hoping still to retain the transfer date of 20 December 2017). I do not think I ever received a position statement from the applicants, who attended by new counsel, who had been inadequately instructed. No one from the applicants, CCG or solicitors had the courtesy to attend. To say this was unfortunate (leaving aside any other issues) is an understatement. No transfer plan had been filed, and important missing detail prevented any progress being achieved. No one appeared to be qualified to make what in some instances were trifling decisions involving a few hundred pounds, e.g. innumerable communications occurred over the provision of, cost of, source of, import duty on, or who should pay for the transport of a wheelchair so urgently required by P, far, far exceeding the cost of the chair itself. Information was given to the Court in relation to, for example, the air ambulance, which subsequently appeared to be wholly misleading and totally without foundation. The approach taken was unhelpful and, at times, verging on petulant. Despite my best efforts it appeared to reflect a deeper, most unfortunate perspective that has, from time to time, permeated these proceedings. In any event, as I say, no one had the courtesy to turn up, so nothing constructive could be achieved at all. Yet again the case was listed for hearing on 19 December 2017, making detailed and contingent directions.
  3. At that hearing, absolutely astonishingly, I was told that, whilst the CCG had approved funding for P’s flight to Columbia, it had arranged its meeting inter alia in relation to the cost of transporting the wheelchair and any import duty in Columbia (see above) for 20 December 2017, the following day – apparently those concerned were rather busy with other meetings. An additional issue concerned the provision for the cost of any care if P was taken ill on the flight; who would pay, was it possible to obtain insurance? The authority, in common with its actions before and since the institution of proceedings, conducted itself without regard to anything else, certainly not the welfare of P, and yet further evidence that the institution of proceedings had had no effect. They have had no regard to Court orders, or the involvement of the Court. This hearing occurred just a day short of the first anniversary of the issue of proceedings, and still the simple goal seemed a mile away.

 

Bear in mind that the unit was costing £2000 per week, and that the hold-up was the cost of flying a wheelchair that she needed out with her, this is just crazy.  Even if you paid for the wheelchair to go first class, that’s just 2-3 weeks of the unit. And as the Judge rightly noted, it would surely have been cheaper (even ignoring legal costs) to have just bought a wheelchair in Colombia and avoided the flight costs.

 

  1. Finally, on 15 January 2018, it was possible to approve a final order. Contrary to previous occasions when either no one attended, or those present had not obtained delegated financial responsibility, on this occasion, what should have occurred much, much earlier, probably years ago, was obtainable, and significant assurances and undertakings were forthcoming for the provision of care in the unlikely event P was taken ill in transit and required hospitalisation en route. All that should have occurred several months earlier and it is entirely symptomatic of the malaise which has beset these proceedings from the outset. For which P has been the unhappy victim, and the Applicant entirely responsible.
  2. P left the UK on 25 January 2018 by air ambulance. Her move is described thus:
    1. “The move went very well. There were no health concerns en route. P remained calm, restful and slept during the journey. The ambulance crew were extremely impressive and efficient. The doctor could speak Spanish. Upon arrival P “recognised many of her relatives and smiled all over her face.””

Finally, a happy ending to a tragic story.

  1. I set out a summary of these unhappy proceedings, not just because they should not have been necessary, but to highlight the very deeply frustrating and disorganised thinking, planning and management within the authority. As a result a vulnerable adult has been kept unnecessarily miserable against her will, confined in an environment for much longer than was necessary. In my best estimate, for 3 years.

 

 

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Booker

 

I have just read the latest scandal piece about the family justice system by Christoper Booker.  Now, Mr Booker has quite a bit of previous viz a viz accuracy of reporting despite being well-meaning and committed, so I will come back to this once the judgment is published.  [I have read all of the published judgments by Mrs Justice Simler up on Bailii, and it isn’t any of those – so will keep an eye out]

As ever with Mr Booker, if the facts are as he reports them, it would be right to be completely appalled and troubled, and this decision (if it turns out to be precisely as he reports it) would be very worrying for McKenzie Friends up and down the country.

Even the boy who cried wolf was of course, eventually right about the wolf, so Mr Booker may be an accurate reporter of facts here. Let’s see.

Here is his story

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10775631/Costs-ruling-in-family-court-penalises-those-helping-wronged-parents.html

 

Let’s break it down into the core allegations that are made

 

1. That a child was placed in foster care because social workers felt he needed speech therapy and mother disagreed.

 

2. Mother removed him from foster care

3. Mother was sent to prison for removing him from foster care

4. Whilst in prison, she was assaulted by prison staff and crippled

 

5. That she was then deported to America

 

6. That some people in the UK, having heard about her case, offered to help her, and a judicial review was brought

 

7. At a hearing in April, at which her McKenzie Friends “could not be present”,  Mrs Justice Simler decided that the case was entirely without merit  (the unspoken inference here is that the Judge was wrong to dismiss an application for judicial review at which the applicant did not show up. )

 

7a  That Mrs Justice Simler is “the latest recruit to the High Court team”   [well, this is theoretically possible, but I find her name as one of three Judges sitting in the Court of Appeal doing criminal cases, so it seems somewhat unlikely.  EDIT  – it does appear that she became a High Court Judge in October 2013, so I stand corrected.]

 

8. An order for costs was made, with the McKenzie Friends being considered to be “parties in the case” and liable for a cost order of £4,000

 

9. In effect, the judge was sending a warning to all such lay advisers that, by offering help to litigants, they now risk severe financial penalties if their case is lost.

 

 

I am fairly sure that points 6, 7 and 8 ARE true.  We will probably never know about 1-5, because they weren’t argued before the Judge (because the applicants didn’t attend the hearing).  You might think that for a McKenzie Friend, 8 is the most serious, and if that’s likely to be true, then point 9 is also true.

 

Well, not quite.

The article seems to confuse family courts and a court dealing with judicial review, but that’s an understandable mistake. In judicial review, it is not at all uncommon for a costs order to be made against the losing party, that’s how it works. You win the case, you get your costs from the other side. In family courts it is a very rare occurrance. It happens, but only where the conduct has been reprehensible.  One would assume that the McKenzie Friends bringing the judicial review understood the costs risks, and also understood that the costs position would have them personally on the hook for the costs order.  It doesn’t mean at all that a McKenzie Friend helping a parent with a FAMILY LAW case would be at risk of a costs order, unless their behaviour was extremely bad.   That’s a very important distinction – I can understand a journalist, even one who ostensibly writes about family law, not getting it but it is important if you are trying to imply that Justice Simler’s decision means that being a McKenzie Friend in care proceedings carries a personal costs risk

 

Here is the deal

 

If you bring a judicial review application and you lose, you are likely to have to pay the other side’s costs. Even if you brought the case in good faith and thought you were going to win.

The costs order can cover those who are funding the litigation on the loser’s behalf or conducting it

In a family case, it is extremely rare for a “loser pays costs” decision – the law is very very different, and is more on the basis that everyone covers their own costs unless costs were wasted by egregiously bad behaviour by one of the parties.

You therefore TAKE A RISK about costs in issuing judicial review that you DO NOT in a family case.  You can end up paying costs in judicial review even if you behaved impeccably, if you end up losing. You don’t pay costs in a family case if you lose, unless your behaviour is really bad.

 

So even the headline of this article “Costs ruling in family court penalises those helping wronged parents” is wrong by the fourth word, judicial review is not a family court.  Judicial review is far less forgiving than the family court – if someone doesn’t show up for a family court hearing or files a document late, the Court CAN be forgiving, in judicial review that’s going to be game over. A McKenzie Friend is at very little risk of a costs order in helping a parent in a family Court. I would hope that Booker’s take on this case is not going to put any of the people who do really important work helping parents off doing so.

 

[Is that fair? Was it the right thing to do in these circumstances, to these McKenzie Friends who were just helping a parent who they thought had been mistreated? Well, that’s probably a wider public debate, but if you know enough about the law to know how to bring a judicial review, then the expectation would reasonably be that you also know that costs are a risk in such an application. ]

 

 

ADDENDUM

It is very hard to be sure – but it appears that the family case might be this one – which I have written about before – London Borough of Barnet v M1 2012  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2012/5.html.

 

There are enough echoes within it to make it a possible match and the timelines fit with Mr Booker’s earlier article.

 

My previous piece  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/11/01/it-aint-me-babe-it-aint-me-youre-looking-for/   .

 

Mr Booker’s previous column about this woman   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/children_shealth/10308803/Deported-imprisoned-and-beaten-for-being-a-parent.html ]