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Can a foreign conviction establish threshold in care proceedings?

I already know that regular reader David Burrows is going to love this case.

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2022/1118.html

W-A (Children : Foreign Conviction) [2022] EWCA Civ 1118 (05 August 2022)

This is an appeal, by a man named MH (mother’s husband) against a decision by the High Court that his conviction for sexual offences against a child in Spain would stand as presumptive evidence of proof of the facts underlying the conviction in an English Court dealing with care proceedings. That is, that in order to rely on those facts the Local Authority didn’t have to go and prove those allegations again.

It seems at first instance a peculiar appeal, because the common sense answer would seem to be, yes, of course the foreign conviction can be relied upon.

But we go back to both a 1943 road traffic accident claim and some 1968 legislation to look at it, and the issue doesn’t ever seem to have come up before.

The 1943 road traffic accident claim is Hollington v Hewthorn [1943] 2 All ER 35; [1943] 1 KB 587 a Court of Appeal decision. The plaintiff was suing the defendant for a road traffic accident and wanted to rely on the defendant’s conviction for dangerous driving. The Court of Appeal ruled then that as they were two separate incidents, the conviction in the criminal court carried no evidential weight as to whether the defendant had been negligent in this case and that if the plaintiff wanted to rely on it, the civil Court would need to look at the facts of the conviction and reach its own decision. I.e that a conviction or finding in another Court did not prove the fact in the second Court.

This was then reviewed by the Law Commission, arising in the Civil Evidence Act 1968, which provides at s.11 that in any civil proceedings the fact that a person has been convicted of an offence by any court in the United Kingdom shall be admissible for the purpose of proving that he committed that offence,

Job done?

Well, no, because the Civil Evidence Act 1984 did not make the same provision for convictions overseas or findings by another Court short of conviction.

However, the Law Reform Committee in its Fifteenth Report (“The Rule in Hollington v Hewthorn”, Cmnd 3391, 1967), did not recommend the abolition of the rule in relation to findings made in civil proceedings, nor its abolition in relation to foreign convictions. At paragraph 17 they said:
“We have restricted our recommendation to convictions by courts of competent jurisdiction in the United Kingdom. We do not include convictions by foreign courts. This is for practical reasons. The substantive criminal law varies widely in different countries. So does criminal procedure and the law of evidence. The relevance of the foreign conviction to the issues in the English civil action could not be ascertained without expert evidence of the substantive criminal law of the foreign country. Its weight could not be judged without expert evidence of the procedural law of the foreign country and reliable information as to the standards of its courts. There are, of course, many countries whose standard of the administration of criminal justice is as high as our own, but there are others in which one cannot be assured of this. It would be invidious to leave the admissibility and weight of a foreign conviction to the discretion of an English judge unfamiliar with the legal system and standards of criminal justice of the foreign country concerned. Furthermore, the burden of showing that a foreign conviction was erroneous would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to sustain, since there would be no way of compelling the witnesses in the foreign criminal proceedings to attend to give evidence in the English courts. The practical effect of making foreign convictions admissible might well be to make them conclusive and the remoter the country in which the conviction took place the more difficult it would be to dispute its correctness”.

So the Court of Appeal had to decide the point – is Hollington v Hawthorne 1943 binding on the family Courts – which means findings from other civil courts or foreign convictions would not be of themselves proof that the matters underlying those decisions were proven

I’ll add that MH had received a 5 1/2 year prison sentence in Spain for his sexual offence against a child, and the Court of Appeal had this to say on the implications of simply ignoring that or demanding that the allegations be proved again in the English courts.

One checklist factor is any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering. This calls for a risk assessment in the light of findings of fact arrived at in the normal way, with the burden of proof being on the party seeking a finding to prove it on a balance of probability. The obligation to take account of all the circumstances means that the court is not confined by the way in which the parties put their cases. Provided procedural fairness is observed, it has complete control of the process, which is aptly described as quasi-inquisitorial.
The proviso concerning procedural fairness is of course important. Natural justice and Art. 6 ECHR sound as clearly in family proceedings as in any other context. At the same time, there will be circumstances in which perfect fairness to all parties cannot be achieved and the court must protect each competing interest to the greatest possible extent, having regard to the purpose of the proceedings themselves. The rights and interests of the child will generally predominate where they conflict with the interests of others, but there is always a balance to be struck.
The present case offers a clear illustration of this tension. The central issue is whether MH poses a sexual risk to children. The incident that led to the Spanish conviction is the lynchpin of the local authority’s case. MH accepts that he was convicted but says that he was not guilty. He also argues that his trial (at which he and the child gave evidence) was unfair in a number of ways. He has produced a certain amount of documentation surrounding his conviction and more may be available by the time of the final hearing. However, the question of admissibility cannot turn on the attitude of the parties or the availability of surrounding information and the matter must be approached as if this was a bare conviction.
Accordingly, when the case is finally heard there are two possibilities. The first is that the conviction is not admitted and the local authority is required to prove the allegation of sexual abuse as if there had been no conviction. That may be impossible, given the length of time that has passed, and in consequence the threshold may not be crossed with the result that the proceedings would founder. The second possibility
is that the conviction is admitted, with MH having the opportunity to persuade the court that it should not rely upon it; again, that may not be easy. It is therefore necessary to select the outcome that is more consistent with the purpose of the proceedings themselves.
Family proceedings involve a fact-finding element, on the basis of which assessments and decisions are made. In care proceedings, proof of the significant harm threshold is a precondition for the court to exercise its powers and it has been said that, while the proceedings overall are essentially inquisitorial, they are necessarily adversarial in that respect: Re TG (Care Proceedings: Case Management: Expert Evidence) [2013] EWCA Civ 5; [2013] 1 FLR 1250 at [70] (Sir James Munby P). However, the fact-finding element of the process cannot be isolated from the welfare decision it informs. In this respect the position differs from other kinds of civil proceedings, as reflected in the respective procedural rules. The overriding objective under the Civil Procedure Rules is to enable the court to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost, while under the Family Procedure Rules it is to enable the court to deal with cases justly, having regard to any welfare issues involved.
The characteristics of family proceedings therefore speak strongly against the existence of artificial evidential constraints that may defeat the purpose of the jurisdiction.

Going on to the law

Conclusions

The rule in Hollington v Hewthorn does not apply in family proceedings as I have defined them because such a rule is incompatible with the welfare-based and protective character of the proceedings.
In family proceedings all relevant evidence is admissible. Where previous judicial findings or convictions, whether domestic or foreign, are relevant to a person’s suitability to care for children or some other issue in the case, the court may admit them in evidence.

The effect of the admission of a previous finding or conviction is that it will stand as presumptive proof of the underlying facts, but it will not be conclusive and it will be open to a party to establish on a balance of probability that it should not be relied upon. The court will have regard to all the evidence when reaching its conclusion on the issues before it.
In this case the judge was right to find that the conviction of MH is plainly relevant evidence in these proceedings and that there is no rule of evidence that makes it inadmissible. As Leggatt J said in the civil context of Rogers v Hoyle at [27], the modern approach is that judges can be trusted to evaluate evidence in a rational manner, and that the ability of tribunals to find the true facts will be hindered and not helped if they are prevented from taking relevant evidence into account by exclusionary rules. This is all the more so in family proceedings, where exclusionary rules such as estoppel, res inter alios acta and Hollington v Hewthorn do not apply because they would not serve the interests of children and their families or the interests of justice.

As I have said, while it might be possible to distinguish the present case from Hollington v Hewthorn on the basis of identity of issues and lack of unfairness to third parties, it is unnecessary to found the analysis on these narrower and more contestable matters that depend on identifying the true ratio of the decision. Nor do I attach special significance to the inquisitorial nature of the proceedings. The important consideration is not that family proceedings are inquisitorial in form but that they are welfare-based in substance.
The outcome is not unfair to the mother. As the judge said, she is not in a position to give evidence that is relevant to the conviction. It is not conclusive and she will have an opportunity to examine any surrounding evidence.

On the basis that the conviction was admissible, the judge was right to admit it. Indeed there could have been no good reason to refuse. She asked whether it was appropriate to depart from Hollington v Hewthorn, but as she had held it to be both inapplicable and distinguishable, the real question was whether there was some other reason to exclude the evidence, and there was none. Accordingly the question of comity is not relevant, while the circumstances of the original finding or conviction and the difficulties of proof in an individual case are matters for the court to keep in mind when it comes to weigh the evidence as a whole.
Once a conviction is admitted it inevitably becomes evidence with presumptive weight, otherwise there would be no purpose in admitting it. It would be meaningless to treat it as “just another piece of evidence”. Further, the court’s power to reopen its own findings has no application to the question of how the findings of other tribunals should be treated.
For these reasons, which are similar to those given by the judge, I would reject each of the grounds of appeal and dismiss the appeal.

and Lord Justice Bean said:-

Peter Jackson LJ has given in his judgment a compelling analysis of why a foreign conviction should, as a matter of principle, be admissible and given presumptive weight in proceedings under the Children Act 1989; and why there is nothing in Hollington v Hewthorn which requires us to hold otherwise. I agree with him entirely, and I too would dismiss the appeal.
As to the point of principle, no one in this case has argued that MH’s conviction in Spain should be conclusive. But the suggestion that it should not even be admissible is alarming. It is not difficult to imagine a care case in which a relevant party has been convicted of a serious sexual or violent offence in a foreign court, but the English court has no independent evidence of the facts on which the conviction was based. It cannot be right that in such a case the family court in England and Wales deciding issues relating to the welfare of children should have to ignore the conviction and somehow pretend that the relevant party is of entirely good character and that the offences of which he was convicted never happened.
As to the rule in Hollington v Hewthorn, in their 1967 report the Law Reform Committee observed that “rationalise it how one will, the decision in this case offends one’s sense of justice”; and that “it is not easy to escape the implication in the rule in Hollington v Hewthorn that, in the estimation of lawyers, a conviction by a criminal court is as likely to be wrong as right”. They made recommendations in respect of convictions by UK courts which Parliament promptly enacted in the Civil Evidence Act 1968. However, in paragraph 17 of their report, cited above by Peter Jackson LJ, the Committee recommended no change to make foreign convictions admissible.
It is unnecessary for us in this case to decide anything about the admissibility of foreign convictions in English civil courts. In civil proceedings the doctrine of precedent may require this court to follow Hollington v Hewthorn without question, even though in Hunter v Chief Constable of West Midlands [1982] AC 529 at 543 Lord Diplock (with whom the other members of the House of Lords agreed) said that it “is generally considered to have been wrongly decided”. But for my part I suggest that, half a century on, the reasoning in paragraph 17 of the Law Reform Committee’s 1967 report requires re-examination. Either the surviving effect of Hollington v Hewthorn as a whole, or (more narrowly) the question of the admissibility of foreign convictions in English court proceedings, would be a very suitable topic for consideration by the Committee’s successors, the Law Commission of England and Wales, either on a reference by the Lord Chancellor or as part of the Commission’s next Programme of law reform.

More heat than light – appeal on recusal

This is an appeal from a decision of Keehan J not to recuse himself for future hearings following what was on any description a very challenging interaction between Judge and counsel.

When I first thought about writing this post my intention was to try to be studiously neutral – I obviously wasn’t in Court, I didn’t hear the evidence, I haven’t read the full transcripts or heard them, and these matters were clearly highly contentious. Also, because both Judge and counsel are named, I did not want to be disrespectful to either of them on what was clearly a situation that was heated and became even more heated as things went on.

I have reconsidered slightly, and I think that I will just give my quick view that I think things got badly out of hand and that there were faults on both sides but with the benefit of being removed from the case in time, stakes and no connection to it I think the Judge reacted badly to some provocative remarks both orally and in writing BUT that as one of the episodes of counsel/Judge conflict did lead to the evidence given by a witness being potentially affected, I think the Court of Appeal COULD have allowed the appeal, but weren’t wrong to refuse it.

Deep breath.

Re AZ (A Child: Recusal) 2022

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2022/911.html

The background of this case is complex and difficult. Effectively, the mother and father entered into a surrogacy arrangement and a child, A resulted from that. The clinic had kept some of father’s gametes, and it was later found that by way of deception on the mother’s part, those gametes had been released to her in order to enter a second surrogacy arrangement unknown to the father, which produced twins.

There had been quite a lot of litigation, and serious findings had been made against the mother in relation to the conception of the twins and her honesty whilst giving evidence in those proceedings. The mother made allegations of domestic abuse against the father which the Judge found not to be true and that she had been dishonest in her evidence about these matters.

The parents had separated and a decision was made by the Court that A was to live with his father. The mother then made an application for Child Arrangement Orders for the twins, not mentioning in her application the adverse findings made by Keehan J in A’s proceedings.

The mother made complaints to the police about the domestic abuse (subsequent to the findings that they were not proven, and not mentioning those findings) and similarly about the father who was a doctor to the General Medical Council.

A five day hearing took place in August 2021. The mother sought at the outset an adjournment of the hearing on medical grounds. It was finally agreed that she would give evidence remotely.

Counsel instructed for the mother, Mr Uddin, had prepared a position statement in support of her application to withdraw.

In the course of summarising the circumstances in which his client’s medical condition had come to the court’s attention, counsel included the following observations:
“The application for an adjournment is made by the respondent mother with some trepidation. The mother feels that this court will use against her any application for an adjournment.”
“It is apparent that the court due to issues at previous hearings has a distrust of the mother and to put it bluntly prima facie disregard for the mother’s position.”
“It is one thing for the court to deny the mother to vary an interim contact order but another to disregard her application for an adjournment.”
” …she had ignored her own health conditions to avoid a delay in these proceedings and her weariness of this court due to her previous experience before this court.”
“The subsequent treatment of the mother by the court after her cancer disclosure has solidified mother’s weariness of this court.”
“It is true the mother has raised questions about the conduct of the court at previous hearings, but it would be unfair and unjust for the court to use this against the mother which the mother feels the court is doing.”

In the early stages of the hearing, the Judge made some remarks in relation to this document.

The transcript of the hearing shows that almost immediately after the start of the hearing, the following exchange took place:
“Judge: Yes, Mr Uddin?
Counsel: May it please you Lordship, my Lord —
Judge: It does not please me, actually, because I consider your position statement to have been impertinent and impudent and I should tell you now that if you ever dare file a position statement like that before me again, I will consider reporting you to the Bar Standards Board. Do you understand?
Counsel: Thank you, my Lord. My Lord, the position statement was done on instructions from my client
Judge: Yes, I am sure it was.”

The second most serious matter occurred during the Guardian’s evidence.

This instance is described as “bullying and threatening the Appellant’s counsel with the Bar Standards Board on the 27th August 2021”. As all parties recognised, this was the most troubling incident during this difficult hearing. In argument before us, Ms Ancliffe placed particular weight on it in support of the appeal.
The background to this incident is a passage in the evidence given by the children’s guardian at the end of the previous day’s hearing. During questions from Mr Wilson on behalf of the father in which he was challenging the need for a family assistance order, the guardian had described the relationship between the mother and A as “so special and so close” and continued:
“I think we’re looking hopefully at a new chapter in this little boy’s life, one where he can resume a positive relationship with his mother and learn about his siblings. All of these things are really important for A, for his sense of identity. He must have suffered trauma and loss losing his mother out of his life and all of his extended family, to whom he was very close and, again, I’ve observed that personally on more than one occasion. So, to have that back in his life would just be so good for him and I think the CAFCASS officer could assist with that.”
On the following morning, shortly after Mr Uddin started his examination of the guardian, the following exchange took place:
“Counsel: Now, yesterday in evidence you said, and please correct me if you find me to (inaudible) in any way, that A did suffer trauma when he was moved away from [the mother] to the care of [the father] leaving behind—-
Judge: If [the guardian] said that, I did not hear it.
Counsel: Well, I did– I prefaced it, my Lord, with the “If I have misquoted you, please correct me.”
Judge: Yes. All I am saying is I do not recall her saying that.
Counsel: Well, my Lord, she (inaudible). My Lord, I am asking a question but I did preface it and said, “If I misquote you.” What would you like my Lord to do, not– for me not to even ask the question because your Lordship has not heard it?
Judge: Well, she did not say it.
Counsel: Well, let us hear what she says then, my Lord.
Judge: Do not talk to me like that.
Counsel: My Lord –
Judge: You carry on and do what you want.
Counsel: Well, my Lord, how could I do anything I want? I am in your Lordship’s court.
Judge: Yes. It would be helpful if you could remind yourself of that. Now ask the question.
Counsel: Well, no, my Lord. I—-
Judge: Ask the question.
Counsel: Well, I want– I think we need a five-minute break because I do not like being spoken to like this. I am an officer of this court. I deserve respect. Your Lordship comes into this court and we all stand up because we show respect and I am an officer of the court. I will not—-
Judge: No you are not —
Counsel: (inaudible)
Judge: –an officer of the court. You are not a solicitor. You are a member of the Bar.
Counsel: Well, my Lord, I—
Judge: I am not wasting any more time. Get on with your cross-examination.
Counsel: My Lord, I will make one further point. This is my workplace. This is my workplace, just like your clerks and—-
Judge: Will you please just get on with asking your question?
Counsel: I will but can I have it affirmed from you that you will not talk to me in that way?
Judge: If you speak to me respectfully, I will speak to you respectfully.
Counsel: My Lord, I apologise if I have come across in any way disrespectful but this is my place of employment and I will not be spoken to in that way by anybody. When I have employees, I never speak to them in that way.
Judge: You are getting yourself close to being reported to the Bar Standards Board. Now please just get on with your cross-examination.
Counsel: May I ask that same question again or not?
Judge: Certainly.
Counsel: Yesterday – please correct me if I misquote you in any way – my understanding was that A suffered trauma when he was moved away from [the mother], away from the extended family and her. Am I quoting you right or am I misquoting you?
Witness: I think you’re probably misquoting me. I don’t remember using the word “trauma”. I’m not saying A wouldn’t have suffered trauma but I don’t recall saying that in evidence yesterday.
Counsel: Okay. Well, I did say– I said in fact– I had a note of “trauma” and I will– I stand to be corrected. Did you use the word “traumatic” then or– can you recollect?
Witness: I can’t recollect, I’m sorry.
Counsel: All right then. Well, then, in that case, in relation to the upheaval, how do you think that has affected A?
Witness: I think A because of his age would have been confused about the changes that took place moving from one residence to another residence. He already had formed a good relationship with his father so it wasn’t as though he was going some– with someone he didn’t know. The environment would have been slightly different but, yes, I think it– because he’s preverbal and explanations couldn’t really be given to him as to what was happening in his little life, you know, I think he would have been confused.”
The guardian’s evidence continued. A little later in the morning, following a short adjournment for unconnected reasons, Mr Uddin addressed the judge in these terms:
“My Lord, if I may be permitted to make this personal statement which is recorded here, in these proceedings today was the second time your Lordship has threatened me with the Bar Standards Board and I am concerned whether my client is losing confidence in me and whether I can continue. However, having spoken to my client, she has not lost confidence in me. I will continue with this case but, my Lord, I totally appreciate these kind of cases are not easy for anyone concerned, even your Lordship. These are dealing with the souls of people and, my Lord, I am also a human being with blood and salt running through my veins and if there is another threat, my Lord, I am going to have to consider– I totally accept, if I am in any way inappropriate, then your Lordship should admonish me so, on that basis of that understanding, my Lord, I am going to continue. I feel my client has not lost confidence in me and I can carry on. I just wanted to put this marker down, my Lord. May I continue?”
The judge did not respond to this statement. Counsel resumed his examination of the guardian. There were no further episodes of conflict between him and the judge.

It was submitted on behalf of the mother that this incident would lead a fair-minded and informed observer to consider that there was a real possibility of bias for several reasons. First, the judge’s initial intervention was wrong and unfair. Counsel’s recollection of the guardian’s evidence the previous evening was correct: she had referred to trauma. Secondly, the judge lost his temper with counsel and addressed him in a way that amounted to bullying. Thirdly, counsel was clearly unsettled by the way in which the judge addressed him and asked for an adjournment, which the judge refused. Fourthly, the judge’s renewed threat to report him to the BSB was unjustified and wrong. Finally, the effect of the intervention was that the guardian wrongly said that counsel had misquoted her. The judge’s intervention therefore materially undermined the evidence.
In response, Mr Wilson acknowledged that the judge’s comments during this exchange may be the most troubling. He pointed out that counsel’s summary of the guardian’s evidence the previous day was not precisely accurate. He did not seek to defend the judge’s reference to the BSB. He added, however, that, following this exchange, Mr Uddin had continued to cross-examine the guardian for an extended period recorded over a further 21 pages of transcript, during which there were further respectful and productive exchanges between judge and counsel. This was one incident over a five-day hearing and, in evaluating the question of apparent bias, a fair-minded and informed observer would have regard not just to this moment but to the whole hearing in the context of the overall proceedings.
In his written submissions to this Court, Mr Bowe informed us that, having carefully considered the transcript, the guardian could see that counsel’s question did not strictly reflect the evidence that she had given the day before in that she had not said that A had suffered trauma “when he was moved away” from the mother to the father but rather that A must have suffered trauma having lost the mother and his extended family. He added, however, that the guardian’s perception was that the judge unexpectedly shouted at counsel when telling him not to talk like that, causing counsel to request a five-minute break and that the style of the intervention, taken in combination with the previous admonition and reference to the BSB on 25 March, resulted in what Mr Bowe called a somewhat freezing effect on counsel. He also noted that the effect of the intervention was to cause the guardian to doubt her previous evidence and potentially deprive counsel of the opportunity to explore the issue of “trauma” more fully on the mother’s behalf. For those reasons, it was his submission that a fair-minded observer would consider that instances (3) and (8) together do amount to apparent bias.

The Court of Appeal had to consider whether the judicial tests for recusal (i.e that this Judge would not hear this case again) were met and whether the Judge had been wrong to refuse the application to recuse himself.

Obviously, any application for recusal is very difficult. You are, on instructions, having to apply to the Court to say to them that your client does not consider that they have been fair and that they cannot decide the case fairly in the future. Nobody really wants to say that to a Judge, and probably no Judge really wants to hear it. There is a balance to be struck between the duties to fearlessly represent your client but also to have respect towards the Court, and it can be a very difficult tightrope to walk.

The Court of Appeal said this

In this part of the case we are concerned with alleged bullying of counsel by a judge. Where it occurs, judicial bullying is wholly unacceptable. It brings the litigation process into disrepute and affects public confidence in the administration of justice. However, it inevitably remains the case that situations of conflict between bar and bench will sometimes arise. In that connection we make the following points.
First, counsel are sometimes obliged to object to, or be critical of, something said or done by the judge in the course of a hearing. Judges should, and almost always do, appreciate that this is a fundamental part of the advocate’s role and should entertain the objection with respect, even if they regard it as ill-founded. However, respect goes both ways. It is important that any such objection or criticism is expressed, however firmly, in a professional way. Most judges nowadays conduct hearings in a less formal manner than may have been usual in earlier generations, but that is not a licence to disregard the particular position of authority which they necessarily enjoy.

Second, trials are a very intense environment. Even the best counsel may in the pressure of the moment express themselves in ways which they did not really intend or say things which they would not have said if they had had time for reflection – whether in the context of an exchange with the judge of the kind discussed above or more generally. Judges should, and almost always do, recognise this. Many such lapses can simply be overlooked or corrected with a light touch.
Third, there will nevertheless be occasions when counsel’s conduct requires explicit correction or admonishment. In such a case the judge should try to ensure that any rebuke is proportionate and delivered in measured terms, without showing personal resentment or anger. Even a merited rebuke may be unsettling for counsel; and it may also, even if unjustifiably, have an impact on the confidence of their client in the fairness of the hearing. That said, some such impact may be unavoidable, in which case it has to be accepted as a consequence of counsel’s behaviour.
Fourth, a statement by the judge that they are considering referring counsel to the BSB is a particularly strong form of admonition and is accordingly particularly liable to have an adverse impact of the kind referred to above. For that reason, we believe that it will rarely be appropriate for a judge to raise the possibility of referring counsel to the BSB in the middle of a hearing. In the great majority of cases, the better course will be to wait until the end of the hearing, which will avoid raising the temperature more than is necessary and will also mean that the judge can evaluate counsel’s conduct in the overall context of the hearing. In the rare case where an allegation of professional misconduct does have to be raised in the course of a hearing, the situation will require sensitive handling and the judge will be well advised to take time to consider carefully when and how to raise the matter.
Finally, since judges are human, and (as Black LJ observed in Re G, supra) hearings can be challenging for them as well as for counsel, they will sometimes lapse from these high standards, and incidents will occur which the judge should have handled better. But such lapses do not necessarily amount to bullying; still less does it necessarily follow that in such a case the hearing will have been unfair or that the judge should recuse themselves from any further involvement. On the contrary, it is fundamental to the culture and training of a professional judge that they will decide each case according to its objective merits. If judge and counsel rub each other up the wrong way, whether or not it is the fault of either or both, that can be, and almost always is, put to one side in the decision-making process. Likewise, the professional training and experience of counsel should enable them to deal with criticism from the bench, even if they may believe it to be unjustified.
We should add that although the mother’s reference to bullying requires us to consider the judge’s conduct, the dispositive question on this application is not whether he was guilty of misconduct in relation to either instance but whether his conduct would give rise to a reasonable apprehension that he was biased against the mother, because of her counsel’s behaviour.

They went on

In his third judgment handed down on 15 November 2021 the judge said that parts of the position statement filed for the hearing on 25 March 2021 were “rude and impertinent”: the phrase he used at the hearing itself was “impudent and impertinent”. We might not have used those precise terms, but we agree that the passages that we have quoted from the position statement are objectionable. Although, as we have acknowledged above, there are occasions where it is counsel’s duty to accuse a judge of unfairness, in the context of the adjournment application the accusation was not only unfounded but gratuitous. It did not advance the substance of the application to say that the mother feared that it would be unfairly “disregarded” because of the judge’s previous findings, still less that she feared that he would use it against her. Those assertions did no more than vent the mother’s personal feelings about the judge’s findings (which findings were unappealed). We recognise that this may not have been an easy position statement for Mr Uddin to draft but if his response to the judge that it was drafted “on [the mother’s] instructions” meant that he thought he was obliged to make offensive imputations of this kind merely because his client wanted him to do so, that was a serious misunderstanding of his duty.
It was in our view appropriate for the judge to admonish counsel about the tone of the position statement. He also acted appropriately by doing so succinctly, and in a way that drew a line before he moved on to the substance of the application. We have to say, however, that we do not think that his rebuke was well expressed. Although it is never easy to assess how things are said from a written transcript, the words used by the judge convey the impression that he felt personally affronted: that was not appropriate. As for his mention of the BSB, it is fair to say that the judge did not say that Mr Uddin’s conduct merited a report (and we do not believe that it did) but only that he would report him if he did the same again. But it was, for the reasons set out above, inadvisable for him to mention a possible reference to the BSB in the course of the hearing.

Although we believe that the incident could have been handled better, we consider it to have been a limited incident, best characterised as an over-reaction to what was in our view a gratuitously offensive position statement.

and in relation to the cross-examination of the Guardian

As we have seen, the parties before us were agreed that instance (8) was the most serious of the instances on which the mother relied. It is important to start by analysing exactly what went wrong.
The starting point is the judge’s querying of whether in his question to the guardian Mr Uddin had accurately summarised an earlier answer she had given. The question began:
“Now, yesterday in evidence you said, and please correct me if you find me to (inaudible) in any way, that A did suffer trauma when he was moved away from [the mother] to the care of [the father] leaving behind …”
It was at that point that the judge intervened to say that he had not heard the guardian say that, though a little way into the exchange he said in terms that she had not done s
o.

Because of the way things developed, the judge did not specify exactly what it was in Mr Uddin’s formulation that he believed was wrong. When Mr Uddin eventually put the question again the guardian said that she did not believe that she had used the word “trauma”. As the transcript shows, she was wrong about that, and to that extent Mr Uddin’s question accurately reflected her evidence. But it is not clear to us that that was the judge’s point. Mr Uddin’s formulation was in fact inaccurate in a different way, because it suggested that the guardian had attributed the trauma to A being moved “to the care of [the father]” whereas she had referred only to it being caused by the loss of his mother and extended family. The difference is only slight, and it is fair to say that Mr Uddin had not finished his question when the judge intervened and he may well have been going on to refer to that aspect too (as he did when he eventually put the question again); but even if so his introduction of a reference to the father arguably carried the implication that the guardian had said there was something about the father’s care that caused trauma. It may well have been this perceived inaccuracy that the judge was objecting to. In any event, at this stage there was no more than a possible misunderstanding of a kind which sometimes occurs in the course of cross-examination, and no-one is to be criticised.
Mr Uddin responded to the judge’s intervention by saying:
“What would you like my Lord to do, not– for me not to even ask the question because your Lordship has not heard it?”
That was in our view disrespectful and impertinent. The correct response from an advocate when his recollection of the evidence is questioned by the judge is to seek to clarify the position, most obviously by establishing exactly what the issue is and asking that the judge’s note be compared with those of counsel and solicitors. His further response “Well, let us hear what she says then, my Lord” also has a confrontational ring, at least as it appears in the transcript.

Thus far the criticism is entirely of Mr Uddin. But it is clear that his disrespectful response (or responses) caused the judge momentarily to lose his temper. Even without the tape, it is plain that his response (“Do not talk to me like that”) was angry – and that is confirmed by the guardian’s recollection recorded at paragraph 121 – and his replies in the course of the following exchange, culminating in the observation that Mr Uddin was coming close to being reported to the BSB, show that he did not immediately recover his poise. That exchange in its turn clearly unsettled Mr Uddin and caused him too to become heated – “I deserve respect”, “can I have it affirmed that you will not talk to me in that way?”, “I will not be spoken to in that way by anybody”. Although the judge tried to close the incident down and return to the evidence, Mr Uddin would not at first do as the judge asked. He requested a break, which the judge refused. Although Mr Uddin resumed his questions to the witness, he obviously remained troubled, hence his “personal statement” a few minutes later.
This was clearly a regrettable incident. It was started by Mr Uddin’s disrespectful response or responses, for which the judge was fully entitled to admonish him. However, the way that the judge did so raised the temperature and clearly unsettled Mr Uddin. With the benefit of hindsight, we believe that he should have taken up the suggestion of a short break for “cooling-off”. Instead, he warned Mr Uddin that he was getting close to being reported to the BSB. We have already observed that it is generally inadvisable to warn of the possibility of a reference to the BSB in the course of the hearing, and that was particularly so here when feelings were running high.
Miss Ancliffe submitted that the judge’s intervention had led the guardian to wrongly disavow her earlier reference to A having suffered trauma by having been moved from her mother’s care. That may be the case, even though the judge himself did not focus on that word, but it is in truth impossible now to know. Ultimately, it does not matter. We are not concerned as such with the effect of the judge’s intervention but whether the incident to which it led gives rise to a reasonable suspicion of bias on his part. However, we should say that we do not consider that the guardian’s revisiting of the issue had a material impact on the outcome. She was a professional witness well able to express her considered opinion and her subsequent answer, set out at the end of paragraph 117 above, described in more precise terms how A had been affected by the move from the mother.

CONCLUSION ON INSTANCES (3) & (8)

It will be seen that we have some criticisms of the judge’s response in relation to both these instances, and in particular instance (8). However, the question on this appeal is whether what he said on those occasions would lead a fair-minded and informed observer to consider that there was a real possibility that he was biased against the mother. We do not believe that it would. In neither case was his conduct gratuitous: on the contrary, he was reacting, albeit inappropriately, to disrespectful conduct on the part of Mr Uddin. These were two short-lived and isolated episodes in separate hearings, the second of which lasted several days. They are just the kind of incident which may arise in the course of highly-charged proceedings but which, as we have said above, a professional judge will put to one side when assessing the merits of the case. As noted at paragraph 47 above, in his eventual judgment the judge said that the exchanges between him and Mr Uddin had had no effect on his decision-making. Of course that statement itself cannot be conclusive, but it is consistent with what the fair-minded and informed observer would expect of a professionally trained judge and there is nothing to suggest that it was not the case here. There is no complaint of any other inappropriate interchange between the judge and Mr Uddin. We refer also to paragraph 95 above. The mother and her legal representative were given a fair opportunity to put her case, and the mother was allowed to adduce extra evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge handed down a judgment in which he rejected a number of the proposals put forward by the father. All the evidence is that the judge reached his conclusions following the August 2021 hearing in a fair and balanced way, and there is no reason to suppose that he would not do so in the remaining stages of the case.
Having been critical of some of Mr Uddin’s comments, we should record our impression that, despite the evident professional difficulties he was facing, he represented his client tenaciously and effectively.
OVERALL CONCLUSION

In relation to both groups of instances, we have concluded that they would not lead the fair-minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility that the judge was biased against the mother. For the avoidance of doubt, that remains our view if all seven instances are considered cumulatively. It is for those reasons that we concluded that there was no basis on which the judge should have recused himself and that this appeal should be dismissed.

(As a sidebar to the case, one of the grounds of appeal which did not particularly cause the Court of Appeal trouble was the claim that the Judge’s remarks during mother’s evidence of “I am writing that down” were indicative of bias, and the Court of Appeal said this:-

There is no substance in the complaint about the judge’s taking of notes or his references to his notebook during the hearing. It is entirely a matter for a judge to decide what notes to take of the evidence. Neither counsel nor anyone else in court is in any position to assess what a judge is writing down. It is not unknown for a judge to indicate to counsel that his line of questioning is not helpful by putting down his pen. This is an example of the disclosure of judicial thinking which, as Sir Thomas Bingham MR observed, is sanctioned in the English tradition. Criticising a witness’s answer, and recording the criticism in his notebook, is a legitimate expression of scepticism which, to use Sir Thomas’s words, “is not suggestive of bias unless the judge conveys an unwillingness to be persuaded of a factual proposition whatever the evidence may be”. In this case, the judge’s references to the notebook during the mother’s evidence were made in the course of appropriate challenges about her reasons for reporting allegations to the police which he had found to be fabricated.

There is no authority because nobody has thought it plausible up till now to question them

This is a very perplexing case.

It is an appeal from

Re FS v RS and JS 2020

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2020/63.html

decided by Sir James Munby.

I honestly can’t improve on Sir James Munby’s opening in that judgment, so let’s crack into it

This is a most unusual case. Indeed, so far as I am aware, and the very experienced counsel who appear before me do not dispute this, the case is unprecedented. Certainly, the researches of counsel have identified no decision directly in point. The applicant’s own description is that his applications are “novel.” I suspect that the initial reaction of most experienced family lawyers would be a robust disbelief that there is even arguable substance to any of it.
The cynic will recall the words of Diplock LJ in Robson and another v Hallett [1967] 2 QB 939, 953:
“The points are so simple that the combined researches of counsel have not revealed any authority upon them. There is no authority because no one has thought it plausible up till now to question them.”
But if at the end of the day the answer is clear, as in my judgment it is, the points are not so simple as one might at first suppose. Equally in point, is the observation of Thorpe LJ in Moses-Taiga v Taiga [2005] EWCA Civ 1013, [2006] 1 FLR 1074, para 21, that:

“the absence of … authority … only illustrates the tendency for propositions of universal acceptance to be difficult to support by reference to authority.”
But is the universal assumption correct? I leave the last word to Megarry J, who in Hampstead & Suburban Properties Ltd v Diomedous [1969] 1 Ch 248, 259, said with grim humour:

“It may be that there is no direct authority on this point; certainly none has been cited. If so, it is high time that there was such authority; and now there is.”

The nub of the case is that Mr S is 41 years old. His parents are married to one another and live in Dubai. Mr S has a series of impressive qualifications- he has a First in Modern History, he is a qualified solicitor, he has a Masters in Taxation and is studying for Chartered Tax Advisory and Law School Admissions Test examinations. His parents have provided him with a rent-free flat in central London, and up until this litigation had been paying the utility bills.

Mr S was asking the Court to make an order that his parents financially support him.

Yes, you read that right.

I suspect that the initial reaction of most experienced family lawyers would be a robust disbelief that there is even arguable substance to any of it

Yep, that certainly describes my view.

I would certainly say that those representing him left no stone unturned in their efforts to find a legal basis for suggesting that the Court should have jurisdiction to make married parents pay maintenance for their 41 year old professionally qualified son.

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2021/1572.html

Siddiqui v Siddiqui & Anor [2021] EWCA Civ 1572 (02 November 2021)

Could it be s27 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973?

  1. Section 27 of the MCA 1973 is headed: “Financial provision orders, etc., in case of neglect by party to marriage to maintain other party or child of the family”. Section 27 provides:

“(1) Either party to a marriage may apply to the court for an order under this section on the ground that the other party to the marriage (in this section referred to as the respondent) –
(a) has failed to provide reasonable maintenance for the applicant, or
(b) has failed to provide, or to make a proper contribution towards, reasonable maintenance for any child of the family.

I suspect it doesn’t take a Court of Appeal Judge, or even a lawyer to work out why s27 doesn’t work. Hint , a child is not a ‘party to a marriage’

Then Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, which does provide provision for a child to apply for financial support from a parent, and there are some breadcrumbs of this applying to children over 18 who are still in education (which Mr S sort of is), but the problem there is

Schedule 1 para 2 (4) No order shall be made under this paragraph at a time when the parents of the applicant are living with each other in the same household.

And Mr S’s parents clearly are.

The next attempt was the inherent jurisdiction, which sort of expanded into vulnerable adults who did not meet the tests of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

The judge rejected this argument for three reasons. First, at [113], because the asserted claim “lies far outside the accepted parameters of the branch of the inherent jurisdiction prayed in aid by the applicant”. The basis of the jurisdiction was, at [114], “to protect and facilitate” a vulnerable adult’s exercise of autonomy.
Secondly, at [123]: “The second reason why the inherent jurisdiction is not available to assist the applicant is because of the fundamental principle that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be used to compel an unwilling third party to provide money or services”. In support of this reason, the judge cited from a number of authorities including N v A Commissioning Group and other [2017] AC 549, a case concerning an application under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, in which Baroness Hale said, at [35]:
“the court only has power to take a decision that P himself could have taken. It has no greater power to oblige others to do what is best than P would have himself. This must mean that, just like P, the court can only choose between the ‘available options’. In this respect, the Court of Protection’s powers do resemble the family court’s powers in relation to children. The family court … cannot oblige an unwilling parent to have the child to live with him or eve
n to have contact with him, any more than it can oblige an unwilling health service to provide a particular treatment for the child.”
Thirdly, at [132]:
“The third reason why the inherent jurisdiction is not available to assist the applicant is because of the fundamental principle which I summarised in In re X (A Child) (Jurisdiction: Secure Accommodation) [2016] EWHC 2271 (Fam); [2017] Fam 80, where I referred at para 37 to:
“the well known and long-established principle that the exercise of the prerogative – and the inherent jurisdiction is an exercise of the prerogative, albeit the prerogative vested in the judges rather in ministers – is pro tanto ousted by any relevant statutory scheme.”
The judge set out, at [137], his assessment of the legislation:
“Between them, the 1973 Act and the 1989 Act provide a comprehensive statutory scheme dealing, along with much else, with the circumstances in which a child, including, as here, an adult child, can make a financial claim against a living parent (I put the point this way to make clear that I have not overlooked section 1(1)(c) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975). More specifically, the legislation, in its general reach, applies to the applicant, as to every adult child, and is comprehensive in relation to cases falling within its ambit. Furthermore, as Mr Warshaw and Mr Viney point out, the legislation deals explicitly with the very claims the applicant seeks to make; indeed, in the case of the 1989 Act it explicitly prohibits the claim he seeks to pursue. There is accordingly, in my judgment, no scope for recourse to the inherent jurisdictio
n.”

So that is also out.

Next, under the Human Rights Act that there is discrimination under article 14, a breach of Mr S’s article 6 rights and that the Court should read down the existing legislation to allow his application.

(Bear in mind, this is all litigation to decide whether the Court even has power to make the orders Mr S wants – no consideration yet of the merits if any of his application)

The argument here was that Mr S, as a child of parents who are not separated, is being treated differently to a child of parents who are (as he would be able to make a Schedule 1 Children Act application if his parents were separated.)

I am sure that Courts, particularly the Court of Appeal, do not have swear jars, but if they did I would greatly admire the forebearance of anyone who wasn’t chipping in quite heftily. For my part, I can’t read this judgment without muttering “For F***s sake”

110. In my view, it is clearly not. As Mr Warshaw submitted, not permitting an order to be made in favour of a child whose parents still live together does not run counter to the purposes of article 14 or the aim of the ECHR. I also agree with the judge, for the reasons he gave, when he said, at [88], that “the suggested analogy with ‘birth status’ is wholly false”. Apart from the fact that birth status is expressly included in article 14, describing or defining a child as “legitimate” or “illegitimate”, because of the marital status of their parents, is clearly an identifiable characteristic, or status, attributable to the child. There is no equivalence or correlation between a child’s status being defined by whether their parents are or are not married, as relied on by Mr Southey, and the Appellant’s position.
Being the child of parents who are living together in the same household is not a personal or identifiable characteristic any more than being the child of parents who have divorced is a personal characteristic. It is not something the child has or which, in any way, defines the child. Being the child of parents who are not separated is simply a bar to the court making an order under paragraph 2 of Schedule 1. In essence, the Appellant’s complaint is, as Leggatt LJ said, “merely a description of the difference in treatment itself”.
Analogous Situation
I also do not consider that a child of parents who are living together is in a comparable or analogous situation to a child whose parents are separated. As set out in Clift v UK, at [66], “the requirement to demonstrate an ‘analogous position’ does not require the comparator groups to be identical”. What is required is that the “applicant must demonstrate that, having regard to the particular nature of his complaint, he was in a relevantly similar situation to others treated differently”. This is sometimes said to require a specific and contextual analysis.
As set out in the judgment below, the whole history of the relevant statutory provisions show that they are giving the court powers to make financial orders “when the parents’ relationship has broken down”, as set out in the 1982 Report (para 6.31). That is their purpose and objective. They are not focused on needs, as Mr Southey submitted. Needs are clearly relevant to the court’s determination of what, if any, order should be made but only in the context of the parents’ relationship having broken down.
The fact that the jurisdiction to make orders under sections 23 and 24 of the MCA 1973 depends on the parents’ relationship having broken down is self-evident. It is also clear from section 27 because it depends on the failure to provide reasonable maintenance. It is also clear from paragraph 2(4) of Schedule 1 which, as referred to above, was expressly included to ensure that orders could only be made in favour of children “over the age of 18 whose parents are separated”, as made clear by the 1982 Report and as stated by the Lord Chancellor.
Mr Southey additionally submitted that the challenged provisions amount to indirect discrimination because, as set out in DH v Czech Republic at [175], “a general policy or measure that has disproportionately prejudicial effects on a particular group may be considered discriminatory notwithstanding that it is not specifically aimed at that group”. The present case is far removed from the facts of DH v Czech Republic which concerned racial discrimination in education in that a disproportionate number of Roma children went to special schools. I do not consider that the principle or approach referred to in that case applies to the circumstances of the present case. All children whose parents are not divorced or separated cannot obtain an order and I do not consider that the challenged provisions can be said to have disproportionately prejudicial effects on a particular group as set out in DH v Czech Republic or as submitted by Mr Southey.
Further, again, as set out in DH v Czech Republic, at [175], the difference in treatment must be between “persons in relevantly similar situations”. In the present case, as explained above, the Appellant is not in a relevantly similar situation to adult children whose parents have divorced or are not living together. As Lady Hale did in R (Stott), at [213], I would quote what Lord Nicholls said in R (Carson) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2006] 1 AC 173 at [3]:
“There may be such an obvious, relevant difference between the claimant and those with whom he seeks to compare himself that their situations cannot be regarded as analogous.”

In my view, there is an obvious and relevant difference in the present case. The difference is obvious because the Appellant seeks to compare himself with children whose parents are divorced or separated. It is also relevant because, to repeat, the purpose of the legislation is specifically to address the consequences of parents either being divorced or separated or, to put it more broadly, the breakdown of the parents’ relationship.
I would repeat that the Appellant is not treated differently because of his health status or disability. They are not relevant features in the context of this case. Further, as explained above, the Appellant does not have a status which engages article 14 at all.

The appeal was unanimously refused. The judgment doesn’t go on to say whether Mr S’s parents sought an order for costs, nor whether they were ceasing to allow Mr S to live in their London flat unless he starts paying his way. Or indeed whether they are writing a will that cuts Mr S off completely. If they don’t do any of that, they are kinder and better humans than I.

On the plus side, there’s a powerful incentive for Mr S’s parents to never ever separate, because the second they do, the Schedule 1 bar falls away and off we go again. I’ve heard of people staying together for the sake of the children, but this is a new wrinkle.

ICE CREAM – I thought part 2, but it turns out part 1

Three years ago, in the pre-Covid times which now seem like a lifetime ago and that if you watched TV footage from 2018 everyone would be wearing kipper ties and dressed in maroon and brown, Mostyn J published a judgment about an application to discharge a Care Order.

It was one of those judgments that made the press

Boy, 8, was taken off mum by social workers who said ‘she had not taken him for ice cream’ – Mirror Online

And the case itself

GM v Carmarthenshire County Council & Anor [2018] EWFC 36 (06 June 2018) (bailii.org)

(which does indeed feature ice-cream’, but of course it was not the reason for the removal – but it was one of the only concrete examples of the mother failing to meet the child’s emotional needs that the social worker was able to give in evidence, and Mostyn J was perfectly right to be scathing about the weakness of that evidence)

Ms Tommason-James was asked to identify her best example of the mother failing to meet L’s emotional needs. Her response was that until prompted by the local authority mother had not spent sufficient one-to-one time with L and had failed on one occasion to take him out for an ice cream. This struck me as utterly insubstantial criticism, and indeed it must have struck the legal representatives of both the local authority and the guardian in the same way because this was not put to the mother in cross-examination by either of them. A further criticism in this vein was that the mother had failed to arrange for L’s hair to be cut in the way that he liked. Again, this is obviously inconsequential, and again it was not put to the mother in cross-examination. A yet further criticism was that on one occasion the mother allowed L into the house of Mr S, the father of A and K. The local authority’s case is that Mr S represents a risk to L, although this has not prevented them approving the placement of A and K with him. On the occasion in question the mother had gone up to Mr S’s house to get some money for A, and L was allowed to visit the downstairs lavatory while the mother was talking to Mr S outside the front door. How this is supposed to represent a failure by the mother to meet the physical or moral needs of L is completely beyond me. It does seem to suggest that objectivity and disinterested fairness is not being applied to the mother.

And I was SURE that I’d written about it, but I can’t find it. It had all the ingredients of something I would have written about – Mostyn J judgments are always worth a write-up, the ice-cream thing, the media coverage, a scathing attack on attachment theory. But I can’t find the piece, and I have to assume that I just didn’t do one.

The significance of the case, legally was this:-

In that decision it was stated that on an application to discharge a care order, while there is no formal requirement on the local authority to demonstrate the continued existence of the statutory threshold under s. 31 of the Act for the making of a care order, something close to a formal threshold requirement applies. It was further stated that a discharge application should not be refused unless it can be shown that the circumstances are exceptional and that the outcome is motivated by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests

 

and the judgment was also highly critical of attachment theory and expert evidence about attachment theory

First, the theory, which I suppose is an aspect of psychology, is not stated in the report to be the subject of any specific recognised body of expertise governed by recognised standards and rules of conduct. Indeed, I asked the advocate for the guardian whether he was aware whether a student could undertake a degree in attachment theory, or otherwise study it at university or professionally. Mr Hussell was not able to answer my question. Therefore, it does not satisfy the first criterion for admissibility as expert evidence.
Second, the theory is only a theory. It might be regarded as a statement of the obvious, namely that primate infants develop attachments to familiar caregivers as a result of evolutionary pressures, since attachment behaviour would facilitate the infant’s survival in the face of dangers such as predation or exposure to the elements. Certainly, this was the view of John Bowlby, the psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst and originator of the theory in the 1960s. It might be thought to be obvious that the better the quality of the care given by the primary caregiver the better the chance of the recipient of that care forming stable relationships later in life. However, it must also be recognised that some people who have received highly abusive care in childhood have developed into completely well-adjusted adults. Further, the central premise of the theory – that quality attachments depend on quality care from a primary caregiver – begins to fall down when you consider that plenty of children are brought up collectively (whether in a boarding school, a kibbutz or a village in Africa) and yet develop into perfectly normal and well-adjusted adults.
For my part I would say with all due respect that I do not need a social worker to give me evidence based on this theory to help me form a judgment about L’s attachments.
In her executive summary Cathy Webley says:
“On balance, I feel that the risks to L of a return home at this stage are too high and that he should have the opportunity to consolidate the evident progress he is making in his settled foster placement. My conclusion may have been different if L’s foster placement was unsuitable or was in danger of disrupting. However that is not the case. L is happy, settled on making secure attachments in the way that his care plan was designed to achieve. L is more resilient than he was but he remains more vulnerable than most children. I would be concerned about disrupting him again and moving him into an uncertain future with his mother.”
This opinion is based on supposed expert evidence, but it seems to me to be no more than a standard welfare officer recommendation, and one that does not place any weight at all on the principle of proportionality, or on the right to respect for family life, as explained by me above, let alone on the positive duty of the local authority to take measures to achieve a reunification of the blood family. Indeed, it is noteworthy that on page 15 of her report the very first matter relied on by the independent social worker against the mother’s case is in these terms:

“L has been told he will be staying long-term with [the foster parents] and has made an emotional investment in his new family. He would undoubtedly find separation for his foster family, whom he has learnt to love and trust, distressing, even if he appeared outwardly happy.”
If L has been told that he will in effect be staying permanently with his foster parents then that would be a major dereliction from the positive duty imposed on the local authority to seek to take measures to reunify this family. I cannot see how this factor can be relied on first and foremost by the independent social worker.

I cannot say that this so-called expert evidence has assisted me in reaching the decision I must make.
In my judgment, in any future case where it is proposed that expert evidence of this nature is adduced I would expect the court to determine the application with the utmost rigour, and with the terms of this judgment at the forefront of its mind.

It sometimes feels as though the Court of Appeal have a To-Do list which includes ‘keep an eye out for any case that comes before us where we can overturn an old Mostyn J judgment that we disagree with’ – of course they don’t. I’m being snarky – but I’ve seen quite a few cases now where the Court of Appeal allow an appeal from a different Judge and use as their decision-making framework an explicit overruling of a legal principle set out in a Mostyn J case, and it is pretty rare to see that happen with other Judges.

However, here the Court of Appeal were hearing an appeal about an application to discharge a Care Order where the Judge at first instance had been taken to the Mostyn J decision and applied it.

TT (Children) [2021] EWCA Civ 742 (20 May 2021) (bailii.org)

The Court of Appeal say in the early part of the judgment, when explaining why the appeal had been given permission

The mother sought permission to appeal, which I granted in part on 25 March 2021. In doing so, I noted that it was doubtful that any of the grounds of appeal had a real prospect of success, but that there was a compelling reason for the appeal to be heard as it offered an opportunity for this court to consider the correctness of the decision in GM v Carmarthenshire County Council

The Court of Appeal with reference to Carmarthenshire said this:-

In that decision it was stated that on an application to discharge a care order, while there is no formal requirement on the local authority to demonstrate the continued existence of the statutory threshold under s. 31 of the Act for the making of a care order, something close to a formal threshold requirement applies. It was further stated that a discharge application should not be refused unless it can be shown that the circumstances are exceptional and that the outcome is motivated by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests. For the reasons given later in this judgment, these statements are not correct and should not be followed.

The reasons later begin at para 39

  1. I lastly turn to the decision in GM v Carmarthenshire. In that case a 5 year old child was taken into care in mid-2015 and a care order was made in February 2016. In August 2016, the child’s mother applied to discharge the care order. In November 2017, Mostyn J adjourned the application and directed that there should be a six month contact regime of a kind that he described as conventional in a private law dispute. At the final hearing in May 2018, by which time the child was 8¾ and had been with the foster carers for 2½ years, he granted the mother’s application. He described the local authority’s objections to the child returning to his family as inconsequential and trivial and he replaced the care order with a supervision order.
  2. The decision is clearly one that could have been taken on the basis of established principles, but Mostyn J instead approached s. 39 of the Act as if it was untrodden ground. At paragraphs 3 to 9 of his judgment, he developed a series of propositions based on In re KD (A Minor) (Ward: Termination of Access) [1988] AC 806, Re B, and the Strasbourg authorities. In the course of this, he observed that:
  3. In their submissions in the present case, Mr Taylor and Mr Lord agree that this analysis is incorrect. In brief, they note that it does not refer to previous authority on the subject of the discharge of care orders. They submit that it is misleading and unhelpful to suggest that “something close to” a threshold applies to decisions about the discharge of care orders. The construct of a ‘near-threshold’ is imprecise, does not fit into any statutory framework, and distracts from a full and balanced welfare evaluation and proportionality check. Care orders exist in a wide range of circumstances and the approach to applications to discharge must be broad and flexible. The implication that there is a presumption in favour of discharge in anything other than exceptional circumstances is not right. The overall analysis is not sustained by any of the six decisions cited above, indeed it conflicts with them.
  4. With respect to Mostyn J, I agree with these submissions. I would only repeat that the reference in paragraph 198 of Re B to a “very strict” test arises, as Baroness Hale stated, in cases involving the “severing of the relationship between parent and child”. In the great majority of cases where there is no plan for adoption, there will not be a severance of this kind, and references to a “very strict” test or to “nothing else will do” are not applicable to an application for a care order, still less on an application to discharge such a care order.
  5. I would also add that the irrelevance of thresholds to decisions under s. 39 is seen in ss. (5), which allows for the making of a supervision order without proof of threshold.

In relation to the comments made by Mostyn J about attachment theory begin at paragraph 36.

  1. An independent social worker instructed with the permission of the court, had provided a report that referred to the child’s attachments. Mostyn J was critical of this evidence (paragraphs 16-21), and he described attachment theory as “only a theory” and “a statement of the obvious”. At paragraph 17 he stated his understanding that attachment theory is not the subject of any specific recognised body of expertise governed by recognised standards and rules of conduct and that it therefore does not qualify to be admitted as expert evidence, and he concluded:
  2. In making these observations, Mostyn J did not refer to other authority about attachment theory. In fact, the subject of attachment and status quo was considered in Re M’P-P (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 584 at paragraphs 47-51. In that case, where a birth family was seeking to recover children from prospective adopters, McFarlane LJ stated:
  3. McFarlane LJ returned to the topic in Re W (A Child) [2016] EWCA 793, a case in which a child had been with foster carers who were interested in adopting:
  4. The issue of attachment theory does not directly feature in this appeal, but I refer to it because it was addressed in GM v Carmarthenshire. It is one thing to find that a particular witness may not be qualified to give specific evidence about a child’s attachments, but it is another thing to question the validity of attachment theory as a whole or to state that it cannot be admissible in evidence. Nor is it correct to say that, if a child’s attachment to substitute carers is so strong as to lead a court to refuse an application to discharge a care order, that would deprive s. 39 of meaning. That approach risks looking at matters from the point of view of the parent at the expense of a rounded assessment of the welfare of the child. The decisions to which I have referred in the two preceding paragraphs make clear that the court has to give appropriate weight to all the relationships that are important to a child, and that there may be a role for expert advice about attachment in cases of difficulty. Insofar as the observations in GM v Carmarthenshire suggest otherwise, they cannot stand.

The test for determining discharge of care order applications is therefore reset to Re S 1995 – has the parent shown that the order for discharge is better for the child than continuing with the status quo.

“159. I am now going to turn to the relevant law. The long-established test I have to apply is within section 1 of the Children Act 1989, the paramountcy of the children’s welfare. This was confirmed, for example, in the early case of Re S [1995] 2 FLR 639, Waite LJ at 634 making it clear that a parent does not need to establish that the threshold criteria no longer exists. That decision was followed in Re C [2009] EWCA Civ 955 and it has not been doubted since.

  1. There is a burden on the applicant to show that the order – that is discharge – is better than not making the order. That follows from section 1(5) of the Children Act. It might be said that that is an evidential burden on the applicant. In the case of Re MD and TD [1994] FL 489 [sic – the citation is from Re S] it was said that “the previous findings of harm would be of marginal reference and historical interest only and the risk to be considered would normally focus on recent harm and appraisal of current risk”. Of course, every case is different and the extent to which a previous finding is historical in the sense of no longer relevant or less relevant will vary case by case.

Jolly hockey sticks, or “It’s not recusunal…”

I always love a case about recusal, it threw up for example the delicious joy that was a High Court Judge cross-examining counsel about the Judge’s own lost luggage Judicial baggage | suesspiciousminds

This one is private law. A District Judge (DJ Wylie) had conducted a finding of fact hearing (the mother had made allegations of violent behaviour against the father, the Court heard the evidence and made decisions about what had happened, called ‘findings of fact’)

W (Children: Reopening/recusal) [2020] EWCA Civ 1685 (15 December 2020) (bailii.org)

Two findings were made, and the other two allegations were not made out. The father was later convicted for one of the matters set out in the first finding made. The case would then move to evidence, arguments and decisions about contact and possibly where the children would live.

The father, however, made an application for a re-hearing. It was decided that this application for a re-hearing ought to be heard by District Judge Wylie, which would be the usual course of events.

What was less usual though, is that DJ Wylie recused herself from the hearing and it went before His Honour Judge Duggan

At that hearing, father was in person, and mother was represented (although she was paying privately for her lawyer, which becomes important later).

All that the mother and father knew of DJ Wylie’s situation was that she had recused herself for personal family reasons. It seemed, but one can’t be sure, that HHJ Duggan knew a little more than that.

The Judge raised the issue of recusal and its impact on the findings. There were two broad possibilities – one that DJ Wylie having had reason to recuse herself would not sit on the case in future, and the second that if there was something that meant that she shouldn’t or couldn’t hear the case in the FUTURE then didn’t it follow that the work she’d done up to that point should be redone?

The father’s application for a re-hearing had a very high legal bar to cross, but as the Judge explained to him, an application that DJ Wylie having recused herself from part 2 of the case ought not to have done part 1 and the case should be re-heard as a result of judicial bias was probably an easier argument to make and succeed with. For the mother’s part, counsel explained that having paid privately for her representation, she would be substantially financially affected by having to run the fact finding hearing all over again, and importantly that nobody really knew what DJ Wylie’s reasons were for withdrawing.

HHJ Duggan decided that there was no suggestion of actual bias, but that an independent observer would consider that if a Judge couldn’t hear part 2 of a case for some personal conflict, then what they had done at part 1 might also be under doubt, and that thus the finding of fact hearing should be re-heard before another Judge.

The mother appealed, and the case went before Jackson LJ.

In the meantime, the mother’s lawyers wrote to the Court asking three very proper questions:-

  1. What was the ‘family connection’?
  2. At the finding of fact hearing in February 2020, had the Judge been aware of it?
  3. If so, why wasn’t it raised with the parties?

The Court replied, though very very late in the day (The DJ gave the Court the reply in July, the Court sent it to the parties in NOVEMBER! just before the appeal)

  1. The Judge’s son, and the mother, are members of the same hockey club. On social media, the Judge’s son and the mother follow one another.
  2. The Judge had not realised this until June 2020, well after the finding of fact hearing
  3. if the Judge had realised, she would have raised it with the parties.

At the appeal, the mother’s case was that the process before HHJ Duggan was flawed (the mother and father had not known the reasons for recusal, or what had been known by DJ Wylie at the time) and that HHJ Duggan had applied the wrong test in law.

As to recusal for the appearance of bias, Ms Bentley submitted that the Judge framed the test wrongly. The question is not whether a reasonable observer would be concerned that justice has not been seen to be done; the question is whether the reasonable observer would conclude that there is a real possibility that the judge was biased

The Court of Appeal said this:-

n my view, once the District Judge decided to decline to hear the case on the basis of recusal, she should have ensured that the parties were formally notified of her reason for withdrawing from the case. This could have been done at the time of the hearing before the Recorder. Had he been in a position to inform the parties of the facts so that they were in a position to respond, they may well have been content for the case to continue in front of another judge, as had already been contemplated. But as it was, they were left in the dark and both parties asked the obvious question “Why?”, the father ahead of the hearing before the Judge and the mother afterwards.

t is understandable that the Judge was troubled by this odd position and clear that he was acting with the best of intentions. At the same time, it was necessary for him to approach the matter systematically. The starting point was that the listed application was the father’s application to reopen certain findings of fact. There had been no regular process of recusal by the District Judge and there was no appeal before the Judge. In these very unusual circumstances, the fact that a party had not appealed was not a bar to the Judge raising the issue himself, but in doing so he needed to acknowledge that a decision to set aside findings on the basis of apparent bias was one that could only be taken in an appellate capacity. Procedural steps could have been taken to achieve this, but the issue was not addressed and it is not clear what capacity the Judge was acting in.

That procedural difficulty might not be insuperable, but there are other reasons why the Judge’s unexpected decision to set aside all of the findings on the basis of apparent bias on the part of the District Judge was, I regret, both wrong and unfair:

(1) The Judge was not in a position to take a decision about apparent bias: the decision calls for an informed observer, which supposes knowledge of the basic facts. He should have put himself in a position to inform the parties about the District Judge’s reasons for wishing to recuse herself so that they were in a position to respond. He instead referred only to the existence of a family connection, which they were in no position to assess. Consequently, they were not only unable to put their case about the District Judge’s withdrawal but, more seriously, they had no meaningful way of addressing the new and radical proposal to set aside her findings altogether. This process was not fair to either party.

(2) As to the legal test for apparent bias, the Judge was right to say that one must put oneself in the position of a reasonable observer who is not involved in the case. However, he was mistaken in stating that the test is whether the observer would be concerned that justice had not been seen to be done, when the correct question is whether the observer would conclude that there was a real possibility that the judge was biased, which is a stronger thing

(3) Finally, the Judge’s conclusion that the District Judge’s findings were infected by apparent bias is not supported by any sound reasoning. This was the sort of happenstance community tie that should be disclosed to parties by a judge who is aware of it, but would not ordinarily lead the reasonable and informed observer to conclude that the judge could not try the case fairly. In this case the matter was put beyond argument by the fact that the District Judge did not discover that her son and the mother knew each other until months after she had made her decision.

HHJ Duggan’s decision was therefore overturned, and the findings made by DJ Wylie restored, father’s application to reopen them being refused.

A tale of five silks, five months and a seven day order

As Bob Dylan sang ‘But they got a lot of forks and knives, and they got to cut something”

 

As far as I know, there has never been a reported case about a Child Assessment Order. In fact, up until this case, there had only been three reported cases that mention one in passing in a case where one was made, and another three that just mention them by way of illustration. In 26 years of practice, I’ve only applied for one ever.  They are so niche, I couldn’t even find how many have been made from the Family Court statistics.  (I was told, anecdotally, that the one I applied for 8 years ago was the 14th ever)

 

They are very rare. I’ve never heard of one being contested. But here we are with not only a contested one, but an appeal about a contested one, with five silks in it to boot.

 

I write this post therefore in the knowledge that it is extraordinarily unlikely that any of the issues in the case will ever emerge again, but hey, if they do, the answers are here.

 

 

Re  I (Children : Child Assessment Order) 2020

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2020/281.html

 

Quick info-dump, a Child Assessment Order is pretty much what the title suggests – it is an order by a Court authorising an assessment to be carried out on a child.  It covers a similar function to section 38(6) where the Court controls what assessments are carried out on children who are within court proceedings, but is a stand-alone application.

You might, for example, use it in a case where you want to do an X-ray of a child whose sibling has a suspicious fracture and you are wanting to check whether the other child has any injuries and the parents say no, but you don’t want at that point to seek an Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order.

 

Why was one sought here, why was it controversial, why on earth are five silks involved, in an application generally considered to be niche and fairly trivial ?  Note that the assessment lasts for seven days, the application was made in October 2019, decided in December 2019, and appealed by February 2019, so the court process lasted for five months, or approximately twenty times the duration of the order under dispute.   You’ll see why there are broader issues in a moment, assuming you are still here…

 

Lord Justice Peter Jackson sets it all out very clearly, but the tl;dr is “Suspicions of radicalisation”

Ah, you say, now I get why everyone got silked up.  And why the case has wider-ranging issues that warranted all of this furore.

 

  1. This appeal concerns the court’s power to make a child assessment order under s.43 of the Children Act 1989. It arises in relation to a family with five children. The children, whose ages range between 18 and 9, are making excellent progress and have impressed everyone who has met them. Why then are they the subject of proceedings? The answer lies in their father’s conviction under the Terrorism Act 2000, for which he received a substantial prison sentence. His offences consisted of addressing meetings to encourage support for or further the activities of Islamic State. He had for many years been associated with extremist beliefs and has a previous conviction for violent disorder arising from a sectarian assault, for which he served a term of imprisonment in 2014. In January 2015 he was made the subject of an ASBO arising from earlier violent demonstrations. In December 2015 he was arrested for the terrorist offences.
  2. Following the father’s arrest, there was concern about the impact of his beliefs and activities on the family. It was found that one or more of the children had been taken to meetings at which the father had spoken, and an image of a beheading was found on one of the children’s phones. More recently, evidence emerged showing one or more of the children holding placards at a demonstration in support of the Caliphate. In early 2017 the local authority in whose area the family lives therefore carried out an investigation under s.47. At that stage the mother was assessed as recognising the risks and acting protectively. There was no evidence of her being implicated in the father’s views and activities. The local authority’s plan was for further assessment when the father was due to be released from prison.
  3. The father was released on licence in late 2018, and was placed in a hostel. A further s.47 assessment was undertaken by the local authority. By contrast with the earlier assessment, this raised considerable concerns about the mother’s protectiveness. She said that the father had strong views but that they were not criminal. She referred to the undercover officer whose evidence had led to the father’s conviction as a “snitch”. The assessment, completed on 13 March 2019, concluded that: a Child in Need plan was required (as the father wanted to go home); the Probation risk assessment should be obtained to identify the father’s current view of his offending; the father should be interviewed; an Intervention Provider should be instructed to talk to the children; fuller work should be carried out to provide the children with clear information about their father’s offending; the father’s interaction with the children should be observed.
  4. The mother opposed these interventions, describing them as a collective punishment driven by religion and not genuine concern. The local authority convened a Child Protection Case Conference on 20 May and the children became subject to Child Protection Plans. A referral was made to Prevent so that the case could be discussed within the Channel Panel, a multi-agency panel designed to safeguard individuals at risk. In June, the parents consented to direct work being done with the children but later that month they withdrew that consent. The mother declined to meet a representative from Prevent or engage with a parenting assessment. As a result, the Probation Service advised that the father’s licence conditions had been changed so that the mother was no longer approved to supervise contact. At the Channel Panel meeting on 5 July it was decided that the children should be assessed by an Intervention Provider to establish whether they required mentoring with the aim of increasing theological understanding and challenging extremist ideas that may be used to legitimise terrorism. The parents declined to consent to this assessment.
  5. These events added to the local authority’s concerns. On 22 July, it initiated the process leading to public law proceedings (the PLO process) by sending formal letters to the parents, as a result of which they qualified for legal representation. Then, on 20 August, the father’s licence was revoked due to a breach of his licence conditions. He remains in custody and his release date is not known.
  6. A PLO meeting took place on 5 September. The mother attended on her own. She refused to consent to unannounced visits, a parenting assessment, direct work with the children, or to work being carried out by an Intervention Provider. Further details of the parenting assessment and the direct work proposed were provided to the mother by letter but on 23 September she responded by saying that she did not consent to any work being carried out.
  7. On 7 October, the local authority decided to apply for a child assessment order, with a view to an assessment being carried out by an Intervention Provider. It issued its application on 4 November. Directions were given by Newton J on 13 November and the final hearing took place on 4 December. The application was opposed by both parents and by the four older children, who were separately represented (the eldest has since turned 18 and is no longer the subject of proceedings). It was however supported by the Children’s Guardian. He considered that it is not known whether the children have been exposed to the risk of radicalisation by their father’s actions and beliefs, or whether their mother is fully protective. The family’s unwillingness to work with the local authority has prevented it from assessing either the level of risk or what support can be offered.

 

The Judge at first instance, declined to make the Child Assessment Order  AND ruled that he in fact had no jurisdiction to make one.

 

Here are the statutory provisions  (bits in red are mine for emphasis)

43 Child assessment orders.

(1) On the application of a local authority or authorised person for an order to be made under this section with respect to a child, the court may make the order if, but only if, it is satisfied that—

(a) the applicant has reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm;

(b) an assessment of the state of the child’s health or development, or of the way in which he has been treated, is required to enable the applicant to determine whether or not the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and

(c) it is unlikely that such an assessment will be made, or be satisfactory, in the absence of an order under this section.

(2) In this Act “a child assessment order” means an order under this section.

(3) A court may treat an application under this section as an application for an emergency protection order.

(4) No court shall make a child assessment order if it is satisfied—

(a) that there are grounds for making an emergency protection order with respect to the child; and

(b) that it ought to make such an order rather than a child assessment order.

(5) A child assessment order shall—

(a) specify the date by which the assessment is to begin; and

(b) have effect for such period, not exceeding 7 days beginning with that date, as may be specified in the order.

(6) Where a child assessment order is in force with respect to a child it shall be the duty of any person who is in a position to produce the child—

(a) to produce him to such person as may be named in the order; and

(b) to comply with such directions relating to the assessment of the child as the court thinks fit to specify in the order.

(7) A child assessment order authorises any person carrying out the assessment, or any part of the assessment, to do so in accordance with the terms of the order.

(8) Regardless of subsection (7), if the child is of sufficient understanding to make an informed decision he may refuse to submit to a medical or psychiatric examination or other assessment.

(9) The child may only be kept away from home—

(a) in accordance with directions specified in the order;

(b) if it is necessary for the purposes of the assessment; and

(c) for such period or periods as may be specified in the order.

(10) Where the child is to be kept away from home, the order shall contain such directions as the court thinks fit with regard to the contact that he must be allowed to have with other persons while away from home.

(11) Any person making an application for a child assessment order shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that notice of the application is given to—

(a) the child’s parents;

(b) any person who is not a parent of his but who has parental responsibility for him;

(c) any other person caring for the child;

(d) any person named in a child arrangements order as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact;

(e) any person who is allowed to have contact with the child by virtue of an order under section 34; and

(f) the child,

before the hearing of the application.

 

 

Let’s deal with the jurisdiction point first, which might be classified as a ‘smarty-pants lawyer argument’.  I mean, I wouldn’t categorise it that way myself, but other less kind people might. Naughty other fictitious people.

 

The judge’s conclusion on jurisdiction

  1. The challenge to the court’s powers was pursued by both parents before the judge. However, on the appeal neither the mother (following a change of leading counsel) nor the children sought to uphold the judge’s decision in this respect and it was left to Mr Twomey QC and Mr Barnes to pursue it. The argument runs like this. The effect of ss. (1)(a) and (b) is that the local authority must have reasonable cause to suspect harm or likelihood of harm and the assessment must be required to enable it to determine whether harm or likelihood of harm exists. The local authority must, they say, demonstrate that it has “a suspicion (and no more)”. In this case, the local authority could only have decided to place the children on child protection plans and to activate the PLO process if it had already judged there to be the existence or likelihood of harm: Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018, page 45. Its state of mind was therefore one of belief, not suspicion, and accordingly the test under (a) is not satisfied. Nor, for the same reason, can the local authority meet the test under (b) because the assessment is not required to enable it to determine whether or not the children are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm: it already believes that they are. Even though as a matter of normal statutory interpretation, the greater includes the lesser (so here belief includes suspicion), that approach does not apply as this provision concerns the state of mind of the local authority.
  2. In oral argument, Mr Twomey asserted that as a matter of law the consequence of any one of local authority’s actions in calling the child protection conference, making child protection plans, or initiating the PLO process was to make an order under s.43 unavailable to the local authority and the court. It would not be open to the case conference to decide that an application under s.43 was an appropriate course to safeguard the children. Put another way, if the local authority wanted to seek an order under s.43, it was obliged to go to court before calling a child protection conference. Once it had reached the stage of ‘belief’ the only options open to it were (a) doing nothing, (b) continuing to seek the parents’ consent, or (c) issuing care proceedings. These outcomes are, he said, mandated by the plain words of ss.(1), but he was unable to suggest any good sense to this interpretation, either in terms of child welfare or good social work practice. In particular, he was unable to rebut the local authority’s argument that it would be fundamentally contrary to good social work practice and to statutory guidance for a local authority to apply for a court order before seeking to work with the parents by less interventionist means.
  3. The judge set out these and other arguments at some length, before stating his conclusion in a single paragraph:
    1. “36. Generally, as a matter of construction, the greater includes the lesser. In looking at the Act however, there is a gradual proportionate and cumulative incline in what is required to permit interference in a family’s life by the state. Section 43 is founded on a reasonable cause to suspect. Section 38(2) is founded on reasonable grounds for believing. Section 31(2) is founded on the court being satisfied. Each tier has available to it a raft of supporting powers proportionate to the level of inquiry and a possible conclusion. For that reason, it seems to me that the submissions made in respect of this point (the lesser not being included in the greater) are well founded, since I examining the local authority’s state of mind.”

 

In short – because the LA had held a case conference and registered the children, they had crossed a test of ‘reasonable grounds to believe they were at risk of significant harm’, whereas the test for a Child Assessment Order is ‘suspicion that they are at risk of significant harm’.   You may well be saying, but the test for a Child Assessment Order is LOWER, so if they met the former, the latter must be met too. And you would underestimate the smartness and ability of a silk to make what seems like a bad point into an argument.   The argument here is that in over-shooting the test, it is no longer a ‘suspicion’ but a ‘reasonable belief’ and thus it is not open to the LA to seek a Child Assessment Order because their evidence is TOO GOOD.

You can see that the Court of Appeal were sceptical, because the natural end point of this is that the LA ought to dash into Court to seek an order rather than to seek to work with the parents under a PLO or a Case Conference, which flies in the face of the way things are supposed to work.

Fascinating though the suggestion that an examination of the local authority’s state of mind is needed is, the Court of Appeal were not convinced.

 

  1. With respect to the judge, I consider that he was wrong to reach this conclusion for these reasons:
  2. (1) Section 43 must be read in the context of the legislation as a whole. As Mr Samuels QC and Mr Lefteri submit, the scheme of the Act points to the child assessment order as forming part of the initial stages of investigation and assessment. As Ms Howe QC and Ms Chaudhry say, the purpose of the section is to enable proper assessment to establish whether there is a need and justification for any further action. This is also the effect of the statutory guidance quoted above.

(2) The condition at ss.(1)(a) provides a relatively low threshold of reasonable suspicion. This is a threshold to be crossed, not a target to be hit. The normal rule of statutory construction applies to this provision as to any other. The reason given for departing from it, namely that the court is examining the local authority’s state of mind, has no logical foundation.

(3) The only restriction on the use of s.43 where the threshold is crossed is that provided by ss.(4) which prevents the making of a child assessment order when an emergency protection order should instead be made.

(4) The condition in ss.(1)(b) plainly exists to ensure that an assessment can only be ordered if it is required, i.e. necessary. However, a determination of whether a child is suffering or likely to suffer harm is not confined to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The assessment is designed to provide a range of information, identifying not only whether harm may exist, but also describing its nature and extent. Nothing less will allow the local authority to understand the child’s situation and determine how best to proceed. The narrow interpretation of the provision accepted by the judge overlooks the essential qualitative character of the assessment process. It also fails to connect with his own description of the underlying question as being “under what circumstances might the parents’ religious views and activities result in harm to the children’s physical and emotional health and wellbeing?” That was the question to which the assessment would be directed.

(5) The suggested interpretation does not provide “the sensible approach to child protection” spoken of by Baroness Hale. It conflicts with good social work practice and needlessly limits the flexibility with which the powers under the Act should be exercised. It is clear from the guidance that it is not the intention of the legislation to push the local authority into making an application under Part IV in order to obtain an assessment. That might then lead to substantial litigation and an application for the proceedings to be withdrawn, as happened in the radicalisation cases A Local Authority v A Mother and others [2017] EWHC 3741 (Fam) and In re A and others (Children)(Withdrawal of Care Proceedings: Costs) [2018] EWHC 1841 Fam; [2018] 4 WLR 146. This would fly in the face of the principle of proportionality and if it were correct it would effectively render s.43 redundant.

  1. For these reasons I would unhesitatingly conclude that as a matter of law the court had the power to make a child assessment order in this case.

 

Of course, the parents could make use of the argument in section 43(4) that the Court can’t make a Child Assessment Order if the Court considers that it should make an Emergency Protection Order instead, but you can easily see why that would not be an attractive argument to deploy on behalf of a parent.

 

So, having ruled that the Court COULD make a Child Assessment Order, the Court of Appeal then considered whether in the circumstances of the case, the Judge was wrong to decide not to make one.

 

 

  1. The judge then concluded:
    1. “48. The evidence and legal principle in this, as in other such cases, is complex and has to be considered on a case by case basis. Applying well established principles to the evidence that has been available to the Court, I am satisfied that the authority in this case has not satisfied the provisions of s.43.

49. Once the absent evidence has been obtained, even at this belated stage, further urgent decision making will be required about whether or not it is appropriate that there needs to be intervention and of what sort. The approach of the family will obviously be an important part of that analysis.”

  1. Because the judge did not express himself with reference to the terms of the statute, it is not easy to be precise about his reasons for refusing the local authority’s application, but they would seem to be these:
  2. (1) He had no power (as above).

(2) It is too late. There were probably reasonable grounds for suspicion in 2015, and the local authority should have acted then. After “4 uneventful years” now is not the time to assess the risk.

(3) (Though not said in terms) the local authority does not have reasonable grounds for suspicion. The application needed more than a “historic” foundation. The failure to gather available evidence about the father from the probation and prison service means that there is no current evidence of the children having been affected by their father’s views.

(4) Alternatively, and for the same reasons, the assessment is not required.

(5) In any case, an order would be disproportionate.

(6) It is unlikely that the older children will participate in an assessment. Endeavouring to compel them to be assessed would be heavy-handed, disproportionate and possibly unfair.

(7) Given the children’s stance, an assessment would not be likely to produce better information than is presently available.

(8) The local authority can think again once it has more information.

 

The Court of Appeal set out the arguments of the LA and Guardian urging a Child Assessment Order and the parents urging that the initial decision should stand.

Their conclusions

 

  1. This aspect of the appeal is from an evaluative decision of a trial judge and it can only succeed if the decision is one that the judge could not reasonably have reached on the evidence before him. That is a high hurdle, but I conclude that it has been cleared in this case for these reasons:
  2. (1) The judge’s approach to the two questions that faced him was inherently inconsistent. Having decided the question of law on the supposition that the local authority was overprovided with information, he based his evaluative decision on the conclusion that it had insufficient evidence for its concerns.

(2) The circumstances of this case present a clear basis for serious concern about the welfare of these children, which their good progress alone could not dispel. Risk of this kind can never be regarded as “historic” until it has been positively shown not to exist, but the judge gave little or no weight to the obvious risks inherent in the father’s long-held views, which were only magnified by the family’s more recent withdrawal of cooperation. The alignment of position between the parents was a further troubling development.

(3) In contrast the judge gave disproportionate weight to his view of the local authority’s approach. In effect he substituted for the requirement for reasonable suspicion a test of whether the local authority had acted reasonably. And even if it was appropriate to criticise the decision to await the father’s release before refreshing its assessment (and for my part I can see no reason to regard that approach as unreasonable) the court was obliged to deal with the case on the facts as they were, not as they might have been.

(4) The judge was plainly unimpressed by the inter-agency working in this case. He considered that information about the father’s current mindset was necessary and should have been obtained before assessing the children. But even if dependable information about that could be obtained from other agencies, it would only fill in part of the picture and an assessment of the children was likely to be necessary in any event. The argument that an assessment should not be ordered because there are gaps in the evidence is circular.

(5) In any event, the judge appears to have accepted that all the information was needed (see paragraph 49 of his judgment). If he considered more information about the father was a precondition to an assessment of the children, he could have given directions for that information to be obtained. The absence of evidence from the parents is also something that should have been noted. Having taken the position that the judge did, the appropriate response was not to dismiss the application but to adjourn it.

(6) The level of past cooperation by the mother or children could not be of much significance if they have withdrawn cooperation before the local authority has the information that it needs to plan its child protection strategy.

(7) The proportionality exercise in this case went awry. The description of the assessment proposal as heavy-handed, disproportionate and overbearing cannot be sustained. High-performing, law-abiding children are not immune from the insidious lure of extremism. The proposed assessment was by no stretch of the imagination disproportionate to the risk in this case. The submission that the children would be left in a vulnerable position without legal representation or that they might be placed in a situation that was unfair is a misreading of the nature of the child protection and litigation processes. Social workers and intervention providers are not threats from whom the children must be protected, but public servants who are seeking to protect these children by means of the least intrusive intervention. The children’s committed lawyers (both those they instruct directly and those representing the Children’s Guardian) will surely not become unavailable to them at the moment the order is made, in the face of an imminent brief assessment.

(8) Even if the reasons for refusing an order in the case of the older children could be sustained on the basis of their views, that would not warrant a refusal to make an order with respect to the youngest child.

  1. A yet further argument was presented by Mr Twomey. He suggests that s.43 does not permit an assessment of the children’s religious faith as that is not a facet of their health, development or treatment by their parents. That argument is self-evidently unsound. What is being assessed is not the children’s religious faith but their vulnerability and resilience in the face of extremist propaganda masquerading as religious faith.
  2. I would however hold that the judge was right to find that the opposition of the older children was not an obstacle to the making of an order. In this respect, his approach is to be preferred to the dicta in Re Q (see paragraph 30 above). As can be seen from the statutory guidance, it is not strictly correct to characterise a child assessment order as an emergency intervention. Nor as a matter of principle is it unlikely that a child assessment order will be made with respect to a competent child who may refuse to submit to assessment: it will depend on the circumstances.

 

[Whilst the statute says that a competent child who says no, is not compelled to participate in the assessment, that does not stop the Court making an order, it just means that at the point of arranging the assessment itself, the objection of a competent child will stop the assessment of that child and override the order, pace section 43 (8)

  1. Drawing matters together, a child assessment order allows for a brief, focussed assessment of the state of a child’s health or development, or the way in which he or she has been treated, where that is required to enable the local authority to determine whether or not the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm and to establish whether there is a need and justification for any further action. The purpose of the assessment is to provide a range of information, identifying not only whether harm may exist, but also describing its nature and extent. It is part of the process of gathering information so that any child protection measures can be appropriately calibrated. It is the least interventionist of the court’s child protection powers and is designed to enable information that cannot be obtained by other means to be gathered without the need to remove the child from home. It is not an emergency power and it may be particularly apt where the suspected harm to the child may be longer-term and cumulative rather than sudden and severe. The order is compulsory in relation to parents but not for a competent child who refuses to participate. The views of an older child are an important consideration when a decision is taken about making an order, but it cannot be said that opposition makes an order unlikely: it depends on the facts of the case and the nature of the risk and the assessment.
  2. Seen in this light, the circumstances of this case might be seen as a paradigm example of a case for which s.43 was intended. More than that, I would conclude that the evidence so clearly pointed to the making of a child assessment order that the judge’s contrary conclusion cannot stand. The outcome, by which the local authority was told to go away and think again after a process that had already hung over the family for a full year since the father’s release, fails to address obvious risks that now require careful assessment. The only remaining way in which the assessment can be made without the issuing of care proceedings is by means of a child assessment order. There is no purpose in remitting the decision, and I would therefore allow the appeal and make the child assessment order in the terms now helpfully drawn up by the parties.
  3. Finally, we would like to address the young people at centre of this case. We know that you will give the same serious attention to this order and the reasons for it that you showed when three of you, one now being an adult, attended the appeal hearing. Our order has only one purpose: to help to keep you safe. We know that the order is not what you wanted, but we believe that it is the very best way of resolving the present situation and of allowing you to get back to the things that you have been doing so well. Three of you have the right to say no, but we hope that you will allow the assessment to take place, as it will do for the youngest one of you, and that you will all do your best.

 

Notification of fathers or family in voluntary adoption cases

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal have given a judgment in three linked cases where a mother wished to arranged for her child to be adopted and the Court had to decide whether or not to inform the father/relatives

The facts and details about the 3 cases are at paragraph 90 onwards of the judgment. In the first, the Judge had decided not to tell the father and the Court of Appeal overturned that, in the second the Court decided in care proceedings not to tell the grandparents of the child’s existence and the Court of Appeal upheld that, and in the third the Judge decided that the father should be told and the Court of Appeal upheld that. Three very different sets of facts and three different outcomes, but helpfully the Court of Appeal analyse all of the relevant law and distil from it the principles and good practice to be applied in such cases.

 

A, B And C (Adoption: Notification of Fathers And Relatives) [2020] EWCA Civ 41 (29 January 2020)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2020/41.html

 

The new bit of law in this case is the Court of Appeal decision that when DECIDING whether or not a father or relative should be notified, the child’s welfare IS NOT the Court’s paramount consideration (or the Local Authority’s when they are making the decision). The Court is not deciding whether the child should be adopted (when welfare IS paramount) but who should or should not be told.

 

 

 

82.As noted above, there is uncertainty about whether what I have described as the core principles (welfare paramountcy, the prejudicial effect of delay and the welfare checklists) apply directly to a decision about notifying a father or relatives about the existence of a child or of proceedings. In a sense, not much turns on this: child welfare, prompt decision-making and a comprehensive review of all relevant factors are central to the notification decision, regardless of whether they are directly mandated by statute. Nevertheless, decision-makers are entitled to know whether their decision should place child welfare above everything else or not, and a correct formulation of the principles reduces the risk of error in decisions at the margins.

 

 

83.In the light of the observations in Re C v XYZ County Council, it is not surprising that a number of the later first instance decisions recite that the core provisions are engaged, or that a number of the parties before us so submitted. However, after closer examination, I am satisfied that the decision about notification does not directly engage these provisions. My reasons are these:

 

 

 

  1. So far as the CA 1989 is concerned, the decision is not one “relating to the upbringing of a child”. It is a decision about who should be consulted about such a decision.

 

  1. The same applies to the ACA 2002. The decision for the local authority and the court is not one “relating to the adoption of a child”, but a decision about who should be consulted about such a decision.

 

  1. The terms of s.1(7) ACA 2002, which apply only to decisions by the court, do not lead to a different conclusion. The subsection is not without difficulty – see Re P (Adoption: Leave Provisions) [2007] EWCA Civ 616; [2007] 2 FLR 1069 at [19-24] – and I cite it again for convenience:

 

 

“In this section, “coming to a decision relating to the adoption of a child”, in relation to a court, includes—

 

 

(a) coming to a decision in any proceedings where the orders that might be made by the court include an adoption order (or the revocation of such an order), a placement order (or the revocation of such an order) or an order under section 26 or 51A (or the revocation or variation of such an order),

 

 

(b) coming to a decision about granting leave in respect of any action (other than the initiation of proceedings in any court) which may be taken by an adoption agency or individual under this Act,

 

 

but does not include coming to a decision about granting leave in any other circumstances.”

 

 

Although widely drafted, sub. (a) does not cover the paradigm situation where a Part 19 application has been made, nor is that an application for any form of leave as mentioned in sub. (b). And even if there are proceedings of the kind mentioned in sub. (a), it cannot properly be said that every case-management decision within those proceedings is one to which welfare paramountcy applies. Such decisions are more apt for the application of the over-riding objective in Part 1 of the FPR 2010, which requires the court to deal with cases justly, having regard to any welfare issues involved. In my view the correct interpretation of the expression “coming to a decision” in s.1(7) ACA 2002 means coming to a decision about the substance of the application, whether it be an adoption order, a placement order, or a contact order. It does not include coming to a decision about who should and should not be informed of the existence of the child or of the proceedings themselves.

 

  1. This conclusion is consistent with the established distinction between decisions that are welfare-paramount and those that are not. This is made explicit in the cases reviewed at paras. 48-50 above and the corresponding silence in the entire line of authority preceding Re C v XYZ County Council is equally significant. To take one example, the decision of the House of Lords in Re D [1996] about withholding material in confidential reports did not refer at all to the equivalent provision to s.1 ACA 2002 in the Adoption Act 1976 (which by s.6 placed a duty on the court and the local authority to give first consideration to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child). Likewise, in Re X [2002] this court determined the issue of whether the parents should be told that the foster parents were adopting the children by striking a balance between the competing interests, not by prioritising child welfare. This approach continued after the enactment of the ACA 2002, as can be seen in the comprehensive survey of the law conducted by Munby J in Re L [2007], which makes no reference to s.1 of the Act, to welfare-paramountcy or to the welfare checklist.

 

  1. Re C v XYZ County Council, while plainly correctly decided, is not binding authority on this issue, for the reasons I have given above.

 

  1. The later decision of this court in Re A [2011] does not support a welfare-paramountcy test.

 

  1. Lastly, there is no reported decision of which I am aware in which the outcome has been dictated by the court finding that the welfare of the child trumps all other considerations; instead, there is an unbroken body of case law in which the outcome has been determined by a balancing of the rights and interests of all the individuals concerned.

84.For these reasons I conclude that while child welfare, prompt decision-making and a comprehensive review of every relevant factor, including those mentioned in the checklists, are all central to the notification decision, the decision is not one that is formally governed by the provisions of s.1 of the CA 1989 or of the ACA 2002 and the welfare of the child is not the paramount consideration of the local authority and the court in this context.

 

The Court of Appeal quote with approval the joint ACDS /CAFCASS procedure in relation to relinquished children. You can find that in a drop down menu here, https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/about-cafcass/policies/ but thankfully the Court of Appeal set out the key aspects

 

Urgency and thoroughness of procedure

86.A local authority, faced with a baby that may require adoption, either because a mother wishes to relinquish the baby for adoption or because there are proceedings with a plan for adoption, will be acutely aware of the need for a speedy decision. Where the mother requests confidentiality, it will need to decide at a very early stage whether an application to court should be made to determine whether or not the putative father or relatives should be informed and consulted. There will be cases where, applying the principles summarised in this judgment, the local authority can be very clear that no application is required and planning for placement on the basis of the mother’s consent can proceed. But in any case that is less clear-cut, an application should be issued so that problems concerning the lack of notification do not arise when adoption proceedings are later issued. In relation to a putative father, that application will be under Part 19 unless issues of significant harm have made it necessary to issue proceedings for a care or placement order; I would suggest that an equivalent application under the inherent jurisdiction can be made where a local authority has doubts about notification of a close relative.

 

 

87.I have referred already to the Cafcass/ADCS protocol, which has been taken up by a number of local authorities. In the proceedings before us, which involved three local authorities, the parties collectively filed an agreed statement of the steps that will need to be taken by the local authority in cases such as these. It is not for this court to determine local authority procedures but I record the parties’ agreement for the help that it may give to those facing these situations.

“1. A local authority should take these steps as soon as it is notified that a mother, or mother and father, are expressing a wish that an infant is placed for adoption without notification to either the child’s father or extended family:

 

(i) The local authority files should be checked for background information about the mother and extended family and for contacts with other relevant agencies, such as health and police.

(ii) The allocated social worker, ideally accompanied by an adoption worker, should undertake at least one visit but preferably a series of visits to the mother, or mother and father, if she/they are willing, to discuss:-

◦The decision to place the child for adoption.

◦The reasons for not notifying the child’s father, or extended family, where possible gathering details about the father’s background and that of the family.

◦The mother’s background and information about her family.

◦Any cultural issues and how they have affected the decision made by the mother, or mother and father.

◦The implications of adoption for the child

◦The legal process required to achieve adoption

◦Other possible options for the care of the child

◦The adoption counselling service and how to access it

◦Whether the mother, or mother and father, require any other form of support and how that might be achieved

No assurance should be offered to a parent during the social work visit/s that notice of the birth of the child will be withheld from the father and/or extended family members.

 

(iii) The mother, or mother and father, must be provided with written information, where available, about the process and adoption counselling services.

 

(iv) Where the father is identified, the local authority should check its records for any background information known about him.

 

(v) The placement team must be informed immediately and it should begin the process of finding a suitable placement, preferably with ‘foster for adoption’ / early permanence carers.

(vi) CAFCASS must be informed as soon as the local authority is notified so that it can allocate a worker to the case for the purpose of meeting with the mother, or mother and father, to discuss and where appropriate take consent for adoption.

 

 

 

  1. The local authority should critically examine all information that it receives and, in circumstances where the mother states the identity of the father is unknown to her, the local authority should carefully consider her statement and her explanation to consider whether there is any basis for considering that the statement might be false. If the local authority does form that view, it should consider if there is any reasonable way by which the identity of the birth father could be established.

 

 

 

  1. The social worker should, as a matter of urgency, seek legal advice to ascertain whether the matter should be placed before the court in all cases where:

(i) the mother opposes notification to the father, if identified;

(ii) the mother knows the identity of the father but is unwilling to disclose this information;

(iii) the local authority has reason to doubt the reliability of the mother’s claim that the identity of the father is unknown, or

(iv) the mother is opposed to any notification to her family or the father’s family.

 

  1. The legal advisors will need to consider and advise as a matter of urgency whether a Part 19 application or other proceedings should be issued.

 

 

 

  1. If a decision is made that a Part 19 application is not required, the local authority should immediately notify CAFCASS, and provide detailed reasons for that decision, to allow CAFCASS to consider this information prior to meeting with the mother, or mother and father, when discussing consent under section 19 or for any later adoption application.

 

 

 

  1. As non-means/non-merits tested public funding is unavailable to parents for a Part 19 application (and emergency funding may be difficult to access on an emergency basis even if merits and means tests are met), a local authority should provide the mother, or mother an father, with advice concerning access to independent legal advice and how that might be obtained and funded (including by the local authority considering the funding of such advice). A list of specialist solicitors available in the area should be provided.

 

 

 

  1. Where an application is to be made, the social worker should prepare a detailed statement setting out the information gathered and providing the local authority’s position regarding the wish of the mother, or mother and father, to relinquish the child without notifying the father and/or extended family members.”

88.In cases where an application to the court is issued, the court should be equally alert to the need for urgency, bearing in mind that time has already passed in preparation for the application and the hearing. The following matters will require attention:

 

 

 

  1. Identity of judge: If the application is under Part 19, it must be heard in the High Court and appropriate listing arrangements must be made. Upon issue, the application should immediately be referred to the DFJ for consultation with the FDLJ as to whether the application should be allocated to a High Court Judge or a section 9 Deputy High Court judge.

 

  1. Identity of parties: (a) It is not mandatory for a respondent to be named in the application, although it will usually be appropriate for the mother to be identified as a respondent; (b) directions should be given on issue joining the child as a party and appointing a CAFCASS officer to act as Children’s Guardian in the application; (c) neither a father (with or without parental responsibility) nor members of the wider maternal/paternal family are to be served with or notified of the application or provided with any of the evidence filed in support of an application.

 

  1. Case management: The application should be listed for an urgent CMH, ideally attended by the CAFCASS officer. At the hearing, consideration should be given to the need for any further evidence, the filing of the Guardian’s analysis and recommendations, the filing of written submissions and the fixing of an early date for the court to make a decision.

 

  1. Receiving the mother’s account: It is a matter for the court as to whether it should require written or oral evidence from the mother. Given the importance of the issue, the court will normally be assisted by a statement from the mother, whether or not she gives oral evidence, rather than relying entirely upon evidence from the local authority at second hand.

 

  1. The listing of the hearing of the application should allow time for whatever evidence and argument may be necessary, and for a reasoned judgment to be given. Even allowing for the pressure on court lists, these decisions require prioritisation.

 

 

The Court of Appeal then helpfully summarised the law as derived from their very careful analysis of the relevant authorities

 

89.The principles governing decisions (by local authorities as adoption agencies or by the court) as to whether a putative father or a relative should be informed of the existence of a child who might be adopted can be summarised in this way.

 

 

 

  1. The law allows for ‘fast-track’ adoption with the consent of all those with parental responsibility, so in some cases the mother alone. Where she opposes notification being given to the child’s father or relatives her right to respect for her private life is engaged and can only be infringed where it is necessary to do so to protect the interests of others.

 

  1. The profound importance of the adoption decision for the child and potentially for other family members is clearly capable of supplying a justification for overriding the mother’s request. Whether it does so will depend upon the individual circumstances of the case.

 

  1. The decision should be prioritised and the process characterised by urgency and thoroughness.

 

  1. The decision-maker’s first task is to establish the facts as clearly as possible, mindful of the often limited and one-sided nature of the information available. The confidential relinquishment of a child for adoption is an unusual event and the reasons for it must be respectfully scrutinised so that the interests of others are protected. In fairness to those other individuals, the account that is given by the person seeking confidentiality cannot be taken at face value. All information that can be discovered without compromising confidentiality should therefore be gathered and a first-hand account from the person seeking confidentiality will normally be sought. The investigation should enable broad conclusions to be drawn about the relative weight to be given to the factors that must inform the decision.

 

  1. Once the facts have been investigated the task is to strike a fair balance between the various interests involved. The welfare of the child is an important factor but it is not the paramount consideration.

 

  1. There is no single test for distinguishing between cases in which notification should and should not be given but the case law shows that these factors will be relevant when reaching a decision:

 

 

(1) Parental responsibility. The fact that a father has parental responsibility by marriage or otherwise entitles him to give or withhold consent to adoption and gives him automatic party status in any proceedings that might lead to adoption. Compelling reasons are therefore required before the withholding of notification can be justified.

 

 

(2) Article 8 rights. Whether the father, married or unmarried, or the relative have an established or potential family life with the mother or the child, the right to a fair hearing is engaged and strong reasons are required before the withholding of notification can be justified.

 

 

(3) The substance of the relationships. Aside from the presence or absence of parental responsibility and of family life rights, an assessment must be made of the substance of the relationship between the parents, the circumstances of the conception, and the significance of relatives. The purpose is to ensure that those who are necessarily silent are given a notional voice so as to identify the possible strengths and weaknesses of any argument that they might make. Put another way, with what degree of objective justification might such a person complain if they later discovered they had been excluded from the decision? The answer will differ as between a father with whom the mother has had a fleeting encounter and one with whom she has had a substantial relationship, and as between members of the extended family who are close to the parents and those who are more distant.

 

 

(4) The likelihood of a family placement being a realistic alternative to adoption. This is of particular importance to the child’s lifelong welfare as it may determine whether or not adoption is necessary. An objective view, going beyond the say-so of the person seeking confidentiality, should be taken about whether a family member may or may not be a potential carer. Where a family placement is unlikely to be worth investigating or where notification may cause significant harm to those notified, this factor will speak in favour of maintaining confidentiality; anything less than that and it will point the other way.

 

 

(5) The physical, psychological or social impact on the mother or on others of notification being given. Where this would be severe, for example because of fear arising from rape or violence, or because of possible consequences such as ostracism or family breakdown, or because of significant mental health vulnerability, these must weigh heavily in the balancing exercise. On the other hand, excessive weight should not be given to short term difficulties and to less serious situations involving embarrassment or social unpleasantness, otherwise the mother’s wish would always prevail at the expense of other interests.

 

 

(6) Cultural and religious factors. The conception and concealed pregnancy may give rise to particular difficulties in some cultural and religious contexts. These may enhance the risks of notification, but they may also mean that the possibility of maintaining the birth tie through a family placement is of particular importance for the child.

 

 

(7) The availability and durability of the confidential information. Notification can only take place if there is someone to notify. In cases where a mother declines to identify a father she may face persuasion, if that is thought appropriate, but she cannot be coerced. In some cases the available information may mean that the father is identifiable, and maternal relatives may also be identifiable. The extent to which identifying information is pursued is a matter of judgement. Conversely, there will be cases where it is necessary to consider whether any confidentiality is likely to endure. In the modern world secrets are increasingly difficult to keep and the consequences, particularly for the child and any prospective adopters, of the child’s existence being concealed but becoming known to family members later on, sometimes as a result of disclosure by the person seeking confidentiality, should be borne in mind.

 

 

(8) The impact of delay. A decision to apply to court and thereafter any decision to notify will inevitably postpone to some extent the time when the child’s permanent placement can be confirmed. In most cases, the importance of the issues means that the delay cannot be a predominant factor. There may however be circumstances where delay would have particularly damaging consequences for the mother or for the child; for example, it would undoubtedly need to be taken into account if it would lead to the withdrawal of the child’s established carers or to the loss of an especially suitable adoptive placement.

 

 

(9) Any other relevant matters. The list of relevant factors is not closed. Mothers may have many reasons for wishing to maintain confidentiality and there may be a wide range of implications for the child, the father and for other relatives. All relevant matters must be considered.

 

  1. It has rightly been said that the maintenance of confidentiality is exceptional, and highly exceptional where a father has parental responsibility or where there is family life under Article 8. However exceptionality is not in itself a test or a short cut; rather it is a reflection of the fact that the profound significance of adoption for the child and considerations of fairness to others means that the balance will often fall in favour of notification. But the decision on whether confidentiality should be maintained can only be made by striking a fair balance between the factors that are present in the individual case.

 

Re B-S for Secure Accommodation BIG BIG BIG


 

 

It could easily be said that a big over-arching Court of Appeal analysis of Secure Accommodation has been long overdue, but it is here now. And just like B-S did (or did, then didn’t, but did but didn’t, depending on which subsequent Govt press release/Court of Appeal authority you read and when), this changes everything.

I’m sorry, this is LONG. The new test on secure is in large font or  para 98 of the decision http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/2025.html

 

If you represent LA’s who apply for secure orders, or represent parents whose children may be placed in secure, or guardians / children who are the subjects of such applications you NEED to READ this. The landscape changes completely.  There are brand new areas of proper challenge to the making of such orders, and they will be much more wide-ranging hearings than previously.

It is long, but read it.

To recap a bit for those who aren’t as invested as I am in the intricacies of Secure Accommodation, we’ve had three problems in this field and the law on this field.

 

  1. Is the making of a Secure Accommodation Order mandatory if the section 25 test is made out? The statute says so, but there are two different branches of authorities, one saying yes and one saying the other philosophy of the Act that the order must be better for the child than making no order still applies.
  2. To what extent is proportionality and necessity an issue? (Again, two different branches of authorities)
  3. Due to a massive shortage of spaces and beds, what are the circumstances in which it is okay to use inherent jurisdiction (magical sparkle powers TM) to make a non-approved secure unit look after a child and use the same sorts of powers as s25 offers?

And we can add now a fourth problem/ question that we didn’t know we had

 

4. Is secure binary? (i.e if the Court makes a secure accommodation order under s25, is it then up to the Unit to decide how to manage the child, or does the Court have a role in deciding what particular restrictions of liberty are authorised and which are not?)

 

The legal test for making a secure accommodation order is this:-

 

(a)that—

(i)he has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and

 

(ii)if he absconds, he is likely to suffer significant harm; or

 

(b)that if he is kept in any other description of accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons.

 

And the statute goes on to say :-

 

(3)It shall be the duty of a court hearing an application under this section to determine whether any relevant criteria for keeping a child in secure accommodation are satisfied in his case.

(4)If a court determines that any such criteria are satisfied, it shall make an order authorising the child to be kept in secure accommodation and specifying the maximum period for which he may be so kept.

 

So the Act says :- if the LA apply for a Secure Accommodation Order, the Courts job is to consider whether the factual basis for saying that the s25(1) criteria are made out and IF SO to MAKE the order (there isn’t a judicial discretion element there. That obviously troubles people post Human Rights Act, because welfare, proportionality and necessity have become the fundamental underpinning mechanisms of all Family Court decision-making since the HRA and the authorities that have arisen from it. Everyone thought in the late 90s that s25(4) was going to be declared incompatible with the HRA but it just didn’t happen. And instead we just saw some cases saying ‘it is manadatory if the s25(1) criteria is made out’ and some saying ‘I can take into account the child’s welfare and whether this is a proportionate way of managing the child’s welfare’

(An argument about proportionality is that the s25(1) criteria are in and of themselves a proportionality test – you can’t lock a child up unless that test (which gives the reasons why they would need to be locked up) is met. The counter argument to that is that whilst that means the Court have to lock up every young person who meets the test IF they are asked to make a s25 order, the LA have children who meet the test but they decide not to lock up and manage the risk in other ways – and why is that decision resting solely with a Local Authority and not with a Judge? Why can’t a Judge decide that Child A properly belongs in the group of children who are at serious risk but can be managed without locking them up?)

Given that the decision ultimately is whether a young person is going to live in a home with locked doors and controlled access to their movements, it is very important to know which route we are taking – the strict statute, or the HRA-informed proportionality.

 

I’ll come onto the facts of the case and the decision later (assuming I keep up my enthusiasm), but I’m going to deal with these four questions first.

B (Secure Accommodation Order), Re (Rev 1) [2019] EWCA Civ 2025 (21 November 2019)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/2025.html

 

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal frame four questions (wording them differently to my four)

2.The appeal raises four important and overlapping questions on the interpretation of s.25.

 

 

 

(1) What is the meaning of “secure accommodation” in s.25?

 

(2) What are the relevant criteria for making a secure accommodation order under s.25?

 

(3) What part does the evaluation of welfare play in the court’s decision?

 

(4) When considering an application for an order under s.25, is the court obliged, under Articles 5 and 8 of the ECHR, to carry out an evaluation of proportionality?

 

 

The Court of Appeal decisions follow:-

 

What is ‘secure accommodation’?

In my judgment, “secure accommodation” is accommodation designed for, or having as its primary purpose, the restriction of liberty. As Wall J acknowledged, however, premises which are not designed as secure accommodation may become secure accommodation because of the use to which they are put in the particular circumstances of the individual case.

 

 

60.Unlike Re D, the present appeal does require the court to interpret the section with reference to a “real factual situation”. As Lady Black recognised, however, training the spotlight on the accommodation does not provide a complete answer to the question. She acknowledged that, while some types of secure accommodation will be readily recognisable as such, others will not. In some cases, it will not be easy to say whether the accommodation is or is not “secure”.

 

(oh good)

 

Is the child’s welfare paramount? (short answer NO)

 

68.The decision in Re M clearly establishes that the paramountcy principle in s.1 of the Children Act does not apply to applications under s.25. It has been followed by all courts hearing applications under the section and is binding on this court. There is, however, less clarity as to the extent of the evaluation of welfare which the court is required to carry out. There is a small but perceptible difference between the view expressed by Butler Sloss LJ and that of Hoffmann LJ. Both agreed that the court must apply the same criteria as the local authority and that the relevant criteria include welfare. Butler-Sloss LJ considered that the distinction between a reviewing power and a general duty to consider welfare was “a matter of words” but that “the court has the specific duty to determine whether any relevant criteria are satisfied” and that, in performing that duty, welfare is “of great importance”. Hoffmann LJ, however, thought that function of the court under s 25 is “merely to control the exercise of power by the local authority rather than to exercise an independent jurisdiction in the best interests of the child”.

 

 

69.Some might consider this to be a distinction without a difference. It should be noted that the third judge in the constitution, Sir Tasker Watkins, agreed with both judgments. In my view, however, there is a difference of approach in the two judgments. It is therefore unsurprising that in subsequent cases, courts have sometimes struggled with the issue of how to deal with cases where they perceive that, whilst the conditions in s.25(1) are satisfied, the placement proposed by the local authority would be contrary to the child’s overall welfare.

 

[By the time you get to the bottom of this, you might well think that unless there’s a ‘protection of the public’ element to the case, the distinction between the child’s welfare ‘not being paramount’ and what is described below looking very much as though the child’s welfare is paramount is wafer-thin]

 

What role does welfare have in the decision?

72.In my judgment, the “displacement of the court’s welfare role” as required by the decision in Re M extends only to the displacement of the paramountcy principle. It does not require the court to abdicate responsibility for evaluating impact of the proposed placement on the child’s welfare. On the contrary, as Butler-Sloss LJ said, the child’s welfare is plainly of great importance in deciding whether or not an order should be made. The local authority and the court must each consider whether the proposed placement would safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. In some cases, the child’s welfare needs will be served by a period in secure accommodation, particularly if supported by a comprehensive therapeutic programme. In other cases, the child’s welfare will not be promoted by such a placement. However, just as s.22(6) allows the local authority to exercise its powers in a way that does not promote the child’s welfare if necessary to protect the public, there may be cases where the court concludes that the child’s welfare needs are outweighed by the need to protect the public from serious harm. Welfare is therefore not paramount but is plainly an important element in the court’s analysis. It is one of the relevant criteria.

 

 

73.This interpretation of s.25 is fortified by the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force five years after Re M was decided in 1995

 

Proportionality – is it relevant ? (short answer, yes, the Court need to conduct an exercise before deciding whether or not to make a secure accommodation order)

 

 

 

 

88.In my judgment, an evaluation of proportionality must be carried out by the local authority before applying for an order under s.25 and by the court before granting such an order. Proportionality is one of the “relevant criteria” which must be satisfied before an order is made.

 

 

89.The ECHR, in particular Article 8, is part of the bedrock of the Children Act. As Baroness Hale observed in Re B [2013] UKSC 33, at paragraph 194:

 

 

 

“The Act itself makes no mention of proportionality, but it was framed with the developing jurisprudence under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights very much in mind. Once the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, not only the local authority, but also the courts as public authorities, came under a duty to act compatibly with the Convention rights.”

 

In exercising their duties and powers under s.25, local authorities and courts must comply with the ECHR and, in particular, Articles 5 and 8. Since the principle of proportionality is integral to Convention rights, it is incumbent on local authorities and courts not to apply for, or grant, orders under s.25 where, to adopt the phrase used by Lord Reed in the Bank Mellat case, the impact of the rights infringement is disproportionate to the likely benefit.

 

The 2014 statutory guidance refutes the well-established principle that secure accommodation is a last resort

 

 

“40. Restricting liberty of a child is a serious step that can only be taken if it is the most appropriate way of meeting the child’s assessed needs. A decision to place a child in secure accommodation should never be made because no other placement is available, because of inadequacies of staffing in a child’s current placement, or because the child is simply being a nuisance. Secure accommodation should never be used as a form of punishment.

 

  1. This does not mean, though, that restriction of liberty should only be considered as a ‘last resort’. Restricting the liberty of a child could offer a positive option. A decision to apply for an order under s25 of the Act should be made on the basis that this represents the best option to meet the particular needs of the child. The placement of a child in a secure children’s home should, wherever practicable, arise as part of the local authority’s overall plan for the child’s welfare.

 

The Court of Appeal say that the statutory guidance is WRONG

 

91.In these circumstances, it seems to me that the passage in the latest edition Guidance (quoted at paragraph 23 above), which refutes the proposition that restriction of liberty should only be considered as a last resort, is inconsistent with principle. To deprive a child of liberty in circumstances which were not a last resort would surely be disproportionate.

 

We have for a long time (prior to the 2014 guidance) had a weird divergence where LA’s were told that they could not ASK for secure accommodation unless it was a last resort, but the Courts were told they had to make the order if the criteria were met and were not required to find that it was a last resort. The Courts now DO have to make such a finding (implicit in para 91 above that in finding that secure is a proportionate order to make, such decision would be flawed in circumstances where secure was not the last resort)

 

 

 

Evaluation of welfare – Court must carry out an evaluation of how secure meets the child’s welfare needs before making an order – the evaluation CAN include the need to protect the public

 

The assessment of proportionality which the court is obliged to carry out as a public authority will inevitably involve an evaluation of welfare. In my judgment, this analysis applies equally to applications under s.25. Accordingly, the interpretation of s.25 proposed by Hoffman LJ in Re M – that the function of the court is to control the exercise of power by the local authority rather than to exercise an independent jurisdiction in the best interests of the child – and the approach suggested by Charles J in S v Knowlsey – that the court should assess welfare issues under s.25 on the basis that the local authority is the decision maker – are, in my view, incompatible with the court’s duty under s.6 of the Human Rights Act. On an application under s.25, the court must carry out its own evaluation of whether the order would safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. The intensity of that evaluation will depend on the facts of each case. In most cases, it is unlikely to involve a wide-ranging inquiry. The question for the court is whether, in all the circumstances, including the need to protect the public, the proposed order would safeguard and promote the child’s welfare

 

 !!!!!!HERE COMES THE NEW S25 TEST !!!!!!

Relevant criteria revisited

98.Having analysed the roles played by welfare and proportionality in the decision-making process under s.25, I conclude that, in determining whether the “relevant criteria” under s.25(3) and (4) are satisfied, a court must ask the following questions.

 

 

 

(1) Is the child being “looked after” by a local authority, or, alternatively, does he or she fall within one of the other categories specified in regulation 7?

(2) Is the accommodation where the local authority proposes to place the child “secure accommodation”, i.e. is it designed for or have as its primary purpose the restriction of liberty?

 

(3) Is the court satisfied (a) that (i) the child has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation, and (ii) if he/she absconds, he/she is likely to suffer significant harm or (b) that if kept in any other description of accommodation, he/she is likely to injure himself or other persons?

(4) If the local authority is proposing to place the child in a secure children’s home in England, has the accommodation been approved by the Secretary of State for use as secure accommodation? If the local authority is proposing to place the child in a children’s home in Scotland, is the accommodation provided by a service which has been approved by the Scottish Ministers?

(5) Does the proposed order safeguard and promote the child’s welfare?

 

(6) Is the order proportionate, i.e. do the benefits of the proposed placement outweigh the infringement of rights?

!!!! TEST ENDS!!!!

(In the rare circumstances of the child being aged under 13, Regulation 4 of the 1991 Regulations require that the placement must also be approved by the Secretary of State.)

99.If the relevant criteria are satisfied, s.25(4) obliges the court to make an order under the section authorising the child to be kept in secure accommodation and specifying the maximum period for which he or she may be so kept. In its submissions to this court, the ALC was rightly anxious to preserve the use of what it called “imaginative arrangements” – the arrangements characterised by Hayden J in Re SS as “the creative alternative packages of support” – and was concerned they would be squeezed out by too wide a definition of “secure accommodation”. The recasting of the interpretation of the relevant criteria under s.25 suggested in this judgment preserves the flexible approach advocated by the ALC. If the court determining an application under s.25 is obliged to conduct an evaluation of welfare and an assessment of proportionality, and in doing so applies the principle that a secure accommodation order should always be a last resort, the court will be under an obligation to consider alternative arrangements

 

 

What is the Relevant Date?

This doesn’t come up very often (or didn’t). The Court of Appeal say  (para 100) that the relevant date for establishing whether the s25 criteria (bundling up now proportionality and welfare evaluation including alternative arrangements) is met is the date of the application.

That inevitably means that where the child is in Secure (and has been for a period of months rather than 72 hours) as a result of a previous order, the evaluation of whether the s25 criteria is met is on the date of the application – the history will come into play, but the current position is huge.

 

Inherent jurisdiction – yes, with a pretty huge but

 

101.S.25 does not cover all circumstances in which it may be necessary to deprive a child of their liberty. As Lady Black observed in Re D, at paragraph 100:

 

 

 

“The children who require help will present with all sorts of different problems, and there will be those whose care needs cannot be met unless their liberty is restricted in some way. But by no means all of these children will fall within the criteria set out in section 25(1)(a) and (b), which are the gateway to the authorisation of secure accommodation. It seems unlikely that the legislation was intended to operate in such a way as to prevent a local authority from providing such a child with the care that he or she needs, but an unduly wide interpretation of “secure accommodation” would potentially have this effect. It is possible to imagine a child who has no history, so far, of absconding, and who is not likely actually to injure himself or anyone else, so does not satisfy section 25(1)(a) or (b), but who, for other good reasons to do with his own welfare, needs to be kept in confined circumstances.”

 

It is well established that a judge exercising the inherent jurisdiction of the court with respect to children has power to direct that the child be detained in circumstances that amounts to a deprivation of liberty. Where the local authority cannot apply under s.25 because one or more of the relevant criteria are not satisfied, it may be able to apply for leave to apply for an order depriving the child of liberty under the inherent jurisdiction if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if the order is not granted: s.100(4) Children Act. As I have already noted, the use of the inherent jurisdiction for such a purpose has recently been approved by this court in Re T (A Child) (ALC Intervening) [2018] EWCA Civ 2136. In Re A-F (Children) (Restrictions on Liberty) [2018] EWHC 138 (Fam), Sir James Munby P, in a series of test cases, set out the principles to be applied. It is unnecessary for the purposes of this appeal to revisit those principles in this judgment. Last week, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, published guidance, focusing in particular on the placement under the inherent jurisdiction of children in unregistered children’s homes in England and unregistered care home services in Wales.

102.Where, however, the local authority applies under s.25 and all the relevant criteria for keeping a child in “secure accommodation” under the section are satisfied, the court is required, by s.25(4), to make an order under that section authorising the child to be kept in such accommodation. To exercise the inherent jurisdiction in such circumstances would cut across the statutory scheme

 

(To make this clear – a Court cannot on an application under s25 where there is no bed, use inherent jurisdiction to place the child in a unit which is not approved as a Secure Unit and authorise restriction of liberty. They can do this if there isn’t a s25 application OR if they find the s25 criteria are not met but somehow it is still proportionate to restrict the child’s liberty – I can’t at the moment conceive of such a scenario but it is out there as a possibility)

 

 

Is secure binary? I don’t know, but… maybe not?

 

It is really a question of whether the proportionality and welfare evaluation is limited to ‘there being restrictions’ or looking at the individual restrictions. I honestly don’t know. This is the paragraph that comes closest to it

 

120….when a local authority takes a decision about a child under section 25 there must be some proper measure of proportionality as between the purpose or objective behind the proposed deprivation and both (a) the very fact of deprivation (ie the decision to place the child in secure conditions in the first place) and (b) if such a decision is properly taken (ie is proportionate) the nature and degree/extent of the deprivation (ie the extent of the actual restrictions imposed upon the child in secure conditions).

 

The Court of Appeal also remind us that article 8 of the HRA applies to making a Secure Accommodation Order

117…both Articles 5 and 8 are capable of applying to the deprivation of liberty of a person, including of course a child. Indeed, whenever a person is deprived of liberty (thereby engaging Article 5) that executive act will almost inevitably engage that person’s private life rights under Article 8. When an authority deprives someone of their liberty private life is by its nature curtailed. Lady Hale in Re D (A Child) [2019] UKSC 42 (Re D) at paragraph [3] made a similar point about the combined effect of Articles 5 and 8 as they applied to the rights of a child and those of parents.

 

 

I said that I’d quickly run through the facts of the appeal – basically a LA made a s25 application, there was no bed so the child was placed at a non-Secure unit (named “N”) and restrictions to the child’s liberty were authorised under inherent jurisdiction. The LA when a secure unit was found, applied for a s25 order to move the child from “N” to that unit. The Judge found that the test wasn’t met, because it was limb s25(1) (b) that if he is kept in any other description of accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons.    And the Judge considered that the child could be kept in N, which wasn’t secure accommodation, and so didn’t meet the test. And then went on to decide that it wasn’t in the child’s interests to be moved.

 

The Court of Appeal say that the Judge was wrong in deciding that N wasn’t secure accommodation (for reasons explained many pages ago) and that thus the criteria were made out. The Judge would have been entitled to decide that moving the child from N to another unit was not in the child’s interests but the Judge had not carried out the proportionality and welfare evaluation (that the Court of Appeal only just decided was necessary, so that’s harsh) to make that decision.

“And all the pieces matter…”

 

 

 

This is a Court of Appeal case where a Judge having heard a 3 day hearing about an alleged fracture to a 3 year old’s arm ended up giving an oral judgment at 4.30 pm on the third day, that lasted until 6.45pm.

S (A Child: Adequacy of Reasoning), Re [2019] EWCA Civ 1845 (31 October 2019)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/1845.html

 

(By the way, the Court of Appeal don’t title a case “Adequacy of Reasoning” and then conclude ‘yes, it was perfectly adequate’…)

 

The judgment did not explain the reasoning for the judicial findings and was sent back for re-hearing.

 

As the Court of Appeal say in the judgment

 

34.I would accept the submission that the judgment contains within it evidence that could have been gathered up and assembled to justify the findings contained in the judge’s clarification at [89]. I would also accept that a judgment must be read as a whole and a judge’s explicit reasoning can be fortified by material to be found elsewhere in a judgment. It is permissible to fill in pieces of the jigsaw when it is clear what they are and where the judge would have put them. It is another thing for this court to have to do the entire puzzle itself. In my view, there is so little reasoning underpinning the judge’s conclusions that we would have to do this in order to uphold her decision, and if we were to attempt it there is no knowing whether we would arrive at the same conclusion.

 

Thus giving me the opportunity to make a Lester Freamon Wire reference in the title, yay.

 

The Court were sympathetic to the pressures on the Judge

 

 

 

 

2.As we told the parties at the end of the hearing, this appeal must be allowed. In reaching that decision, we do not overlook the reality. Judges are encouraged to give extempore judgments where possible and appeals will not succeed simply because matters might be better expressed with the luxury of extra hours of preparation or because judgments may contain imperfections. What matters is that the parties know the outcome and the reasons for it. Where the essential evidence has been considered and the decision has been adequately justified, that will do. In this case however, it did not happen. Despite the judge’s efforts, the parties were at the end of the judgment unsure what she had decided about the two main issues in the case. Clarification was sought. It to some extent makes the judge’s intentions clearer but too many actual or arguable inconsistencies remain and important conclusions are inadequately explained. There will regrettably have to be a rehearing.

 

The Court of Appeal give Judges in a similar position an out

 

The questions that the judge therefore had to ask were these[1]:

 

 

 

 

(1) Had the local authority proved that the injuries were inflicted as opposed to being accidental?

 

(2) If the injuries were inflicted, who had the opportunity to cause them?

 

(3) Of those people, could one person be identified on the balance of probabilities as having inflicted the injuries (a conventional ‘known perpetrator’ finding)?

 

(4) If only two people (the mother and Mr C) could have caused the injuries, but the one responsible could not be identified it necessarily followed that there was a real possibility that each of them may have caused the injuries (an ‘uncertain perpetrator’ finding).

 

(5) Once these questions had been answered, had it been proved that the mother had failed to protect S from being injured or covered up what she knew about how he was injured?

4.Unfortunately the judge did not approach matters in this way.[2] Once she had decided to give the parties her decision that day, it would have been better if, rather than delivering a 30 page judgment under time pressure, she had simply set out and answered the necessary questions and given her essential reasons in a few additional lines. This is in any event a useful discipline, particularly where a party is unrepresented. Everyone knows exactly what has been decided and why. The full decision could follow, either then or at a later date.

 

It seems from my reading that it was fairly clear to see that the Judge thought the fracture was deliberately caused, and that the mother’s partner had been less than frank in his evidence and account, but having said that the Judge thought it was likely that the child was injured in the care of mother’s partner, Mr C, the Judge doesn’t really explain how she went on to find that she could not identify a perpetrator and found that it was either mum or Mr C.  Which explains why the mother appealed.

 

32.In Re N-S (Children) [2017] EWCA Civ 1121, McFarlane LJ said this:

 

 

 

“30. The need for a judge to provide an adequate explanation of his or her analysis and the reasoning that supports the order that is to be made at the conclusion of a case relating to children is well established. Not only is the presentation of adequate reasoning of immediate importance to the adult parties in the proceedings (in particular the party who has failed to persuade the judge to follow an alternative course), it is also likely to be important for those professionals and others judges who may have to rely upon and implement the decision in due course and it may be a source of valuable information and insight for the child and his or her carers in the years ahead. In addition, of course, inadequate reasoning is a serious impediment to any consideration of the merits of the judge’s decision within the appellate process.”

 

An important point arises that the Court of Appeal asked for a transcript of the hearing but that

the court tape was such poor quality that none of the evidence or judgment (except the evidence of Dr Watt, given by video link) could be transcribed.[3] The advocates agreed a note of judgment which was amended by the judge and handed down electronically on 12 June 2019.

Ladds ladds ladds

 

The Court of Appeal give guidance on how to challenge findings of fact made where the ground to do so is as a result of fresh evidence.

 

Re E (Children :Reopening findings of fact) 2019

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/1447.html

I’ll dash through the facts of the case.  Child aged 10 months found to have 3 cigarette burns on her arm, variety of explanations given, rejected by expert in care proceedings, Court made findings of inflicted injury. Care Orders were made in relation to that child and two older siblings.   At  later criminal proceedings of mother, a medical expert accepted mother’s explanation of an accident and the criminal case was dropped.

 

Those representing the mother considered this to be fresh evidence, capable of satisfying the Ladd v Marshall guidance

  1. Ladd v Marshall [1954] 1 WLR 1489 remains powerful persuasive authority: see Sharab v Al-Saud [2009] EWCA Civ 353 and generally the discussion in the White Book 2019 at 52.21.3.
  2. Ladd v Marshall familiarly provides that:
        1. “In order to justify the reception of fresh evidence or a new trial, three conditions must be fulfilled: first, it must be shown that the evidence could not have been obtained with reasonable diligence for use at the trial: second, the evidence must be such that, if given, it would probably have an important influence on the result of the case, though it need not be decisive: thirdly, the evidence must be such as is presumably to be believed, or in other words, it must be apparently credible, though it need not be incontrovertible.”
  3. The durability of Ladd v Marshall shows that it encompasses most factors relevant to applications that are likely to arise in practice but as Hale LJ noted in Hertfordshire Investments Ltd. v Bubb [2000] EWCA Civ 3013 [37] the criteria are not rules but principles to be looked at with considerable care.

 

 

There has previously been judicial discussion as to whether the Ladd v Marshall provisions should be more generously interpreted in family cases, and the Court of Appeal clarify this

 

  1. It has been said that the Ladd v Marshall analysis is generally accepted as being less strictly applied in cases relating to children: Webster v Norfolk County Council [2009] EWCA Civ 59 per Wall LJ at [135]. At [138] he continued:
        1. “The rationale for the relaxation of the rule in children’s cases is explained by Waite LJ in Re S (Discharge of Care Order) [1995] 2 FLR 639 at 646, where he says:-

The willingness of the family jurisdiction to relax (at the appellate stage) the constraints of Ladd v Marshall upon the admission of new evidence, does not originate from laxity or benevolence but from recognition that where children are concerned there is liable to be an infinite variety of circumstances whose proper consideration in the best interests of the child is not to be trammelled by the arbitrary imposition of procedural rules. That is a policy whose sole purpose, however, is to preserve flexibility to deal with unusual circumstances. In the general run of cases the family courts (including the Court of Appeal when it is dealing with applications in the family jurisdiction) will be every bit as alert as courts in other jurisdictions to see to it that no one is allowed to litigate afresh issues that have already been determined.”

  1. In Re G (to which I have already referred) Macur LJ made this observation about Webster:
        1. 16. For myself, I doubt that this obiter dicta should be interpreted so liberally as to influence an appellate court to adopt a less rigorous investigation into the circumstances of fresh evidence in ‘children’s cases’. The overriding objective of the CPR does not incorporate the necessity to have regard to “any welfare issues involved”, unlike FPR 1.1, but the principle and benefits of finality of decisions involving a child reached after due judicial process equally accords with his/her best interests as it does any other party to litigation and is not to be disturbed lightly. That said, I recognise that it will inevitably be the case that when considering outcomes concerning the welfare of children and the possible draconian consequences of decisions taken on their behalf, a court may be more readily persuaded to exercise its discretion in favour of admitting new materials in finely balanced circumstances.”
  2. A decision whether to admit further evidence on appeal will therefore be directed by the Ladd v Marshall analysis, but with a view to all relevant matters ultimately being considered. In cases involving children, the importance of welfare decisions being based on sound factual findings will inevitably be a relevant matter. Approaching matters in this way involves proper flexibility, not laxity.

 

 

Those representing the mother believed, reasonably, that the only route open was an appeal

When pursuing the route of an appeal out of time, those then advising the mother believed that it was the only course open to her. That belief was understandable, being based upon a statement now in the Red Book 2019 at p.2247 that the first instance court has no jurisdiction to re-open findings of fact once an order is sealed, a statement that reflects obiter observations made by this court in Re G (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 1365,

 

The Court of Appeal were looking, however, as to whether an alternative route of inviting the Court who made the findings to revisit them in the light of fresh evidence was available.

 

I think most of us believed that once the order was sealed, the Court was done, and it would have to be an appeal.

 

A case I wrote about years ago suggested this (it is the one where the Judge originally gave a judgment finding one parent responsible for the injuries but before the order was typed up and sealed changed her mind and found the other responsible.  This was permissible as long as the order were not sealed.  Permissable procedurally in any event, there are obvious appeal points about the forensic process.

 

  1. The case referred to (Re L and B) was an unusual one. A trial judge had given a short preliminary judgment at the end of a fact-finding hearing, determining that the father was the perpetrator of injuries to the child. A request for clarification was made and two months later a ‘perfected’ judgment was provided in which the judge stated that both parents may have been the perpetrator. The Supreme Court held that on the facts of that case the judge had been entitled to change her mind as the order in that case had not been sealed. These are the paragraphs referred to in Re G:
        1. “16. It has long been the law that a judge is entitled to reverse his decision at any time before his order is drawn up and perfected.

19. Thus there is jurisdiction to change one’s mind up until the order is drawn up and perfected. Under the Civil Procedure Rules (rule 40.2(2)(b)), an order is now perfected by being sealed by the court. There is no jurisdiction to change one’s mind thereafter unless the court has an express power to vary its own previous order. The proper route of challenge is by appeal.

42. Mr Geekie, on behalf of the mother, also argued that the sealing of the order could not invariably be the cut-off point. If a judge is asked, in accordance with the guidance given in English v Emery Reimbold & Strick Ltd (Practice Note) [2002] EWCA Civ 605 [2002] 1 WLR 2409, as applied to family cases in In re A [2012] 1 WLR 595, to elaborate his reasoning and in doing so realises that his original decision was wrong, should he not, as part of that process, be entitled or even required to say so? The answer to this point may very well be that the judge should indeed have the courage to admit to the Court of Appeal that he has changed his mind, but that is not the same as changing his order. That is a matter for the Court of Appeal. One argument for allowing a judicial change of mind in care cases is to avoid the delay inevitably involved if an appeal is the only way to correct what the judge believes to be an error.”

  1. These paragraphs are therefore particularly concerned with the circumstances in which a judge may or may not change his or her mind. They are not addressed to a situation in which the court is being asked to take account of further evidence, although that clearly could be one reason for a change of mind

 

 

It was clear in this case that the Care Orders had been made, and thus the orders sealed, so appeal seemed to be the only route to looking at the findings again in the light of the medical evidence obtained in the criminal proceedings.

 

BUT

  1. 40… more fundamentally, the statutory landscape had changed with the establishment of the family court. The court came into existence on 22 April 2014 by virtue of Part 4A of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. This includes section 31F (‘Proceedings and Decisions’), comprising nine subsections of which two are relevant:
      1. “…

(3) Every judgment and order of the family court is, except as provided by this or any other Act or by rules of court, final and conclusive between the parties.

(6) The family court has power to vary, suspend, rescind or revive any order made by it, including—

(a) power to rescind an order and re-list the application on which it was made,

(b) power to replace an order which for any reason appears to be invalid by another which the court has power to make, and

(c) power to vary an order with effect from when it was originally made.

…”

  1. In my judgment, s. 31F(6) gives the family court (but not the High Court) the power to reconsider findings of fact made within the same set of proceedings or at any time thereafter. While a finding of fact is not in a strict sense “an order”, it can comprise the determination of an issue that is crucial to the disposal of the proceedings and is susceptible to appeal: Re B (Split Hearing: Jurisdiction) [2000] 1 FLR 334 per Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P at 336-337. Such a finding of fact is integral to the order on which it is based and accordingly comes within the scope and purpose of the section.
  2. My further assessment that s. 31F(6) continues to apply after the end of the individual set of proceedings is based firstly on the fact that the words of the section are not expressed to be limited in duration, but secondly and more fundamentally on the intrinsic nature of family proceedings. As I said at the outset, findings of fact can have longstanding consequences for children and families. Their effect is not only felt in the moment they are made, but persists over time. There is therefore no reason to limit the time within which the court can exercise its power to correct a flawed finding of fact that may have continuing legal or practical consequences.

 

Obviously if the original Judge does not do so, the route for an aggrieved parent then is appeal, but this opens the door to the original Judge being asked to reconsider as an alternative to an appeal.

 

  1. Having established that the family court has jurisdiction to review its findings of fact, the next question concerns the proper approach to the task. As with the approach of an appeal court to the admission of further evidence, the family court will give particular weight to the importance of getting it right for the sake of the child. As was said in Re L and B at [41]:
        1. “In this respect, children cases may be different from other civil proceedings, because the consequences are so momentous for the child and for the whole family. Once made, a care order is indeed final unless and until it is discharged. When making the order, the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount consideration. The court has to get it right for the child. This is greatly helped if the judge is able to make findings as to who was responsible for any injuries which the child has suffered. It would be difficult for any judge to get his final decision right for the child, if, after careful reflection, he was no longer satisfied that his earlier findings of fact were correct.”
  2. The test to be applied to applications for reopening has been established in a series of cases: Birmingham City Council v H (No. 1) [2005] EWHC 2885 (Fam) (Charles J); Birmingham City Council v H (No. 2) [2006] EWHC 3062 (Fam) (McFarlane J); and Re ZZ [2014] EWFC 9 (Sir James Munby P).
  3. These decisions establish that there are three stages. Firstly, the court considers whether it will permit any reconsideration of the earlier finding. If it is willing to do so, the second stage determines the extent of the investigations and evidence that will be considered, while the third stage is the hearing of the review itself.
  4. In relation to the first stage, these decisions affirm the approach set out in Re B (see para. 28 above). That approach is now well understood and there is no reason to change it. A court faced with an application to reopen a previous finding of fact should approach matters in this way:
    1. (1) It should remind itself at the outset that the context for its decision is a balancing of important considerations of public policy favouring finality in litigation on the one hand and soundly-based welfare decisions on the other.

(2) It should weigh up all relevant matters. These will include: the need to put scarce resources to good use; the effect of delay on the child; the importance of establishing the truth; the nature and significance of the findings themselves; and the quality and relevance of the further evidence.

(3) “Above all, the court is bound to want to consider whether there is any reason to think that a rehearing of the issue will result in any different finding from that in the earlier trial.” There must be solid grounds for believing that the earlier findings require revisiting.

  1. I would also draw attention to the observations of Cobb J in Re AD & AM (Fact Finding Hearing: Application for Rehearing) [2016] EWHC 326 (Fam) about the care that must be taken when assessing the significance of further medical opinions at the first stage (para. 71) and as an example of the need to control the identification of issues and gathering of evidence at the second stage (paras. 86-89).
  2. Pausing at this point to compare the hurdles facing an applicant to the trial court and an applicant to this court, it can be seen that the processes are by their nature different. The gateway under CPR 52.21(2) and the Ladd v Marshall analysis concern the admissibility of evidence, while the first stage of an application for a review requires a consideration of the overall merits of the application. It cannot be ruled out that the different procedures might throw up different results in similar cases, but on the whole I think that this is unlikely. In both contexts, the balancing of the public interests is carried out with a strong inclination towards establishing the truth in cases where there is good reason for a reassessment, and as a result the outcomes will tend to converge.

 

The Court of Appeal note that there is presently a lacuna in that the Family Court can be asked to reconsider findings but not the High Court, and that this has been fixed in relation to ancillary relief by FPR 9.9a and that the Family Procedure Rules Committee may wish to consider doing the same for children cases in the High Court.