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Making Special Guardianship Order before child has lived with prospective carers

This Court of Appeal decision raises a number of interesting and important issues.

(It doesn’t have anything amusing in it or any 80s references, but you can’t have it all.  If you want, you can momentarily imagine that this is some litigation involving Barry Chuckle and Jimmy Krankie having a dispute as to who gets custody of a tiny hedgehog in a hat and that the key pieces of evidence involve (i) Jean Claude Van Damme doing the splits in the witness box (ii) how many ferrets Fred Dineage can pop down his trousers and (iii) the enduring mystery of exactly how much smack Zammo Maguire hoped to obtain by stealing and pawning Roland Browning’s alarm clock, thus making Roland late for an exam.  It  has none of this.  I remain on the lookout for such a case)

 

P-S (Children) [2018] EWCA Civ 1407 (18 June 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/1407.html

 

Essentially, the Court at first instance, was invited by the LA and the Guardian to make Special Guardianship Orders to grandparents for two children – S aged 2 and P aged 5. The parents were seeking the return of the children to their care – it had been a FDAC (Family Drug and Alcohol Court) case and the parents had withdrawn from that process – the judgment does not deal much with the parents case, as it was not the subject of the appeal.

 

[The parents had withdrawn from the Court process, thus at final hearing it was only the Local Authority and the Guardian playing an active part, both of whom supported the making of SGOs]

 

The Court declined to make Special Guardianship Orders, in part relying on a letter circulated by Keehan J to Judges on the Midlands Circuit to the effect that

“a special guardianship order should not be made, absent compelling and cogent reasons, until the child has lived for an appreciable period with the prospective special guardians.”

 

The Court instead made a full Care Order – in effect deciding that the Local Authority, in consultation with the grandparents, should decide the point at which the case should come back before the Court with an application for a Special Guardianship Order. That also, in effect, envisaged the Care Order being a short-term order, rather than the permanent or long-term order that it is commonly viewed as.

 

The Court of Appeal judgment deals with a number of issues :-

 

  1. The need for solid evidence-based research about whether SGOs being made before a trial placement are a beneficial or adverse approach
  2. The status of the guidance given by Keehan J – and the representations made to the effect that it was being followed by the Courts in the Midlands circuit as though it were binding upon them
  3. What role prospective Special Guardians should play in the Court process
  4. What approach the Court should take, where potential suitable carers come forward late in the process.

 

All of this is useful.

 

 

 

  1. There are three strands to the errors that all represented parties before this court identify in the family court’s decision: a) the lack of any adequate reasoning for making care orders rather than interim care orders or special guardianship orders, b) the reliance of the judge on informal guidance that was neither approved guidance nor peer reviewed research capable of being scrutinised or challenged by the parties and c) procedural unfairness. I shall take each in turn. The court is mindful of the fact that each of the represented parties before it (except S’s father) have taken the same position in respect of each issue and accordingly the court has tested with the interveners each of the propositions in respect of which they would otherwise have reached a consensus.

 

 

 

  1. The propositions about which there is a large measure of agreement are as follows:

 

 

 

 

  1. The judge was wrong to make care orders: no party who was present supported the making of the same and on the merits and in particular having regard to the un-contradicted special guardianship assessments, the care orders were disproportionate;

 

  1. b. The judge’s characterisation of the care orders that were made as ‘short term care orders’ was wrong in principle given that there is no statutory mechanism for the making of time limited care orders or orders that will be discharged on the happening of an event, including the expiration of time;

 

  1. The judge was wrong to rely upon the extra-judicial guidance of Keehan J to the effect that children should live with proposed special guardians for a period of time before a court entertains an application for an SGO;

 

  1. The judge was wrong not to make provision for effective access to justice for the grandparents by their joinder, the disclosure of documents to them, time for advice to be taken by them, the facility for them to take a proper part in the proceedings, an adjournment or otherwise.

 

  1. It is helpful to trace the judge’s reasoning by setting out how he came to his conclusion in his judgment. The following extracts are sufficient:

 

 

 

 

 

“1….It is not a case in which I must consider rival realistic options in terms of the children’s future placements. Instead, the main question for me to resolve is the appropriate legal order which should govern a placement with the children’s respective paternal grandparents……

 

 

7.…the local authority and the Guardian contend that the children’s placements should take place under special guardianship orders………During the trial it has largely been left to me to raise concerns as to whether special guardianship orders in favour of the two sets of grandparents would be premature…….

 

 

  1. In this case the children might be placed with the paternal grandparents under either a care order, a special guardianship order, or a child arrangements order. These are very different orders. A care order creates parental responsibility in the local authority which, under section 33(4) of the Act may be exercised by the local authority if they are “satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare”…….

 

 

  1. Section 14A provides for those who may make an application for a special guardianship order…….the grandparents come within the definition of those who may apply for a special guardianship order.

 

 

  1. There is also a power for a court to make a special guardianship order of the court’s own motion. That power is found at section 14A(6)(b).

 

 

  1. ……It suffices to say that during my time as designated family judge here at the Central Family Court I must have made upwards of 30 special guardianship orders. I have, however, yet to encounter an application for such an order. On every occasion I have been invited by the local authority, whether opposed by another party or unopposed, to make the order of my own motion. That is not just the default position, but it appears to be the universal practice amongst authorities who use this court centre. This is the largest family court centre in England…….My purely personal impression is that the practice has changed in recent times.

 

 

  1. Whilst I do not suggest that these children should be the subject of care orders for their minority, the real balance in the case is in my judgment between special guardianship orders now and care orders (although not interim orders). The care plan under such care orders would be that if all goes well, then applications for special guardianship orders should follow in due course. By the expression ‘in due course’ I mean ‘when the new placements are regarded as settled and working well for the children’. In this case that might perhaps be in about a year from now…….

 

 

  1. ……both sets of grandparents have been assessed in accordance with the Statute and the accompanying Regulations. The assessments are positive……

 

 

  1. My first concern is, however, that neither child is currently living with the proposed special guardians. During the course of argument, I mentioned that, last year, a letter had been written to interested parties by Keehan J, the Family Division Liaison Judge for the Midlands Circuit. It discussed the use of special guardianship orders. The view promulgated by Keehan J, as a result of a meeting with the chairs of the Circuit’s Local Family Justice Boards, was that “a special guardianship order should not be made, absent compelling and cogent reasons, until the child has lived for an appreciable period with the prospective special guardians.” Such guidance is not, of course, binding upon me but in passing I observe, with some deference, that it appears to amount to sound common sense……

 

 

  1. All this leads me to believe that someone has to be in charge of a process which oversees not just the move of the children to a new home, and their settling in, but also the implementation and progression of a closely controlled contact regime in circumstances where it is unclear what the parents’ reaction will be to the children’s move and equally unclear as to how they will handle time with the children in the very different circumstances which would apply……

 

 

  1. 30. The next matter which concerns me is the position of the grandparents – within these proceedings as well as towards the children. As I listened to the case being developed, I did so in the complete absence of the grandparents – of the proposed special guardians. They were not parties. They were not represented. They were not present. They were not intended to be witnesses. Had an application been made – properly sponsored by the local authority which after all is the prime mover in this change to the children’s lives – then the grandparents would have been parties, represented, present and witnesses……

 

 

31 ….I have had the conduct of this case since the IRH on 3 February 2017. I could then have (i) made the grandparents parties (although that would not necessarily have secured representation for them); (ii) asked them to file a statement; (iii) invited them to give evidence; (iv) encouraged a special guardianship application at that stage. I did not take any of these steps, nor was I invited to do so……In truth, however, with the exception of my concerns surrounding their lack of participation in the process, the grounds on which I propose to reject the local authority case for special guardianship orders would have remained whatever step had been taken at the IRH. I know a great deal about the grandparents. I am not making special guardianship orders, but it is not because I lack information about the proposed special guardians.

 

 

  1. I invited the grandparents into court before they spoke to the professionals (all of whom were of course advocating special guardianship) so that at least they could hear the guardian, the representatives and myself debating the issues as the guardian gave evidence. They spoke with professionals afterwards. The result of this exercise was that they confirmed their wish to be special guardians immediately and for the children not to be subject to care orders…….I remain concerned, however, as to the process here. I am not convinced that the grandparents have been sufficiently involved. It is stating the obvious to observe that the effect of making an application to a court is to involve the applicants closely in the process.

 

 

  1. A short-term care order meets many of the concerns expressed in the previous paragraphs…..It is common ground that the transfer of the children to the grandparents, which is happening as I write this judgment, will not be delayed for want of special guardianship orders, or by any further assessment process.

 

 

  1. ……There would remain untested placements.

 

 

  1. ……the Guardian…….emphasised that “there was enough of a relationship that it is not an impediment to a special guardianship order…….”

 

 

The Court of Appeal considered this carefully

 

 

 

16.It is evident that the judge recognised that the only realistic placement options that he had were with the paternal grandparents. His concern was the viability of those placements: not because they were unassessed but because they were untested in the specific context of the possible interference with them by the children’s mother and the father of S. It was in that context that on the merits the judge wanted to be assured that the control and parental responsibility which vests in special guardians would be sufficient to manage the relationship with the parents. The alternative was control and parental responsibility being vested in the local authority through care orders. The problem to be solved was whether the relationships and capabilities of the grandparents were strong enough or needed to be supported and tested before SGOs were made.

 

 

 

  1. The solution to the problem was in the choice of order: SGO, care order or interim care order and an adjournment. The route to the solution lay in an evaluation of the evidence including oral evidence from professional witnesses, the parents and the proposed carers i.e. the paternal grandparents. It is clear from the judgment and from a transcript of the judge’s discussions with the advocates during the hearing that the judge had the problem and the solutions in mind. What was missing was a route to the preferred solution. Having identified the problem and the range of solutions the judge did not go on to evaluate that evidence. That necessarily meant that the propositions advanced in the discussion and the conclusions reached in the judgment take the form of assumptions that were not reasoned and which are now challenged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. As I remarked at [16] and [17] it was the absence of any testing of the assumptions raised in discussion which created the problem with which this court now has to grapple. The judge was concerned about the relationship between the grandparents and each of the children in the context of continuing discord with the mother and the father of S. It is also right to note that it was not until the commencement of the appeal before this court that the special guardianship support plans were agreed between the local authority and the grandparents. The judge identified what were potentially adverse factors to balance against the positive factors in the special guardianship assessments which might lead to the conclusion that a trial placement of the children was required before vesting parental responsibility and control in the grandparents. That deserved more than a cursory analysis not least because the local authority and the children’s guardian had come to a clear and agreed contrary opinion on the basis of rigorous assessment material that apparently demonstrated that the positives outweighed the negatives.

 

 

 

  1. In order to test the assumptions the judge had described in his discussion with the advocates, he could have heard evidence about them and from that drawn conclusions. The judge records in his judgment that he heard some oral evidence but it is plain from his judgment that such evidence as there was either did not touch on the issues that he was raising or was unhelpful. That may be unsurprising given that the local authority and the children’s guardian disagreed with the judge and were agreed among themselves and also that no advocate was pursuing the issues the judge wanted to pursue. In that circumstance, as inquisitorial tribunals know, there must be an enhanced caution in a judge not to ‘simply’ rely on his or her own pre-conceptions or opinions and to ensure that as provisional conclusions are formed in judgment they are adequately tested so that they are soundly based on evidential conclusions.

 

 

 

  1. It would also have been legitimate, if properly reasoned, for the judge to conclude that he needed more evidence with the consequence that the time for the proceedings might need to have been extended. In order to come to either conclusion the judge needed to identify the risk that he sought to protect the children against and reason the options that were open to him on the evidence. He ought to have tested his own assumptions and the opinions of the professional witnesses in oral evidence and by hearing evidence from the paternal grandparents. He would have been assisted by evidence from the mother and the father of S but, as has sadly been the case more than once in these proceedings, they had absented themselves and the judge was left with a history from which only inferences could be drawn. Had the judge reasoned his concerns on the evidence he would have had a proper basis for conducting an evaluation of the benefits and detriments of each order that was available to him.

 

 

 

  1. In that context, it is not surprising that the judge’s evaluation of the merits of each option and the available orders was incomplete. The judge agreed with the parties that a child arrangements order was not in the interests of either child and he was right to do so on the merits. No-one pursues that option before this court. That left SGOs, full care orders and interim care orders with an adjournment.

 

 

 

  1. I agree with the paternal grandparents of S that if and in so far as the judge needed more time to ensure that the relationship of the grandparents with the child and the parents was such that it was in the interests of each child to make an SGO, that could, if reasoned, have been an appropriate basis upon which to adjourn the proceedings

 

 

 

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Is, Was and Ever Will Be

 

 

This is a Court of Appeal decision in relation to significant harm in care proceedings, where the harm was said to be emotional harm. And this is always a hot-button topic.

 

Re S & H-S Children 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/1282.html

 

It also deals with the grammatical weirdness that is in the Children Act at section 31, which we all tend to forget to an extent. The Act never talks about whether the child  ‘has suffered’ significant harm, although that’s the language that we all use.  Instead it says “Is suffering” and the law has subsequently developed to say that you are looking at the past, to when protective measures were taken as the relevant date.   (That was a solution derived because care proceedings were being issued where a child had suffered significant harm and then gone into foster care or been placed with a relative – so on the day of issue, it would be inaccurate to say that the child ‘is suffering’ significant harm. So we routinely use the present tense of the Act to talk about the past tense of the relevant date)

 

In these proceedings, they were initiated on the basis of allegations about the children being physically harmed by father, and the LA accepted freely that at the time the proceedings started, they had no intention of issuing proceedings in relation to mother’s care.  The allegations about father fell away – the Court found that he had physically chastised them, but left no marks, and that they had not suffered significant harm as a result of his chastisement and it was not over-chastisement.

However, within the proceedings, the assessments that took place highlighted emotional harm, and in particular the children’s poor attachment to their mother.  The Court found that the children had suffered emotional harm.

The appeal was brought on the following points

  1. The mother’s grounds for appeal represent a root and branch challenge to the judge’s conclusion with respect to the threshold criteria relating to the child L. In summary, the following points are made:
    1. a) The proceedings were commenced in response to allegations of physical harm to the older two children perpetrated by their father. Those allegations were, in the event, not found proved in the terms of the threshold. The stress of the proceedings, however, triggered a marked deterioration in the mother’s mental well-being to the extent that, by the end of the proceedings, she conceded that she could not at that time provide a home for any of the children. The judge is criticised for failing to distinguish between the mother’s presentation and her parenting prior to the relevant threshold date of 9th March 2015, and the compromised state that she descended into thereafter during the proceedings.

b) Evidence from social workers, community support workers and health visitors prior to 9 March, insofar as it mentioned the mother and L, was positive and gave no cause for concern.

c) It was conceded by the local authority that no social worker was contemplating issuing care proceedings with respect to the mother’s care of the children as at 9 March 2017.

d) The judge wrongly equated a perceived lack of attachment between the mother and L with the establishment of “significant harm”.

e) A failure to follow the guidance given by the Supreme Court in Re B to the effect that it is necessary for a judge to identify a precisely as possible the nature of the harm that L was suffering or likely to suffer as at 9 March 2017.

 

So you can see that timing is important. At the time proceedings were issued, one could not now say that the children ‘is suffering significant harm’ (I know, the tenses make me feel queasy too. I wish the Act just said ‘has suffered’ but it doesn’t.)  Any harm actually occurred within the proceedings. So the first limb isn’t met, and the LA would have to rely on the second limb, that there’s a likelihood of harm in the future.

 

The other bit I’m interested in is

d) The judge wrongly equated a perceived lack of attachment between the mother and L with the establishment of “significant harm”.

 

We hear a lot about attachment in care proceedings, and an awful lot of what we hear is misusing terminology and confusing quality of relationship or emotional closeness with attachment, which is not something you can assess by reading some contact notes or watching mum play with a toddler.  We also hear a lot about  attachment problems without ever giving the context of how prevalent poor attachment is in the general population. Trust me, I’m not saying that flawed attachment has no impact on a child’s childhood and later life (seriously, trust me, I’m well aware of how many of my own problems are due to exactly this issue), but one needs to be careful if pathologising something which is not that unusual.  Remember, the wording of the Act says that the harm has to be attributable to the parent not providing care which it would be reasonable for a parent to provide – if a third of parents in the general population have difficult attachment styles, whilst that may be harming the child, is the parent culpable and behaving unreasonably?

 

The Court of Appeal said this :-

 

  1. Before this court Mr Taylor has advanced the mother’s case with force and clarity both in his skeleton argument and at the oral hearing. He seeks to establish five basic submissions:
      1. i) The lack of clear and bright reasoning within the judgment falls so far short of what is required so as to amount to an unfair process.

ii) The judgment confuses evidence as to the state of affairs prior to 9 March with evidence of what consequently occurred as a result of the mother’s mental collapse during the proceedings.

iii) The necessary process of evaluation of the threshold criteria, as required by Re B, has not been undertaken.

iv) The findings made by the judge as to the mother’s character are insufficient of themselves to support a finding on the threshold criteria.

v) Various findings made by the judge with respect to other aspects of the case are insufficient to support a finding of threshold with respect to L.

  1. The appeal is opposed by the local authority and the children’s guardian. L’s father takes a neutral stance.
  2. Looking at the mother’s appeal in more detail, it is, unfortunately, correct that both the judgment and the court order lack clarity with respect to the judge’s findings as to threshold relating to L. The following points are, in my view, established in the appellant’s favour:
    1. a) The judgment makes no reference to the judge’s previous findings as to the mother’s psychological well being set out in her judgments of 11 November 2015 and 4 July 2016.

b) The judge’s finding (paragraph 106) that “the attachment difficulties seen in the children…are evidence of emotional harm” does not expressly amount to a finding of “significant” harm as required by s 31.

c) Paragraph 107, which is lengthy, includes reference to material arising both prior to 9 March and, thereafter, during the proceedings. Again, the finding in that paragraph relates to “emotional harm” and not “significant harm”.

d) Although the phrase “significant harm” appears in paragraph 109, the judge there refers to “the other factor relevant to whether the children have suffered significant harm as a result of the mother’s presentation” and describes the emotional impact on the children of the mother raising the allegations of physical chastisement which, in turn, led to the institution of proceedings. Paragraph 109 does not make a finding that the children did suffer “significant harm” in this respect. The finding is that the mother’s past behaviour “cause(s) me to think she will continue to have anxieties about the care of her children and therefore potentially undermine any placement of the children away from her care”.

e) Paragraph 110 does include a finding that the mother’s emotional stability and her presentation are such that “the children have suffered from significant emotional harm”. The finding is not, in that paragraph, tied to the period prior to 9 March and there is no finding with respect to likely future significant harm.

f) As Miss Gillian Irving QC and Mr Zimran Samuel for the local authority before this court who did not appear below, reluctantly concede, the judge’s statement of “threshold findings” posted at the end of the judgment cannot, as a matter of law, be said to satisfy the requirements of s 31. The paragraph is confined to a summary of the judge’s findings as to the mother’s mental well being both now and in the future. The paragraph does not contain any explanation for the judge’s finding that as a result of the mother’s condition the children have suffered significant harm.

g) The court order, which simply records the making of care orders, fails to include any recital as to the court’s findings with respect to the threshold criteria.

The Court of Appeal were critical of the Judge’s failings in the judgment, particularly the conflation of emotional harm and significant harm, and linking the comments on harm to the wording of the Act.

However

  1. As the extracts that I have set out from Dr Hall’s written and oral evidence demonstrate, the attachment that these children, including L, had with their mother was compromised to a significant degree so that it was on the borderline of being characterised as disordered. Dr Hall’s opinion was that without secure attachment the children would suffer significant detriment, not only to their emotional and psychological functioning, but to the very development of their brain during infancy.
  2. The attachment, or lack of it, formed between L and her mother must relate to the period when L was in her mother’s care prior to 9 March 2017. It arose from core intrinsic elements in the mother’s psychological makeup, rather than arising from the recent collapse in the mother’s mental health. Dr Hall’s description of the mother being unable to control her emotional reaction to relationships and events with unpredictable and regular oscillation between the extremes of hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal, accords entirely, as she herself said it did, with the mother’s presentation as recorded by the previous expert in 2014.
  3. It is clear that the evidence upon which the judge relied, and her findings, relate to the mother’s long-standing condition and its impact on the children, rather than any deterioration that occurred during the proceedings.
  4. This material amply supports a finding that L was suffering significant emotional harm as at 9 March 2017 and would be likely to suffer significant emotional harm in the future as a result of the care provided by her mother were she to return to the mother’s home. Although, for the reasons that I have given, the judge’s judgment lacks precision and clarity, there is in my view, sufficient in paragraphs 106 to 110 of the judgment to identify the threshold findings made by the judge in this regard.

 

 

  1. In the circumstances, whilst accepting, as I do, the validity of the criticisms that Mr Taylor makes as to the lack of clarity and focus in the judge’s analysis, Dr Hall’s evidence and the judge’s previous findings as to the mother’s behaviour provided a very solid basis for finding the threshold established and it is plain that the judge adopted that analysis, which was in part based upon her own findings made two years earlier, in concluding that the threshold was crossed with respect to L in this case.
  2. For the reasons I have given, I would, therefore, dismiss this appeal and uphold the judge’s finding that the threshold criteria in CA 1989 s 31 was established as at 9 March 2017 with respect to L as a result of the care given by her mother on the basis that, at that date, L was suffering significant emotional harm and was likely to suffer significant emotional harm.

Note that even though the Court of Appeal are telling the Judge off for not using ‘is suffering’ as the test, they themselves slip readily into the language ‘was suffering’.  It is almost impossible not to do it.

 

(I was somewhat surprised that this appeal didn’t succeed – on my reading there were enough failings in the judgment to overturn it, but the Court of Appeal felt that there was sufficient cogency to the judgment in full that they could apply a little bit of Polyfilla to the cracks, rather than declaring that it was so flawed it had to be reheard. I can see that they considered that it was slightly loose use of language rather than a failure to identify whether the children met the s31 test)

 

The Court of Appeal gave a coda of lessons to be learned (whilst not noting that they’d not followed their own lessons in the very same judgment, cough)

 

Lessons for the Future?

  1. Before leaving this case, and with Lady Hale’s more detailed judgment in Re B in mind, I hope it is helpful to make the following observations as to how the difficulties that have led to this appeal could have been avoided in practice.
  2. In the course of a necessarily long judgment covering a range of issues and a substantial body of evidence, where the threshold criteria are in issue, it is good practice to distil the findings that may have been made in previous paragraphs into one or two short and carefully structured paragraphs which spell out the court’s finding on threshold identifying whether the finding is that the child ‘is suffering’ and/or ‘is likely to suffer’ significant harm, specifying the category of harm and the basic finding(s) as to causation.
  3. When making a finding of harm, it is important to identify whether the finding is of ‘significant harm’ or simply ‘harm’.
  4. A finding that the child ‘has suffered significant harm’ is not a relevant finding for s 31, which looks to the ‘relevant date’ and the need to determine whether the child ‘is suffering’ or ‘is likely to suffer’ significant harm.
  5. Where findings have been made in previous proceedings, either before the same judge or a different tribunal, a judgment in subsequent proceedings should make reference to any relevant earlier findings and identify which, if any, are specifically relied upon in support of a finding that the threshold criteria are satisfied in the later proceedings as at the ‘relevant date’.
  6. At the conclusion of the hearing, after judgment has been given, there is a duty on counsel for the local authority and for the child, together with the judge, to ensure that any findings as to the threshold criteria are sufficiently clear.
  7. The court order that records the making of a care order should include within it, or have annexed to it, a clear statement of the basis upon which the s 31 threshold criteria have been established. In the present case, during the oral appeal hearing, counsel for the guardian explained that, following the judgment, she had submitted a detailed draft order to the court by email for the judge’s approval. We were shown the draft which, whilst in need of fine tuning, does provide a template account of the court’s threshold findings. It is most unfortunate that counsel’s email, which may not have been seen by the judge, did not result in further consideration of the form of the order and statement of threshold findings. Had it done so, the need for the present appeal may not have arisen.

 

 

“I completely forgot”

 

This is a successful appeal (indeed fairly unusually it was an appeal that by the time the Court of Appeal came to look at it, all four parties were in agreement should be granted) about a decision in the High Court to make a finding of sexual abuse against a child, T, who had just turned 16 when the High Court considered the case. T had been the subject of a Care Order and Placement Order when she was six, then placed for adoption.

 

(Bit nervous about this one, as I know that 75% of the silks in the case read the blog… and I have a mental crush on all three of them. And because I also have a lot of respect for the High Court Judge who gets monstered in the appeal judgment)

 

The adoption got into difficulties, and T went into respite care for a short time in May 2014. She went back to her adopted family at the end of May and that carried on until the end of August 2014, at which point the adopters agreed a section 20 arrangement – the social work team wishing to remove T as a result of her allegation to a CAMHS worker. The allegation was that during that period from May 2014-August 2014 when she was with her adopted family, the adoptive father had sexually assaulted her, including one allegation of rape.

P (A Child), Re [2018] EWCA Civ 720 (11 April 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/720.html

 

The section 20 arrangement continued. It was obvious to all that T would not be going back to the adopters. (Listen, I know that at this point, the adopters are legally her parents and I don’t seek to diminish that, but I think to understand the case it is easier to say adoptive parents and birth parents). The s20 continued until the Local Authority issued proceedings in April 2016. By that time, T had given an ABE interview, made further allegations and declined a second ABE interview and made partial retractions of the allegations. Her behaviour had deteriorated and by the time of the Court case, had been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. (which is rare for a child)

 

The first question the case raises then, is why this child was under a section 20 arrangement for so long, rather than proceedings having been issued?   I’ll preface this by saying that obviously a case involving an allegation of rape against a child – particularly rape where the alleged perpetrator is an adopter and someone still approved to adopt children, ought to have been placed before the Court. Very quickly after those allegations were made – perhaps allowing a short period of time for the investigation to take place.

(I can’t lay my hands on the authority at the moment, and Hershman McFarlane is being uncooperative, but I’m fairly sure that there is a mid 1990s authority that says where the LA believe the child has been the subject of serious sexual or physical abuse, they ought to place it before the Court by issuing proceedings… I wish I could find the authority. Perhaps one of my illustrious silk readers can illuminate us.  The Act itself just says that the LA can’t issue proceedings unless they believe the threshold criteria to be met – so it says that there are situations where they shouldn’t, it is silent about the circumstances in which they should. The LA don’t have to issue proceedings on every child where the threshold is met. )

 

So what follows is not a justification or excuse for the delay, but an attempt to consider the context.

 

Here are some possible reasons why proceedings were not issued :-

 

  1. It just never got considered (prior to April 2016), and it wasn’t a conscious decision not to, so much as just nobody thinking about it.
  2. The adoptive parents were not asking for T back, T didn’t want to go back, T was in what was considered to be a safe place, and so there was a thought process that nothing was to be gained by going to Court. T wasn’t going to be adopted by anyone else and a Care Order would add nothing to the situation on the ground. Perhaps people even actively thought about the ‘no order principle’ and considered that it wasn’t possible to make out a case that the making of a Care Order (as needed by article 8) would be ‘proportionate and necessary’
  3. This was happening BEFORE the s20 drift was coming to judicial attention and prominence as an issue, and when those s20 cases did emerge, that’s when the LA did take action.
  4. Perhaps everyone was caught up in the day to day management of T and what she needed in terms of placement and stability, and overlooked the bigger picture.
  5. Let’s be quite honest – there’s the potential that the parents in this case were treated differently (because they were adopters) to the way they would have been treated as birth parents.

 

However, ALL of those issues are hard to excuse the fact that T’s sister, X, remained with the adoptive parents. So the LA had an allegation of rape by T, known about for over 18 months, and knowing that a younger sister was still living with the adopters.

 

(So either they didn’t believe T’s allegations OR they thought for some reason that X was safe, but the point is they couldn’t know for sure either way)

Anyway, the Court of Appeal were critical of the delay

 

12.Unfortunately, and to my mind inexplicably, the state of affairs whereby T was accommodated under CA 1989, s.20 was maintained from August 2014 until the institution of care proceedings in April 2016, notwithstanding the clear and stark issue of fact created by T’s allegations and the father’s wholesale denial. Irrespective of the fact that T’s mental health and presenting behaviour may have rendered it impossible for her placement in the family home to be maintained, the need to protect and have regard to the welfare of the younger sibling, X, who remained in the family home, required this significant factual issue to be determined

 

The next issue in the case is that the adoptive parents agreed that the threshold was met for T, because she was beyond parental control. The LA, however, sought a finding about the sexual abuse allegations (five findings in all). That obviously makes sense given that X wasn’t beyond parental control, and there was a need to establish what happened to T, to decide if X was at risk of sexual harm. That makes sense to me. (I can’t, so far, make sense of why it appears that the proceedings were about T, and not T AND X – and the Court of Appeal say that

 

 

50.So far as X is concerned, although she has been the subject of arrangements made under the Pre-commencement Procedure operated within the Public Law Outline, no proceedings have ever been issued with respect to her since the making of the adoption order )

 

The High Court heard from 16 witnesses at the finding of fact hearing. Things went wrong when Parker J came into Court to deliver her judgment

 

 

 

 

The judgment

17.The oral evidence had been concluded on 18 November 2016 and closing submissions were delivered on 18 and 25 November. The case was then adjourned to 8 December 2016 for the delivery of judgment. On that occasion, however, the Judge explained that she had been occupied with other cases and had been unable to prepare a written judgment. She had, however, reached “some conclusions” and, with the parties’ agreement, she stated what those were in the course of a short judgment which runs to some 6 pages in the agreed note that has been prepared by the parties. In short terms, the Judge rehearsed a number of the significant points in the case, for example, T’s mental health, the recording of her allegations and the ABE interview process, any evidence of inconsistency and T’s overall reliability, and an assessment of the father’s credibility before announcing her conclusion in the following terms:

 

 

 

“I have come to the conclusion therefore, and I am sorry to have to do so as I thought the mother and the father were the most likeable people, but during the course of 2014, there was an attempt at least, it may have been more, of sexual congress between the father and T.”

18.The case was then adjourned to 30 January 2017 for the delivery of a full judgment. A note of what had been said in court on 8 December was agreed between the parties and submitted to the Judge. On 30 January the Judge again indicated that, due to pressure on her time as a result of other cases, she had not been able to prepare a full judgment. Instead the Judge gave a lengthy oral judgment, seemingly based on prepared notes.

 

 

19.On 30 January, when the Judge had concluded her judgment, counsel for the father immediately identified a number of aspects in which, it was submitted, the judgment was deficient. The Judge directed that an agreed note of what she had said should be prepared and submitted to her within 7 days, together with requests from each party identifying any suggested corrections or requests for clarification.

 

 

20.The parties, in particular those acting for the parents, complied with the tight 7-day timetable. The Judge was provided with an agreed note of judgment which runs to some 115 paragraphs covering 42 pages. In addition, counsel submitted an annotated version of the note indicating possible corrections, together with a list of more substantial matters which, it was claimed, required clarification. In doing so those acting for each of the parties were complying precisely with the process originally described by this court in the case of English v Emery Reimbold and Strick Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 605 and subsequently endorsed in the family law context by this court on many occasions.

 

 

All of this was compounded then, because despite knowing that the case was going to be appealed, following the judgment in January 2017, the transcript of the judgment wasn’t made available. The transcribers sent it to the Judge on 18th March 2017 – the Judge sent an approved copy back to them SIX MONTHS later, September 2017, but that approved copy never got sent to the parties or the Court of Appeal.

 

The Court of Appeal (at the time of hearing the appeal) were therefore working from an agreed note of the judgment rather than the transcript

The Judge’s decision

26.Early in the judgment of 30 January the Judge records the decision that she had already announced at the December hearing in the following terms (paragraph 17):

 

 

 

“I have decided that she has been sexually interfered with by her father and that she has been caused significant emotional harm by reason of her mother’s disbelief in telling her so, although my criticism of the mother was highly muted in the circumstances for reasons I will come back to.”

27.After a summary of the evidence the Judge stated (paragraph 58):

 

 

 

“It is against that background that I need to assess the threshold.”

 

She then set out the content of the local authority fact-finding Schedule introducing it with the following words:

 

“I am asked to make findings in terms of:”

 

Unfortunately, the judgment does not record the Judge’s decision on any of the five specific findings of sexually abusive behaviour alleged in the local authority Schedule save that, at paragraph 71, the Judge stated “I also find that the description T gives of her father attempting to penetrate her is wholly believable”. Whether that statement amounts to a finding is, however, not entirely clear as it simply appears as a statement in the 8th paragraph of a 40 paragraph section in which the Judge reviews a wide range of evidence.

28.The basis of the appeal is that the Judge’s judgment fails sufficiently to identify what (the local authority would submit, if any) findings of fact the Judge made.

 

 

29.Before leaving the 30 January judgment, it is necessary to point to 2 or 3 other subsidiary matters that are relied upon by the appellants as indicating that the judgment, substantial though it may be in size, is inchoate:

 

 

 

  1. a) Prior to listing the witnesses who gave oral evidence the Judge states “I think I heard the following witnesses”. The list of 13 witnesses is said to omit 3 other individuals who also gave oral evidence.

 

  1. b) In the closing stages of the judgment the Judge makes one additional point which is introduced by the phrase “one thing I forgot to say” and a second which is introduced by “also one thing I have not so far mentioned, and I should have done”.

 

  1. c) At the very end of the judgment, and after the Judge has gone on to deal with procedural matters unrelated to the findings of fact there appears a four paragraph section dealing with case law related to the court’s approach to ABE interviews where it is asserted there has been a breach of the ABE guidelines. That section is preceded by the phrase “I completely forgot”.

 

There are of course, all sorts of different styles and approaches one can adopt to delivering a judgment and the Court of Appeal are not trying to be prescriptive or to fetter a Judge’s discretion of   stylistic delivery. Having said all that, if the immediate comparator that comes to mind is Columbo talking to Roddy McDowell, that’s not a good thing.

 

Have I ever been happier to be able to get a particular picture into the blog? Maybe Kite-Man, but I am VERY pleased about this one

 

The appeal itself

30.Two notices of appeal issued on behalf of the father and mother respectively were issued in August 2017. Although this was many months after the making of the care order and the delivery of the oral judgment in January 2017, I accept that the delay arose because the parties were waiting for the Judge to engage in the process of clarification that she had directed should take place and, thereafter, the production of a final version of the judgment. There were also considerable difficulties in securing legal aid, caused at least in part by the absence of a judgment. At various stages the Judge’s clerk had given the parties some hope that a final judgment might be produced. The notices of appeal were only issued once the parties were forced to conclude that a final version of the judgment was unlikely to be forthcoming. Following the failure of the efforts made by the Court of Appeal to obtain a judgment, I granted permission to appeal on 16 November 2017.

 

 

31.The grounds of appeal and skeleton arguments that argue the cases of the father and of the mother from their respective positions engage fully with the underlying facts in the case in addition to arguing that the process as a whole has been fatally compromised by the court’s inability to produce adequately precise findings and to do so in a judgment which sufficiently engages with the significant features of the evidence. As it is on this latter basis that the appeal has preceded by consent, my Lords and I have not engaged in the deeper level, granular analysis of the evidence that would otherwise be required.

 

 

32.In terms of the English v Emery Rheimbold process, those acting for each of the two parents submitted short (in the mother’s case 3 pages, in the father’s case 5 pages) requests for clarification on specific issues. Each of those requests is, on my reading of the papers, reasonable and, even if a specific request were unreasonable, it was open to the Judge to say so.

 

 

33.The resulting state of affairs where the only record of the Judge’s determination is imprecise as to its specific findings and silent upon the approach taken to significant elements of the evidence is as regrettable as it is untenable.

 

 

34.That the state of affairs that I have just described exists, is made plain by the stance of the local authority before this court. Rather than simply “not opposing” the appeal, the local authority skeleton argument, as I will demonstrate, specifically endorses the main thrust of the appellant’s case. Further, we were told by Miss Hannah Markham QC, leading counsel before this court, but who did not appear below, that the local authority’s position on the appeal has been approved at every layer of management within the authority’s children services department. For one organ of the state, the local authority, to conclude that the positive outcome (in terms of the findings that it sought) of a highly expensive, time and resource consuming, judicial process is insupportable is a clear indication that the judicial system has, regrettably, failed badly in the present case.

 

 

35.Against that background it is helpful to quote directly from the skeleton argument prepared by Miss Markham and Miss Grieve on behalf of the local authority:

 

 

 

“5 At the heart of the appeal are findings that (father) behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards his daughter T. The findings are set out in this way, as it is accepted by the respondent local authority that the judgment given by Mrs Justice Parker does not particularise the findings made nor does it cross refer findings to the local authority Schedule of findings. As such the findings have not been accurately recorded or set out.

 

….

 

“14 The local authority does not oppose the appeal for reasons set out below.

 

15 However the local authority does not accept that all grounds as pleaded would be matters or arguments which the local authority would either not oppose or indeed agree, if taken in isolation. The focus in approaching this appeal has been to stand back and have regard to the fairness and integrity of the judgment and the process taken by the parties to try to clarify the judgment and in particular the findings made.

 

16 It is submitted that it must be right and fair that a party against whom findings are made should know the actual findings made and the reasons for them. It is submitted that reasons on reasons are not necessary, but clarity as to findings and a clear basis for them is a primary requirement of a Judge.

 

17 It is significant that the learned Judge has resisted requests of her to clarify her judgment and that in particular she has not taken opportunities to set out the findings she has in fact made.

 

18 Dovetailing into that error is the argument that flows from that omission; absent clear findings it is impossible to see, understand and argue that the Judge formulated her findings on clear, understandable and right reasoning.

 

 

21 In this instant case it is submitted on behalf of the parents that the judge did not even set out the findings, not least allow them to see whether she fairly and with significant detail set out her reasoning for coming to the findings she then made. Further requests of the Judge were properly made and the learned Judge has neither responded to them nor clarified why she is not engaging in the requests of her

 

 

23 (Having listed the short specific findings made by the Judge) It is acknowledged that these matters are the most detail (the Judge) gives to her findings. Whilst it is asserted by the local authority that the learned Judge was able, within the ambit of her wide discretion to make findings, it was incumbent upon her to set out with clarity what those findings were and how she came to make them.

 

24 It will be apparent from the matters set out above that she failed in this task and that she failed to cross refer back to paragraph 59 (where the Judge listed the content of the local authority Schedule of findings) and set out what she had or had not found proved.”

36.The local authority identified two specific grounds relied upon on behalf of the father, one asserting that the Judge rejected the father’s case on the deficits on the ABE interview, against, it is said, the weight of the evidence, but provides no analysis for coming to that conclusion. Secondly the local authority accepts that there were many examples of inconsistency within the accounts that T had given. In both respects the local authority expressly acknowledged that the Judge failed to engage with these two important aspects of the case and failed to set out her findings in respect of each.

 

 

37.The local authority, rightly, argue that a Judge has a wide discretion to accept or reject evidence in a case such as this and that the Judge does not have to refer expressly to each and every detail of the evidence in the course of their judgment. The local authority’s skeleton argument, however, accepts “that a fair and balanced assessment of the cases advanced and evidence for and against said cases is necessary, proportionate and fair and has not occurred sufficiently in this complex case.”

 

 

38.Miss Kate Branigan QC, leading Miss Lianne Murphy, both of whom appeared below for T, acting on the instructions of the children’s guardian adopt a similar stance to that taken by the local authority. In their skeleton argument (paragraph 10) they state:

 

 

 

“Albeit T maintains that the allegations made against her father are true, the children’s guardian has had to conclude that the judgment as given by the court on 30 January 2017 is not sustainable on appeal and that inevitably the appeals on behalf of both appellants must succeed.”

 

Later (paragraph 14) it is said:

 

“Regrettably we accept that it is not possible from the judgment to identify what findings the court has made. At paragraph 59 of the judgment note, the court sets out the detail of the findings it is invited to make, but at no stage thereafter does the learned Judge indicate which of the findings she has found established to the requisite standard nor does she attempt to link what she is saying about the evidence to the specific findings sought….On this basis alone the judgment is arguably fatally flawed.”

 

And at paragraph 15:

 

“We further recognise in certain key respects the court has failed to engage with the totality of the evidence to the extent that any findings the court has purported to make are unsustainable in any event. In particular, we accept the arguments advanced on behalf of the appellant father… that the court failed to undertake a sufficiently detailed analysis of the context in which T’s allegations came to be made, failed to engage with the professional evidence which called into question the reliability of those allegations and did not weigh appropriately in the balance the inconsistencies which were clearly laid out on the evidence in relation to T’s accounts.”

39.In the light of the parties’ positions, the oral hearing for this appeal was short. All were agreed that the appeal must be allowed with the result that, at the end of a process which started with allegations made in August 2014, and in included a substantial trial before a High Court Judge, any findings of fact made by the Judge and recorded in her oral determinations made in December 2016 and on 30 January 2017 must be set aside and must be disregarded in any future dealings with this family.

 

 

40.For our part, my Lords and I, rather than simply endorsing the agreed position of the parties, had, reluctantly but very clearly formed the same view having read the note of the 30 January judgment and having regard to the subsequent failure by the court to engage with the legitimate process of clarification that the Judge had, herself, set in train

           41.Before turning to the question of what lessons might be learned for the future and offering some guidance in that regard, a formal apology is owed to all those who have been adversely affected by the failure of the Family Justice system to produce an adequate and supportable determination of the important factual allegations in this case. In particular, such an apology is owed to T, her father and her mother and her younger sister X, whose own everyday life has been adversely affected as a result of professionals justifiably putting in place an intrusive regime to protect her from her father as a result of the statement of the Judge’s conclusions 16 months ago.      

 

    

The Court of Appeal were asked to give some clarifying guidance in relation to the issue of what happens where the parties ask (as they must) for the Judge to clarify flaws in the judgment and after a period of time the Judge has not done so. For a start, when does the clock for the appeal start to tick? After judgment, or after the request for clarification, or after receipt of such clarification?

 

 

 

42.Whilst it is, fortunately, rare for parties to encounter a situation such as that which has arisen in the present case, such circumstances do, however, occur and we have been invited to offer some limited advice or guidance.

 

 

43.The window in which a notice of appeal may be issued under Civil Procedure Rules 1998, r 52.12(2) is tight and is, in ordinary circumstances, limited to 21 days. It is often impossible to obtain a transcript of a judgment that has been delivered orally within the 21 day period. Unfortunately, it is also the experience of this court that not infrequently problems occur in the five or six stages in the administrative chain through which a request for transcripts must proceed and it may often be months before an approved transcript is provided. Whilst it is plainly more satisfactory for the judges of this court to work on an approved transcript, and that will normally be a pre-requisite for any full appeal hearing, the Lord or Lady Justices of Appeal undertaking evaluation of permissions to appeal in family cases are now more willing to accept a note of judgment (if possible agreed) taken by a lawyer or lawyers present in court in order to determine an application for permission to appeal rather than await delivery of an approved transcript of the judgment. It is therefore important for advocates attending court on an occasion when judgment is given to do their best to make a full note of the judgment so that, if it is needed, that note can be provided promptly to the Court of Appeal when a notice of appeal is filed.

 

 

44.The observation set out above requires adaptation when a party seeks clarification of the Judge’s judgment. In such a case, it must be reasonable for the party to await the conclusion of the process of clarification before being obliged to issue a notice of appeal, unless the clarification that is sought is limited to marginal issues which stand separately to the substantive grounds of appeal that may be relied upon.

 

 

45.Where, as here, the process of clarification fails to achieve finality within a reasonable time, it is not in the interests of justice, let alone those of the respective parties, for time to run on without a notice of appeal being issued. What is a reasonable time for the process of post judgement clarification? The answer to that question may vary from case to case, but, for my part, I find it hard to contemplate a case where a period of more than 4 weeks from the delivery of the request for clarification could be justified. After that time, the notice of appeal, if an appeal is to be pursued, should be issued. The issue of a notice of appeal does not, of itself, prevent the process of clarification continuing if it has not otherwise been completed. Indeed, in some case the Court of Appeal at the final appeal hearing may itself send the case back to the Judge for clarification. The benefit of issuing a notice of appeal, apart from the obvious avoidance of further delay, is that the Court of Appeal may itself directly engage with the Judge in the hope of finalising any further outstanding matters.

 

 

Whilst the Court of Appeal say that because of the administrative nightmare that is obtaining an approved transcript, they will accept an agreed note from the lawyers I wonder how on earth that is going to work with cases involving only litigants in person (eg about 90% of private law proceedings)

Cross-examining alleged victim without a lawyer

 

Readers may remember a long-running issue about the fact that in crime, an alleged perpetrator of rape is banned from cross-examining the alleged victim whereas we have ended up in private family law of that being something that is not only not banned but cropping up more and more as an issue, because the Government cut legal aid.  Readers might also remember that following a campaign in the Guardian, the Lord Chancellor at that time declared that legislation would be introduced to fix that problem. The draft legislation was drawn up, and then the Government decided to embark on the Greatest Political Idea of All Time TM, in which in order to increase their working majority, they held an election years early and converted said working majority into a hung Parliament.

I’m afraid that I can’t see the draft legislation now for all of the long grass that it is hiding within. Anyone in the Press want to remind the Government that they promised to fix this mess and haven’t?

 

Apologies in advance for pedants – the law report uses McKenzie Friend and MacKenzie Friend completely interchangeably and nobody in the Court of Appeal seems to have corrected this.  It should be Mc, NOT Mac.  /Furiously checks document

This is an appeal where the father in a set of private law proceedings was accused of having raped the mother and he denied it. He did not have a lawyer, but did have a McKenzie Friend. Should the McKenzie Friend have been given rights of audience and allowed to cross-examine the mother?

 

 

Panini McKenzie Friend stickers album – “Got, got, need, got, oh NEEED”

 

(actually, the sticker should have been one of Duncan’s friends, not Mr McKenzie himself….)

 

Re J (Children) 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/115.html

  1. There was no objection to the father having the assistance of a Mackenzie Friend and no objection to the identity of the particular Mackenzie Friend involved who, indeed, the judge described as “obviously a very experienced Mackenzie Friend”. The issue related to what, if any, rights of audience the Mackenzie Friend might be afforded.
  2. It is now well known that difficulties exist where challenge is made by a litigant in person, who is identified as the perpetrator of serious abuse, and that challenge falls to be put in cross-examination to the key witnesses who support those allegations. The case law on this topic was developing during the currency of the present proceedings and, by July 2015, this court had given judgment in the case of Re K and H (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 543 which rejected the suggestion that there was jurisdiction in the court to direct that HMCTS, or indeed any other agency, should provide public funding for limited legal representation. HHJ Allweis noted that decision and rehearsed the key details of it in his short judgment. He noted that ‘the case is a difficult one in which, in extremely broad terms, the parents make serious allegations against each other’. He focused upon the application for rights of audience for his McKenzie Friend made by this father in these proceedings at paragraph 15 of that judgment in these terms:
    1. “15. The idea of a McKenzie Friend, however articulate and experienced, either cross-examining a parent accusing a partner of serious sexual violence or indeed serious physical violence, or even of cross-examining the parties’ 16 year old child if in due course X gives evidence against his father, is highly unpalatable and this court would be very disturbed by that prospect. [The McKenzie Friend] has suggested that he has been given rights of audience frequently by judges and I pressed him as to whether this had ever happened in Greater Manchester. In effect he said that it had not and that there may be geographical differences. I told him in no uncertain terms that I have never come across it in Greater Manchester and this court, of course, is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, family court in the country.”
  3. The judge then reminded himself of the relevant practice guidance on McKenzie Friends ([2010] 2 FLR 962), in which the President, at paragraph 4, states that McKenzie Friends may not, inter alia, “address the court, make oral submissions or examine witnesses”.
  4. The judge refused the application saying:
    1. “19. At the end of the day, for the reasons I have given, the application is refused. I contemplate with profound disquiet, and that is putting it pretty mildly if I may say so, the prospect of a McKenzie Friend, in effect with rights of audience, cross-examining a mother in relation to serious and complex allegations, let alone a teenage child of the parties if and when X gives evidence so the application is refused.”

 

 

What ended up happening in the case is that the finding of fact hearing never took place, because of the anxieties the Court had about how the mother could be questioned about these events. By the conclusion of the private law proceedings, the children were expressing very strong views about their father

 

  1. The judge provided an extensive summary of the NYAS worker’s report which recorded that the children were “extremely loyal to their mother” and adamantly against contact. So far as A is concerned the judge said:
    1. ‘A gave [NYAS worker] a statement he had prepared and said no-one had read. He would be delighted to give evidence against his father. Despite what he said, it appeared later in the report that the children, which really means A and B, had written at the suggestion of their mother acting on advice from her solicitor. … What I do note is that A’s statement … even assuming that what A was saying factually was true, is a very disturbing document to read. It has the imprint of his mother’ accusations. However, even allowing for the possibility of him imbibing unquestioningly all his mother had said, he nevertheless presents as an intelligent and fiercely independent young man’.

The judgment continues by describing the content of the statement the force of A’s negative opinion of the father that is expressed within it, before recording the judge’s overall opinion that the statement

‘is an extremely distressing read – I am not sure I have seen such a vitriolic condemnation of a parent by a teenager for many a long year.’

  1. The judge’s detailed summary of the children’s wishes and feelings, as described by the NYAS worker, continued by setting out B’s wishes, which were in line with his older brother. The youngest child, C, was also ‘clear that she did not want to see’ her father. The judge’s account of her wishes includes the following:
    1. ‘She wrote that she wanted all the bad things dad had caused to go away. She wished they had never gone to the refuge and she wished she did not have nightmares about dad. She did not want to see him EVER (ever in capital letters). No-one could drag her kicking and screaming to see her father. On the second visit she was even more emotional and angry.’

 

At the Court of Appeal, the father had the assistance of his McKenzie Friend and the Court of Appeal were complimentary about the help that the McKenzie Friend had given to the Court.

 

  1. For some time now the Court of Appeal has normally granted rights of audience to a bona fide McKenzie Friend. The experience of doing so has been very largely positive in that those McKenzie Friends who have taken on the role of advocate have done so in a manner which has assisted both the court and the individual litigant, as, indeed, was the case in the present appeal. Although it may have become the norm at this appellate level to grant rights of audience, that should not greatly impact upon the altogether different issue of rights of audience at first instance, particularly in a fully contested hearing. Assisting a litigant to marshal and present arguments on appeal is a wholly different task from acting in the role of counsel in a trial.

 

The Court of Appeal recognised the vexed issues that this case threw up.

 

  1. Direct questioning of an alleged victim by the alleged perpetrator has long been considered to be a highly undesirable prospect by family judges. It was contemplation of that process which led Roderic Wood J to flag the problem up in the first place in H v L & R. In Q v Q and in Re K and H, the need to look for alternative acceptable means for cross examination led to the court sanctioning orders against HMCTS. It is clear that the experience of those judges who have felt forced to permit direct questioning from an alleged abuser is extremely negative. In very recent times Hayden J, in Re A (above) has concluded that, following his experience in that case, he is not prepared to contemplate repeating the process in any subsequent case. Hayden J’s clear and eloquent observations deserve wide publication:
    1. ’57. As I have made clear above it was necessary, in this case, to permit F to conduct cross examination of M directly. A number of points need to be highlighted. Firstly, F was not present in the Courtroom but cross examined by video link. Secondly, M requested and I granted permission for her to have her back to the video screen in order that she did not have to engage face to face with F. Thirdly, F barely engaged with M’s allegations of violence, choosing to conduct a case which concentrated on undermining M’s credibility (which as emerges above was largely unsuccessful).

58. Despite these features of the case, I have found it extremely disturbing to have been required to watch this woman cross examined about a period of her life that has been so obviously unhappy and by a man who was the direct cause of her unhappiness. M is articulate, educated and highly motivated to provide a decent life for herself and her son. She was represented at this hearing by leading and junior counsel and was prepared to submit to cross examination by her husband in order that the case could be concluded. She was faced with an invidious choice.

59. Nothing of what I have said above has masked the impact that this ordeal has had on her. She has at times looked both exhausted and extremely distressed. M was desperate to have the case concluded in order that she and A could effect some closure on this period of their lives and leave behind the anxiety of what has been protracted litigation.

60. It is a stain on the reputation of our Family Justice system that a Judge can still not prevent a victim being cross examined by an alleged perpetrator. This may not have been the worst or most extreme example but it serves only to underscore that the process is inherently and profoundly unfair. I would go further it is, in itself, abusive. For my part, I am simply not prepared to hear a case in this way again. I cannot regard it as consistent with my judicial oath and my responsibility to ensure fairness between the parties.’

  1. Hayden J’s words demand respect, both because they come for a highly experienced family lawyer and judge, but also because of the force with which they were expressed following immediately upon first-hand experience of observing an alleged victim being directly cross examined by her alleged perpetrator and despite the significant degree of protection the court had sought to provide for her.

 

 

In deciding whether the Judge was wrong to refuse the McKenzie Friend rights of audience to conduct the cross-examination of the mother, the Court of Appeal decided that he was not

 

  1. In between the option of direct questioning from the alleged abuser and the alternative of questioning by the judge sits the possibility of affording rights of audience to an alleged abuser’s McKenzie Friend so that he or she may conduct the necessary cross examination. The possibility of a McKenzie Friend acting as an advocate is not referred to in PD12J and, as has already been noted, the guidance on McKenzie Friends advises that, generally, courts should be slow to afford rights of audience. For my part, in terms of the spectrum of tasks that may be undertaken by an advocate, cross examination of a witness in the circumstances upon which this judgment is focussed must be at the top end in terms of sensitivity and importance; it is a forensic process which requires both skill and experience of a high order. Whilst it will be a matter for individual judges in particular cases to determine an application by a McKenzie Friend for rights of audience in order to cross examine in these circumstances, I anticipate that it will be extremely rare for such an application to be granted.

  1. For the reasons that were given earlier, if the complaint in Ground ‘B’ is that the McKenzie Friend should have been permitted rights of audience in order to cross examine the mother and A, I do not consider that the judge’s decision is open to challenge on any basis. Such an application should rarely, if ever, be granted. The material before us falls short of establishing that there was a blanket policy in place in Manchester prohibiting the grant of rights of audience to McKenzie Friends to cross examine key witnesses. If the judge’s observations are no more than a report that, from his knowledge, such an application had never been granted in Manchester, then, on the basis of the view that I have expressed, that would not be surprising.
  2. If, on the other hand, the judge can be taken to have refused any rights of audience to the McKenzie Friend, on the basis that the local practice was never to grant any form of rights of audience, then, again for the reasons that I have given, the judge was in error. Each application for rights of audience should be determined on the basis of the specific factors that are in play in the individual case. Rights of audience may be granted for a particular hearing, or for a discrete part of a particular hearing, and a blanket policy of never granting such rights is not supported by the Practice Guidance or generally. Whilst it will be rare for full advocacy rights to be granted at a sensitive fact-finding trial, it may be an altogether different matter to permit a McKenzie Friend to address the court at a directions hearing.

 

The Court of Appeal did, however, find that the Court was wrong not to have resolved the factual dispute between the parties at a finding of fact hearing.  The appeal succeeded on that basis.

 

However, it was a pyrrhic victory, because the Court of Appeal ruled that because the children were still of the same strong views about contact as they had been 18 months earlier they saw no prospect of father re-establishing any contact (the children were now 16 and 11) and did not order a re-hearing.

He Pooles all his resources

This case is a Court of Appeal decision on something that I’ve never even contemplated before.

If a family are getting bullied or harassed by other local residents, and the Housing authority won’t rehouse the family – can the family SUE the local authority for failing to remove their children into care? (And by inference therefore, DO Local Authorities HAVE to remove children who are being bullied on their local estates if the Housing Department won’t evict the bullies or rehouse the family)

It’s a question that immediately made me go “what the eff? Of course not. And why on earth is a parent trying to sue a local authority for NOT taking their kids off them?”

They were though, see

8.Causation is pleaded in the following terms:

“6.3 On the balance of probabilities competent investigation at any stage would have led to the removal of the Claimants from home. A child in need assessment should with competent care have been carried out in respect of each Claimant by September 2006 at the latest. By September 2006 no competent local authority would have failed to carry out a detailed assessment and on the balance of probabilities such detailed assessment if carried out competently would and should have led to the conclusion that each of the Claimants required removal from home if the family as a whole could not be moved. [Emphasis added] With the information obtained by competent assessment in September 2006 on application to the Court the Defendant would have obtained at lest respite care and if necessary by interim care orders in respect of each Claimant. Any competent local authority should and would have arranged for their removal from home into at least temporary care.”

(Bearing in mind that the parents have the power to accommodate their child under s20 by simply asking, this really is the parents suing the local authority for failing to remove their children against their will….)

But it turns out that the answer given to the question first time around was, yes absolutely. And the answer given was in the High Court, which meant it was binding precedent for CJs and below (which fortunately we all missed because Housing lawyers, tort lawyers and care lawyers don’t talk to each other)

Hence there being an appeal. And if the answer stays yes, brace yourselves for a HUGE spike in care proceedings – which is JUST what we all want at this moment, amiright? #sorrytobreakyoursarcasmfilters

CN and another v Poole Borough Council 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/2185.html

Before we start, the title is obviously a play on Poole, and is drawn from my favourite ever Flaming Lips song, which means that it is close to being one of my favourite songs period, because the Flaming Lips are just great.

The song is about Wayne Coyne’s brother, who got high on drugs and decided to go to a convenience store, only when he got there he couldn’t really walk or talk and freaked out the people at the store who called the cops. That’s too simple for a Flaming Lips song, so Wayne adds in that his brother develops a superpower to summon up a host of waterbugs to attack authority figures who are hassling him. And despite the weirdness of the subject matter, it ends up being a song that feels poignant and delicate and beautiful. Enjoy.

But obviously

It was a pretty rotten situation for this family. Their child had severe physical and learning difficulties. There was another family on the estate, known for anti-social behaviour, who as the Court of Appeal say ‘predictably’ started to bully and behave dreadfully towards CN. CN attempted suicide.

You are already wondering why the family are suing the Children’s department of the LA (what we all still call Social Services) rather than Housing – since obviously what they wanted was to be rehoused.

That’s because there’s a firm and clear case called Mitchell, in which the House of Lords held that a person can’t sue the Housing department for this sort of thing.

58.Mr Mitchell was a secure tenant of the local authority, as was a neighbour named Drummond. After a long course of aggression and threats from Drummond, of which the council were fully aware, Drummond killed Mitchell. His widow sued, claiming that the council owed her husband a duty of care and should have intervened, at least by warning about a forthcoming meeting likely further to agitate Drummond. The council’s case was that they owed no duty of care to protect Mr Mitchell from criminal acts by Drummond.

So suing the Housing Department was out, and the lawyers acting for the family instead tried to construct a case on failure of the social services department to safeguard a child in their area from harm arising from the behaviour of people outside the family.

They were relying on a Court of Appeal authority called D v East Berkshire, which removed the previous blanket immunity of local authority social services departments against negligence claims (which had previously been a matter of public policy).

The Court of Appeal were somewhat critical of the failure of the legal representatives of the family to fail to properly grasp the nature of care proceedings. (They obviously weren’t family lawyers, and their understanding of care proceedings is probably on a par with my understanding of tort – I know the broad gist, but not the nuance)


108.Irwin LJ set out at paragraphs 6 – 8 above, the way in which this claim was pleaded namely that the children should have been ‘removed from the care of their mother’. Causation was pleaded as follows:

“6.3 …By September 2006 no competent local authority would have failed to carry out a detailed assessment and on the balance of probabilities such detailed assessment if carried out competently would and should have led to the conclusion that each of the Claimants required removal from home if the family as a whole could not be moved. With the information obtained by competent assessment in September 2006 on application to the Court the Defendant would have obtained at least respite care and if necessary by interim care orders in respect of each Claimant. Any competent local authority should and would have arranged for their removal from home into at least temporary care.”
109.I readily acknowledge that lawyers drafting pleadings in a case of this type may not necessarily have specific expertise in relation to care proceedings. In my view however, it is unacceptable that there appears to have been no understanding of, or reference to, the statutory basis upon which the draconian order sought, (resulting in the unilateral removal of these children from their mother) could have taken place.

110.The pleadings baldly assert that “on application to the Court the Defendant (ie the local authority) would have obtained at least respite care and if necessary by interim care orders in respect of each Claimant”. Such a statement fails to acknowledge that where, as here, a mother does not consent to the removal of her children from her care under an interim care order, the local authority must satisfy the court (pursuant to section 38(2) Children Act 1989) that there are reasonable grounds for believing that “circumstances with respect to the child are as mentioned in section 31(2)”.

111.Section 31(2) provides the ‘threshold criteria’ for state intervention in the care of a child:

“(2) A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied-

(a) that the child concerned is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm; and

(b) that harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to-

(i) the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him.”
112.On the facts of the case put before the court, it seems highly unlikely that it could be shown that there were reasonable grounds to conclude that the threshold criteria could be satisfied. Further, numerous Court of Appeal decisions have made it clear that satisfaction of the threshold criteria should not be equated with satisfaction of the case for the removal of a child from its parent. A care plan for the immediate removal of a child from its parent should only be approved by the court if the child’s safety demands immediate separation; see for example Re G (Interim Care Order) [2011] 2 FLR 955, CA. I note, for completeness, that there is no such order as a ‘respite care order,’ let alone as some sort of half way house to an interim care order.

113.In my judgment, the pleadings should have particularised the broad basis upon which it was said the threshold criteria was capable of being satisfied, and, having done so, why it was thereafter averred that the local authority would have been permitted to remove the children from the care of their mother absent her consent. Had that been done, it would have been apparent that not only was the proposal that these Claimant children should have been removed from their mother ‘utterly heartless’ and ‘utterly wrong,’ as characterised by Davis LJ, but legally unsustainable.

Davis LJ went further, and also threw in the word ‘legerdemain’ which is a particular favourite of mine.

116.In any event, I found the formulated claim, by reference to a duty of care asserted to arise from the availability of asserted remedies under the provisions of the Children Act 1989, most disconcerting. The true complaint in reality was about the failure of the housing authorities to re-house the entire family in the light of the activities of the neighbouring family. (Previous proceedings commenced by the claimants and their mother in 2012 against, among others, the Chief Constable of Police and PHP had, I note, not been pursued and were struck out in 2013.) That, as is now accepted, gave rise to no viable cause of action against the relevant housing authorities. To seek then to re-cast the claim for damages against the local authority by reference to an alleged duty to seek and obtain a care order under the Children Act 1989 seems to me little more than legalistic legerdemain, designed to overcome the insuperable obstacles to formulating a viable claim in attacking the housing authorities in the exercise, (or, rather, non-exercise) of their housing functions. The courts should not be prepared to entertain such a step.

117.It was never said that the mother was an unfit mother. She loved and cared for her (vulnerable) children. They loved and needed her. Nothing she did or did not do caused them any harm: it was the harassment of the neighbours which did. True she failed, in spite of all her efforts, to achieve the cessation of that harassment or relocation of her family. But that was not her fault. On the contrary, it was the various agencies which, rightly or wrongly, have been blamed. But why or how could seeking a care order with regard to the children be justified in such circumstances?

118.In the present case, it seems to me that seeking a care order from the Family Court, which potentially would split the family, would not simply have been utterly heartless: it seems to me that such a step would have been utterly wrong. In the circumstances of this case, there was no justification for potentially separating, without the mother’s consent, mother from children, children from mother by use of care proceedings. To countenance care proceedings in the Family Court in order to overcome (or provide a subsequent remedy for) the problems caused by the neighbours on the estate would be, I would have thought, tantamount to an abuse of the process of that court

The Court of Appeal held that there was nothing within this case, sad as it was, that met the very specific and narrow set of circumstances in which Person or Body A (the local authority) was legally responsible for the actions of a third party (the anti-social family living on the state). And thus the application was struck out.

Everyone can breathe now, we haven’t just had an entirely new basis for issuing care proceedings dumped on us. Thank goodness.

The Court of Appeal also suggest very strongly that D v East Berkshire is no longer good law and should not be followed, but as I don’t practice in tort, I’m not going to make the mistake of trying to tell anyone what significance that should have (or whether it just means that it isn’t authority for making a local authority responsible for the actions of a third party outside its control)

Sin is not valid legal currency

A mind-blowingly tricky case, involving hot-button issues on either side.

A mother and father have five children, ranging in ages from 3 to 13. The family are all part of the ultra-orthodox North Manchester Charedi Jewish community. The father left the family home in 2015 and became transgender, he now lives as a woman.

The ultra-orthodox Charedi Jewish community view the father’s actions as ones of choice, and as a sin, and he would be ostracised from the community. If the children were to spend time with their father, they also would be marginalised by their community.

The Judge at first instance, Peter Jackson J (as he then was), concluded that the children would not be upset or traumatised by their father’s transgender status and would cope with it, but that they would be harmed by being ostracised within their religious community. It was a difficult balance expressed eloquently :-

8.Peter Jackson J identified (judgment, para 166) fifteen arguments in favour of direct contact which he described as “formidable”. He could identify (para 168) only two factors that spoke against direct contact. Of the first, relating to the father’s “dependability”, he found (para 172) that “if it were the only obstacle to direct contact, it could probably be overcome.” That left only one factor, which he described (para 173) as “the central question”, namely “the reaction of the community if the children were to have direct contact with the father.”

9.On this, his findings were as clear as they were bleak. He found (para 156) that:

“The children will suffer serious harm if they are deprived of a relationship with their father.”
10.Nonetheless he decided, as we have seen, that there should be no direct contact. He explained why. First (para 177):

“Having considered all the evidence, I am driven to the conclusion that there is a real risk, amounting to a probability, that these children and their mother would be rejected by their community if the children were to have face-to-face contact with their father.”

Then (para 181):

“I … reject the bald proposition that seeing the father would be too much for the children. Children are goodhearted and adaptable and, given sensitive support, I am sure that these children could adapt considerably to the changes in their father. The truth is that for the children to see their father would be too much for the adults.”

And then this (para 187):

“So, weighing up the profound consequences for the children’s welfare of ordering or not ordering direct contact with their father, I have reached the unwelcome conclusion that the likelihood of the children and their mother being marginalised or excluded by the ultra-Orthodox community is so real, and the consequences so great, that this one factor, despite its many disadvantages, must prevail over the many advantages of contact (emphasis added).”
11.We suspect that many reading this will find the outcome both surprising and disturbing, thinking to themselves, and we can understand why, how can this be so, how can this be right?

The case went to the Court of Appeal.

Re M (Children) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/2164.html

2.This is an appeal from a judgment and order of Peter Jackson J, as he then was, made in private law proceedings between the father and the mother of five children, whose ages now range from 13 to 3 years old. His judgment was handed down on 30 January 2017: J v B (Ultra-Orthodox Judaism: Transgender) [2017] EWFC 4, [2017] WLR(D) 142. The judgment, which was necessarily lengthy, is freely available to all on the BAILII website, so we can be more limited in quoting from it than might otherwise be appropriate. We do, however, urge anyone who has occasion to read our judgment to read Peter Jackson J’s judgment first.

3.The order was made on 2 February 2017. It was expressed as being a final order. The judge dismissed the father’s application for direct contact (the children live with the mother). The order contained a child arrangements order providing for limited indirect contact, a specific issue order directing that the children were to be provided with “staged narratives” in age-appropriate terms, and a family assistance order under section 16 of the Children Act 1989, naming the children’s guardian as the relevant officer, to remain in force until 1 February 2018. The father sought permission to appeal; the perfected grounds of appeal are dated 17 March 2017. Permission to appeal was given by King LJ on 16 June 2017. On 27 October 2017, McFarlane LJ gave both Stonewall Equality Limited (“Stonewall”) and Keshet Diversity UK (“KeshetUK”) permission to intervene in the appeal, limited to making written submissions. On 10 November 2017, the father applied for permission to admit further evidence, which we admitted de bene esse.

4.The appeal came on for hearing before us on 15 November 2017. Ms Alison Ball QC and Mr Hassan Khan appeared for the father, Mr Peter Buckley for the mother, and Ms Frances Heaton QC and Ms Jane Walker for the children’s guardian. Ms Karon Monaghan QC and Ms Sarah Hannett filed written submissions on behalf of Stonewall and Ms Jane Rayson and Mr Andrew Powell filed written submissions on behalf of KeshetUK. At the end of the hearing we reserved judgment, which we now hand down.

The case in outline
5.The outcome of this appeal is of very great importance to the father, to the mother and the children, and to the ultra-orthodox North Manchester Charedi Jewish community in which the children have always been brought up. But in its potential implications this appeal is of profound significance for the law in general and family law in particular. For on one view it raises the question of how, in evaluating a child’s welfare, the court is to respond to the impact on the child of behaviour, or the fear of behaviour, which is or may be unlawfully discriminatory as involving breaches of Article 14 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms or of the Equality Act 2010.

I suspect most readers have already formed a firm view as to what is the right outcome here – but I also suspect that not everyone will have the same firm view. It is decidedly tricky. For my part, I struggle to see how the views of an intolerant religious community should deprive the children of their relationship with their father (until such time as the children can make up their own mind about where their preferences lie), but I am mindful that I come to this as a wholly secular person who does not hold religious beliefs. Might I think differently about it if faith was a major part of MY life, as it clearly is for this family?

The judgment
12.Having thus introduced the issues which confront us, we turn to a more detailed analysis of Peter Jackson J’s judgment. After an Introduction (judgment, paras 1-11) and a section dealing with Terminology (paras 12-16), he set out a Narrative of events (paras 17-36), to which we refer the reader. For present purposes, there are only two matters we need to refer to. The first, (para 33) relates to the minutes of a “Team around the children meeting” held within the community in April 2016. Of these minutes, the judge made this observation (para 34):

“These Minutes are of interest. Not having been prepared with these proceedings in mind, they illustrate the prevailing mindset. There is at least as much concern for the community as for the children. The father was entirely ignored.”

The other matter relates to something which the judge referred to (para 36) as an example of the high level of tension surrounding the proceedings:

“In November [2016], on the first morning of the hearing, an unidentified member of the community posted this WhatsApp message:

“HELP! SAVE!

Family [name]’s (A Mother & her 5 Children) fate is in court this morning (for the next 10 days). Please Daven [pray] for them. We can’t afford to lose this case. The Rabbonim [rabbis] have asked for this message to be sent. The family know and want it to be sent. Pls forward this message. The koach of tefilloh [power of prayer] can achieve everything.””
13.The judge then turned to the law (paras 37-56). There has been no challenge to his analysis.

14.Then in a long section (paras 57-142) the judge rehearsed the evidence. For present purposes we can be selective. In the course of setting out the mother’s evidence (paras 69-77), the judge said this (paras 73-74):

“73 The mother described the father as having been “severely ostracised” by the community. She had no other experience of the reaction of the community to transgender or homosexual people, but described the problems for a neighbour’s children when their mother wanted to leave the religion and the consequences when one of her female cousins began to deviate in her style of dress. She said that she was very aware that the schools must uphold British values, but that “the parent body are the school”. Respect must be shown for people, no matter who they are, but at the same time the ethos of the school must be upheld, no matter what. Transgender is extremely alien to the community and against religious law. As for homosexuality, young children are not faced with it. As she put it: “I uphold the British law within our faith.” If there is a conflict between law and faith, she would follow her faith, though she would not commit a crime. The present circumstances put her in a very difficult position.

74 The mother said that there is no way that direct contact will work out for the children, for their identity, for their culture and for their whole environment. She said this, even though she knew that she and the children are entitled to legal protection against victimization. The schools would probably not throw out the children, but the environment would become hostile. The parent body would not allow their children to play with the children, and no one can tell others how to bring up their own children. “They will protect their children from contact. They wouldn’t want my children to suffer and will have every sympathy, but their own children will come first.” The children’s next schools would not have to take them, and could just say they were full. “Are we going to get the whole community to tell them off?” The mother can see the children being rarely invited to family events and festivities because people would be nervous about what they would say. There would be extreme supervision and the children’s participation would be kept at a very basic level. Already, A is being asked questions and is reluctant to commit himself fully within his peer group. This, said the mother, is “the reality – it’s who we are”.”
15.Particularly striking in this context, was the evidence of Mrs S, a very experienced foster carer who identifies herself as an observant modern Orthodox Jew, of whom the judge said this (paras 108-111):

“108 Mrs S, who clearly has a close knowledge of the workings of the community, described its unhappiness at children being fostered outside the community, though it acknowledged that she was a preferable carer to any of the available alternatives.

109 Mrs S provided two striking instances of the way in which children exposed to ‘outside influences’ will be ostracised. In 2015 Child A, a 15-year-old girl who had been sexually abused in the community was placed in her care. The girl was not invited to Hanukkah gatherings by her classmates. When Mrs S challenged the mother of one of the girl’s close friends about this, she explained that she could not risk her daughter hearing about “things” as children in the community were kept innocent and sheltered. When Mrs S described the distress that these actions were causing, the mother did invite the girl to her house, but only under strict supervision. The child lost her best friend and all her childhood friends. She now attends a different school and has absolutely no association with her former social circle.

110 Mrs S spoke of Child B, whom she had fostered from another ultra-Orthodox community. The child, aged 14, had been sexually and emotionally abused within her family and the wider community since the age of 11. She had made statements to her school about her abuse. The response had been to put her on a plane out of the country and invent a story to explain her absence. When she was returned to the country and placed in foster care, “all hell broke loose”. Mrs S said that she personally had a broad set of shoulders but that it had been a struggle to protect the child at the beginning. She was rejected by her family and no longer allowed to talk to friends. As Mrs S put it, “It’s the knowledge that is the issue.”

111 Mrs S freely described these as “awful case studies”, which she related to assist the court to understand that this response was the norm where religious culture, identity and laws are breached. She said that they were not “standout cases”. At the beginning of her fostering career, they would have had her “up in arms”, but she now saw this behaviour as being unchangeable – by local authorities, foster carers, courts and the law. “They will find a way around it.””

Of the cases described by Mrs S, the judge said this (para 178(3)-(4)):

“The cases of Child A and Child B, described by their foster carer Mrs S, show the lengths to which the community is prepared to go, regardless of the justice of the matter or the welfare of the young people … They are clear examples of discrimination and victimisation (there is no other apt description) in cases that did not raise anything like as problematic a challenge to community attitudes as the present case (emphasis added).”
16.Also of importance, as we shall see, in influencing the judge’s thinking, was the evidence of Rabbi Andrew Oppenheimer (paras 90-102). This part of the judgment requires to be read in full. Here we merely quote the salient passages. First (paras 91-92):

“91 Rabbi Oppenheimer describes Charedi communities as “warm, close-knit and supportive communities for which the teachings of Torah Judaism guide all aspects of their lives … The teachings of the Torah also highlight integrity, respect for others, peace and justice (including respect for the law of the country) and place the family and its welfare at the heart of life … Allegiance to the lifestyle … means of necessity that members have traditional values and seek to guard their children and themselves against what they regard as the dangers and excesses of modern open society.”

92 Rabbi Oppenheimer was clear that transgender and procedures to achieve sex change violate a number of basic principles in Torah Law, including the prohibition against castration (Leviticus 22.24) and the prohibition against wearing garments of the opposite sex (Deuteronomy 22.5).”
17.Next (paras 95-96):

“95 In regard to the attitude of the community, Rabbi Oppenheimer writes:

“Where a person decides to take action likely to be irreversible to transgender, Ultra-Orthodox community members will invariably take the view that, by embarking on that course, the transgender person has breached the contract which they entered into when they married their wife to observe the Torah and to establish and bring up a family in accordance with its laws. Furthermore, members of the community will naturally wish to protect themselves and their families from any discussion of the painful issues involved, especially bearing in mind the sheltered position of the community from the standpoint of open society. Knowledge of transgender amongst children in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is almost non-existent, for the reasons mentioned above concerning their lack of access to Internet and the media. There is no known precedent in the UK of a transgender person being accepted living in an Ultra-Orthodox community.

The result will be that community members will expect the family of the transgender person to limit their contact with him or her as far as possible. If the family of the transgender person nevertheless seeks, or indeed is forced, to maintain contact with that person, they will open themselves up to very serious consequences indeed. The families around them will effectively ostracise them by not allowing their children to have more than the most limited contact with that family’s children. The impact on the family in such circumstances in terms of social isolation will be devastating.

In considering the best interests of the children the obvious conclusion from the discussion above is that the children of an Ultra-Orthodox union cannot and should not be expected to have any direct contact with the father in such circumstances. It will no doubt be argued against this approach that it is cruel, lacking in tolerance, unnecessary and denies the rights of the father. But Torah law (Halacha) has the same approach to English Family Law in this type of situation, regarding issues of residence and contact, that the interests of the children are paramount. In other words the father is expected to give precedence to the needs of the children over his own needs.”

96 In his oral evidence, Rabbi Oppenheimer remarked that “ostracise” was perhaps not the best word to use for a process that would not be organised but more subtle and inevitable – “it would be so much more”.”
18.Then this (para 97):

“He … asserted that under the Torah and in reality a person is considered to have a choice, albeit a difficult one, as to whether they become transgender. If they do, they choose to place themselves outside the embrace of the community. In Torah law, to be gay or transgender is to be a sinner. Even though it may be looked on with compassion, and some people may extend the hand of friendship, that does not alter its unacceptability. The mother could not remain married to a person who made that decision. She should still seek in a constrained way to promote respect for the father but at the same time to protect the children from the consequences until they are old enough to deal with them. Young people cannot deal with these issues without undermining their faith. There is too much of a conflict to understand. There is therefore an obligation to protect the children from finding things out that are likely to damage them and cause them pain and suffering, likely to damage their growth and spiritual well-being. By educating children in the way of the Torah, they are brought up as upright people.”
19.And then, finally for present purposes, this (paras 99-101):

“99 Rabbi Oppenheimer explained that excluding ideas that might damage the development of children is “the price we pay – we limit ordinary social contact so that we transmit our spiritual ethos to the next generation”.

100 When pressed about the impact of ultra-Orthodox custom and practice in a case such as the present, Rabbi Oppenheimer replied with some warmth that this had nothing to do with emotions or feelings – it was contrary to Torah law for the children to be exposed to transgender. Further pressed as to the basis for this assertion, the Rabbi fell back upon the overriding consideration in Leviticus to be holy and to separate oneself from anything contrary to the Torah.

101 Indirect contact, on the other hand, would not, he thought, give rise to such a risk of ostracism, as it would not enable the children to have “a living relationship”.”
20.Pausing at this point there are two points which require emphasis.

21.The first is the community’s determination – what Rabbi Oppenheimer described as its “obligation to protect the children from finding things out that are likely to damage … their growth and spiritual well-being” – to shield its children from knowledge of and exposure to such matters as sexual abuse, homosexuality and transgenderism and, more generally, what Rabbi Oppenheimer called the “excesses of modern open society”; and to restrict its children from coming into contact with children who have such knowledge or have been so exposed.

22.The second is Rabbi Oppenheimer’s chilling explanation as to why indirect contact would not give rise to a risk of ostracism: “it would not enable the children to have “a living relationship”.”

23.Peter Jackson J’s response to this was brisk (paras 179-180):

“179 In balancing the advantages and disadvantages of the children being allowed to see their father, I apply the law of the land. Some witnesses in these proceedings assert that gay or transgender persons have made a lifestyle choice and must take the consequences. The law, however, recognises the reality that one’s true sexuality and gender are no more matters of choice than the colour of one’s eyes or skin.

180 It has also been said that transgenderism is a sin. Sin is not valid legal currency. The currency of the law is the recognition, protection and balancing out of legal rights and obligations. In this case, to be recognised and respected as a transgender person is a right, as is the right to follow one’s religion. Likewise, each individual is under an obligation to respect the rights of others, and above all the rights of the children.”
24.In striking contrast with Rabbi Oppenheimer’s evidence was that of Rabbi Ariel Abel (paras 78-83), who described himself as mainstream Orthodox and falling under the authority of the Chief Rabbi. He grew up in the North Manchester Charedi community and has experience of communities in London, Liverpool and Manchester at various levels of orthodoxy. The judgment (paras 80-81) summarised his evidence:


“Rabbi Abel emphasised the central importance of honouring one’s parents within Jewish law and tradition. He said that there is scarcely any circumstance in which the obligation to honour one’s father does not apply. Even if the father is an outright sinner, which is not in his view a consideration in this case, the obligation persists. He considered this aspect of the matter to have been left untreated by Rabbi Oppenheimer.

In relation to transgender, Rabbi Abel considered that there is a plurality of opinion and that the biblical position may be qualified. He contends that there is no valid reason why any person should plead ultra-Orthodox faith as a reason to disenfranchise a person in the position of the father. “There is no legitimate reason to maintain that children who are transgender-parented cannot experience in the ultra-Orthodox community a full and satisfying Orthodox Jewish life, physically, spiritually, emotionally and communally.” On the contrary, there is every reason to reunite parent and child as it is the well-being of the nuclear family and not the social preferences of the wider community that truly matter. He points to commentary by the noted encyclopaedist, the late Rabbi Waldenberg, in support of his contention that Orthodox Judaism, correctly understood, recognises the existence of, and to a certain extent accommodates, a number of non-binary identities, including transgender. He argues that the transgender issue cannot be ignored and that parents’ relationships with their children are inalienable.”
25.The judgment continues (paras 82-83):

“Rabbi Abel objected to the concept (introduced by Rabbi Oppenheimer) of the faith as a club from which people could be ejected, though he observed that this evidently happens. An approach of this kind, practically amounting to a belief, raises itself to the surface, usually in worst-case scenarios. This is a social cultural reality, not a valid Orthodox reason for separating children from parents. There is a lamentable habit of censoring. Children of divorced parents can be seated separately from other children and he had experience of this, something he described as beggaring belief. In his view, this should not be accommodated or excused in Jewish or English law. On the other hand, he had never heard of total ostracism in practice, provided the contentious matter was treated privately within the family, and not paraded before the community. However, he accepted that ostracism for these children could very possibly happen if the situation was not managed correctly with professional help. What was needed was psychological support: religious teachers should be kept out of it.

The Rabbi accepted that the present circumstances would be a challenge to the insular North Manchester community. He argued that when it comes to matters of life and death, you have to break free and seek to work with the unfamiliar problem. He gave as an example creative arrangements that might be made to allow the father to participate in A’s bar mitzvah. There are ways, and it can happen if there is a will. The issues are significant, but not insurmountable. The community is not monolithic, but multifarious. It will step back if proper arrangements are made by both parents. If the situation is unregulated, the community will take matters into its own hands. If direct contact was ordered, and the law laid down, he did not think that the community would “go to the wire” fighting an unwinnable battle.”
26.We have set this important evidence out in full because it seems to us to hold out hope of a change. Rabbi Abel demonstrates that there exists what we imagine is a lively debate, perhaps within this thoughtful, law-abiding and intellectual community and probably Orthodox Judaism generally, of the issues to which transgenderism gives rise. Does it not provide some support for a conclusion in this case that the views which drove the judge are not universally inflexible?

So even within the religious community there was a deep schism about what the Torah says and what in practice might happen if the children were to see their father. Of course, the Judge dealing with the case didn’t have to deal with what position the ultra-Orthodox community SHOULD take, but what position they realistically WOULD take

30.The judge then turned (paras 143-161) to consider the welfare checklist. For present purposes, we need refer only to this (paras 156-157), which really encapsulates the dilemma confronting him:

“156 The children will suffer serious harm if they are deprived of a relationship with their father.

157 The children would suffer serious harm if they were excluded from the normal life of the community.”
31.Finally (paras 162-191) the judge set out his Assessment and conclusion. He began as follows (paras 162-165):

“162 I find this a very troubling case. These children are caught between two apparently incompatible ways of living, led by tiny minorities within society at large. Both minorities enjoy the protection of the law: on the one hand the right of religious freedom, and on the other the right to equal treatment. It is painful to find these vulnerable groups in conflict.

163 A great deal of time has been spent at this hearing on consideration of the laws and customs of the ultra-Orthodox community. This is natural, given that it is the community within which the children live. However, Ms Ball QC and Ms Mann for the father argue that one must not look only through an ultra-Orthodox lens. I agree. Despite its antiquity, Jewish law is no more than 3,500 years old, while gender dysphoria will doubtless have existed throughout the 120,000 years that Homo sapiens has been on earth. Both sides of the question must therefore receive careful attention.

164 Faced with this intractable problem, it is not for the court to judge the way of life of the ultra-Orthodox Jew or of the transgender person. The court applies the law, and in this case its task is to identify the outcome that best upholds the children’s welfare while minimising so far as possible the degree of interference with the rights of all family members.

165 Here, the best possible outcome would be for the children to live with their mother, grow up in the community, and enjoy a full relationship with their father by regular contact. The worst outcome, I find, would be for the mother and children to be excluded from the community. The question is whether, in striving for the best outcome, the court would instead bring about the worst.”
32.He then (para 166) listed the fifteen “formidable” arguments in favour of direct contact to which we have already referred. In relation to the second factor identified by the guardian (see paragraph 28 above) he said this (para 172):

“… the father’s approach to contact would not be a reliable, static factor. It would be a variable amongst other variables. I share the view of the Anna Freud Centre and the Guardian that this must be taken into account when considering children’s welfare. It speaks for caution, but no more than that, and if it were the only obstacle to direct contact, it could probably be overcome.”
33.Turning to the “the central question of the reaction of the community if the children were to have direct contact with their father,” the judge (paras 174-176) summarised counsel’s competing submissions before expressing his conclusion as follows (para 177):

“Having considered all the evidence, I am driven to the conclusion that there is a real risk, amounting to a probability, that these children and their mother would be rejected by their community if the children were to have face-to-face contact with their father. I say “driven” because I began the hearing with a strong disposition to find that a community described by Rabbi Oppenheimer as “warm, close and supportive” and living under a religious law that “highlights integrity, respect for others, justice and peace” could tolerate (albeit without approval) these children’s right to and need for a relationship with their father. The evidence that was available before the hearing contained dire predictions, but no actual examples of ostracism. I pointed this out, and this led to a number of new statements being gathered, including significant evidence from the foster carer, Mrs S.”
34.He explained his conclusion (para 178) in twelve sub-paragraphs of which we quote the following:

“(1) It does not depend upon any view of what Jewish law is in relation to transgender, but upon what the community is likely to think it is and act upon. It may be that the humane and progressive views of Rabbi Abel and Mr Bernard will one day gain acceptance in the ultra-Orthodox communities, but I consider that in the present day the community in which the children live and go to school will, rightly or wrongly, defer to the stance described by Rabbi Oppenheimer and the authorities he cites.

(3) The cases of Child A and Child B, described by their foster carer Mrs S, show the lengths to which the community is prepared to go, regardless of the justice of the matter or the welfare of the young people (emphasis added).

(4) I cannot distinguish these cases in the way suggested by Ms Ball. They are clear examples of discrimination and victimisation (there is no other apt description) in cases that did not raise anything like as problematic a challenge to community attitudes as the present case (emphasis added).

(5) There is a consistent account from all those within the community of how it will behave …

(6) The father [and his witnesses] all accept to a substantial degree that this is what the community is like. Their thesis is that it can be managed or made to change.

(7) There is, to say the least, evidence that the practices within the community, and in particular its schools, amount to unlawful discrimination against and victimisation of the father and the children because of the father’s transgender status (emphasis added). However, the fact that the practices may be unlawful does not mean that they do not exist.

(8) I was particularly impressed by the evidence of Mrs S, an informed outsider, who compellingly described the reaction of the community to situations of which it disapproves.

(9) I was also struck by Rabbi Oppenheimer’s unyielding defence of the religious and social position as illustrating the stance that can be taken by educated persons.

(11) There is no evidence that any person in a position of authority or influence within the community wishes to challenge the behaviour of its members, still less that significant change could be expected within these children’s timescale.

(12) In these circumstances, I do not consider that there is any real prospect of a court order bringing about a beneficial alteration in the attitude of the community towards this family, even to the extent of some relatively limited normalisation of approach. This must be a subject for regret, not only for this family, but also for others facing these issues in fundamentalist communities, for whom this will be a bleak conclusion. However, these considerations cannot deflect the court’s focus from the welfare of these five children.”
35.He continued (paras 182-183):

“182 And here we come to the sad reality. I can see no way in which the children could escape the adult reaction to them enjoying anything like an ordinary relationship with their father. In the final analysis, the gulf between these parents – the mother within the ultra-Orthodox community and the father as a transgender person – is too wide for the children to bridge. They would be taught one thing in their daily lives and asked to do the opposite on repeated, conspicuous forays into the outside world, which they would have to keep quiet about afterwards. The mother, a religiously observant person, would be required to sustain something that she has been taught is religiously wrong. A, aged only 12, is already extremely anxious about contact and now feels protective towards his mother and younger siblings. Embarking on contact would place him under extreme pressure, which would inevitably have a detrimental effect on his development.

183 The children, and the mother on whom they depend, would have no effective support to deal with any of this: on the contrary, they would face suspicion or outright opposition from every quarter. The likely result is that their individual and collective well-being would be undermined to the point where their ability to remain in the community would be put at risk, or at the very least placed under permanent and severe strain, with … “a negative impact on how they function in the widest possible sense both now and in the future”.”
36.He added (para 185):

“These parents decided to bring up their children according to the narrow ways of the community, and they continue to agree about this. That being the case, the priority must be to sustain the children in the chosen way of life, preserving their existing family and social networks and their education. It is not to be forgotten that children have the right to preserve their identity (UNCRC Art.8), something that is a matter of particular pride to these children. Contact carries the clear risk that the children and their mother will become the next casualties in a collision between two unconnecting worlds. The father has already experienced the consequences of that collision, and no one knows better than she does how very painful they can be.”

The Court of Appeal had some very difficult issues to consider


42.It is important at the outset to be clear as to why the court – the State – is involved in the present case. It is because the parents have been unable to resolve their family difficulties themselves, whether with or without the assistance, formal or informal, of the community, and because one of the parents, in this case the father, has sought the assistance of the court. The court cannot decline jurisdiction. And, as judges sitting in a secular court, we must necessarily determine the case according to law, in this instance the law as laid down by Parliament in section 1(1)(a) of the Children Act 1989: see Re G (Education: Religious Upbringing) [2012] EWCA Civ 1233, [2013] 1 FLR 677, paras 92-93.

They conclude that the case had to be sent back for re-hearing (note that they do not say that the father MUST have contact, just that the case needs to be re-heard )

Our reasons for disagreeing with the analysis of the judge
76.In our judgment, Peter Jackson J’s judgment is vulnerable on a number of grounds, all interlinked but which, for purposes of clarity and analysis, it is appropriate to keep distinct.

77.First, the judge, having arrived at his conclusion (judgment, paras 182-188), did not at that point step back and ask himself what, we think, were a number of highly pertinent questions. We have already touched on much of this, but it bears further elaboration. For example, he should, we respectfully suggest, have asked himself: how do I, indeed, how can I, properly accommodate this conclusion with my role as the judicial reasonable parent applying the standards of reasonable men and women today? Can I properly come to a conclusion dictated, as I have found (judgment, paras 34, 178, 181), by the practices of a community which involve discrimination and victimisation and where the community’s focus is as much on itself and the adults as on concern for the children or child welfare? Is it enough simply to proceed on the basis (para 185) that “These parents decided to bring up their children according to the narrow ways of the community, and they continue to agree about this (emphasis added)”? Should I not directly and explicitly challenge the parents and the community with the possibility that, absent a real change of attitude on their part, the court may have to consider drastic steps such as removing the children from the mother’s care, making the children wards of court or even removing the children into public care? Should I not directly and explicitly confront the mother and the community, which professes to be law abiding, with the fact that its behaviour is or may be unlawfully discriminatory? And, not least, how can this outcome meet even the medium let alone the long-term needs and interests of the children? How can this order give proper effect to the reality, whether the community likes it or not, that the father, whether transgender or not, is and always will be the children’s father and, as such, inescapably part of their lives, now, tomorrow and as long as they live? The judge’s omission to address these questions seriously undermines, indeed, in our judgment vitiates, his ultimate conclusion.

78.Secondly, and in saying this we are very conscious of the forensic reality that this part of the case was not much explored before him, and he did not, of course, have the benefit of the submissions we have had from Stonewall and KeshetUK, we are bound to say it is very unfortunate that the judge did not address head on the human rights issues and issues of discrimination which plainly arose. His judgment recites though largely without analysing (judgment, paras 44-51, 53-56) various Convention and statutory provisions to which the father in particular had referred. But apart from the passages we have already set out, the judgment says virtually nothing else about these vitally important issues – no doubt, in this respect, reflecting the limitations of the arguments that had been addressed to the judge. This is a matter we return to below.

79.Thirdly, there is much force in the argument that the judge did not sufficiently explain why, given the basis of the mother’s and the community’s objection to direct contact, it was nonetheless feasible to contemplate indirect contact. Indeed, there is little discussion of the issue in the judgment. The judge recorded the mother’s position as being (judgment, para 9):

“The mother had been opposed to any contact but, having seen the professional advice, now accepts that the children should have indirect contact with their father three times a year. She opposes direct contact of any kind during their childhoods as that, she claims, will lead to the children and herself being ostracised by the community to the extent that they may have to leave it.”

We have already recorded (paragraph 22 above) Rabbi Oppenheimer’s views on the subject. The judge was pressed in argument (judgment, para 174) with what we think was the well-founded point, “It is not clear why indirect contact is said to be acceptable, while direct contact is not.” After all, as we have observed (paragraph 21 above), the concern of the community is to shield its children from knowledge of and exposure to such matters as transgender, and to restrict its children from coming into contact with children who have such knowledge or have been so exposed. Surely, from that point of view, indirect contact must carry with it precisely the same kinds of risk as direct contact. The judge did not address the point, merely saying (judgment, para 188) that, having refused an order for direct contact, “I will instead make an order for indirect contact. I see no reason why this should not take place four times a year.” We emphasise that this is not an argument against indirect contact; on the contrary, it is, it might be thought, an argument in favour of direct contact.
80.Fourthly, we think there is considerable substance in the complaint that, as Ms Ball puts it, the judge “gave up too easily” and decided the question of direct contact then and there and without directing even a single attempt to try and make it work. The judge recognised, by making the specific issue order directing preparation of “staged narratives”, that there was further work to be done by the guardian and the Anna Freud Centre. As Ms Ball asks rhetorically, and in our judgment there is substance in the point, why not defer a final decision on direct contact pending the outcome of that, and perhaps further, work, including work by the GesherEU Support Network about which the judge (judgment, paras 84-89) had heard evidence? Moreover, as we have already observed, why not first directly and explicitly challenge the parents and the community with the possibility that, absent a real change of attitude on their part, the court might have to consider the drastic steps we have referred to? Why not directly and explicitly confront the mother and the community with the fact that its behaviour is or may be unlawfully discriminatory? And why not attempt, even if the prospects may have seemed forlorn, the kind of step by step process adopted by Her Honour Judge Rowe QC in Re X (Number 1: Religious Differences: Schools) [2014] EWFC B230, Re X (Number 2: Orthodox Schools) [2015] EWFC B237, and Re X (Number 3: Division of Religious Festivals) [2016] EWFC B91. In our judgment, the decision which judge came to was indeed premature.

81.It follows that, in substance, the father makes good all three grounds of appeal.

82.The parties were rightly agreed that if this was our decision it would not be appropriate for us to determine what the outcome should be. The matter will have to go back for a further hearing which, in the circumstances, will be before Hayden J. Precisely what the scope of that hearing should be will be a matter for the judge. We do not anticipate a rehearing of the very full evidence on the religious views which Peter Jackson J heard but otherwise leave the scope of the evidence at the rehearing to the judge. That said, we need to make explicit what ought to be clear enough already. What we say about the community is based on the evidence adduced by the parties to these proceedings and on the findings of the judge. The community are not parties and have had no opportunity to make representations. Our observations about the community should be read on that basis.

83.In view of the fact that, for the reasons set out earlier, we propose to allow this appeal and remit the case to the family court for reconsideration, it is unnecessary for us to address at length either the issues of equality law which may arise or the issues under Article 9 of the Convention. However, we hope that it will assist the family court in its reconsideration of the case if we set out some of the issues that may have to be addressed, dealing first with equality law and then with Article 9.

The Court of Appeal then did address the equality issues

95.It is well-established on authority that discrimination which is motivated by a religious belief (however sincerely held and even if the discrimination is mandated by that religious belief) does not make discrimination under the Equality Act lawful: see Regina (E) v Governing Body of JFS and another (United Synagogue and others intervening) [2009] UKSC 15, [2010] 2 AC 728, para 35 (Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers PSC) and para 65 (Lady Hale JSC). See also Regina (Williamson and Others) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment [2005] UKHL 15, [2005] 2 AC 246, para 58, where Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe cited with approval what had been said by Mason ACJ and Brennan J in the High Court of Australia in Church of the New Faith v Commissioner of Pay-Roll Tax (Victoria) (1983) 154 CLR 120, at 136:

“Religious conviction is not a solvent of legal obligation.”
96.In the present case we are anxious that no assumption should wrongly or unfairly be made that any school attended by the children concerned has acted unlawfully or will do so in the future. As we have already mentioned, if a school were to ostracise a pupil on the ground of his or her father’s transgender status, that would be likely to amount at least to the imposition of a “detriment” on that child which is unlawful under the Equality Act. The courts of this country expect schools to comply with their legal duties under that Act as well as generally.

97.Nevertheless, we are equally concerned that, should there be action by a school which is unlawful under the Equality Act, the courts of this country should not, as a matter of public policy, simply treat it as a factor to be weighed against permitting direct contact between the father and children. To do so would, in our view, be contrary to the rule of law.

98.Accordingly, when this case returns to the family court, we would expect the judge to consider very carefully:

i) whether there would in fact be unlawful conduct even in the face of an order of the court granting the father direct contact with her children; and

ii) to what extent such unlawful conduct should be given weight in the balance to be conducted in assessing what are the best interests of those children
….


115.When the present case returns to the family court we anticipate that the court will wish to scrutinise with care the suggested justification for the apparent discrimination which the father faces on the ground of her transgender status, not least to ensure that the court itself does not breach its duty under section 6 of the HRA.

What about the issues about religious discrimination? What guidance do the Court of Appeal give in that regard?

130.In the absence of any further finding by the judge about the nature of the debate on transgender in the Charedi community, we must proceed on the basis that the views which Rabbi Oppenheimer attributed to the Charedi community are the community’s views and that their actions to exclude the children would be an expression of those beliefs. That approach then puts their religious beliefs at their highest.

131.If the matter has in due course to be determined by the court, we would take the view that in the light of developments in Strasbourg jurisprudence there would be force in Ms Ball’s submissions that the community’s beliefs, which resulted in the ready exclusion of young children from the rest of the community, did not meet the criteria set by the Strasbourg court for a religious belief that was entitled to protection under Article 9 (see paragraphs 119 and following above). In that situation, we would expect the leaders of the community to help the community to adopt a more flexible attitude to their beliefs as they might affect the children.

132.The mother and children also have their rights under Article 9, but they are outside the discussion in these paragraphs. Clearly, the courts must likewise not restrict their rights to any greater extent than that permitted by Article 9(2). The courts have a statutory obligation under section 6 of the HRA to act compatibly with the Convention.

133.We can, therefore, return to the question whether, if this court were ultimately to make an order for direct contact, that would violate the rights of the community under Article 9.

134.It is not appropriate for us to give any final view in answer to this question as that stage has not yet been reached. Provisionally, however, it seems to us that, if a court were to make an order granting the father some form of direct contact to the children, it would have to have concluded, after the most careful consideration with the parties, that that course was in the best interests of the children. If this involves any interference with any rights of the community to manifest their religious beliefs, we doubt that there would be any violation of the community’s rights under Article 9. This is because the court, as an organ of the State, will on this basis have decided that a restriction that may be involved of their right to express their religious beliefs serves the legitimate aim of protecting the children’s rights to have contact with their father and thus to enjoy family life with him, which rights are vital to their well-being. As the President held in Re G, para 43:

“In matters of religion, as in all other aspects of a child’s upbringing, the interests of the child are the paramount consideration.”
135.In making that decision, the restriction under consideration would meet the requirements of being prescribed by law. It is part of the court’s jurisdiction to make orders regulating parents’ access to their children. It would be proportionate because it would not be made immediately on the father’s application, but only after a period of further reflection in which the court has had time to consider further evidence if it wished so to do.

So whilst the Court of Appeal say that they have not reached a conclusion about the merits of the case other than that it should be re-heard, they drop the heaviest of hints that if the trial Judge finds himself in this dilemma


“156 The children will suffer serious harm if they are deprived of a relationship with their father.

157 The children would suffer serious harm if they were excluded from the normal life of the community.”

Then the religious community are going to be the ones to lose out.

Very difficult case. Just in case the first hint was not over enough, the Court of Appeal hire a very large crane and use it to lower a heavier hint into position

Concluding observations
136.It may very well be when the matter has been further considered that there is room for some compromise position. As we have made clear, we consider that, under Strasbourg jurisprudence, each side has to be prepared to compromise. That means that it must be ready to make some concession, and the compromise must be one which is appropriate in a plural, democratic society governed by the rule of law.

137.Moreover, by the time any direct contact takes place, subject to the further directions given in these proceedings, these children are likely (as mentioned) to have had assistance of the highest standard in coming to terms with their father’s decision. We envisage that the assistance will make them aware of the need to be sensitive to the views of others, including (as at present) their own community, which is unable as we understand it to accommodate changes of identity within their own interpretation of their religious laws. These are difficult areas for the holders of faith, which underscores the need for broadmindedness and tolerance in our diverse society.

138.In our judgment, the best interests of these children seen in the medium to longer term is in more contact with their father if that can be achieved. So strong are the interests of the children in the eyes of the law that the courts must, with respect to the learned judge, persevere. As the law says in other contexts, “never say never”. To repeat, the doors should not be closed at this early stage in their lives.

Parents can consent to restriction of liberty for children under 18, Court of Appeal rules

This appeal overturns Keehan J’s decision that whilst a parent could consent to a foster care arrangement that involves a restriction of liberty for a child under 16 (which thus means that it does not require either Secure Accommodation or court authorisation), they cannot do so for a child aged 16-17 and 363 days.

Re D (A child) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/1695.html

The Court of Appeal considered things very carefully and in huge detail. I don’t have time for the detailed analysis that the case merits, but it is an important decision, so people need to know it. The Court of Appeal felt, looking at things closely, that there was no magic in the age 16 when dealing with young people who lack capacity.

84.This has an important corollary. Given that there is no longer any ‘magic’ in the age of 16, given the principle that ‘Gillick capacity’ is ‘child-specific’, the reality is that, in any particular context, one child may have ‘Gillick capacity’ at the age of 15, while another may not have acquired ‘Gillick capacity’ at the age of 16 and another may not have acquired ‘Gillick capacity’ even by the time he or she reaches the age of 18: cf, In Re R (A Minor) (Wardship: Consent to Treatment) [1992] Fam 11, pages 24, 26.

128.In my judgment, in the context with which we are here concerned (see paragraphs 84-85 above), parental responsibility is, in principle, exercisable in relation to a 16- or 17-year old child who, for whatever reason, lacks ‘Gillick capacity’.

Consider a dentist, who is deciding whether to treat someone who is not an adult. If a 7 year old says “I don’t want you to take my teeth out” the dentist will of course look to the parent to say yes or no, and won’t take the child’s views as being final. If a 15 year old says that, the dentist may try to encourage and persuade, but can’t really just operate against the 15 year old’s will, and nor can they just take parental consent. The 16 year old with capacity has autonomy over their own body and mouth. BUT if the parents come with a 16 year old and explain that as a result of special needs, the young person lacks capacity, the dentist would probably be able to take the parental consent as being valid. The parents are exercising parental responsibility for a young person who does not have Gillick competence to make their own decisions (even though they are of an age where most young people would be)

I’m not sure that I agree with this conclusion, and I feel that it has some issues with Lord Kerr’s formulation in Cheshire West.

“77 The question whether one is restricted (as a matter of actuality) is determined by comparing the extent of your actual freedom with someone of your age and station whose freedom is not limited. Thus a teenager of the same age and familial background as MIG and MEG is the relevant comparator for them. If one compares their state with a person of similar age and full capacity it is clear that their liberty is in fact circumscribed. They may not be conscious, much less resentful, of the constraint but, objectively, limitations on their freedom are in place.

78 All children are (or should be) subject to some level of restraint. This adjusts with their maturation and change in circumstances. If MIG and MEG had the same freedom from constraint as would any child or young person of similar age, their liberty would not be restricted, whatever their level of disability. As a matter of objective fact, however, constraints beyond those which apply to young people of full ability are – and have to be – applied to them. There is therefore a restriction of liberty in their cases. Because the restriction of liberty is – and must remain – a constant feature of their lives, the restriction amounts to a deprivation of liberty.

79 Very young children, of course, because of their youth and dependence on others, have – an objectively ascertainable – curtailment of their liberty but this is a condition common to all children of tender age. There is no question, therefore, of suggesting that infant children are deprived of their liberty in the normal family setting. A comparator for a young child is not a fully matured adult, or even a partly mature adolescent. While they were very young, therefore, MIG and MEG’s liberty was not restricted. It is because they can – and must – now be compared to children of their own age and relative maturity who are free from disability and who have access (whether they have recourse to that or not) to a range of freedoms which MIG and MEG cannot have resort to that MIG and MEG are deprived of liberty.”

And later

157.The ECHR enshrines the rights of the citizen, but its principal purpose and function is the protection of rights by engaging the State. The Convention is not an academic exercise. Key questions in every case where the Convention is invoked are: on the facts, is there an obligation for the State to become involved? Are the domestic laws and procedures apt to engage the State when necessary, and to protect the citizen’s rights? But these are questions to be asked and answered of the domestic law, for our purposes the common law.

158.It should be no surprise that the common law has provided the answer here. Although it is not necessary for the decision in this case, I also agree with the President that the question whether there is “confinement” should be approached in the careful way analysed by Lord Kerr in Cheshire West, at paragraphs 77 to 79. A three year-old child must be restrained for her own safety if walking near a busy road, or playing near a bonfire. This restraint would be unlawful if exercised over an adult. But it is lawful if exercised by any adult looking after the child. In my view, there is no need for an elaborate analysis of delegated parental responsibility to explain this. In such circumstances, restraint to keep the child safe lawfully could (and normally should) be exercised by any nearby adult. The true analysis is that explained by Lord Kerr. For all present purposes, “confinement” means not simply “confining” a young child to a playpen or by closing a door, but something more: an interruption or curtailment of the freedom of action normally to be ascribed to a child of that age and understanding. In most of the myriad instances in life where children are restrained in one way or another – by being compelled unwillingly to go to school, go to bed at a given time and so forth – there can be no question of their being “confined” so as to fulfil the first limb of the test in Storck.

159.Where there is confinement in the sense I have indicated, so that there may be a need for the State to engage to prevent possible abuse, the questions then become whether parental rights (and duties) can justify the confinement, and whether the State may have an obligation, to be discharged by local authorities and perhaps by the courts, to intervene. Excessively cautious or strict parenting, leading, let us say, to a fourteen year-old who is prevented from ever leaving the house save to be transported to and from school by a parent, might be a case of “confinement”. Other more extreme examples clearly would do so. Then the issue of whether the confinement is justified may arise. It will be evident that such cases are highly fact-specific and that the State will accord great flexibility to parents in caring for their children. That flexibility must reflect the facts, including the “discretion” of the child.

It rather seems to me that the nuts and bolts of Cheshire West are that one compares whether the restrictions on a child are part and parcel of family life or above and beyond that, not by comparing X child with one of similar needs and circumstances but with a child of a similar age. And that means that it would NOT be reasonable for a foster parent to lock the bedroom door of a 17 year old or restrain them if they tried to leave the home, and it doesn’t become reasonable just because X happens to lack capacity and needs those restrictions to keep them safe.

The Court of Appeal have clearly spent hours and hours on this, and my gut feeling is just my gut feeling, so it would be utterly wrong of me to try to argue that the Court of Appeal are wrong here.

Re D is the law now. Re D is.

Re D is.

Re D is

Re D is

(And if you aren’t reading Tom King and Mitch Gerard’s “Mister Miracle”, can I urge you to do that in the strongest possible terms? It is a mark of how great they currently are that the only work to compare to it this year is the same creative team’s run on Batman. )

The Court of Appeal stress that if a Local Authority are relying on parental consent to authorise a restrictive regime in foster care, they can’t simply rely on generic section 20 consent to authorise this.

149.Finally (paras 126-128), Keehan J rejected the local authority’s contention that the parents’ consent to D being accommodated pursuant to section 20 of the Children Act 1989 was a valid consent to D’s confinement at the residential unit. He disagreed with Mostyn J’s analysis in Re RK (Minor: Deprivation of Liberty) [2010] COPLR Con Vol 1047. Furthermore, he said (para 128):

“the “consent” is to the child being accommodated. It cannot be inferred that that consent means that those with parental responsibility have consented to whatever placement the local authority considers, from time to time, appropriate.”
150.I agree with Keehan J that the mere fact that a child is being accommodated by a local authority pursuant to section 20 does not, of itself, constitute a parental consent for Nielsen purposes to the particular confinement in question. In the first place it needs to be borne in mind that parental consent is not, in law, an essential pre-requisite to a local authority’s use of section 20: see Williams and another v Hackney London Borough Council [2017] EWCA Civ 26, [2017] 3 WLR 59. Moreover, even where there is such consent, there remains the powerful point made by Keehan J: to what precisely have the parents consented? That is a matter of fact to be decided in light of all the circumstances of the particular case. Here, as we have seen, Keehan J, found (see paragraph 9 above) that his parents had agreed to D’s being placed at Placement B just as he had earlier found (paragraph 107 above) that they had previously agreed to his being placed at Hospital B. I can see no basis for challenging either of those findings of fact.

(I’m not at all sure now of the status of Keehan J’s previous assertion that whilst parents can consent to restriction of liberty in foster care under s20, they can’t do so under ICOs because the threshold has been found to be crossed. That wasn’t in the case that was appealed, and it has always seemed to me a rather arbitrary distinction. I can’t see that the Court of Appeal look at this, but it is a long judgment, I may have missed it.)

Re D is.