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Judge removes child from disabled mother over costs of care

 

 

This is the headline from the Daily Telegraph story. And rightly, we’d be appalled by this. If the reason for the child not being with mother is that it is too expensive to keep them together, that would be dreadful.  It would also have been appealed, so immediately one thinks that there must be a bit more too it than that.

The impression from the headline would be that this was about it costing too much to give the mother some practical help with the child’s care, because there are things that she can’t do alone as a result of her disabilities (you might be thinking that she needs special equipment to bath him etc)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11842893/Judge-removes-child-from-disabled-mother-over-costs-of-care.html

A five-year-old boy has been removed from his disabled mother’s care as a judge dismissed an allegation of ‘social engineering’ despite ruling it would cost too much to keep them together.

The family court judge ruled that the child must be taken from the care of his disabled mother claiming her disability made it impossible for her to meet her disabled son’s needs by herself, and the level of local authority support she would need would be too extensive.

 

 

Here’s the judgment, Re T (a child) 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B123.html

 

I don’t think the Telegraph piece is a bad bit of legal reporting. It isn’t a particularly accurate headline (which is a shame, since the headline here IS the story), but I know that journalists get their suggested headline changed to make it more arresting/compelling/clickbait-worthy, so I don’t blame the journalist for this.

The journalist had obviously taken the trouble to read the judgment, since she quotes bits of it. Rather a shame that she doesn’t link to it, because if she had, anyone reading past the second paragraph would see that the triggering incident for the care proceedings was the father of the child sexually abusing the child’s brother. Which casts a different light on things – there’s obviously rather more to it than just the mother needing help and support and said help and support being too expensive.

 

Readers can look at the judgment for themselves  – I don’t think it is beyond reproach – there’s nothing really which conveys to a lay person who doesn’t know all of the background in plain English what this mother could or could not do.

Sadly the Local Authority’s case is that despite her best intentions and obvious love for her son, CB is not able to offer good enough care for T and that his needs, which are heightened on account of his developmental delay, will simply not be met in her care. From the outset the social worker has made plain that CB has not intentionally neglected or harmed T. The Authority acknowledges that T is clean and well presented; it is the more nuanced aspects of parenting that are beyond CB’s capabilities.

 

They are so nuanced that I don’t feel that they are fully spelled out in an otherwise careful and balanced judgment. The nearest it comes, in my reading is:-

 

 She was able to provide basic care skills and T was always well presented and she was ready to acknowledge the fact that this could be in some way due to the absence of MB and she was able to concentrate on T. She observed warmth from the mother so far as T was concerned but remained concerned that strategies and suggestions were not sustained. Crucially T’s care required someone to “forward think for him” and she did not think that the mother had that capacity saying that the mother does not possess the skills, the knowledge and the understanding to provide anticipatory help. This could not be achieved unless somebody was with her all the time.

 

and

 

I record that Dr Tagart’s views at this stage namely:

“[T] requires an emotionally attuned adult to provide his care; this person or persons will need to be able to provide warmth, boundaries and model appropriate behaviour. They will require a high degree of patience because T will require many opportunities in order to acquire skills and concepts.”

 

 

[Personally, I would have preferred something much more concrete – I note that the mother in this case had an IQ of 69 and everything that we know about people with that level of functioning suggests that real, concrete examples are better than abstract theoretical concepts, so given that I can read this judgment and have very little idea of what it is said that she can’t do is put into sharp focus that it must have been really hard for these parents to understand what they were doing wrong]

 

 

On the issue of whether there was a package of support that could be put in place for the mother to help her meet the child’s needs, the expert opinion was this

Dr Blumenthal was also clear that mother’s level of disability needs a supportive partner who would be present for most of the time and it was likely that given T’s entire developmental trajectory over the next 12 years he would need more than he is getting now.

 

 

Whatever the mother’s problems were, the Judge was satisfied that they could only be addressed by another person living with her at all times.  Given what I said at the outset about the child’s father, he clearly isn’t an option.

That would mean that this wasn’t really a case about providing support and the support being too expensive, but about the issue in principle of whether once the level of support is “Another person being paid to live with mother and child, and that person to care for the child for the next 10-13 years”  that is reasonable or too high.

 

The Judge looked at all of the powerful caselaw about keeping families together and made his decision

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Conclusion and findings
  2. There is unanimity in this case amongst the experts, the social worker, the local authority assessors and the guardian that despite the mother’s very best intentions and unconditional love and commitment to T, mother is not able to offer good enough care for T. I accept that evidence. He has a high level of need as a consequence of his developmental delay which simply cannot be met by the mother who has difficulties herself for all the reasons I hope that I have set out carefully in this judgment.
  3. There is no suggestion that CB has intentionally neglected or harmed T and his basic care is good enough. T is always clean and well presented and CB has done her utmost to meet T’s needs.
  4. One of the major issues in this case has been to the extent to which it would be possible for the local authority in providing support to the mother to care for T could effectively make up for her deficits and for T in that way to be provided with good enough parenting. It has been suggested that to remove T from his mother’s care and provide an optimum level of parenting by adopters or long term foster carers is in effect a feature of social engineering.
  5. I reject that proposition that make the following findings:

    1. The level of support that would be required in relation to such an arrangement would be so extensive as to be detrimental to T’s welfare.

    2. The mother due to her high level of anxiety has found it difficult in the past to fully engage with the extent of help being offered and although proceedings may have finished would be ever fearful and anxious regarding local authority involvement which in turn would devolve on T.

    3. T needs better than good enough parenting and if he does not receive it then the harm identified by Dr Mallya would intensify. The gap between his chronological and developmental age is already widening while in the care of the mother. Continued care by her would cause him continuing and increasing significant harm, albeit entirely unintentional.

    4. T’s welfare needs requires him to be removed from his mother’s care and continued care by her in the home environment will be harmful to him and he will not be able to reach his potential as his mother is unable to promote his development consistently. This would have an impact on the opportunities available to him in later life. I find that although there is little doubt that T is the centre of the mother’s firmament she has been unable to consistently implement the advice and strategies that professionals have offered but, to her very great credit, has made some progress since she was T’s sole carer since the autumn of 2014.

  6. The fundamental principle in cases of this sort is that there is a duty imposed on the court to make such order that accords with the paramountcy of T’s welfare. There is, in my judgment, nothing in our existing case law that undermines this fundamental principle and the words “nothing else will do” does not and should not exclude the overriding welfare consideration in relation to any particular child’s case. The issue in this case has been the capacity of T’s parents, and most particularly CB, to satisfy his overwhelming welfare needs for the duration of his childhood and indeed, his life given the nature of his disability.
  7. My task is to establish that there is proper evidence from the local authority, the experts and the children’s guardian which addresses all the realistically possible options for this child. I have to scrutinise any analysis of those options. I am satisfied that proper evidence is before the court in order to enable me to do so and that includes the evidence of course from the parents themselves.
  8. Having reviewed all the evidence I am satisfied that I have all that is necessary to set out in this judgment the rigorous analysis and comparison of the realistic options for T’s future that our law requires.
  9. I record the mother’s absolute sincerity in wishing to care for T but unfortunately this conflicts directly with his welfare interests and this is directly connected to her own level of functioning. The risks to T in terms of his future welfare of remaining in his mother’s care are just too great and not manageable in terms of additional local authority support for the reasons that I have articulated.
  10. I have little doubt, and I say so with great sadness, that the judgment that I gave at the end of April has disqualified any prospect of MB and CB caring for T together. CB has told me how sad it is that they are not all together and I have enormous sympathy for that sadness.

 

 

I think that there are valid criticisms of this case (and this is not a particularly awful example, it is representative of a larger problem), that the process in family justice can lead to language being used in an opaque way with jargon and theoretical concepts rather than hard, clear, obvious and compelling plain English that says “the mum can do this, but she can’t do THAT”

 

This story from Community Care illustrates the point

 

http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2015/08/05/social-worker-criticised-judge-using-jargon-court-report/

 

The judge quoted paragraphs of the assessment where, he said, the language obscured the meaning:

“I do not intend to address the couple’s relationship suffice it to say it is imbued with ambivalence : both having many commonalities emanating from their histories that create what could be a long lasting connection or alternative relationship that are a reflection of this. Such is this connection they may collude to undermine the placement.”

“Due to [the grandmother’s] apparent difficulties identifying the concerns , I asked her to convey a narrative about her observations in respect of [the mother and father’s] relationship.”

Quoting the second paragraph, the judge asked: “What would be wrong in saying ‘I asked her to tell me’?”

He also questioned multiple uses of the word “interplay”, for example: “[the grandmother] clearly believes that paternity issues had a significant interplay on [the father’s] ability to say no to the mother.” He said the word ‘impact’ or ‘effect’ would be more understandable

 

 

Hell yeah to that.

 

In this case, this use of language in a way that is opaque on the key issue of what mother could do and what she could not do that led to a conclusion that she needed another adult present at all times is additionally worrying, because these proceedings had actually concluded a year earlier with the child staying with mum under a Supervision Order. The Local Authority brought the case back, saying that mum had not been able to do as well as they had hoped.

So one would imagine that this could be spelled out with some very clear examples.

[To be fair, it may be that this is all set out in the threshold document, which sadly just gets dealt with like this :-

I have looked at the local authority final threshold document. It is evident of course from the findings that I made in the judgment of 29th April that threshold is crossed for the purposes of s.31 of the Children Act. I have carefully balanced the accounts of the parents with conflicting accounts of the local authority and the experts and having done so find that numbers 1 to 4 and 7 to 10 of the local authority’s final threshold document are proved to the requisite standard.

 

That’s fine for those who were present and have it in front of them, but the absence of specific findings about mother’s care since the Supervision Order was made leaves this judgment a bit lacking in that one regard, that a reader can’t easily work out what this mother is said to have done wrong. And without that, it is hard to decide whether you think it is a fair conclusion or not that she would need someone else living with her in order to care for the child.

 

As I said at the start, I don’t think that it is a bad piece by the Telegraph – the headline leads you to think that this was a question of money and penny-pinching and that’s not a fair reflection of the case. There is a legitimate grumble about this case that one simply can’t read it and work out what mother could not do, the language there is flowery and conceptual rather than practical.

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A tale of One Telegraph – follow up

I said that I would look out for the transcript of the judgment that Mr Booker was reporting about

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/16/a-tale-of-two-telegraphs/

The bare facts that we knew were – His Honour Judge Jones, two boys, a bruise, and an older child, and Placement Orders being made.

This case here, ticks all of those boxes

Re A (a child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B200.html

I don’t want to get stuck into the facts too much, because there’s no way to be SURE that it is the same case that Mr Booker was writing about. You may recall that the central complaint in Mr Booker’s piece was that the parents weren’t able to fight the case and were not allowed into Court.

From Re A, the Court say this:-

 

  1. The parties to the applications and their legal representations are as follows:
  • the Local Authority, X County Council brings both applications in respect of the children and are represented today by Miss Beattie;
  • the children’s mother L is represented today by Miss Erwood. The mother has been present during the course of today, but she like the father has decided not to remain within this courtroom this afternoon for the purposes of this judgment. That decision is perfectly understandable so far as the Court is concerned;
  • The children’s father is CC. He shares parental responsibility for the children. He is represented by Mr Blythin;
  • The children are represented by their Guardian Miss Siân Wilson who has been present today and is represented by their solicitor Miss Debbie Owens.

 

A parent deciding that they don’t want to come in and hear the judgment is not that uncommon, and is an utterly different thing to being told they aren’t allowed to come in.

It can’t be an easy thing to listen to, particularly where (as these parents did) they have decided not to fight the case and they know that the outcome is going to be something that will break their heart.

One of Mr Booker’s complaints is that the parents were told that there was no prospect of appeal. That would be right in this case, because the parents decided not to oppose the case. It would be an extremely unlikely scenario that a person can decide not to fight a case and then the same day have legal grounds to appeal the decision.

It is always difficult with a Mr Booker story to be sure when you actually have the judgment that matches up with his case, and in his defence, it could be that this is another case entirely.

There’s nothing improper about the judgment in Re A – it considers everything that needs to be looked at, it is not a rubber stamp, it gives proper regard to the evidence and the legal tests and it is as kind as a Judge can be in those difficult circumstances.

IF this is the case that Mr Booker complains of, there is absolutely nothing in it that warrants the level of complaint he was making.

They had legal representation, they were entitled to go into the Court, they were entitled to instruct their lawyers to fight the case. By the sounds of it, they were given advice that the chances of doing so successfully were very poor and they decided not to put themselves through that ordeal. Perhaps they regretted it almost immediately. Perhaps they feel in hindsight that they didn’t feel that they had a choice. Perhaps they wish that they had fought the case and that they will never know now what might have happened. But they had the choice to make, and they made that choice with legal advice.

Perhaps (and I really don’t want to besmirch these particular lawyers, it is more of a general complaint) lawyers don’t always make it completely clear enough to parents that the lawyer is there to advise them, but that the parent can refuse to take that advice. They can tell the lawyer to fight on, and the lawyer’s job then is to fearlessly represent that client without fear or favour.  You can tell your lawyer, thanks, but not thanks.

Unlike a boxing cornerman, your lawyer can’t throw in the towel on your behalf, even if they think you will take a horrible beating. Only you can throw the towel in.

[One can accept of course that someone can legitimately hold a view that adoption is wrong in all cases and that any case involving adoption is thus wrong and unfair. If that’s your view, then like Ian of Forced Adoption, you’re entitled to make complaint about all and any cases. But if you are instead arguing that in this particular case, the parents were robbed of a fair hearing, and denied due process, there’s nothing to support that assertion]

If it isn’t the same case (and he is able quite easily to establish the date of the final hearing and who was representing the parents to show otherwise) then we will have to wait and see for when the real case he was writing about shows up.

 

There ARE things that go wrong in family law, there are cases where parents are done great injustice (like the HH Judge Dodds case that Mr Booker also writes about) and it is a good thing that there are people to make those injustices known. It is only by dragging them into the light that things will get better.  But we do also have to be responsible in reporting and be sure that if we are shouting that there’s a wolf that what you are seeing is really a wolf.

 

A tale of two Telegraphs

 

Two recent stories in the Telegraph about Court cases.

 

The first, here

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/11412971/Why-dont-the-family-courts-obey-the-law.htmlr

 

is from a writer that you all know Christopher Booker.

 

Mr Booker’s story here is that a mother in care proceedings lost her child at an interim stage because of ‘one small bruise’ and was not allowed into the Court room during most of the hearings, and that this was because of their lawyers.

 

On a court order, the two boys were taken into care, and over the following months, through several court hearings from which the parents were excluded by their lawyers

 

Last April, the couple were summoned to a final hearing to decide their sons’ future. The mother was represented by lawyers she had been given by Women’s Aid, which works closely with the local authority. As an intelligent woman, studying for a university degree, she and her partner arrived early at the court, for what was scheduled to be a five-day hearing. They were armed with files of evidence and a list of witnesses they wished to call, all of which they believed would demolish the local authority’s case.

But the mother describes how they were astonished to be told by their lawyers that again they would not be permitted to enter the court. Half an hour later, the barristers emerged to say that the judge had decided that their two boys should be placed for adoption. There was no judgment for them to see, and no possibility of any appeal against his decision. This Wednesday the couple will have a final “goodbye session” with their sons, never to see them again.

 

 

Mr Booker names His Honour Judge Jones as the judge behind this story. [He doesn’t quite give him that courtesy, instead assuming that he is on first name terms with a Judge who he’s about to rip apart in a national newspaper]

 

Now, there are two distinct possibilities here.

 

  1. Everything that Mr Booker reports here is true.
  2. What Mr Booker reports is not what happened and something has gotten lost in the telling of the story.

 

As ever with Mr Booker, he doesn’t make it explicit that there’s a single source for his story, but I can’t see a second source anywhere. Now, that doesn’t mean that it won’t turn out to be true, but I’d feel happier when dealing with extraordinary claims to see confirmation of the story from more than one source.

 

We simply don’t know until we see the judgment from His Honour Judge Jones. In fact, if the latter of those two possibilities is true, we may not even recognise the judgment as relating to this case at all.

 

It would be utterly wrong, and utterly appealable, for a Judge to make an Interim Care Order removing a child from parents without letting them into the court-room, and utterly wrong, and utterly appealable for a Judge to make a Care Order and Placement Order without allowing the parents into the Court room and allowing them to have their opportunity to fight the case if they wished to. If this happened, it would be tremendously wrong.

 

If what Mr Booker says is what actually happened, then he is utterly right to rage against it and I would join him in his rage. If I was a betting man, my money would be on the second possibility, and that he has not been given a full and complete account of what happened.

 

HOWEVER, and I will be absolutely fair to him, if he had told the story of the case before HH J Dodds where the parties attended the first hearing and the Judge made three Care Orders in a five minute hearing, I would not have believed that either, and Mr Booker would have been right and I would have been wrong.

 

I would have said so had that happened. He is also right to draw attention to that Court of Appeal decision about HH J Dodds, and it does highlight that sometimes things happen in Courts that fly in the face of everything you believe and that really unfair things can happen to people. If it happens to you, it is small consolation that it is rare and shouldn’t happen, it must be utterly devastating. Some of the people who come to Mr Booker, or any of the other campaigners, are coming with completely truthful accounts of dreadful injustice, and it is important that they have somewhere to turn, someone who will listen to them.

 

As George Orwell said – We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

 

And although I’m not asserting that Mr Booker or any of the campaigning groups are either rough men, or would be willing to visit violence on anyone, you hopefully get the general thrust of the point. In being willing to listen to the stories of injustice that people tell them, they provide a mechanism for injustice to come to light, and that is an important thing.

 

I hope that Mr Booker is wrong here, but I accept that he could be right, and if he is, it is important that people hear of it.

 

Sometimes Judges do behave in appalling ways. Sometimes social workers do too. So sometimes, the sort of stuff that Mr Booker rages about does happen, and when it does, he is right to be bloody cross. Even if I think that sometimes Mr Booker is the boy who cries wolf, there are wolves in the world, and that boy was eventually right.

 

If and when I see a case from HH Judge Jones that relates to Care Orders, involving Denbighshire Social Services, two boys and a bruise, I will update you. Perhaps Mr Booker is right. If he is, it is a scandal and I will commend him for bringing it to light. If he is mistaken, then no doubt there will be a correction and an apology, not least to a Judge who has been accused of acting in a way that would make anyone reading it think much less of him.

 

 

[Here is an idea, which I’m sure won’t be taken up – if a parent comes to a journalist with a story that sounds extraordinary about the way they were treated in Court, get the parent to sign an authority allowing the journalist to approach the solicitor representing them, and for the solicitor to read the proposed article and tell the journalist whether that’s an accurate depiction of what really happened, or if the facts have got a bit mixed up]

 

 

Second case

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11412861/Judge-refuses-mothers-plea-to-treat-terminally-ill-son-saying-he-should-be-allowed-to-die.html

 

In which Mrs Justice Hogg, sitting in the Court of Protection made a declaration that the hospital could lawfully stop treating an 18 year old with a brain tumour, even though that withdrawal of treatment would end his life and his parents were arguing that the treatment should continue.

 

Now, this is a story which feels much more solid. It is easier to believe when reading it that what it says happens is what happened. (Booker’s story may well turn out to be true, but it has question marks over it that this one does not)

 

The hearing was in public, which makes it a lot easier for a reporter to put out a strong story with sources – in this case, there are quotations from the judgment and comments from both sides, and the report gives the sense of what a difficult decision this must be either way. It also has the sense of being the sort of thing that happens in the Court of Protection – these are the sort of decisions that have to be taken, the evidence heard and issues raised are consistent with the way one might imagine such a hearing to take place.

 

Again, until we get the judgment, it is difficult to analyse whether the Judge was right or wrong in making that decision – we simply don’t have enough of the key pieces of information or to see how the Judge balanced the competing arguments. So when it comes up, I will share it with you, and we can have the debate – hopefully it won’t be long.

 

It is hard not to have an emotional response however, and my sympathies on an emotional level are with the parents. I don’t think there tend to be many such decisions that go with the heart rather than the head (or with the parents rather than the medics) and I tend to think that the wishes of the family ought to carry rather more weight than they often seem to at the moment, as an overall criticism of these decisions rather than saying that the Judge in this particular case got it wrong.

 

It will be interesting to see how the Judge dealt with the right to life issue, article 2 being something that binds the Court as a public body, and that being an unqualified right. There are previous decisions which do sanction this withdrawal of treatment, largely connected to the right to die with dignity

 

It does make me somewhat uncomfortable that where a family want that for a person it is generally resisted, but when the medics want it and the family oppose it, it generally happens. Is the judiciary too deferential to the views of medical professionals? That’s a much wider debate.

Christmas mass

I think that I’ve found the Court of Appeal case from THIS Daily Telegraph story

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11355745/Judge-orders-father-to-take-his-children-to-church.html

 

Or rather, Rich Greenhill found it. My mistake in searching was to be looking for a case about Catholic Mass, Christmas, Catholicism or even religion. That turned up nothing, so it is more of a brute force approach.

All we really know, to find the case, is that it was an appeal from HH Judge Orrell, the report says “children” so there’s more than one child, and the original case was heard in 2009.  Oh, and the Daily Telegraph father says that his oldest son is now ten, so we know that the case is about a boy born in 2004.

So, I found one Court of Appeal decision in 2009 from HH J Orrell, but it relates to one child, and doesn’t mention Christmas mass, catholicism or religion.  I don’t think it is therefore Re B (a child) 2009.

And Rich Greenhill sent me Re F (Children) 2013, which is a refusal of permission to appeal from a judgment by HH J Orrell and it is about two children, and it does mention  that the father would be spending some of the Christmas holidays with the children – there were a huge number of complaints by father, but attendance at Christmas Mass isn’t one of them.  And the order being appealed was from 2011.

Initially, I discounted it.

But but but, the Re F judgment does describe the father as Dr F, and we DO know from the Telegraph story that the father in their case was a “51 year old psychologist”

The children were two boys, the oldest being born in January 2004, so I think that’s another tick in the box.

And the appeal hearing here is about final orders, and says that the proceedings began in 2009 so it is possible that we are talking about the same case, just at a later stage.

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/49.html&query=Orrell&method=boolean

 

I’d be reluctant to put too much store by the Daily Telegraph father and Dr F being the same person – it might instead be that they are two unrelated cases and that the Court of Appeal case with Daily Telegraph dad has not been reported.

Those are the only two  reported cases in the relevant timeframe where the Court of Appeal considered a private law case appeal against an order of HH Judge Orrell. And Re B doesn’t seem at all right because it was dealing with a 14 year old girl (who presumably would just decide for herself what she wanted to do on Christmas Eve) and not two children.

Re F  – is an appeal from HH J Orrell, relates to two boys, the oldest is the same age as the Daily Telegraph story, and is private law. And the father in both cases has a professional qualification which might entitle him to be addressed as Dr.

Even if Re F is the same one, it doesn’t help that much, but it doesn’t actually report the substantial feature of the Telegraph’s story, which is a complaint that the Judge :-

(a) Made an order that wasn’t asked for

(b) Made an order that was unfair

(c) That order was requiring a father to take his children to Christmas Mass, despite him not being Catholic.

(d) Had done so as a result of the Judge’s own religious beliefs rather than on any argument.

And the appeal as reported doesn’t tackle any of that.