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Back off War child. Seriously

Yet another alleged radicalisation case, this time private law.

Amongst the many allegations, that the father had wanted to give the child a name which in Arabic meant “War”

 

And if you think that a Point Break reference is beneath this blog, then you haven't been paying attention

And if you think that a Point Break reference is beneath this blog, then you haven’t been paying attention

 

Re A and B (Children : Restrictions on Parental Responsibility : Extremism and Radicalisation in private law) 2016

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/40.html

 

There were two children, aged 3 1/2 and 2. The parents are separated. The mother alleged in private law proceedings that the father was showing signs of extremist behaviour and that he presented a risk to the children as a result.

 

Outwith the extremism allegations, there were some very serious domestic violence episodes, and as a result the father was imprisoned and there was an order for his deportation

 

 

  • On the 13th June 2014, in breach of the order made the preceding November, F came within the area of M’s address in Cheltenham, he was carrying mobile phones and various other items and wearing protective motorcycle-wear (he had driven there by car). F was found by a police officer in M’s garden behind the shed and he was arrested, charged and remanded in custody. This incident, which ultimately led to F’s conviction, resulted in a multi-agency risk assessment (MARAC) collating evidence about what the local authority and police considered to be a high risk case of domestic abuse. M said in her statement, and I accept, that she was regularly warned by the police and other professionals that they were worried about her safety and that of the children. She and the children were moved from Cheltenham, to a location which remains confidential. M has become highly anxious, has had counselling (to which I have already referred) and CBT. She describes herself as on a constant state of high alert and is frightened to let the children out of her sight; even to the extent that she is too fearful to allow them to go to nursery school.
  • Following the June incident on 14th October 2014, M applied for a further non-molestation order without-notice; a further injunction order was made forbidding F from using or threatening violence against M or from going near her property; the order made expires on 14th October 2016. On 15th December 2014, while on remand, F applied for CA orders including, somewhat unrealistically, a child arrangements order that A and B live with him and a prohibited steps order. Meanwhile, as arranged by the authorities, M had moved to another address in a different area of the country to stop F attempting to get to her and the children again.
  • F’s criminal trial took place at Bristol Crown Court on 26th February 2015 and 2nd March 2015; he was convicted on two counts of a breach of a non-molestation order and was sentenced by His Honour Judge Tabor QC, on 9th March 2015, to consecutive sentences of 3 years’ imprisonment. The judge made a 10 year restraining order. The court also made a recommendation for deportation as F is a foreign national who had received a sentence of more than 12 months.

 

In case you want to know what the ‘various other items’ were:-

 

 

  • On 13th June 2014 F was in breach of a non-molestation order when he was found by police hiding in the rear garden of M’s home with various items concealed about his person, including a black face covering, a torch, an aerosol spray can, camouflage gloves, a black cutting tool and holder, an eye mask, safety glasses, iPhone and Samsung phone. Another bag containing a hammer and screwdriver was discovered in F’s hiding place behind the garden shed (later found to have traces of F’s DNA) and a search of F’s car revealed two further mobile telephones.

 

Brrr.

 

In the criminal trial, father denied everything

 

 

  • F denied having been in M’s garden at all and said that the police had made up all the evidence and that he was the victim of a big conspiracy. As His Honour Judge Tabor said F had, since the moment of arrest, sought to cast the blame on everyone but himself. F had accused practically every person concerned with the case of lying, including M, M’s family, the two arresting officers, the interviewing officers, the social worker who interviewed F on behalf of the court, and the psychologist who F had seen. F accused his family case solicitors of incompetence and his wife’s solicitors of incompetence. This mirrors F’s evidence in the case before me where, when he is not denying everything he is accused of, he systematically seeks to accuse everyone else of lying about him.
  • In his sentencing remarks, the judge went on to say that the fact was “that no-one really knows who you are. You claim to be Syrian but you came to this country with no passport. You are a man who is a stranger to the truth. It is difficult to believe a word that you say. More concerning is the fact that you appear to be completely unconcerned about the terror that you have inflicted upon your wife, who naturally now fears for her life and that of her children. You are so consumed yourself that you totally ignore the pain that you inflict on others.”
  • His Honour Judge Tabor made reference to the fact that F had chosen to sack his counsel during the criminal trial (he has done so during these proceedings too); he said “when this case started you were represented by a highly able member of the Bar. He would not have allowed this case to start if it had not been ready. On the second day after your wife had been cross-examined, you chose to dispense with his services. I have no doubt that this was your plan all along as you wished to control proceedings. I believe you are a dangerous man, particularly dangerous to your wife and children. You are devious and self-obsessed. There is no mitigation in this case at all other than the fact that you do not have a criminal record.”
  • F denied all the evidence against him in the criminal trial, indeed he continues to do so. In respect of all the items found in M’s garden, F said that PC Rogers had lied to the court and made up his evidence about having found F in the back garden, he was never there. He claimed that the glass cutter found in the bag at the scene had come from his car and was in an emergency bag; that the camouflage gloves were his driving gloves for use when he adjusted his tyre pressures; that the black cutting tool was part of an emergency kit from America to cut his seatbelt. He told the jury that the black face covering was a pollution mask which he used because he was very conscious about his health and that the safety glasses were to protect his eyes when driving because he could not use the air conditioning. His DNA had been found on the handle of the screwdriver, but he denied it and would not accept the evidence. Similarly, F denied that the foot spray found at the scene belonged to him and said that the police had made up this evidence to “spice the case up”. Unsurprisingly the jury did not believe F and found him guilty.
  • The judge passed a total sentence of three years which reflected the seriousness of his offences. These were not minor breaches of a properly imposed injunction but serious and pre-planned breaches which involved another person and F travelling from London having located M and the children. He came fully armed and prepared; as His Honour Judge Tabor said on the 12th of June 2014, having been foiled in his attempt to use his friend to gain access, “you made a far more sinister plan. You went and hid in the garden of your wife’s home in the late afternoon. You had with you: glasses to protect your eyes; a face mask, which would also prevent you from inhaling noxious fumes; a large pair of gloves – it was June; a glass cutting tool; a sharp-bladed tool; a hammer, screw-driver and torch. I have no doubt that you sat in the garden and waited for an opportune moment to break into the house. Furthermore, I infer from your activity, and with what you had brought with you, you were not only going to force your way into your wife’s house but also to do her harm or abduct the children, or both. You were caught in the act of hiding behind a shed in the garden by a police officer who chased you across several gardens before you were finally apprehended. You were to complain that you suffered from a slipped disc, but as the officer pointed out, you appear to have cleared large fences in your bid to escape. This was one of several maladies that you complain of.”
  • This feature of F’s evidence, remarked on by the judge in the Crown Court, was replayed in this court. There was no medical evidence in support supplied by the prison doctors despite F’s attempts to get it. In addition to the three-year term of imprisonment there is a ten year restraining order in place until 9th March 2025. F is forbidden to contact M or the children directly or indirectly (except through a solicitor). He cannot go to any address where she is resident. He cannot enter Gloucestershire except to attend the family court or for pre-arranged visits to see the children. He is not to instruct anyone or encourage in any way any person to contact M or the children (except through his instructing solicitor). On 5th July 2016 my clerk was sent an email purporting to be from F’s father, from whom the court has heard nothing and who had filed no statement within the proceedings. It had had attached an email to M which, on the face of it, was an apparent attempt at breaching paragraph 4 (set out above) of the restraining order by contacting M through the court.

 

 

The radicalisation evidence begins here

 

M claims that A has been caused emotional harm by F’s behaviour towards him; that while still an infant F exposed A to violent films which he watched and told A of his expectation of how A should fight; F had purchased a replica AK47 with laser as a present for A’s first birthday in October 2013 which was unsuitable for his age, and had then posed with his infant son in a ‘Freedom Fighter’ pose.

 

 

  • It was said by Miss Isaacs, in the schedule prepared by her on M’s behalf, that the evidence in support of this included F’s expressed beliefs that non-Muslims are inferior to Muslims, that homosexuals are unnatural and should be killed and that women are subservient to men; and specifically that F “expressed acceptance of the use of violence as a means of ensuring compliance with his views and beliefs”. That it was F’s “expressed beliefs [sic] that it is acceptable to kill those who have left the Muslim religion”; that F had “expressed admiration and respect for Syrian ‘Freedom Fighters’ and [that it was] his expressed view that he would like to go there and fight with them”.
  • It was further said that the risk of radicalisation could be found in “F’s expressed glorification of war including wanting his child or children to be called ‘War’ in Arabic and posing for provocative [sic] photographs”; and that F had purchased bullet proof clothing, gas masks, knives, night time goggles for the purpose of sending to friends in Syria, with similar items having been found and seized by police during an authorised search of F’s flat. This was neither confirmed or denied by the police. The email from the Andrew Fairbrother of the MPS Directorate of Legal Services said that M had not provided a witness statement from them and the MPS investigation “came about in consequence of information that [M] provided on or around the 28/01/14 to the Gloucestershire Police that was passed on to the MPS, and also in consequence of a letter the [M] sent to the Secretary of State for the Home Department dated 11/02/14 that was referred to the MPS on or around 21/02/14”.

 

There was also evidence presented to the Court about father’s controlling behaviour towards mother

 

 

  • It was said by M that F has caused her emotional harm by the use of coercive and controlling behaviour, including financially abusive behaviour. M said that he did so by assuming control of the family finances and isolating M from family, friends and the wider community. In fact, F accepts that M was socially isolated when they lived in London and said in his statement dated 23rd February 2016 “she did not go out at all”. He then goes as far as to say they had arguments because she would not take her head scarf (hijab) off at all, claiming that he “could see no reason for her to be veiled at all times but she insisted on this.” Later in the same statement he says that the family “went out rarely but sometimes went on outings to shops, parks and museums…” At no point in his written evidence does he mention having friends at the home, but later after he had concluded his oral evidence he attempted to have the case adjourned to have further evidence filed or disclosed, including from some friends who, he claimed would give evidence that they visited F and M at home and that M and F had visited in return. Not only was this never mentioned previously, it contradicts his own evidence.
  • To return to complaints made by M she said as part of his controlling behaviour F had forbidden her to speak to men without his permission; and that F forced M to walk on the inside of a pavement when in public to avoid attracting male attention; that F shut her in the bedroom to avoid males when they visited the family home. M said that F used the threat of taking A away from M to make her compliant with his wishes. M said that on several occasions F told M that he would kill her and/or her son if she contacted the police or tried to leave him; and that F made reference to the use of violence as an appropriate ‘tool’ to discipline women to ensure her compliance.
  • F further undermined M both by repeatedly telling her that she was a bad mother and by making complaints to professionals which, in part, led to two investigations by social services departments (which uncovered no reason for concern). M said that his controlling behaviour included F following her to the local social services offices, on 6th November 2013, and that his presence caused her to feel intimidated and anxious. She complained that F was manipulative and that, specifically, he put her under pressure to agree to A being circumcised, disregarding her wishes and causing the baby pain and infection. His manipulative behaviour extended to his withholding information about his mental health, for which he received treatment and he forbade M from mentioning it; during these proceedings he has continuously made allegations that M is mentally ill or unstable.
  • It is M’s case that she and the children are at risk of future serious physical and emotional harm from F because of his behaviour and the threats he made during the time they lived together. She places reliance on the occasion on the 14th October 2013, when F assaulted M while she was pregnant with B, he threatened to get rid of the thing she loved the most, implying that he would kill A if M reported his abusive behaviour to the police. M has said that F frequently implied that he would kill her or A or both of them if she left; he also threatened to take A away from M and to take him to Egypt.
  • It is M’s case that the action taken by F on 13th June 2014 constitutes evidence of an advanced plan by F to abduct or cause serious harm or even death to M and the children. This concurs with the sentencing remarks of His Honour Judge Tabor made in February 2015.
  • As evidence as to the extents that F would go, M relies on what she said that F did during their reconciliation between August and October 2013, when F covertly placed a tracking device in the baby’s pram in an attempt to monitor M’s movements; she says that she discovered by the device on 23rd October 2013.

 

 

 

The father did not redeem himself in the evidence he gave before the Family Court, deploying as his defence that his wife’s behaviour following pregnancy was so hormonal that it had led her to behave badly towards him but that he now forgave her.  You will not be amazed that Ms Justice Russell was not persuaded by this novel defence.

 

 

  • F has filed two statements in these proceedings, dated 23rd February and 23rd May 2016. To the first he exhibited certificates from various courses he attended in prison which, he said, meant that he was a changed man. His case remained that M was lying and had “started a conspiracy against me with the bad people to get rid of me completely.” The identities of the bad people remained unclear. According to F, M had abused him throughout their marriage; had behaved in an aggressive way and had racially abused people, in particular he claimed she was “severely anti-Semitic“, when she had ventured out from wherever they were living. His second statement, which he prepared himself, amounted to little more than a lengthy diatribe against M, the “British Justice System” and an exposition of his view of women based on what he said he had learned in prison. “These courses taught me there is no pregnant female in the world who is herself when she is pregnant. This can last for up to two years after she has given birth, she will recover slowly not only physically but psychologically and emotionally therefore I forgive [M] for what she did to me.”
  • If this is indeed what F was taught in prison those courses are in need of serious and extensive revision and overhaul. His oral evidence was more of the same, an attempt to blame M for everything that happened and to exonerate himself, by applying the platitudinous, misogynistic stereotype of the mentally unstable and emotionally volatile woman, whose behaviour was such that it would have tried the patience of any man to breaking point.

 

The Judge made some powerful findings of fact

 

Findings of Fact

 

  • I have considered the evidence of the applicant and respondent and for the reasons I have set out above, and below, I accept the evidence of M and reject that of F. I find that the applicant’s case is made out and that, apart from the allegations regarding radicalisation, to which I shall return, the specific complaints made by M about F’s violence and controlling behaviour I find to have been proved on the balance of probabilities. F has during their short relationship, which lasted little over two years, repeatedly threatened and used violence against M. The violence had not been slight, or at the lower end of any scale; on several occasions he has seized M by the head and neck and attempted to choke or strangle her; once while saying that he would be able to break her neck in one twist. He has slapped her, kicked her, shaken her and thrown her to the ground when she was pregnant. These are all serious assaults and the choking or attempted strangulation must have been terrifying to endure.
  • These violent assaults took place when A was there and I find that F assaulted M on at least one occasion while she was tending to A which must have caused him distress and probably instinctive fear, even if he was too young to be aware exactly what was going on. I find that he bought the baby a replica assault rifle for his first birthday, which F later posed with himself; and that he watched violent films when the child was there. This behaviour would have caused M to fear for A and that his father was exposing him to, and encouraging him in, the use of violence. I do not accept that F is, as he has said, a peace loving man who would not even harm animals because he is a vegan; as his evidence about this was another example of self-serving evidence which suddenly appeared during his oral evidence without any previous mention of it.
  • F behaved in a threatening and intimidating way towards M frequently throughout their relationship, this included him threatening to kill A on one occasion and, on numerous occasions, to carry out an “honour” killing on her if she ever left him. He was abusive and controlling of M. This abuse included financial abuse with F controlling the family’s finances. I accept that she only had access to the money in the joint account and that the amount of money available in that account was entirely controlled by F. Even on his own account M was isolated from friends and family, but I do not accept that this was her choice, rather I find that he set out to keep her isolated and refused to allow her to mix with other people. I find that he forbade her to speak to other men without his permission; he intimidated her when they were out by making her walk in the inside of the pavement and avoid contact with other men; he shut her in the bedroom when his friends visited him; he repeatedly threatened to take A away from her to get her to comply with his wishes; he threatened to kill her and A if she left or contacted the police; and, that he explicitly told her that violence was the appropriate way to discipline a woman.
  • F made repeated claims to professionals that M was not fit to be a mother; this he continued to do throughout these proceedings and in his oral evidence. There have been two social service assessments of the family because of referrals due to domestic abuse. The first was by Kensington and Chelsea in August 2013 when M and A (then 9 months old) were referred by a senior care health advisor, to whom M had disclosed that F had grabbed her round the neck, causing bruising to her throat, amongst other physical abuse. This description corroborates the evidence in her statements. M was interviewed by a social worker and by the police; she was then taken by her mother from the police station to her mother’s home. As M and A were considered to be living in a “place of safety” outside the borough the case was not taken any further. When M and F reunited this triggered a further referral in September 2013; this time the referral was by the health visitor. M told the social worker that she was a practising Muslim, but not as strict as her husband, and that she had not been in agreement with circumcision, however F had gone ahead with it; M had felt it was cruel and painful for the baby and that it was not necessary (further corroboration of M’s evidence). The risk of further domestic abuse was considered to be raised by M’s being pregnant. The risk was assessed as High. These two s47 CA assessments corroborate M’s evidence.
  • In October 2013 Kensington and Chelsea carried out a further assessment, by which time M had left and gone to Cheltenham, having obtained non-molestation orders against F with support from another agency, Advance. The assessment recorded that the domestic abuse she was experiencing was of the “controlling and intimidation nature [sic]”, such as putting a tracking device in A’s pram, following her when she was out on errands and checking her mobile phone each time she received a phone call or message. F was described as minimising the incidents and that he made out that his wife was “sensitive and over-reacts”. It was recorded that it was not possible to discuss the domestic abuse in detail with M who feared she would be placed at more risk of domestic abuse at home had she done so; as the assessment records the “the fact that [M] fears the consequence of this discussion is evident [sic] of the level of intimidation and worry that his behaviours have had upon his wife.”
  • Again the assessment corroborates M’s evidence. I find that F did place a tracking device in A’s pram, and that he did follow M when she went out; specifically, I find that he followed her when she went to social services offices. As he had done so it was unsurprising that the assessor made the comment about the evidence of the level of intimidation experienced by M. To go to the extent of putting a tracking device in the baby’s pram is an example of the extreme lengths that F would go to try to control and monitor M’s movements; when this was coupled with following her she must have been left feeling terrified, undermined and powerless. I have no doubt that F intended that she should feel that way.
  • It is behaviour such as this which then led to F’s planned, calculated and determined attempt to get to M and the children in Cheltenham. The breaches of the non-molestation order were very serious, as was reflected in the sentences handed down, and armed with a plethora of sinister implements F can only have been intending to cause harm to M and the children or intending to abduct them as the judge said in his sentencing remarks. F posed a considerable and a serious risk to M and to the children at that time and there is no evidence before me that would support a finding that the risk is in any way diminished. F continues to use all means at his disposal to try to circumvent the restraining orders, the fact that those means are very limited is only because he remains behind bars. Based on his past and current behaviour, his denial of his criminal convictions and the absence of any remorse the likelihood is that F would again attempt to track M and the children down and to harm M and abduct the children. Abduction causes lasting harm to children and the risk that it is likely to occur must be taken into account by this court when considering how safe it is to allow F’s involvement in the children’s lives now and in the future.
  • The fear of being tracked down has directly affected the children as it has undoubtedly affected their mother; to live in fear and anxiety will have made her, as their guardian observed, less emotionally available to the children than she otherwise would be. This fear has led to her, and therefore the children, leading much more restricted lives than they otherwise would have done. She was, and is, frightened that F could track her down as he did when she was living down in Gloucestershire and is so fearful that he would manage to do so again that she cannot bring herself to let the children out of her sight. This fear is not ill-founded, it is all too easy to access information on the internet, and F has done this before. For that reason, she has not enrolled A or B in a nursery and it is for that reason that she seeks an order to allow her to change the children’s names.

 

 

Changing a child’s surname is not an easy thing to do, where one parent objects, but I am sure that most readers would be 100% satisfied that it was justified in this case, and so was the Judge.

 

The extremeism elements were more difficult – the police disclosure had not provided any evidence, and as a reader, I was left with the impression that this man was violent, controlling, manipulative and probably a fantasist who enjoyed leading his wife to be fearful of him. In terms of hard evidence that he was connected to Daesh or radicalised, the absence of any police or Counter Terrorism investigation into him made that difficult to prove.

Given the very strong evidence against him in almost every other regard, it wasn’t really necessary to prove those matters. Ms Justice Russell was critical of the attempt to include such matters in the schedule of findings sought.

 

 

  • In private law proceedings where allegations of extremism or radicalisation are pursued as part of the case or findings sought against another party, then it must be based on the evidence. As Lord Justice Munby (as he then was) has said in Re A (A child) (Fact Finding Hearing: Speculation) [2011] EWCA Civ 12: “It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence and not on suspicion or speculation“.
  • The President’s Guidance: Radicalisation cases in Family Courts issued by Sir James Munby P, on 8th October 2015 sets out a checklist of factors that the court is to be alert to, and emphasises the need for a co-ordinated strategy predicated on the co-operation between agencies. There was no lack of co-operation in this case, but there was a lamentable lack of a properly constructed and focussed preparation of M’s case, based on the evidence, particularly in respect of the allegations of radicalisation, and the way in which this was prosecuted on her behalf. When applications for disclosure were made by counsel it was not even clear which police service was being asked to disclose information about F; the Gloucestershire Constabulary or the MPS. Draft orders for disclosure were addressed simply to “the _ Police”; which can only indicate the lack of information on which those applications were based. No application was made to make use of the 2013 Protocol, and it is difficult to reach any other conclusion other than that the applications were a speculative attempt to bolster the case on behalf of M.
  • In cases where there is accusation or allegation of extremism or radicalisation the party making those allegations cannot rely on them without evidence. Where there are current or past criminal investigations it is necessary to wait for disclosure before the schedule of findings is produced and finalised. In private law, as in public law, the party bringing the case carries the burden of proof; it is on them that the duty lies to adduce evidence in a timely fashion and in compliance with the FPR 2010. Any finding of fact in private law or public law family proceedings, and indeed in all civil cases, must be based on evidence.  As Lord Justice Munby (as he then was) has said in Re A (A child) (Fact Finding Hearing: Speculation) [2011] EWCA Civ 12: “It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence and not on suspicion or speculation“.
  • I am not, however, persuaded by any submission on behalf of F that M pursued the allegations of radicalisation to add to the gravity of the case against F “because someone for his background is an easy target.” M had converted to Islam herself before she met F, but from M’s point of view F is someone who has seriously assaulted, attacked and threatened her. He has tried to control and intimidate her even after she left him and I do not doubt that M felt that F had used his religion to justify his appalling behaviour towards her. She probably said so to the police. I did not hear any evidence about how the investigation of F originated in Gloucestershire and it is not possible to exclude the possibility that the police had seen in what M told them evidence of extremism and had escalated the case as a result. Certainly some of his behaviour was bizarre and had included posing in a museum and elsewhere in battle-dress and with weapons; he had purchased night-vision goggles, gas masks and bullet proof clothing and had shown an active interest in the conflict in Syria (but not in the actions of Daesh per se) so it would have been that behaviour about which M properly spoke to the police.
  • F’s faith and his practice of Islam is a matter for him and his conscience. I was left with no clear idea of the extent and nature of his faith. At first he refused to swear on the Qur’an but when I asked him why he then did so. During his evidence he broke the Ramadan fast, and those, and other aspects of his behaviour, were inconsistent with strict religious observance. I do not doubt, therefore, that he, personally, chose to use his religion both as a means of justifying his violent and controlling behaviour and as a way of intimidating M; such as by saying that women who left the faith would be killed and that if M left him she would be killed.

 

 

 

The father wanted the children to be brought to see him in prison, but the Judge rejected that and made the unusual (but completely warranted) order that father should have no contact.

 

 

  • There is no evidence before the court that would permit me to conclude that F would be able to promote the children’s interests if contact was allowed; or that he is capable of behaving in a manner that would produce a safe and nurturing environment for these two little boys whilst he remains in denial as to his actions and the impact of those actions. Moreover, he has continually been negative and hostile towards M and, even if he were able to have contact without harming M or attempting to take the children, the evidence is that he would use any and every opportunity to undermine her, as their mother, during contact.
  • The impact of direct contact on M is something to which the court can properly have regard, and I take regard of the considerable impact F’s behaviour has had on M already. I have made findings that the extent of the fear he has induced in M has led to her curtailing the activities she and the children can, and do, participate in and has effectively limited their integration into the wider community in which they live. I have no doubt that any order for contact would have a profoundly negative affect on M and would seriously undermine the quality of care she is able to give the children. The guardian is “of the view that these are exceptional circumstances which would, sadly for the boys, merit there being no direct contact.” It is the conclusion of this court that there is no arrangement or available way in which contact can take place so that the children would be safe from the risk of significant harm from F; it remains a fact he has already harmed their mother and caused them to leave their home on more than one occasion.
  • F says he wants to have contact with the children in prison, one can see the benefit for him, particularly in regard to his argument against deportation, but any such contact would be without benefit for the children. They have no relationship with F (because of his behaviour) and so these very young children would need to be brought to prison to be introduced to him; there is no-one to carry out this sensitive work with the children. It is highly unlikely, given their previous assessments, that any agency, local authority or child-care professional would undertake this work or consider it to be in the children’s best interests. Moreover, F is likely to be deported to Egypt in the short term so the likely distressing effects on the children and their mother would be for the short term gain for F alone. In any event, the court will not order contact to take place, even if F were to avoid deportation, because the risk he presents is overwhelming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The ‘evidence of domestic violence within 2 years’ Regulation found unlawful

I am struggling to think of a piece of legislation that has had as many successful challenges to the legality of Regulations issued under it as the much-beloved LASPO  (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Prosecution of Offencers Act 2012)

The particular Regulations here are Regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012

LASPO sets out that being a victim of domestic violence can be a reason for the provision of free legal representation.  The sense of this is that where someone has been the victim of domestic violence, it would be abusive and damaging for the State to make them face the perpetrator in Court without a lawyer to represent them.  [Note that this provision still only applies within financial limits – below a specified income and capital the State should pay for that, above that and the individual would have to pay for it themselves, regardless of whether the legal representation is actually genuinely affordable on that income]

There is, of course, an entirely separate debate about whether someone who is accused of perpetrating domestic violence should be entitled to free legal representation to defend the allegations (at least until the Court has determined the truth of the allegations), but that’s beyond the scope of this case.  [For my part, I think that LASPO should have provided for that, but it doesn’t]

Regulation 33 sets out that in order to show that you are a victim of domestic violence, you need some documentary evidence of that to get legal aid, and that the evidence must be within the last 24 months.

This 24 month rule was challenged.  [Note that although the application was brought by a group lobbying for women’s rights, men of course can also be the victims of domestic violence and abuse, and this case applies to men as well]

Rights of Women, R (on the application of) v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice [2016] EWCA Civ 91

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/91.html

 

Whilst the judgment is fairly long and involves some rather nuanced discussions about Padfield unfairness versus Wednesbury unreasonableness, the case can be condensed into these short passages

 

  1. Ms Lieven submitted that the evidence shows (as practitioners in the Family Division know from their own experience) that there are many situations in which victims of domestic violence find themselves at the receiving end of legal proceedings not merely more than 24 months after incidents of domestic violence have occurred but more than 24 months after it is practical to obtain the kind of verification required by regulation 33. Examples of such cases are:-

    i) the perpetrator may have been in prison; once he (it is almost always he) is released, he may initiate proceedings for child contact or divorce and financial settlement; regulation 33(2)(a) can only be relied on if the conviction preceding the prison sentence is a relevant conviction for a domestic violence offence and if it is unspent; if the sentence is a fine or a community order, the conviction will be spent after only 12 months from the date of conviction or from the last day the order is to have effect;ii) there may have been a non-molestation order (or other form of injunction) which has kept the parties apart for 2 years but has expired before legal proceedings are begun;

    iii) a similar period of separation may have occurred for other reasons such as the receipt of a police caution or other police involvement; criminal proceedings may have been instituted which do not result in a conviction; such non-convictions occur for many reasons other than that the alleged perpetrator is innocent;

    iv) there is no time limit for the initiation of proceedings for child contact; a refusal of child contact does not prevent a re-initiation of proceedings which can therefore be served again on the victim of domestic abuse after the expiry of the two year period. Additionally, the court can direct, pursuant to section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989, that no such proceedings shall be begun without permission of the court for a period until the expiry of the two year period in which domestic abuse could be verified in accordance with the Regulations; if the Court also directs that any application for permission is not to be served on the respondent, a victim of domestic abuse may receive no notice of prospective proceedings within the relevant period in which she may otherwise take steps to obtain verification;

    v) The main priority of any victim of domestic violence will be to make immediate arrangements for her personal safety and that of her children; this may take a considerable time particularly if the abuse was prolonged or the marriage was originally a forced one; any proceedings sought to be brought by the victim for divorce or financial relief may well be more than 24 months after any practical ability to obtain verification has passed;

    vi) although the definition of domestic violence extends beyond physical abuse to psychological or emotional abuse, the verifications required by regulation 33 are much more easily satisfied where there has been physical abuse than where there has been psychological or emotional abuse. This means that even though signs of psychological or emotional abuse may persist longer than sign of physical abuse, there is considerable difficulty for the victim in obtaining the necessary verification after any lapse of time; and

    vii) victims of financial abuse will not be able to obtain any of the verifications required by regulation 33 at all. (The only answer Mr Sheldon could give to this last point was the inadequate one that victims of financial abuse could always be expected to show evidence of psychological abuse).

  2. This is a formidable catalogue of areas of domestic violence not reached by a statute whose purpose is to reach just such cases. But does it go so far as to show that the 24 month requirement has no rational connection with the statutory purpose?
  3. In my judgment it does. There is, as Ms Lieven submits, no obvious correlation between the passage of such a comparatively short period of time as 24 months and the harm to the victim of domestic violence disappearing or even significantly diminishing. No doubt the 24 month requirement serves the purposes of the statute as the Divisional Court considered them to be but as I have said those purposes are not the only purposes of the statute. Once it is accepted that part of the statutory purpose is to ensure that legal aid is available to (at any rate the great majority of) sufferers from domestic violence, one has to ask why it is that so many of them are excluded by virtue of the 24 month rule. Mr Parsons’ assertion that “the time limit provides a test of the on-going relevance of the abuse” does not justify the many excluded instances or the lack of any opportunity for victims of domestic violence to explain why it would be unjust to apply the time limit to their particular case. It operates in a completely arbitrary manner

 

And then

 

I would therefore allow this appeal and, subject to any further argument about the detail of the form of order, in principle declare that regulation 33 is invalid insofar as it

a) requires verifications of domestic violence to be given within a 24 month period before any application for legal aid; and

b) does not cater for victims of domestic violence who have suffered from financial abuse.

A cynical person might say about LASPO that Parliament when considering this Act were rightly very troubled by the original legislation and the lack of protection for certain vulnerable groups, which was why some safeguards were inserted into the final version of the Act, and that the Legal Aid Agency and Ministry of Justice have systematically attempted to erode those safeguards by Regulations (which have been successfully challenged) and guidance on implementation (which has also been successfully challenged).

In effect, Parliament agreed to trade in the car that they owned for a greatly inferior but still safe model to save cash, and agreed to let the Minister have a copy of the car keys, in case he or she needed to tune up the car or valet the inside at any time (the power to make Regulations).

 Then the Minister snuck off in the night, used the keys and removed the brakes, seatbelts, speedometer, and airbags that would make the inferior car still safe to drive.

The Courts have ordered these safety measures to be reinstalled. But so far, each individual bit of ministerial pilfering has had to be dealt with one at a time. I hope that MPs are keeping up to date with the bad-faith approach to LASPO and will approach any future legislation with a much more cynical eye on giving Ministers the car keys in the future.

Only just over the threshold

 

I am tending to think that there’s a repositioning of the threshold criteria going on at the moment. It is a little hard to call, since there’s always been the unspoken background that what constitutes threshold in Liverpool doesn’t necessarily be the same things that consitute threshold in Torquay. But it feels that Re A and Re J are a subtle raising of the bar.

When a bar is raised, it can be tricky to work out exactly where that bar now is. We know that on the facts of Re A, threshold was not made out, but we don’t know if it was miles short or inches short.

Which is why when the President decides a case and says that the threshold criteria was satisfied but only just, it gives us some potentially useful information.

 

Leeds City Council v M and others 2015   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/27.html  is the follow-up to the President’s judgment on Female Genital Mutilation (you may remember, this was the case where that was alleged, and the President had to decide (a) if it had happened (no) (b) whether it could amount to threshold (yes) (c) Would it amount to risk of harm to a male child (no) and (d) if it had happened, would it by itself justify adoption (no)

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/01/14/fgm-an-important-authority/

The President’s first judgment pre-dated Re A, which is what makes me think that there’s a shift in thinking. The President here didn’t seem to be struggling with the idea that domestic violence, even if not of the most serious nature could amount to significant harm:-

 

“(i) The local authority is unable on the evidence to establish that G (as I shall refer to her) either has been or is at risk of being subjected to any form of female genital mutilation.

(ii) There was a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F (as I shall refer to them) was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety.

(iii) Given all the facts as I find them, including but not limited to (i) and (ii) above, threshold is established.

The President had said in the first case that adoption, the LA’s plan, was not proportionate, and was seeking an alternative resolution. This case is that resolution.

In giving his final judgment, the President identified four key areas where the LA contended threshold was met:-

1. Mother’s mental health

2. Domestic violence

3. Neglect and physical abuse

4. Lack of cooperation / engagement

Remember, the President concluded that threshold WAS met, but only just.

I am prepared to accept, in the light of my findings, that threshold is established, though not by a very large margin.

So, looking at things in detail

 

1. Mother’s mental health

The psychiatrist, Dr T, made the diagnosis that mother had ‘schizo-affective disorder’, currently in remission, but a lifelong condition vulnerable to relapse caused by stress. Dr T said at least 12 months’ stability in M’s condition was essential if B and G were to be safe in her care and that the necessary period had not yet elapsed. If stability and compliance could not be maintained over that length of time, it would be “very risky” for them to be returned to her care

The Judge accepted Dr T’s evidence and opinion.

 

  • I accept that there has been improvement in M’s mental health. But Dr T’s evidence, which I accept, is clear, compelling and withstood all challenge. It would be irresponsible not to heed and give effect to it. In my judgment, M is not at present able to look after B and G.

[You might look at that and say that this in and of itself is sufficient to cross the threshold – there’s a factual matrix which allows the Court to establish that there is a risk of significant harm – remember that if a factual matrix is established, the risk itself does not have to be more likely than not, it is sufficient to be a risk which cannot sensibly be ignored, as decided by the House of Lords in H and R 1996. ]

 

2. Domestic violence

 

The mother had made allegations of domestic violence against the father, but later retracted them. The Court had heard evidence from mother and father.

My conclusion, having carefully considered the mass of material put to me and the helpfully detailed submissions from counsel, is that there was, as I have said, a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety. It was, as Mr Ekaney submits, at the lower end of the scale. Beyond that it would not be right to go.

 

Remembering that the definition of ‘harm’ was expanded in the Children Act 1989  to include the words in bold  “harm” means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development [including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another];     – the words being added in the Adoption and Children Act 2002. So a child being exposed to domestic violence, or at risk of being so exposed can be considered to have suffered harm, or risk of such harm – the issue really being whether it is significant.  The President does not, in his judgment, specify whether his conclusion about domestic violence here amounted to significant harm or the risk thereof.  The best we can do is go back to this bit

“(i) The local authority is unable on the evidence to establish that G (as I shall refer to her) either has been or is at risk of being subjected to any form of female genital mutilation.

(ii) There was a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F (as I shall refer to them) was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety.

(iii) Given all the facts as I find them, including but not limited to (i) and (ii) above, threshold is established.

 

 

and suggest that domestic violence was part of the factual matrix that led the President to conclude that threshold was crossed, though not by a very large margin.

 

3. Neglect and physical abuse

 

This is the section where you get to see the Re A dynamics play out. There are facts established to show what happened to the children

There were two very specific allegations of neglect, amongst more general complaints

in October 2013, G was taken to nursery with spare clothes that were damp, soiled and smelled of urine; much more significant, on 7 November 2013 M, it is said, abandoned G in an alleyway in the city centre, where she was found cold, wet and very distressed. 

[The mother accepted the abandonment. G was born in July 2011, remember]

 

There is no doubt that B and G experienced instability and inconsistency of care, brought about by M’s recurrent mental health difficulties and F’s limited ability to cope with them. There were the specific instances of neglect I have already referred to.  To the extent that there was marital discord between F and M, B and G were exposed to it. I think it is probable that on a few occasions B and G were exposed to mild chastisement – but nothing more serious.

 

But as Re A showed us, establishing a contested (or accepted fact) as being proven is only half of the story. The next stage is for the Local Authority to satisfy the Court that what happened caused the children harm.

In this case, the Guardian considered that the children did not present as having been damaged by their experiences

“Without exception these two children have been described in very positive ways; it is clear they are delightful and endearing children who make a good impression on anyone who meets them. It is also clear that the first impressions of these children did not signify children who had been exposed to neglect, or an abusive home environment. They appeared to have been protected from the worst excesses of the mother’s mental health challenges. They have experienced positive parenting.”

 

The President says

I entirely agree. The guardian’s analysis accords with everything I have read and heard.

What is important, however, is the fact that, as I have already found, none of this seems to have had any significant or prolonged impact on either B or G – so nothing they have been exposed to can have been that serious.

 

The President doesn’t say so explicitly (which is somewhat vexing for those of us who are trying to decipher the Delphic offerings), but I think that that final remark can be read to mean that he did not accept that the threshold was made out on the basis of the neglect aspects.

Frankly, I think abandoning a 2 1/2 year old child in an alleyway is significant harm, but it appears that I am wrong about that.

 

Firstly, this troubles me because that sort of thing also feeds into risk of future harm, and of course a child isn’t yet showing the ill-effects of future harm. This approach seems to ignore future harm entirely.

The other thing that concerns me about this approach is that I can forsee that we are ending up with a different threshold criteria for a resilient child, who is exposed to poor parenting but has inner qualities that allow them to cope, and a fragile child whose reaction to the same parenting is marked and plain to see.  And it also requires that the child is showing the effects of the harm that they have suffered in a very visible and measurable way – I know that the neuroscience is controversial, but there is at least some evidence to suggest that neglect has much longer repercussions than the immediate visible impact.

 

4. Lack of cooperation / engagement

 

Here the parents made concessions

 

 

  • M admits poor engagement with professionals due to her mental health problems.
  • F accepts that, prior to the children being taken into care, he failed to engage and co-operate with the local authority and that this led to him adopting what was understandably perceived as a controlling attitude towards M. This, I accept, was driven by the two factors to which Mr Ekaney drew attention. The first was F’s perplexity about the family situation, largely caused by his failure to recognise the nature and extent of and inability to understand M’s mental health difficulties. The other was F’s desire to protect his family and his fear, from his perspective well-founded fear, that B and G would be removed from their care. Since B and G were taken into care, F’s attitude has changed. There has been, as Mr Ekaney puts it, a high level of co-operation and engagement with the local authority, coupled with a high level of commitment to B and G. And, as I accept, this is not due to any compulsion; it reflects F’s growing realisation and acceptance of the underlying realities.
  • Given M’s and F’s concessions, which appropriately reflect the reality of what was going on, there is no need for me to make any further findings.

 

[Well, there is a slight need – again, I am assuming that this was not found to have amounted to significant harm or the risk of significant harm, but it is rather difficult to say for certain, because the judgment doesn’t outline it.  To be honest, I do not envy the Local Authority advocate who had to draw up a final settled threshold based on this judgment. I THINK that the totality of the judgment suggests that findings of fact were made across points 1-4, but only those in points 1 and 2 amounted also to findings of significant harm. But I would not race to Paddy Power with bundles* of fivers to back that conclusion. My actual bet would be that over the next year, the number of cases where threshold is agreed rather than fought out will dramatically reduce. And as we can’t have fact finding hearings any more, thresholds will be fought out at final hearings. How’s that going to work out for 26 weeks, I wonder?]

 

 

The President ruled that whilst mother could not care for the children now or within their timescales, the father could and should be given that opportunity, and the children would be placed with him under Supervision Orders.

So there we have it, on these facts, the case crossed the threshold, but not by a very large margin.

 

 

*IF I did happen to be going to the bookies with bundles of fivers, I would ensure that in accordance with Practice Direction 27 there were (a) no more than 350 of them (b) They were A4 sized  and (c) that they were printed only on one side. Which explains why Paddy Power doesn’t want me going in there any more.

 

Machetes, body armour and social work bashing

 

Oh, that’s a clickbait title if ever there was one. The case in question does contain all of that stuff though.
Re IMA (care proceedings :no threshold) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B110.html

This is a set of care proceedings heard in Manchester County Court, but it raises some important issues of wider importance.

It was a case in which the Local Authority obtained an Emergency Protection Order removing IMA in August 2013, and after that Interim Care Orders sanctioning IMA remaining in foster care, up until the final hearing, which took place in August 2014 a year after the initial removal.

The Local Authority had been seeking a plan of adoption, supported by the Guardian, but this had changed to permanent placement with a relative. It is of note that the plan of adoption had been supported by the Agency Decision Makers (whose job it is to assess separately to social workers whether the circumstances of an individual case mean that adoption is the right plan)

The Judge at final hearing found that the threshold criteria were not made out, and thus the child would be going home and no statutory orders would be made.

The threshold criteria was based on the risk of the child being exposed to domestic violence (which is, on the revised wording of the Children Act 1989 a matter which on its own is capable of meeting threshold). That had two aspects really (i) Was father a risk of violence or violent behaviour and (ii) was the child in mother’s care going to be exposed to the father.

The fact that the Judge found that threshold was not met therefore was significant. This wasn’t a case with a suspicious injury which on full investigation was found to be an accident or a peculiar medical condition, but rather that the child ought never really to have been removed. The Judge was not saying that the threshold HAD been met but due to changes the risks had dissipated or become manageable, but that the situation of this family had NEVER crossed the section 31 threshold.

And the Judge had advised the Local Authority in a number of hearings that he was concerned that the section 31 threshold was not made out on the evidence that they had presented and was giving them the opportunity to flesh out their evidence if they had more information which was not before the Court. He told them that on 17th February 2014, 14th April 2014 and 23rd June, before making it official at the final hearing by ruling that threshold was not met.
The Judge starts off scathing and continues in that vein

These proceedings concern a new born baby who has never suffered any harm in his parents’ care. If he has suffered any harm to date, it is the loss of the relationship with his mother during the first year of his life due to the fact that he was removed from her care when he was a week old.
The Court did say that the LA were not wrong to have brought the case, but hints strongly that they were wrong not to have taken stock after any of those hearings where the Court indicated that they considered satisfying s31 threshold to be an issue.

133. There is no suggestion that the local authority has not acted in good faith in seeking to bring the proceedings relating to IMA before the court. The court accepts that the local authority was bound to consider and act on the information provided by the police. The question, however, arises as to whether a more experienced social worker would have acted with greater circumspection and sought to clarify the factual basis for the “intelligence” he was given and its accuracy. This should have been apparent when the father was released from custody and bailed for further enquiry on the 19th August and should have resulted in the social worker re-evaluating the Children’s Services position. None of the information provided by the police as disclosed to this court and the parties appeared to establish that he was a direct risk to a child or children and, it seems to me, on my analysis of the evidence available open to question as to what the “emergency” was that justified the application for the Emergency Protection Order.

A major part of the Local Authority’s case was that the father’s convictions established that first part of their threshold – that he presented a risk. [In large part, that was because there was no evidence of any domestic violence in the relationship between mother and father – no injuries, no police call outs, no referrals from neighbours, no allegations from either of them] They were relying on two things – firstly the father’s convictions and secondly the history of domestic violence in his previous relationship
The Judge took a very different view as to whether the criminal convictions in themselves established that father was a risk. A major part of that was that offences which looked on paper very serious received such light sentences that the Judge (who sits as a criminal Judge) brought his experience to bear in saying that one had to treat the offences on paper in the light of the very light sentences – they cannot have been at the high end of the spectrum of those offences.
51. In reviewing the evidence, it is I think pertinent to remind myself that both the mother and the father have criminal records. The records for the mother appear at F6-12 and F131-137 in the bundle and for the father at F13-19 and F124-130. The mother has convictions for robbery and racially threatening and abusive behaviour in December 2007 in respect of which she received a custodial sentence of a 12 month Detention and Training Order. She was then aged 15. She is now 22. Her subsequent convictions are for what might be property described as minor offences and failing to comply with the requirements of community orders imposed as sentences. It is self-evident from the nature of the convictions, that she is not likely to respond well when attempts are made by those in authority to impose on her. It is unclear to me whether the social worker ever appreciated that.

52. The father has 3 convictions between 2000 and 2006 for offences involving possession of offensive weapons for which he has received sentences of a fine and community orders. None of those could properly be described by anyone who has a knowledge and understanding of criminal justice as serious offences. He has other convictions for disorderly behaviour and driving offences which demonstrate that he is something of a social nuisance. In 2010 he was sentenced to two separate terms of suspended imprisonment for dangerous driving and benefit fraud. In May 2011 he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for offences of possession of class B controlled drugs – cannabis – with intent to supply. Finally, there is a conviction for an offence of harassment on the 10th December 2013 in respect of which he was made the subject of a community order with an unpaid work requirement and a restraining order. This conviction relates to his former partner, RK. I will say more about this later. These convictions are of course a matter of record and are not disputed by either the mother or the father. The issue, as will become apparent, is how they have been interpreted and relied on by the local authority to substantiate the ‘threshold criteria’ it contends for.
By the time of the final hearing, the Local Authority’s threshold document was as follows (I commend the Judge for including it in full, it is extremely helpful when this is done, as one can then see the basis on which the case is put)

MAA is the father, JG the mother.
142 “The nature of the likelihood of harm alleged is expressed as “(i) Impairment to the child’s physical, intellectual, emotional, social and behavioural development; (ii) Impairment to the child’s physical and mental health; and (ii) Impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another.
(1) The father, MAA, has an extensive criminal history. This includes:-

(a) Possession of a machete in 2001;
(b) Arrested 8 February 2006 in possession of a knuckle duster, wearing body armour and in a car with 4 other men similarly equipped; drugs found at his home
(c) Drugs offences including possession, intent to supply and cultivation of cannabis for which he served a 13 month prison sentence in 2011
(2) On 19 August 2013, the day of IMA’s birth, MAA was arrested at the hospital in relation to an offence which took place on 29 November 2012 when he and two other males were alleged to have attacked an acquaintance and driven off in his car with the victim’s legs hanging out of the open door; a considerable quantity of cannabis was found in the boot. The case was not proceeded with by the CPS

(3) In 2013, MAA pursued a campaign of harassment against his ex-wife, involving regularly attending at her home threatening her, threatening violence to any new boyfriend, and stating he would persuade Children’s Services to remove her children from her
(4) She was so frightened that she moved into a women’s refuge with her children for 4 weeks in August 2013. (On a further 10 occasions recorded between 2 September and 8 October 2013 he visited her home and made similar threats)
(5) MAA was arrested on 13 October 2013 and charged with harassment. MAA’s ex-wife gave a police statement in which she stated that he had been violent towards her during their relationship as well as extremely controlling and she had been “terrified” by him.
(6) Following a strategy meeting on 13 August 2013, when JG was identified as a vulnerable person who may be at risk from MAA, a joint police and social work visit caused further concern when MAA would not provide his name, and refused to accept any concerns or co-operate with any form of assessment. JG took the same position. It was therefore not possible to obtain a clear assessment of any risk posed by MAA due to the failure of the parents to engage with Children’s Services either during the first visit or thereafter. This attitude of complete non-co-operation continued.
(7) JG failed to allow social workers into her home to discuss the issues, minimised the seriousness of previous domestic violence incidents and criminal drugs history involving MAA and refused to sign a working agreement.
(8) Although she agreed to reside at her parents’ home following her discharge from hospital with IMA in August 2013, neither JG nor IMA were at home when agencies visited on 3 consecutive days between 9am and 10am.
(9) JG’s refusal to engage in assessment or to accept any possibility of risk, despite information provided to her, demonstrated that she was unable and/or unwilling to prioritise IMA’s safety and protect him.
(10) Following the making of an emergency protection order on 23 August 2013, JG and MAA evaded the attention of police and Children’s Services until 25 August 2013 when they were eventually found at a property in Prestwich. Both their families colluded in the family hiding from agencies.

(11) There is evidence that the parents were involved in drug dealing activity at least up until IMA’s birth, as also found at the property in Prestwich were a further quantity of cannabis, drug paraphernalia and paperwork implicating the couple in fraud and money laundering offences. Although the CPS have not proceeded against MAA, JG faces criminal charges in relation to intent to supply cannabis, 165g having been found at the property.
Whilst that looks, on the face of it like a pretty decent threshold to establish that MAA (the father) posed a risk of harm -there’s a recent offence, offences including weapons, violent and controlling behaviour towards a former partner and that being recent, we already know that threshold was not found. So we need to see why.

The Judge deals with those matters in the following way (that is, in short, to reject all of them as being made out)

143. In respect of this amended threshold document I make the following observations and findings based on my assessment of all the evidence which has been put before the court –
(1) The father’s convictions are a matter of record which, absent specific offences involving harm to children or violence to women with whom he is or was in a relationship, have no relevance for the purpose of threshold and relate only to the character and personality of the father and not to parental care. This paragraph should be struck out.
(2) Given that the police took no further action against the father in respect of these allegations and did not prosecute him, none of what is alleged in this paragraph can be established as a fact. This paragraph should be struck out.
(3) So far as paragraphs (3), (4) and (5) are concerned, the issues cited post date the local authority intervention in respect of IMA. The issues raised relate to the father’s character and personality and not directly to any aspect of parental care relevant to IMA. These paragraphs should be struck out.
(4) A refusal to co-operate with Children’s Services (or the police) as identified at paragraphs (6), (7), (8) (9) and (10) does not go to threshold as there is no legal duty to co-operate unless the threshold is crossed. See Lady Hale at paragraph 207 of In the matter of B (A Child). These five paragraphs should be struck out.

(5) In respect of paragraph (11), any evidence of alleged drug dealing cannot go to threshold unless there is clearly established factual link to demonstrate that there is likelihood that a child will suffer harm resulting from a failing in parental care arising from such activity. There is no such evidence against either parent it being noted that, in any event, the father has not been charged with any offences arising from the circumstances related. This paragraph should be struck out.
If you are keeping count, the Judge struck out every paragraph of the Local Authority’s final threshold document. The whole lot, gone.

(The Local Authority did not appeal this decision. I think that they COULD have done on points 3, 4 and 5 – these are surely ‘risks that cannot sensibly be ignored’ and they go to the heart of ‘is the father a risk of domestic violence’)

I have reviewed the evidence in this case and have borne in mind all the guidance for the Supreme Court set out above in arriving at my conclusion which is that I do not find the ‘threshold criteria’ established for the purposes of section 31.
I am acutely aware of the consequences of any finding that the ‘threshold criteria’ is not made out and especially in proceedings which have been ongoing for as long as these because of the impact and implications such a finding has for the child and parents. On any view, a finding that the ‘threshold criteria’ is not made out self evidently means that not only has a considerable disservice been suffered by the parents and the child but also an injustice given the way in which these proceedings have been conducted and the length of time the proceedings have been ongoing. That, however, is no basis to shrink from doing what I consider to be right for the child, IMA, on the basis of the evidence before me which I can properly accept.
The Judge did identify that there were issues and concerns, but that these fell short of satisfying the threshold

47. Both the local authority and the children’s guardian rightly have criticisms in relation to the parents’ failure to co-operate and their lack of openness and honesty in their dealings with professionals. In fairness to the mother it has to be said that she did engage with the proceedings and the assessment undertaken by the psychologist and co-operated with the children’s guardian in his enquiries. She engaged with the local authority assessment and attended al the sessions as required despite her apparently limited understanding of what the assessment was for. She has made a very strong commitment to contact with IMA albeit there have sometimes been issues around her timeliness. She has been available at contact if the social worker has ever wanted to contact her and I have some difficulties now reflecting on the evidence as to why the social worker did not on occasions make more effort to go to see her at the contact venue if he needed to discuss issues with her. It is, I think, very clear that the mother has had issues around her relationship with the social worker and communication. However, these are not issues which go to threshold and, as Ms Kilvington observed in her submissions the mother’s lack of honesty on occasions or the lies she admits to having told do not denote harm.

48. The social worker and the children’s guardian were both clearly very troubled by having no clear understanding of how the mother and the father might conduct their relationship in the future. Let me say that I entirely agree that the father as demonstrated by him in his evidence is a very unprepossessing, and unappealing character based on what he said about the conduct of his relationships with women and the children he has. Having said that there is no reliable evidence before this court to indicate that he has ever harmed any child or posed any risk of significant harm to a child. I accept the submission made by Ms Kilvington that it is a matter for the mother and the father how they might conduct their relationship and whether they should be part of the same household or not. It is not for this court or others to judge or interfere with parental relationships unless it can be properly established that there is an identifiable risk of harm for the child or children.

 

The Judge was very critical of the written and oral evidence of both the social worker and the Guardian

 

61. [The social worker] gave evidence over nearly one and half days. He was subjected to lengthy and challenging cross-examination around many issues including his assessment of the mother. He was also questioned about his understanding of the police intelligence and information upon which he had acted and formed his views about the parents and the risk he considered they posed to IMA. He was uncertain about some specific dates and unable to demonstrate from the written records available some of what he was saying. His lack of experience as a social worker was evident.

69. He became very defensive in reply to Ms Kilvington asserting in very strong terms that it was a “very thorough assessment” when she sought to explore some of the issues in respect of it. That was a worrying response which smacked of the over confidence of someone who did not have the knowledge and experience to demonstrate a degree of circumspection and humility since it was clear, to me at any rate, that the thoroughness of the assessment was not evidenced in what has been produced to the court. [The social worker’s] response on the issues raised in connection with the conduct of the assessment and the confirmation of the unreliability of his evidence in respect of the assessment process was profoundly worrying.

155. I have real concerns about how the local authority responded to the initial referral and subsequent information given by the police. I do not understand why the PLO pre-proceedings procedures were apparently never initiated when dealing with a young, first time mother who should have been encouraged to seek early legal advice which might, and I cannot put it any higher, have resulted in a different direction being taken in respect of the removal of IMA from her care under the Emergency Protection Order when he was a week old. The social worker was not able to give an adequate explanation for not implementing the relevant procedures.

156. I was also troubled by the Child and Family Assessment record and the process of the assessment undertaken by the social worker. I have commented above on the timing of the relevant sessions with the mother which demonstrates what I would consider a real training issue which needs to be addressed with the social worker. However, I was also troubled by the electronic record of the assessment which appears to make no provision to actually describe what questions were actually asked of or explored with the mother in circumstances where this social worker failed to keep any contemporaneous notes which he was able to produce when being challenged about it. This is a practice issue which the local authority and its managers need to consider and address since it is likely to arise as an issue in many cases which are brought before the courts.

157. There are I think real issues about this social worker and his role in these proceedings which largely emanate from his lack of experience. The view I formed of him was that he was an inexperienced but highly intelligent and articulate young man who was committed to trying to promote and safeguard the welfare of IMA in circumstances which he found to be extremely challenging. He unfortunately appeared to me to have a lack of understanding and awareness of how to communicate with the mother in particular at a level which was basic enough to enable her to engage effectively. There were times in his evidence where he became very confused and resorted to saying things he was unable to properly substantiate. That was regrettable since it undermined his reliability so far as this court was concerned.
The social worker’s manager also takes some flak

158. I should also add that I am troubled by the role of the social worker’s manager in relation to steps taken within the proceedings. It was clear from the social worker’s evidence that many of the decisions made had not been his but those of his manager. The clearest example being in relation to the decision not to continue with any rehabilitation proposal or plan in or around the 7th May 2014. I found it surprising that the local authority did not consider it either appropriate or necessary to ask her to provide a statement or indeed to invite her to attend at court to provide an explanation.
And in relation to the Guardian

106. The guardian also premised his conclusions in respect of the mother on the basis of an acceptance of the risks that the father may pose to the child as if that had an established factual basis which is not evident in the evidence before the court at that time. This is evident at E37 where he asserts that
“the father in my view presents serious risk to IMA”.
107. However, he later goes on to say at E39

“In view of the father’s lack of engagement in the local authority’s assessment, the risks that the father presents to IMA remain unassessed. His criminal history and his relationship history raise understandable concerns. He appears to play a peripheral role in the lives of his other children. It is unclear what role he would play in IMAs life if he was placed in his mother’s care……. I share the local authority’s view that the potential risks presented by the father to IMA remain as relevant as at the outset of these proceedings”.

108. His report proliferates with references to the risk the father presents to IMA as being “unassessed”.

113. At paragraphs 106 to 114 of his report the guardian purports to address the ‘threshold criteria’ and refers to having considered the judgment in Re B. His approach has been to ask three questions – (i) what is the risk of harm? (ii) is it significant?; and (iii) how likely is it to happen? The answers he purports to give are both unsatisfactory and confusing, in my judgement. The suggestion that the risk of harm is that IMA will be a member of a household in which his emotional and social development is impaired is not evidence based on any factual foundation before the court. The suggestion that the father’s circumstances provide a “potential for disagreement and tension” with the mother that does not provide “a sound basis for a stable and harmonious household” does not appear to be factually founded. It is speculative and ignores the fact that there is no evidence of any domestic violence between the mother and the father

114. At paragraph 110 he says he “finds it difficult to assess whether the risk of harm is significant or not” and that “it may be significant or it may not.” He then asserts that he is satisfied that the “risk may be significant” but he then goes on to consider that the parents’ ability to work openly and honestly is relevant to the assessment of whether the risk, as opposed to the harm, is significant which misses the point. His conclusion at paragraph 113 that

“there is a real possibility of IMA suffering significant harm. There is a real possibility of him living in a household characterised by instability, disharmony and the use of intimidating or threatening behaviour. There is a risk of his emotional and social development being impaired if he is living in such an environment”

appears to lack any factual basis evidenced in the information available to the court to satisfy the ‘threshold criteria’ at the time the local authority implemented it protective measures for the child.
[The scattering of the  ‘unassessed risk’ phrase is quite reminiscent of the case that Ryder LJ recently granted permission to appeal on – Ryder LJ’s remark there was “We are ALL unassessed risks”. Is there an issue with professionals confusing absence of an assessment due to non-engagement with evidence of risk?]
The Judge was also very critical of the ‘chinese whispers’ and assertions being repeated and reported as fact, particularly around the police intelligence
150. There are real issues in this case about the Children’s Services reliance on police “intelligence” as a basis for the actions taken by the social worker and others. The “intelligence” referred to has never been produced to this court or the parties and it is unclear as to exactly what information has been given by the police to the social worker or others within Children’s Services. There are two written documents before the court from the police which I found to be worrying within the context of these proceedings. There is an e-mail which appears at C1 in the bundle dated the 28th August 2013 which follows some meeting with the police on the previous day after the recovery of IMA and the arrest of his parents on the 25th August. I can understand how a social worker as inexperienced as Mr Baker reacted the way he did to this. However, I question the validity of the police risk assessment in relation to contact made by this police officer which, as I understand it, was put before the court when it was considering the extension to the Emergency Protection Order and the court was invited by the local authority to refuse contact between the mother and IMA until after a risk assessment had been undertaken. Fortunately, the court refused the local authority application.

151. Perhaps more worrying though is a statement from a CD Acton at F208 dated the 24th March 2014 which was written in response to a request for clarification as to why it was thought that the father was a risk to women and children. She describes that the case was deemed as high risk according to a DASH assessment. DASH assessments are based on a victim’s self report in answer to set questions. They are not objectively evidence based. That is an issue in this case given that the father has never been prosecuted for any offences of actual violence against his former wife, RK. This statement is I think very much open to question in respect of much of its content but for the present purposes I simply make the final observation that the assertion that the father “has been arrested in regards to sexual offences against females as well as violent offences against this victim” is not evidenced on the basis of any information before this court and appears demonstrably unreliable. It calls into question the reliability of any of the “intelligence” given to this social worker and how he responded to it.

 

Guidance to Local Authorities where one parent murders the other

Thankfully such cases are relatively rare – not perhaps as rare as one would hope – a third of female homicide victims are killed by their current or former partner (the figures for male homicide victims are 6% – males can of course be the victims of abuse, not just the perpetrators).

Dreadfully, the Home Office crime statistics reflected in 2001 and 2005 that this represented two women per week.   (And even worse, if that is possible, the statistic that treating the physical injuries from domestic violence accounts for 3% of the annual NHS budget – Wellby 2004)

In such a case, what ought the Local Authority to do about it?

The High Court addressed the issue in Re N v B and Others 2013

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed115442

The children’s father had killed the mother and was imprisoned as a result. The children went to stay with their maternal grandmother, who in due course applied for an adoption order in relation to them. There was considerable debate before the Court as to whether adoption or Special Guardianship was the right order to make – there being no dispute whatsoever that the placement with grandmother was the right one.

The Court analysed the issues to be taken into account when making such a decision very carefully

22. The paramount consideration of the court when considering this issue is the welfare of the child throughout his life, in accordance with section 1 Adoption and Children Act 2002 (‘ACA 2002’). The court must consider which order will better serve the welfare of the particular child (per Wall LJ Re S (Adoption Order or Special Guardianship) [2007] EWCA Civ 54 at para 47 (iii)). There is no presumption in favour of one order or the other, each case turns on its own facts. In accordance with ss 47 and 52 ACA 2002 in considering an adoption order the court needs to consider whether the welfare of the child requires the consent of the father to be dispensed with.

23. One of the relevant considerations in this case is whether an adoption order would skew the family relationships in the grandmother’s home. The grandmother’s brother is the father’s father; the children’s parents were first cousins. The children live with the grandmother and maternal aunts and uncles. They have contact with another maternal aunt who lives nearby with her husband and son, and their great maternal aunts who also live nearby. In the event of an adoption order their maternal grandmother would become their adoptive mother. Their aunts and uncles would become their legal half siblings. The paternal grandfather would become their paternal uncle and the father their first cousin. Following the death of the mother the grandmother has severed all contact with her brother and his family.

24. This shift in family relationships, in the event of an adoption order being made, was explained in some detail to the grandmother by a Senior Practitioner in the Local Authority Adoption Team, as described in the special guardianship report. She notes the grandmother had an understanding of the consequent shift in legal relationships throughout the family in the event of an adoption order being made.

25. InS v B and Newport City Council: Re K [2007] 1 FLR 1116 the impact of an adoption order in family placements was considered important by Mr Justice Hedley, when refusing to make an adoption order in favour of a special guardianship order. At paragraph 22, following a review of the underlying policy for adoption, he stated

One purpose of adoption is of course to give lifelong status to carers where otherwise it would not exist. In familial placement, that is not necessary because family status exists for life in any event. That is not to say that a familial placement may never be secured by adoption. One can imagine cases where the need for security against aggressive parents, including forensic aggression, may be overwhelming.’

26. The skewing of familial relationships is clearly an important factor to put in the balance.

27. Another important factor is the concern the grandmother has about the father seeking to exercise his parental responsibility.

The last point was a particularly significant one here, since under a Special Guardianship Order, the grandmother would have found herself in the position of having to regularly consult with the father (who was after all, the man who killed her daughter) about the children’s upbringing, whereas an adoption order would end his parental responsibility.  The counterpoint to that is that it alters legally the relationship between the children, such that their grandmother becomes in law, legally their mother, their aunt becomes their sister, any cousins would become their nieces and nephews (and oddly, that their birth mother, becomes legally their deceased sister)

The Court concluded that in the circumstances of this case, the advantages of adoption far outweighed those of Special Guardianship

31.  I have reached the clear conclusion, in the particular circumstances of this case the welfare of each of these children throughout their lives can only be met by an adoption order being made rather than a special guardianship order. I have reached that conclusion for the following reasons:

(1) What both children need now and for the rest of their minority and beyond is a secure home. That is what their grandmother can provide, supported by the maternal family who live there or nearby. They wish to remain in her care. As the Children’s Guardian submitted there is no birth parent that can care for them.

(2) Although it is right that an adoption order would skew family relationships I am confident that despite the shift in family relationships that would follow, the children will know the realities of the relationships within the family. That is clear from the grandmother’s recent statement and the observation in the special guardianship report that the grandmother and the family are ‘secure in their knowledge of the children’s identities and they know the children’s histories’.  This view is supported by the conclusions of the Children’s Guardian at paragraphs 24 – 26 of his report.

(3) In this particular case a powerful consideration is the need for the grandmother not to have to share parental responsibility with the father. Particularly in circumstances where I am satisfied, from what the father has said, that he is likely to try and exercise it, even with a restriction under s 91 (14) and other restrictions under s 8. As recently as December 2012 he was declaring that it was unfair for him not to have contact with the children; that he will keep trying and will not give up; he seeks to maintain parental responsibility and will be able to carry on seeking contact with the children. The spectre of such applications will undermine the security of the placement that is so essential to the children’s future stability.

(4) Bearing in mind the background to the criminal offences the maternal family fear manipulation by the father, directly or indirectly, so that he could control the children’s lives. In the circumstances of this case that fear is very real due to the background of the father’s behaviour, and is confirmed by the papers in the court bundle from the criminal proceedings. In particular the psychiatric report, the pre-sentence report and the sentencing remarks from the Crown Court. He was described in the pre sentence report as being extremely controlling and highly dangerous. From what I have read I wholly agree with that description. I am satisfied that a special guardianship order, even supported with orders made under s 8 and 91 (14) CA 1989 severely controlling the father’s ability to exercise his parental responsibility, will not, in the circumstances of this case, provide the lifelong security that these children need in being securely placed with their grandmother.

(5) The grandmother has carefully considered the consequences of adoption and the lifelong nature of adoption. They have been explained to her by the senior practitioner from the adoption team, as set out in detail in the special guardianship report. She understands the change to the children’s birth certificate would mean that the mother’s name and details would be removed. She does not plan to change the children’s names.

(6) In her most recent statement the grandmother deals with the religious objections raised by the father to an adoption order. She sets out very clearly how she sees the adoption of the children by her in the circumstances of this case (where she does not intend to change the names, and where any limited inheritance consequences can be covered by putting arrangements in place). She is satisfied, in the circumstances of this case, with the arrangements that would be put in place by her, that adoption is acceptable under Islamic law. I agree. This is endorsed by the Children’s Guardian, who says he is confident the family can manage this with sensitivity and support.

(7) I agree with the recommendation of the Children’s Guardian that permanence and long term safeguarding for the children can only be guaranteed through the making of an adoption order. For the reasons outlined above it is the order that best meets their long term welfare needs.
In those circumstances, I will dispense with the father’s consent as the welfare needs of each of the children, in my judgment, demand I do so.

The Court was very critical of the Local Authority, who had been directed to file a section 37 report and did so very very late  – 3 ½ months late (despite the circumstances of the case being one that an outsider might imagine that the LA would take seriously)

I imagine that this sentence may crop up in submissions in family law cases (in combination with the recent decision of Mr Justice Cobb that a Local Authority can be hit for costs when failing to undertake a proper s37 report)

I am quite satisfied the obligation is on the party seeking an extension of time to apply for one (in the absence of any other direction being given by the court). The court had made an order and the expectation is that it will be complied with.

(i.e, don’t just submit the report late, seek permission of the Court to do so in advance of the report being late. )

But then this bit is particularly important for Local Authorities

35.  I wholly endorse the guidance given by Mrs Justice Hogg in Re A and B [2010] EWHC 3824 (Fam) in particular paragraph 2 which provides

The local authority should give immediate consideration to the issue of proceedings and, whether it considers it appropriate or inappropriate to issue proceedings immediately, it should appoint a social worker specifically for the affected sibling group who should offer immediate practical help and keep the decision under constant review in conjunction with the local authority’s legal department.”

And this bit from the same case is important too

 In the majority of cases the surviving parent with parental responsibility will be in custody or otherwise unable to exercise parental responsibility. In the aftermath of the killing there will be strong emotions on both sides of the extended family. It is critical therefore that the local authority is able to undertake that function.  Any dispute regarding the responsible designated authority should be resolved at an early stage and should not cause initial assessments to be delayed. It is not appropriate to leave the extended family to attempt to resolve matters through private law proceedings. In the event that the case comes before the court as private law proceedings in the first instance then the court should direct that a Section 37 report is prepared by the relevant local authority

My initial thought was that it might not be utterly straightforward to establish that the threshold criteria was made out, and I had quite a long rambling discussion about that, which I can spare you all from.

The other reported case of Re A and B 2010  http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed82613  initially did not seem to help, as the threshold was dealt with by this single line

All parties agreed that the threshold criteria set out in Section 31 had been crossed in that the children had suffered significant harm by reason of their mother’s death at the hands of their father.

But the High Court later go on to say :-

Threshold
1. In all cases where one parent has been killed by the other the threshold criteria will be met.

And thus, no further enquiry into the nature of the harm is needed. One does not need to explore how that harm is said to have manifested or would need to be evidenced. I can’t actually think of any other situation where threshold is so black and white – there’s no mitigation, no case specific issues, threshold is simply met in those circumstances.

(That of course, inadvertently means that a parent who kills the other in self-defence, perhaps during a violent assault by the other, has crossed the threshold and has significantly harmed the child; but crossing the threshold does not of course mean that the children would be removed. What about where one parent is driving, perhaps drunk and the passenger is killed? The surviving parent might well be charged with Causing Death by Dangerous Driving – it seems that the threshold would be crossed there as well)

Whilst one immediately thinks that it is one of the gravest offences that a human can commit and thus of course threshold is met, we know from many authorities, most recently Re J that being responsible or jointly responsible for the death of a child does not mean that the threshold is met in relation to other children in the future.

Local Authorities would need to be alert to cases where a parent murders the other, to ensure that they seize themselves of the matter and provide services and support to help meet the children’s needs at this dreadful time.