We don’t seem to go more than about a week without some Local Authority or other getting a judicial spanking, and here’s another.
[I probably need to create a new Category on the website of ‘judicial spanking’. No sooner said than done. If you did type ‘judicial spanking’ into Google and have arrived here, then I apologise, and I hope that you weren’t doing it on HMCS computers…http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/mar/17/three-judges-removed-and-a-fourth-resigns-for-viewing-pornography-at-work ]
TM and TJ (children : Care Orders) 2015
Fundamentally, these complaints are about the Local Authority turning up to the Issues Resolution hearing, without its final evidence being in order, so that nobody really knew what their plan was and certainly hadn’t been able to respond to it. It also touches on an issue dear to my heart, where LA “A” who are running the case, decide at the last minute that LA “B” should have a Supervision Order for these children and expect that authority to agree to this without knowing any of the background.
- On 12th March 2015 the Bristol Magistrates ordered that the case should be made ready for a preliminary which is called an ‘Issues Resolution Hearing’ (‘an IRH’). The intention of that kind of hearing is to identify the issues that remain between the parties and see whether they are capable of being resolved without the need for a full final hearing. It is not just a ‘directions hearing’ because Practice Direction 12A of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 (which is well known to family lawyers) provides that, at the IRH:
- The court identifies the key issues (if any) to be determined and the extent to which those issues can be resolved or narrowed at the IRH;
- The court considers whether the IRH can be used as a final hearing.
- The court resolves or narrows the issues by hearing evidence.
- The court identifies the evidence to be heard on the issues which remain to be resolved at the final hearing.
- The court gives final case management directions.
- If, by the time of the IRH, the Local Authority has not filed adequate evidence, it means that the whole purpose of the IRH is negated. Thus the magistrates ordered that, by the time of the IRH, the Local Authority should have filed its final evidence including its assessment of the parents. The Local Authority had been ordered to file its final evidence (including all assessments) by 15th June 2015, the parents had been ordered to file position statements by 22nd June 2015 and the guardian had been ordered to file a position statement by 23rd June 2015. There was to be a meeting of advocates on the 16th June but that had to be abandoned because the Local Authority’s final evidence had not been filed. The court was notified that there were delays. Some final evidence was filed by the Local Authority by 22nd June 2015 although the mother’s solicitor did not receive any of the final evidence until the morning of 25th June 2015.
- On 25th June 2015 this case was referred to me by the Magistrates. The parties and their legal teams had all been at court since 1 p.m. that day. I knew nothing of the case before it came in front of me late that afternoon. There were the following reasons for that referral: i) All parties accepted that the Local Authority had not filed adequate final evidence. The Local Authority itself presented its case on the basis that the assessments that it had conducted were inadequate and could not be relied upon.ii) The care plan proposed that the children should go to live with the father in the east of England under a supervision order to a Local Authority in that part of the country. There was no input from that other Local Authority and there was no indication of how that authority might support the father if the children did go there. That authority was first notified of the suggestion that there should be supervision orders in its favour (and also of the hearing on 25th June 2015) on 19th June 2015. Before the email that was sent on the 19th June, that authority had no knowledge of the case at all. It is not surprising therefore that that authority did not consider that it could participate in the hearing on 25th June; it has never seen the papers in this case.iii) There was no adequate evidence of the arrangements that the father would make if he were to care for the children there. In particular, the father’s plan, if he does move to the east of the country, is to be assisted by his aunt in the care of the children. There is no evidence from her; there is no more than a ‘viability assessment of the aunt’ that was filed on 17th April 2015. Although the agency social worker who dealt with the case before leaving is thought to have spoken to the aunt before the care plans were filed, there is no record of any such discussion.iv) There had been no adequate assessment of the mother. She opposes the suggestion that the children should live with the father and wishes to care for them herself. There was an assessment of the mother that was carried out in November 2014 but this was not a parenting assessment and was carried out when the children were already in foster care. There had been a previous assessment of her in January 2014; this was a parenting assessment and was completed at a time when the children were still with her; however, that assessment was underway at the time of the birth of the second child and expressly was not an assessment of the mother’s ability to care for two children. There simply was no parenting assessment of the mother within the proceedings and there was no assessment of her ability, as a parent, to care for two children. That is despite these proceedings having been running now for very nearly six months, with the children in foster care.v) Because the Local Authority had not put forward any adequate evidence or proposals it meant that the parents did not know what case they had to meet. Even now I do not have any idea what the Local Authority recommends for these children.vi) The root cause of the problem lay in the fact that the previous social worker, who was an agency worker who had been employed in January 2015, had been charged with the responsibility of writing assessments of the parents, had said that she had done so and then left her temporary employment with the Local Authority without fulfilling that responsibility properly, I am told by the Local Authority. The new social worker had only been involved in the case for three weeks prior to the IRH on 25th June and, quite understandably, did not have the knowledge upon which to write fresh assessments.
vii) Given the omissions in the Local Authority assessments I was told that it would take 14 weeks for the current social worker to complete assessments, given her case load and summer leave. The alternative, I was told, was that an independent social worker could be instructed to report by the 14th August. The result now is that the Local Authority will have to pay from public money for an independent social worker to be employed to do the job that a social worker, employed by the authority, should have done.
viii) Given the shortage of time, the final hearing therefore could not be sustained at the beginning of July and another date would have to be found.
ix) The work of the guardian was materially impaired. How could she advance recommendations when she did not know what the Local Authority proposed.
The case had to be adjourned, and an independent expert had to be appointed to conduct the parenting assessments that the Local Authority hadn’t managed to do, and the LA had to pay for that.
The Judge, obviously being very critical of these failings, said this towards the end of the judgment:-
- I understand the difficulties that the Local Authority faces and criticisms from the bench do little to repair the problems. Indeed criticism can simply add to the recruitment difficulties that Local Authorities face. From the time of my first speech as Designated Family Judge in this area I have stressed that there are four alliterative concepts that I wish to drive forward – i) a collaborative approach amongst the many professions and institutions involved in the family justice system; ii) Proper communication between those involved in that system; iii) a recognition of the need for changes in practice and iv) a commitment to the people who really matter – the children, family members and professionals who are obliged to turn to the family court system when there are family and personal difficulties that cannot be resolved consensually.
- But I would like to make these points:i) If a case is going off track it is imperative that the issue is brought to the attention of the court as soon as this occurs. It may then be possible to retrieve the position. Once the problem has occurred, as it has here, it is too late.ii) Cases do not involve just one professional. They involve a large array of people and it must be a collective responsibility on all to bring a case to the attention of the court once it is going off track in this way.iii) Where one party to a multi party case fails it brings down the others and also affects the efficient running of the court.iv) If a social worker is not performing as she should there are management and legal teams within a Local Authority that should pick up on what is happening.
- In this court area there has been a recent and considerable increase in the number of cases that are not meeting the 26 week statutory deadline. Of 181 public law cases there are 49 cases that are now ‘off track’. That means about 27% of our cases are exceeding the 26 week deadline. This has got to stop. Many people have worked extremely hard to improve upon the performance of this area and we are not prepared to see that slide away from us now. This type of poor case performance is unnecessary and is damaging to the system as a whole.
- There are reasons why some cases may need to exceed the 26 week deadline. For instance there are cases involving complex issues of fact (e.g. where there is an allegation of a serious offence having been committed), cases which involve large and complex family dynamics and cases involving complex medical issues. This is not such a case. There are far too many cases like this one where the issues are straightforward and where delay is manifestly harmful to the children concerned. The only reason why this case has been so delayed is inefficiency.
- If three days of court time are lost in this way it may well not be possible to fill those days with other work where this sort of thing happens so close to a final hearing. Not only are adjournments plainly contrary to the welfare of young children, they also cost a lot of public money and mean that very valuable court time is being lost. There is now immense pressure for every hour of court time to be used to its very fullest advantage and if one case is neglectfully prepared, as this one has been, it means that other cases and, other children and other parties suffer. It also means that public money is being used to fund the inefficiency of those people who do not engage in the system properly. It is perhaps commonplace but, nevertheless I do observe that the Local Authority that contends that the mother has not ‘co-operated with professionals’ has, itself shown a distinct and at least commensurate lack of co-operation with the court.
- I am therefore adjourning this case to an IRH before me in September and will list a final hearing, again before me, as soon as possible afterwards. I will also try to call the case in for review once the report of the independent social worker has been obtained. I will release this judgment on BAILII. I know that it will be picked up at least by the local press and I consider that people in South Gloucestershire need to know how their Local Authority is functioning.
I think that there’s a lot of powerful and impressive stuff in this judgment. The ‘four C’s’ approach of Collaborative, Communication, Change and Committment is a damn fine philosophy.
I had a long quibble about whether the passages in the judgment that say that there are ‘far too many’ expert assessments in Bristol Courts and that the Courts must ‘crack down on them’ were somewhat blurring the lines between the statutory requirements and judicial impartiality on applying the requirements to the facts in an individual case, and Judges in their role of being spanked for their poor performance on statistics. But I think on re-reading that HH Judge Wildblood QC does (just ) enough to put this marker on the right side. (just)
So, instead,this (unconnected to HH J Wildblood QC who uses plain English where possible):-
Bearing in mind that coming across an impenetrable allusion in judgments is an occupational hazard (“I thought I had seen a white leopard” “As in the famous quotation by Lord Wellington [quotation not supplied]” “contumelious” and so forth), I think that we do rather better than America. As you may have heard, in the gay marriage case in the US Supreme Court, the words ‘apple-sauce’ ‘arrgle-bargle’ and ‘jiggery-pokery’ were used, but this Judge goes even further
- Defenestration. Don’t walk past an open window if Selya is inside writing an opinion: He is liable to defenestrate anything and everything. Items thrown out the window in Selya opinions include speedy trial claims, punitive damages awards, arbitral awards, claims of co-fiduciary liability and laws that unduly favor in-state interests. The latter, Selya has noted, “routinely will be defenestrated under the dormant commerce clause.”
- Philotheoparoptesism. Philotheoparoptesism refers to the practice of disposing of heretics by burning them or boiling them in oil. Another judge challenged Selya to include this word in a decision, which resulted in its sole reported usage (in secular courts, at least). For the record, Selya declined to consign a misguided prosecutor “to the juridical equivalent of philotheoparoptesism.”
- Repastinate. To repastinate means to plow the same ground a second time. When considering appeals that raise previously decided issues, Selya and his colleagues have come down firmly and repeatedly on the side of “no repastination.”
- Sockdolager. A sockdolager is a final, decisive blow. Selya’s published opinions deliver almost 60 sockdolagers, which is more “sock” than one finds in the decisions of the rest of the federal judiciary.
- Thaumaturgical. The 1st Circuit takes a dim view of magical arguments, or what in one opinion Selya called “thaumaturgical feat[s] of rhetorical prestidigitation.”
Defenestration I knew, due to the ‘Defenestration of Prague’ and thaumaturgical I knew, because I love magic. The others, not a scooby.
Of these words, I found that only one of them appeared in Bailii law reports – three times in all. http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2009/649.html
I think that defenestration involves throwing something out of, or being thrown out of. I don’t think jumping or climbing out counts.
The second one Downing v NK Coating Limited 2010 http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIIT/2010/07397_09IT.html fails for the same reason, but it does bizarrely involve the Court having to think about a lab assistant who left his office by climbing out of a window, thus leaving a urine sample unattended and potentially able to be tampered with.
And Ormerod and Gunn is more of an essay (an interesting one) and once again, is referring to cases of people jumping out of windows, albeit to escape a threat of assault. It also talks about our old friend, Wilkinson v Downton 1887 http://www.bailii.org/uk/other/journals/WebJCLI/1997/issue3/gunn3.html
So I haven’t found the term being used in its proper sense. The challenge is on.
It appears that the English Courts are fonder of throwing things out of windows then they are in magic, ploughing, boiling people in oil [glossing over the Middle Ages law reports], or whatever the heck sockdologing is…
[Ha! In an unwitting irony, it turns out that one meaning of sockdologer is to determine something in a decisive and final manner. Which is clearly something that the English Courts aren’t interested in doing. I honestly didn’t know that when I wrote the previous sentence. ]