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Strategy meetings

 

If you aren’t familiar with Strategy Meetings, they usually happen where there is a suspicious or unexplained injury to a child, and the medical professionals meet with the social worker and sometimes police, to gather together all of the relevant information and consider the options for going forward.

 

In this case, Re L  (application to withdraw ) (Head injuries : Unknown cause) 2015   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/67.html

 

they took on a particular significance.

 

A quick caveat – this case took place in my local Court, so of course I know some of the lawyers involved, and it was decided by my Designated Family Judge. I have had absolutely no involvement in the case (I never write about cases that I have had even a tiny part in) but of course it is much more easy to be dispassionate about the rubbish arguments deployed by Mr Edward Shirtsleeves and  Miss Rebecca Cufflinks of counsel when I’ve never met them and never will, rather than people who might concievably be in kicking distance of my shins from time to time.

 

Broad issues in this case were that in October 2014, a child presented to hospital with signs of head trauma. He was unwell at the time and has thankfully recovered.   A strategy meeting was held in November, and care proceedings were later commenced. The child was made the subject of an Interim Care Order and placed with an aunt.

 

At the final hearing, the Local Authority sought findings that the child had been shaken by one of his parents, suffering significant harm as a result.

 

After the medical evidence had been heard in those proceedings in June 2015, the Local Authority applied to the Court to withdraw their application.

 

  1. Essentially, the evidence of the experts and medical professionals was put to the test over those days, and by the conclusion of the medical evidence it had become clear to all those in this matter, including myself, that the local authority, who must prove their case against the parents, were in a position where it was highly unlikely that the evidence would support findings to the requisite standard against the parents and the threshold criteria would not be met in this single-issue case. I make it plain that there can be no criticism of the fact that the Local Authority issued proceedings here where there was clearly a prima facie case from the time L fell ill on the basis of the medical information which was supplied to them.
  2. Very properly in my judgment, and with exemplary good grace, the Local Authority made their application having taken stock of the evidence available to them at this point in the hearing.
  3. To found the basis for permitting the local authority to withdraw their application, I note the difficulties posed which have arisen in this unique case: some are serious, some perhaps less so, and some only visible with hindsight. There were gaps in the information available to the experts, and gaps in their own expertise as regards being able to come to clear understanding about what happened to L medically. There was, however, less uncertainty amongst the treating clinicians at Worthing Hospital as regards the cause of L’s head injuries at the critical point in time when life-changing decisions were to be made as regards his future, and I have concluded on all the evidence that this is something which requires careful exploration and recording in this judgment.
  4. L’s case and his long separation from the care of his own family will, I hope, contribute to a greater understanding of how the identified omissions which prevailed in this case might be avoided in future, though that may be poor consolation for his family.
  1. I have the weight of the expert evidence in this case as my yardstick to measure the identified omissions: it is difficult to imagine a more experienced and respected array of consultants with specialist knowledge, who have been stretched to and at times beyond their limits, but who have also provided valuable opinion in terms of their views of best practice. The case illustrates the position that there are limits to what can be achieved forensically.
  2. It is important that this judgment is seen as specific to the highly unusual case of L. Hindsight offers the court the opportunity to develop a counsel of perfection, but I am the first to acknowledge that this is unlikely to be achievable and practices vary and will always vary, and may be resource-specific. I can only do the best I can on what I have to go on in this matter with its very unusual features. The information about L which the experts had to go on was undoubtedly insufficient, and that in turn has left the court in the position where it cannot simply bypass their powerful evidence and return without more to the clinical picture available at Worthing Hospital to make findings, because such doubt has been cast upon L’s case as it was dealt with there. The information that there was what now appears to have been a very relevant differential diagnosis in relation to the cause of L’s injuries was available to the hospital, but it was not provided to the Local Authority at the outset of the case. The fact that there was a later differential diagnosis with a recommendation for further investigations related to L’s treatment was not fully conveyed to anyone in this case until the matter got to court.

 

 

 

If you are involved in a child protection case involving a head injury to a child or are a doctor who is involved in this area, I’d commend the entire judgment to you. It throws up a lot of really important practice issues, which are beyond the scope of this small(ish) piece.

You will see that although the Judge does not criticise the Local Authority for bringing the case to Court (and of course the Court when they made Interim Care Orders had to make the decision on the same information that the LA had),  we still end up in a situation where the parents were separated from their child for around seven months when they had done nothing wrong.

 

The mother was separated from her child for seven months. That is an almost unimaginable situation. I reaffirm the significance of this; of what she has missed out on in enjoying the first wonderful months of her child’s life and of what she must suffered as a result. She has lost her happy relationship with the father as well.

 

I think all of us could agree that this is intolerable. But what’s the solution?  One immediately cries out that the case must be heard more swiftly, but it is clear from reading this case that it was only by deploying a raft of very specialist experts that the true picture with all of its complexities emerged.  If someone had decided at the outset that the Court would reach a decision after say three months, those experts wouldn’t have reported and it is possible that the wrong conclusion could have been reached.

 

As Billy The Kid used to say,  “Speed’s fine, partner, but accuracy is final”

The other solution is not easy. Faced with an application for an Interim Care Order, with the treating medical professionals telling the Court that this child has been hospitalised as a result of one of his parents violently shaking him,  one is therefore asking a Court to take that risk on their own shoulders and keep the child and family together.  As we can see with the benefit of hindsight, that would have been the right thing to do on this occasion.  But ask yourself what would happen if a Local Authority (or a Court) decided that the medical evidence might later be proven wrong and left the child at home, where a second injury possibly more serious or life-threatening occurred?   How would Ofsted, the newspapers, the House of Commons, the public, react to that?

Part of the problem is that at the time when the social worker and then the Court has to make the decision about where the child should be whilst everything is investigated, that those cracks in the medical evidence haven’t yet appeared. It is only when ALL of the source material is available and looked at by people in painstaking detail, people with expertise, that you really get a sense of whether the evidence is unequivocal or whether this is a case with some real grey areas.

A Judge faced with an application for an Interim Care Order in those circumstances will know that there is a  risk of very serious injury but also that until all of the experts has reported we will not know whether the medical evidence is cast-iron or swiss cheese. Short of the parents going to live with another trustworthy adult or vice versa  (which is not really a practical solution for a seven month period of time), the risk can’t be absolutely protected against whilst the child is with the parents.  What’s the lesser of two evils here?

The way to keep the child at home with the parents is for the Judge to say “I know that there is risk here, I know that if it turns out that the medical evidence provided so far is right then these parents may have seriously harmed the child and may do it again, but experience has showed us that the only time one can be absolutely confident about the medical evidence is at final hearing when it is put to proof, so I am deciding that the risk should be taken in keeping this family with the parents, and I make that decision knowing that something could go wrong, no matter how much effort is put into a protection plan”.    And for a Court of Appeal to back a Judge up in that situation.

I would not pretend that this would be an easy thing to do.  If it goes wrong, the clamour would be for heads to roll and it would be a judicial head on the paraphet.

 

Anyway, back to the particular case.

 

Everyone was in agreement that the case should be withdrawn and the Court should find that the threshold was not met; but the issue was whether the Court should consider making a declaration under the Human Rights Act and possibly compensation   (although note that the Legal Aid Agency are currently stating that the Statutory Charge applies to such HRA compensation and it would all be swallowed up to repay legal costs)

 

The argument was twofold :-

 

1. That the medical professionals on the ground (not the Court appointed experts) had made serious mistakes which led to the child being removed and hence a breach of article 8

2. That the strategy meeting convened had been one at which a decision was made for the issue of proceedings, and thus was something that the parents should have been invited to, and failure to involve them was a breach of article 8 and article 6.

 

The Judge had been critical of some of the treating medical team on the ground, but was mindful that this was not, and could not purport to be a medical negligence case – the doctors had not been represented, nor had their Trust, and it was going outside the scope of the care proceedings to conduct that exercise.  The Court could go as far as it had, which was to identify practice areas for improvement and highlight failings, but apportioning blame was going too far.

 

The second point was developed more fully.

 

  1. I have been referred to Re R [2002] 1 FLR 755, Re L [2002] 2 FLR 730, Re G [2003] 2 FLR 42, where the protection offered by Article 8 was seen to extend to all stages of the decision-making process in child protection proceedings. [4]Re M [2001] 2 FLR 1300; Re S (Minors) [2002] 1 FLR 815; McMichael v UK [1995] 20 EHRR 205 and the injunction that: “Whilst Article 8 contains no explicit procedural requirements, the decision-making process leading to measures of interference must be fair and such as to afford due respect to the interests safeguarded by Article 8.”
  2. In Re G, the importance of full and frank disclosure by a local authority was emphasised:

    i) Informing the parents of its plansii) Giving factual reasons

    iii) Giving an opportunity for parents to answer allegation

    iv) Providing an opportunity to make representations

    v) Allowing the parents the opportunity to attend and address any crucial discussions.

  3. I have also been referred to Re M (Care: Challenging Decisions by Local Authority) [2001] 2 FLR 1300 where parents were not present at a discussion where the decision was taken to place a child from adoption; Re L (Care: Assessment: Fair Trial) [2002] 2 FLR 730 for the premise that the case must be viewed as a whole and exclusion may not in itself render the proceedings unfair.
  4. S 47 of the Children Act 1989 governs the duty of a Local Authority to investigate. The relevant aspects of this section are:
  5. S47 (1) 1:

    (1)Where a local authority—………………

    (b)have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm,

    the authority shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.. . .

    (2)(b)have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, the authority shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.

  6. In addition I have been referred to the Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures, published in March 2015. I have not been privy to this document hitherto. It contains a chapter on Strategy Discussions and Discussions, envisaged as a preliminary step before initiating a S 47 Enquiry, and when one is required, to plan how it should be undertaken. It provides guidelines for convening a strategy discussion or discussion. Discussions are advised in the case of serious physical abuse. It is identified as a “confidential professionals’ discussion” and participants are identified as a “professionals sufficiently senior to be able to contribute, although exceptional circumstances may arise where others may usefully contribute”. The relevant Consultant is highlighted as a required participant, as here.
  7. There is no requirement to include parents at such a discussion.
  8. In this case, I am faced with the tension between the need for a confidential professionals’ discussion to take place to which parents would not ordinarily be invited, and the argument that these parents should have been invited to contribute to that meeting, either for whole or part of it.

 

More detail about the Strategy Meeting followed

 

 

  1. (a) The Strategy Discussion
  2. In a case such as this, the decision to initiate a statutory s 47 inquiry (set out above) is taken following a strategy meeting held with relevant interested representatives of social services and external agencies such as the police, GPs and other medical personnel, schools, carers and, in appropriate cases, more specialised individuals. No more than and no less than that occurred in this case.
  3. The document generated by the meeting on 5th November is headed “Record of Strategy Discussion.” I see that It was called for as follows: “Referral from hospital this morning L had been admitted on two occasions. L has subdural bleeds of different ages. Suggestion non accidental injury. Possible shaken baby“.
  4. The proceedings hare was set running on what appears to have been the basis of the single clinical view provided at that meeting. There were a number of doctors at the meeting – Dr Cooke, Dr Kabole and Dr Shute in particular.
  5. These meetings are familiar to the Court. There is a protocol locally in operation across the three local authorities which sets out the normal parameters for such a discussion, which in short includes those who should “generally” be involved. It reads “all participants should be aware that a strategy Discussion/Meeting is a confidential professionals meeting and as such, notes of the meeting should not be shared within anyone without the permission of the chair”.
  6. It was chaired by Amanda Cole but I do not know who made the record. Its accuracy has been explored by the parties with Dr Hazell who gave her input over the phone. I have to say that the list of negatives does not quite coincide with Dr Hazell’s more nuanced evidence but I make nothing of that.
  7. The Social Worker Ros Sims told the court in her statement that L’s injuries were confirmed at the strategy meeting by the consultant paediatricians who attended as non-accidental injuries and consistent with L having been shaken and have resulted in the significant harm that has been medically evidence. The entire case stood on the information available to West Sussex County Council. It was the only thing which supported his removal. The initial stated belief of the local authority was that “L had experienced significant harm from one or more of his carers”.
  8. It was known that the parents were to be arrested and interviewed because it is recorded. The only planning in relation to further action by the local authority was that they were to make a decision regarding legal proceedings. In Re G [2003] 2 FLR 42 the first of the identified requirements upon a Local Authority is to inform parents of their plans. The recorded plan was to move to a decision in relation to legal proceedings. That is all.
  9. The issue is whether in this case, as distinct from other cases where parents would not normally be included in a confidential professionals meeting,[                 and                    ]should have been invited.
  10. Mr Storey argues that on the basis of Re G, where the protection offered by Article 8 was seen to extend to all stages of the decision-making process in child protection proceedings, this particular strategy discussion should be considered as part of that inclusive roll call to say that he fact that the mother and father were not invited to the Strategy Discussion was an incursion into that right because to was a decision to separate the mother from the child.
  11. Looking again at that decision. I am mindful that what has to be determined is whether, having regard to the particular circumstances of the case, and notably the serious nature of the decisions to be taken, the parents were involved in the decision making as a whole, to a degree sufficient to protect their interests. If not this would amount to a failure to respect their family life and the interference resulting from the decision will not be capable of being regarded as “necessary” within the meaning of Article 8.”
  12. Mr Storey takes that decision at its highest, and sets it as the first rule in every case, to mean that this particular decision was part of the trial process and the parents were entitled to participate without qualification. If that is the case, then potentially parents would be entitled to be present at every strategy discussion, and the essentially confidential nature of the discussions would be lost.
  13. Like the experts in L’s case I am really hampered. All I have are the recordings. All I know is that the wheels had been set in motion prior to that meeting because there was a plan to arrest the parents and the social workers were going to refer the case to their legal department. It was technically not a decision to separate the parents from L, as far as I can tell from the notes. They are not likely to reflect the whole of the discussions. However I do not have the benefit of the evidence of those present: they have not been required to set out their evidence as to what occurred and why.

 

 

That did make matters difficult.  The Judge distilled the HRA argument into a central question

 

To reach any conclusion as regards an infringement of the parents’ rights due to not being invited, a court would at the very least have to ask the following question; Was the omission to invite the parents to a confidential professionals’ discussion, where the case was extremely serious in terms of what was being advanced medically, where their accounts appear not been given to the discussion, an infringement?

 

The Judge goes on to say, that understanding that the HRA point was developed once it became clear that the medical evidence was less solid than it would have appeared at the outset of the case, that there were important evidential matters which would have been needed to be obtained and put to witnesses before the Court could properly make that decision.

 

  1. The evidential basis for answering those questions with care and fairness is not available to me. To really understand what occurred and why, a court would at the very least need a detailed response from the local authority, and evidence from the key participants which could be fairly and properly tested. I cannot therefore take this point any further.
  2. What does concern me however is the medical information which was given then and later which tended so strongly to characterise this case as a case of inflicted injury as opposed to there having been another possible identifiable cause as of 4th November and indeed throughout. That alternative possibility has never gone away during this case. The Local Authority assumed that to be the only available diagnosis at the start of the case and the court only had the single view upon which to proceed.

 

The Court also expressed disquiet about the medical information provided at that meeting, most notably that it was not communicated to the Strategy Meeting that at least one treating doctor had considered that there was a medical explanation for the injury due to an unusual clinical feature that might give rise to a differential diagnosis  (i.e that there might not have been an injury at all, but rather some sort of medical episode)

 

I know not whether those involved intend to leave it at that, or whether a stand-alone HRA claim will be lodged.

 

For the moment, the answer to the question  “Is it a HRA breach to have a strategy meeting which might result in very critical decisions being made for a family if the family aren’t present?”   is  “it might be”  –  and at the very least, this case has made us all think rather harder about the issue.

 

 

“Cutting edge forensic linguistics”

A discussion of the Court of Protection case of PS v LP 2013

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2013/1106.html

 

An interesting case – I don’t cover Court of Protection stuff as often as I should, and this one throws up some interesting ideas about certainty, expertise and cutting edge science.

 This one involved a woman, LP, who had separated from her family and formed a new relationship with a man PP.  The family considered him to be an unhealthy influence on her. PP for his part said that the family had treated LP badly and that she had wanted nothing more to do with them.

 

Disaster struck on 25th August 2008 when LP suffered a cerebral aneurism which has left her severely disabled. She is gravely impaired. It is, I understand, impossible to obtain from her any indication of her wishes at the present time. She is said to be in need of twenty four hour care and resides at a nursing home provided for by the relevant PCT and she is fully CHC funded. It is uncertain whether she knows who or where she is. There is a possibility of an operation to deal with her hydrocephalus but it is by no means certain that this will improve matters. There is a chance it may improve communication and a little improvement might enable her to show like or dislike of ideas or people but any changes are said to be likely to be small.

 

Since that time, she had had no contact with her family. A letter and a will, essentially cutting them out of her life were prepared shortly before this cerebral aneurism

 

  1. On 27th July she apparently signed a document entitled, “Last wishes should my ex-family find Paul and me,” and on 28th July 2008 she prepared a document entitled, “Last Will and Testament.” The letter of wishes is badly spelt and drafted.
  1. The will is clumsily drawn and is likewise written in poor English. It is rambling in parts but that reflects an ignorance of the law and legal niceties rather than an incapacity in some way in that she leaves any inherited monies “in trust” for B, her great grandson, she leaves a necklace to DP, the wife of PP, and everything else to PP, her cohabitee. There was gift over in the event of PP’s demise to R. The will criticises “my ex-husband and siblings” “because of the abuse I received from them.” It does not mention her children but I suspect that is because she did not appreciate the meaning of the word “siblings.”
  1. The letter of wishes recounts a history of alleged physical and mental abuse from JR, PS, JP, PS’s son, and grandson, D2. It refers, in confirming her problems, to Detective Sergeant NL at a police station. It relates how she built up a relationship over the years with PP despite physical and mental abuse from BP. It says that her parents and her brother, R, were pleased that she had found happiness with PP. It ends by resuming criticisms of PS, JR, JP, D2, KR and her husband. There is no doubt that the PS family and BP will have found this letter very upsetting.

 

The family said that this document was not in fact prepared by LP, but by PP and that it was not something that she would have prepared and used words and a style that she would never have used.

 

Additionally, even if those were the wishes and feelings she had recorded shortly before her awful and sudden life-changing illness, were they to be adhered to now?

 

The Court heard evidence from all of the family, and PP, and from the police officer who spoke with LP and PP when the allegations of abusive behaviour by the family were made. The police officer was obviously unable to say whether the allegations were true, but was able to give evidence to the effect that there was nothing in the presentation that suggested that PP was the driving force, or that LP was under his thrall, or being coerced into saying these things.

 

The case then becomes quirky, because in order to consider whether the documents of July were written by LP, the Court authorised the instruction of two Professors, Professor C and Professor PJ, whose expertise was forensic linguistics, and both were operating “at the cutting edge of it”

 

Until today, I was not aware that there even was a field of forensic linguistics, let alone a cutting edge of it, but one lives and learns.

 

  1. How did Professor C’s evidence assist me? He is the Emeritus Professor of forensic linguistics at Aston University and wrote a report of 4th October of last year. I have no doubt about his expertise. His view was this:

“The linguistic evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that the wishes, will and PP’s text were all typed by the same person.”

But he was also cautious and he added this:

“There are, however, no distinctive linguistic features to enable me to express an opinion on whether the author of the three texts was the same.”

So he is much more cautious than Professor PJ and Professor PJ’s evidence, is therefore, the more important.

 

i.e he compared a sample of writing KNOWN to come from PP, with the documents in question and concluded that the writing is consistent with having all been by the same author, but wasn’t able to take the next step and say “The will and letter weren’t written by LP, but by PP”   but just rather that it wasn’t possible to exclude that as a possibility.

 

  1. Professor PJ gave evidence through the court TV video link. He is an Associate Professor of computer science at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, USA. His specialism is the assessment and evaluation of authorship/ attribution of written pieces of work and he is the author of a programme called JGAAP, Java Graphic Authorship Attribution Programme, a computer authorship analysis system funded by the National Science Foundation of the United States. So his work, to quote Miss Hewson, is “cutting edge forensic linguistics.”
  1. He was asked by those acting for PS to consider the last wishes and the will and the statements of PP. He reported on 27th November to the effect that the letter of wishes and the statements were, in his opinion, written by the same person; in other words, that PP is the true author of the letter of wishes. He did not form the view, however, that the will was written by him but that was because it was of a notably different genre; i.e. a written will in legalistic phrasing. But he did not reject the hypothesis that all three could have been written by the same person.
  1. In addition to his first report, I have read questions put to him by the Official Solicitor and read his replies of 4th January and I have seen his supplementary report. I have noted that he accepted that a person is likely to use similar language and phraseology to that of his partner but he took the view they were not likely to be identical. That supplementary report to which I have referred was filed on 25th January. He had prepared that as a result of seeing an additional document of PP. He ran the same tests as before and noted again that he thought the same person was the author of that second statement.
  1. He maintains his conclusions on this basis: of sixteen tests that he performed, fourteen, he said, show the authorship was similar in that of the letter of wishes and PP’s two statements; and he became quite forceful and firm in his conclusion that PP was, indeed, the author of the letter of wishes.
  1. I have to say the professor’s written reports and his analyses are not an easy read. He has examined in his reports the difference between the style and presentation in various documents in the sixteen tests he conducted and come to the conclusions I have set out. At answer eighteen to the questions raised by the Official Solicitor, he sets out the experiments undertaken as to how he looked at, for example, vocabulary, sentence lengths, word pairs and so on.
  1. I am quite unable to assess the validity of this analysis as a discipline. It is new to me and I know of no UK expert, save the related expertise of Professor C, to which I shall again come, but I do not know the quality and reliability of this kind of expert evidence for it is a relatively new specialism.

 

 

 

Professor PJ goes on to say that he is 99.9% sure, looking at the statement prepared by PP, that the author of that statement was the same person as the author of the letter  expressing the wish not to be involved with her family or see them any more (and thus that LP hadn’t written them).

 

But of course, the Court had to be troubled by the degree of confidence one could have in this science.  And here we get to a very interesting (to me) issue.

 

Professor PJ doesn’t arrive at this conclusion by poring over the samples himself, but by using a computer analysis of the sample documents. And he was the creator of that computer programme, and accepted that over recent years he had made changes and adjustments to the computer programme  (the inference of course, being that these changes had been needed to make it more accurate and reliable, and that one couldn’t anticipate whether subsequent changes might be needed to fix current unknown inaccuracies)

 

In a situation like this, who is the expert? Professor PJ, or the computer? Can a computer programme be an expert? Does the computer have to give evidence ? (“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that…. Judge“)

 

Can the computer analysis be accurate, without the Court knowing much more about it?  Since after all, the science put into the computer programme could be completely accurate, but there could have been an error in the programming, Professor PJ not being an expert in computers but in linguistics.  

Even if the linguistic principles going into the computer are right, could there have been an error in creating the computer programme to analyse? How would one know?

 Could we ever reach a situation in which expert assessments are conducted by computers rather than people?  All exciting geeky sci-fi questions intriguing my imagination. A computer, if programmed correctly, couldn’t be biased, couldn’t be lying, couldn’t be recollecting poorly, couldn’t be inconsistent… but of course, “if programmed correctly” is a very significant element of that – how would you know for sure that biases, incorrect assumptions, improper weighting hadn’t been incorrectly incorporated into the initial programming.

[This stuff is so cutting edge, I haven’t even seen it in CSI  – I can now imagine a good storyline in which the computer programme proves who wrote a blackmail letter, or whether the suicide note was really written by the deceased…  And lo, in a quick search for a nice image, I find a good computer programme to assist Horatio Caine in his decision-making]

 horatio caine

 In the event, the Court were not persuaded to make the finding sought by the family that PP had written the letter of wishes, and thus it should be simply discarded.

 

  1. First, I do not doubt the family of LP have shown a considerable degree of care and concern for her in the proceedings before me. I do not think that BP or PS or anyone else in the family poses a physical risk to LP now, whatever the past history may be about which I make no findings. The question for me to look at with care is what is in the best interests of LP as to contact.
  1. I note, of course, that the husband and family of LP are unsophisticated. BP struggled to help me at times during the course of his evidence, although I have sympathy because of his having had two strokes; they have plainly affected his speech, his memory to a degree and his cognitive functioning, but I accept, of course, that his concern for his wife was palpable.
  1. Miss Hewson, second, describes that any decision I should make that BP and PS should be “banned” (her word) from contact would be “a draconian level of interference in LP’s private and family life,” and she seeks that I should draw that conclusion. Of course, it would be a breach of Article 8 rights were it the case that LP’s wishes were not being considered and assiduously weighed up by me and I hope in due course I will come to a careful consideration of the Mental Capacity Act but that Act is compliant with the Human Rights Act and I shall apply, in particular, section 4(6) in due course.
  1. But I remind myself of the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of K v LBX [2012] EWCA (Civ) 79. In that case the Court of Appeal observed that the right approach under the 2005 Act was to ascertain the best interests of the incapacitated adult on the application of the section 4 checklist. The judge should then ask whether the resulting conclusion amounts to a violation of Article 8 rights or if that violation is, nonetheless, necessary and proportionate. In that case Black LJ pointed out that:

“Giving priority to family life under Article 8 by way of a starting point or assumption risks deflecting the decision maker’s attention from one aspect of Article 8, private life, by focusing his attention on another, family life. There is a danger it contains within it an inherent conflict for elements of private life, such as the right to personal development and the right to establish relationships with other human beings in the outside world, may not always be entirely compatible with the existing family life and particularly not with family life in the sense of continuing to live within the existing family home.”

  1. Third, Miss Hewson contends the court should not act as some sort of divorce court. Well, of course, it should not and I am not, in deciding as I do, decreeing any form of divorce or judicial separation.
  1. But, fourth, there is no doubt in my mind that LP’s wish not to see her family was quite genuine and of her own volition at the time she expressed it.
  1. I say this because I accept the account of Detective Sergeant NL who seemed to me to be entirely credible. Moreover, I have noted his own expertise in dealing with the vulnerable and his being used to dealing, for example, with honour based violence so he would be more than aware of the possibility of a person’s wishes being overridden by the controlling or threatening behaviour of a member of the family, partner or spouse. No alarm bells rang for him. He saw no need at any time to interview LP on her own. Furthermore, she had the opportunity of saying she was acting under some kind duress when he took PP to the rear of the police station to interview him about the alleged sexual offence and LP said nothing to the desk sergeant or anyone else.
  1. Moreover, I must assume that at the time when she left her family and ran away with PP and at the time she saw the detective sergeant and when she signed the will and letter of wishes she has to be assumed to have capacity to make the decision that she wanted nothing more to do with her family unless the contrary is shown and it has not been.
  1. Fifthly, I do not find PP to be a dominating or bullying man. True he was indignant when Miss Hewson put to him that he had forged the will and the letter of wishes but he showed no sign of being intimidatory or controlling; rather I noted a man deeply affected by the catastrophic injury to LP and hoping, perhaps futilely, that she would somehow improve and be with him. He plainly has no financial motive in running away with her. Not only has she no assets but I understand he has lived on pension credit alone. This man is not a so called gold digger. But he is a man whose memory is inaccurate at times. He cannot have been asked about the sexual assault allegations of N in late 2008. He did not raise with the officer the issue of death threats in June 2008. There was no warrant for his arrest as he claimed. So he has tendency to misunderstand and overstate and his memory is at fault at times.
  1. But, sixthly, for all of that, I am constrained to find that LP signed the will and the letter of wishes and I am so constrained because the signature is similar to the untrained eye, albeit smaller, to the writing on the one postcard and letter of years ago that I have seen. In addition there is the clear evidence of KM. He, of course, did not know what he was witnessing but it is quite clear that LP wanted an independent witness and his account is clear and coherent. He was certain that PP was not there when the documents were signed so there is no obvious evidence of immediate intimidation or improper behaviour. If LP signed the documents of her own volition, then they must, on the face of it, be found to be what she wanted to say. In other words, she did not want to see her family, and that includes her husband of many years standing, and that she wanted to say the bitter things about the family that she then did.
  1. Seventh, I do not find that the poor drafting and inelegant expressions to be found in the letter of wishes and the will should immediately lead me to the conclusion that they are of no effect. Looked at in the round, LP made it quite clear who did she did not wish to see and I do not ignore her wishes simply because they are not expressed very well or elegantly.
  1. Eight, did LP really draft the will and the letter of wishes and feelings? That is a much more difficult question to answer. I do not see in Professor C’s written evidence how he could draw the conclusion quoted by me that he did and his conclusions as to the striking similarity between the will, letter of wishes and statement of PP are couched overall with such caution that I am unable to draw a clear and unequivocal conclusion from his evidence alone. Moreover, there is room for uncertainty, even on Professor PJ’s evidence, as to the will’s authorship so I cannot say she did not draft that or have a part in drafting it.
  1. What specifically of the letter of wishes? Much depends on the credence this court gives to the new discipline in which the professor specialises. There is no doubt the specialism of forensic linguistics is a developing one. The professor himself indicated that to me by conceding that his computer programme had been rewritten in part in recent years because, no doubt, of inaccuracies. I have not been told of any other case in the Court of Protection where this sort of evidence has been used, or, indeed, referred to any other English civil case where this discipline has been found to be of importance in determining the case, or, indeed, of great value or significant assistance. In fairness, I repeat Miss Hewson referred to my having to deal with ‘cutting edge technology’ in the course of the case.
  1. I do bear in mind the recent judgment of the President of the Family Division in the children case of In the matter of TG (A Child) [2013] EWCA (Civ) 5, although, of course, that judgment was issued after I had permitted the expert to be instructed. It seemed to me at the time to be right, however, to admit the investigations of the professor and I acknowledge he has formed a firm view that the author of the letter of wishes is the author of PP’s statements. But I bear in mind that even the professor has in various articles cited to me by Mr. Patel acknowledged difficulties in the technique of authorship attribution. Moreover, each of the tests that the professor employed on his case has a margin of error of up to twenty per cent. I am persuaded by Mr. Patel’s helpful analysis of the documents at paragraph 22E of his final written submission which I now quote:

“Lastly, looking at Professor PJ’s results, W1 is as similar to W2 as W2 is to S and both pairs are less similar than W1 is to S1. Professor PJ explained the difference by saying the gap between W2 and S is, in his opinion, due the difference in the genre of the two documents, W2 being notably different. However, that explanation could account for the difference between W1 and W2, rather than it being attributed to a difference in author. Further, it could also account for why W1 and S are similar to each other as they are documents which are not in a notably different genre. In the Official Solicitor’s submission, the failure to explain the matters set out above may have been due to the bias in instructions. Professor PJ may have been anxious subconsciously to favour an interpretation which supported the positions of the party instructing him and of Professor C for whom he was doing a favour.”

  1. And that leads me, of course, to a slightly worrying aspect of Professor PJ’s evidence which to an extent affects its standing; that is, the manner in which he had become involved. In saying this I make no criticism of the solicitor or counsel for PS. The letter of instructions was perfectly proper. But in evidence Professor PJ agreed he had accepted instructions as a favour to Professor C, whose conclusions, as I have set out, are somewhat uncertain. Second, he simply did not seem to comprehend that the basis of accepting instructions might give the appearance of bias. To say the computer has no friends and does not lie is to avoid the issue and, indeed, does not understand the difficulty. But he did accept that the account of the background that he had received risked introducing bias.
  1. So I view Professor PJ’s conclusions with some caution, though I by no means dismiss them on that basis alone. I cannot find that his conclusions were biased even if I have been given some cause for concern.
  1. I consider, however, that, even if PP did have a part in drafting the letter of wishes and has lied about that, it is much more difficult to discern what that part was. I do not and cannot find that LP’s will was overborne in drafting the letter so my conclusion is that, when PP insists he had nothing to do with drafting this, that, even if he might have played a part, it is not a matter that determines the issue.
  1. So, ninthly, I ask myself, nonetheless, does it matter if PP drafted or helped to draft the two documents or one of them? The other evidence is clear enough. A woman aged fifty nine, not then suffering from any discernible illness or disability at the time, chose to leave her family and her husband with whom she had had a relationship of forty years. She chose to go with PP. She chose to go to a police station with him. She chose only to contact her brother, parents and, if N is to be believed, N. She chose to leave her estate to PP with a gift over to her brother and a “trust fund” to B, the great grandson on whom she doted. These actions may be unkind, ungrateful and even mean spirited. These actions may be inexplicable but they were an adult’s decisions, however justified or unjustified, and not lacking in logical thinking. Even if she was being inaccurate in what she claimed, that is the point. I cannot find and have no evidence on which to base a finding that her will was overborne by PP. This is not a clear case of duress or undue influence. People take inexplicable decisions, if her decisions were inexplicable. I cannot look into the mind of a person back in 2008 and say that she was not then capacitous.
  1. Tenthly, does it matter even if PP has lied as to his involvement in drafting the documents? Assuming for one moment he did, after all, draft them or assist in drafting them, I apply, insofar as they are relevant, the directions in the criminal case of Lucas. I need to determine whether his purported untruths support or undermine his evidence. A witness may lie for many reasons and those reasons do not necessarily denote an attempted fraud or misleading of the court as to the true nature of the case. The alleged lie as to the authorship of the letter of wishes or the will may well have been an attempt by him simply to bolster the case. He is, after all, palpably at odds with the family of LP and wants no contact with them. More than that, he is plainly fearful of them. I cannot and do not find that, in having a part in drafting the letter of wishes and of the will, PP would have substituted his views for LP’s and I cannot and do find, in any event, that the document has been written after LP’s stroke. There remains no evidence that PP forged the letter and its contents are entirely consistent with what was said to the detective sergeant by LP.
  1. Eleventh, then, I do not find that Professor PJ’s evidence takes me to the point at which I must conclude there has been serious misleading of the court by PP. I do not find him to have forged any documents and I believe the will and letter of wishes, by whomsoever they were drafted, to express the genuine wishes at the time of LP, wishes that remained firm at the time of the aneurism. It is a very heavy burden on a party to show that PP has been guilty of fraud, forgery or duress of some sort and PS has not surmounted it.
  1. Twelfth, Miss Hewson asked me to find that the letter of wishes has no legal effect, given the uncertainty as to its genesis. I cannot find that for the reasons I have set out but I bear in mind that the time since it was signed has elapsed and, of course, in fact we cannot tell what LP would have intended in circumstances like the present.

 

 

Having established therefore that the letter and will were reliable evidence for what LP had intended at the time that she had capacity, the Court then had to look at whether those intentions should remain live today, some five years on, and after of course a very serious life-changing illness (which LP had not anticipated  – it wasn’t suggested that she knew it was forthcoming and was effectively writing a “living will”)

 

  1. First, not without very careful thought, I take the view I cannot direct that contact be immediately restored to husband or family and particularly PS, the Applicant, terribly sad though that is. It appears that LP took the decision that her future was with PP and she wished to break with the past. Accordingly, I declare that at present it is in the best interests of LP not to see her family. I say this with great regret and I hope not without sympathy for the family from whom she was estranged but this is not the time to experiment with contact. Unless things change, her wishes must be respected and the position remains as it is.
  1. I find that in coming to that conclusion I have not overridden Article 8 rights but, if I have and to the extent that I have, then that overriding is reasonable and proportionate.
  1. And, second, I come to this conclusion. The time may yet come when it is in the best interests of LP to see her family again but that can, in my judgment, only be when she is capable of expressing a view to that effect. Despite Miss Hewson’s elegantly expressed argument, it is not, in my view, appropriate for there to be a trial period of contact. That said, it is only right the extended family should be kept informed of developments. I, therefore, invite Mr. Patel, on behalf of the Official Solicitor, to suggest now a means by which after approximately every six months contact can be made with PS and her family whereby the family are told whether LP has developed an ability to express, or, indeed, has expressed a genuine wish to see PS and/or the remainder of her family in which event there will be permission to apply on forty eight hours notice for urgent directions to me and I shall reserve the case to myself when available

Devon knows how they make it so… necessary

 

I was going to blog about the new High Court decision in  Devon County Council v EB and Others 2013, but John Bolch of Family Lore not only beat me to it (which is usual) but he said everything that I wanted to say.

So, I commend his feature on it to you.  If you don’t already follow the Family Lore blog, then you should.

I suspect we are about to get a Court of Appeal decision (I hear these whispers) that clarifies that “necessary” in the context of “is this expert necessary” means something rather akin to “If I am to continue living, it is necessary that you stop strangling me”    [what we lawyers might call the Dudley v Stephens interpretation of the word ‘necessary’] and moving away from this namby-pamby idea of necessary in that context being anything to do with uncovering the truth, or delivering justice, or providing a fresh pair of eyes on a pivotal and life changing decision, or article 6.

Anyway, in the meantime, read this authority whilst you can still potentially rely on it.

http://www.familylore.co.uk/2013/04/devon-county-council-v-eb-ors-minors.html

“The purifying ordeal of skilled argument on the specific facts of a contested case”

 

 A discussion of the Court of Appeal decision in Re TG (A Child) 2013, and using that recherche  Victorian novelist style of chapter heading   “In which the Court of Appeal discuss physics, experts, fairness, and bouncy chairs, the art of advocacy is considered, our attention is drawn to the spectre of separate representation without conflict, and in which we say goodbye to a magnificent Judge”

 

The case can be found here:-   

 

 

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/5.html

 

 

[Note to self :- I have realised that I use that formulation far too much, so next time I will just say “Lo” and give the link]

 

 

This is a great case, and a judgment packed full of goodness and crunch for the family law geek – it is resonant of the old 1970s advertising jingle for “Topic”  – it has a hazelnut in every bite, so to speak.

 

 

Firstly, the issues are about a finding of fact, and interesting medical issues. Secondly, it involves a sexy science of biomechanical engineering, and all sorts of interesting theoretical experiments and whether they should be carried out in practice. Then we have the fact that the cost of proposed expert assessment is pretty eye-watering, then a dissection of where the judicial discretion is on allowing or refusing experts, and then a discussion of whether our system is inquisitorial or adversarial (and regular readers will know that I have certain views on that).  The Court of Appeal finish up with some words about parties with common interests being separately represented which have the chime of a broader warning than just in Appeal cases, and then say goodbye to Lord Justice Hedley who retired after delivering this judgment.

 

So much stuff, I am going to break up the chunks, with the proclamation:-

 

“Topic!”

 

 

  1. TG was born in June 2012. When he was just twelve days old he was found to have sustained four left rib fractures, two right rib fractures, two skull fractures and a number of subdural and intraretinal haemorrhages. The latter, we were told, were not as serious as are sometime seen and did not exhibit all the features of the so-called triad.
  1. Care proceedings were commenced in relation to TG and his two older siblings, MG born in May 2011 and CJ born in July 2007. The case was transferred to the High Court, where it has been case-managed by His Honour Judge Bellamy, a very experienced family judge who is the Designated Family Judge for Leicester. The present application arises out of the refusal of Judge Bellamy on 5 December 2012, following a hearing on 3 December 2012, to give the father permission to adduce expert evidence from a biomechanical engineer.
  1. At this point I should interpose the father’s account of an incident which the parents believe may have caused some at least of TG’s injuries. I understand the local authority to point to what are said to be various discrepancies in the parents’ accounts which it will wish to probe at the finding of fact hearing, but for present purposes it suffices to set out the central core of the father’s account. Having explained how he had put TG in his bouncy chair on the floor of the kitchen near the patio doors and then returned to the lounge, he continued:

“I heard a banging noise in the kitchen … I heard TG cry and immediately went into the kitchen to investigate and was horrified to see [his] chair upside down and MG sitting with his back against the patio door facing into the room with his bottom and legs effectively on top of TG.

I can only assume that TG’s chair had tipped forward towards the window obviously with TG in it … He was strapped by the waist into the chair and effectively his bottom area was secured into the upside down chair. MG was in a sitting position with his back against the patio door facing into the room with his bottom and legs on the chair on top of TG’s head and chest area.”

  1. We were shown a photograph of the bouncy chair. It is of a type that will be familiar to many parents. It consists of two metal uprights, each of which, when viewed in vertical section, looks like a V lying on its side. One side of the V rests on the floor, the other reclines backwards at a slope. The two uprights are in fact part of a continuous metal frame, the other parts of which join the outer ends of the two Vs. The baby lies sloping backwards strapped into the fabric seat stretched between the two uprights. Because of the springy nature of the metal frame, the baby can bounce gently backwards and forwards in the seat, either by its own exertions or if someone is rocking the frame. In principle the chair can tip over, either sideways or forwards, but given a baby’s comparatively low centre of gravity and the fact that the baby’s bottom is not very high off the floor the chair is stable when placed on the floor.
  1. At an earlier case management hearing Judge Bellamy had given directions for five medical experts to be instructed: Dr Joanna Fairhurst, a Consultant Paediatric Radiologist, Dr Nicholas Shaw, a Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist, Dr Philip Anslow, a Consultant Neuro-radiologist, Dr Patrick Cartlidge, a Consultant Paediatrician, and Professor David Taylor, Professor Emeritus of Paediatric Ophthalmology. By the time of the hearing on 3 December 2012, Drs Fairhurst and Shaw had reported. The reports of the other experts were due to be filed shortly before Christmas. Arrangements were in hand for a conference of the medical experts during the week beginning 7 January 2013, the finding of fact hearing having previously been fixed to commence on 28 January 2013 with a time estimate of seven days.

 

 

The Appeal then hinged on the case management decisions of H H Judge Bellamy not to allow the father to instruct an expert biomechanical engineer, Dr Van Ee, who gave some evidence in the Al Alas Wray case.   [I find myself fascinated by how to pronounce the last element of Dr Van Ee’s name, but that’s by the by]

 

Father’s counsel was eventually able to persuade the trial judge to permit an interim report from Dr Van Ee, effectively setting out what a biomechanical engineer could bring to this particular table

 

 

  1. “Biomechanics: the level of force caused by the baby bouncer incident as described is a biomechanical question, what forces would have been generated and how do they compare to the alternative posited by the Local Authority? – the biomechanical evidence in London Borough of Islington v Al Alas [2012] EWHC 865 (Fam), Theis J at para 186 was that shaking is unlikely to result in the angular accelerations necessary to tear cranial blood vessels resulting in intradural haemorrhage but may result in neck and torso injuries and that trauma is associated with Subdural Haemorrhage.”

 

  1. In an interim report dated 3 November 2012, Dr Van Ee set out details of his experience and expertise, including his co-authorship of what he describes as “the only peer reviewed publication (Prange at al 2004) in which the infant head mechanical response to impact was directly measured experimentally and compared to the CRABI-6 infant crash dummy response”; and his authorship, with others, of two papers published in the proceedings of the 2009 ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition, Van Ee, Moroski-Browne, Raymond, Thibault, Hardy and Plunkett, ‘Evaluation and Refinement of the CRABI-6 Anthropomorphic Test Device Injury Criteria for Skull Fracture’, and Van Ee, Raymond, Thibault, Hardy and Plunkett, ‘Child ATD Reconstruction of a Fatal Pediatric Fall,’ which he says “further refine head injury tolerance for skull fracture and intracranial trauma.” He set out his understanding of the incident described by the father and of the various injuries recorded as having been suffered by TG. He recorded the mother’s suspicion that “MG may have tried to sit in the bouncy chair bending the chair backwards resulting in contact to the back of TG’s head … when MG tried to get off, the chair flipped forward 180 degrees”. He set out a ‘Suggested Plan for Further Analysis’ which I reproduce as an Appendix.
  1. As will be seen, this included experiments using a CRABI-6 infant crash dummy placed in the bouncy chair and fitted with head accelerometers:

“Measure head acceleration (linear and angular) at floor impact when seat is overturned. Compare the results with skull fracture risk probability curve published by Van Ee et al 2009 and published injury reference values associated with subdural hemorrhage.”

Dr Van Ee also contemplated experiments using a number of children of MG’s age “sitting down rambunctiously” to determine whether they can exert sufficient force – have the strength – to overturn the appropriately loaded bouncy chair.

 

Man, those sound like a great set of experiments  – getting a group of toddlers to sit down rambunctiously to see if they can tip a crash test dummy baby out of a bouncy chair…  

 

The next line may well suggest why the trial judge baulked at commissioning an expert based in America to do this experiment

 

Dr Van Ee ended his interim report with an estimate of the cost – between $18,500 and $22,000

 

 

[Even if the video footage of rambunctious toddlers attacking bouncy chairs could be sold to “You’ve been framed” that’s still a high cost left on the taxpayer]

 

 

 

Before the Court of Appeal started their systematic root and branch overview of the role of biomechanics in reported cases (which is in itself great, and hopefully I will get to later), they make this observation

 

The father’s application was supported by the mother. It was opposed by the local authority. The most important point made by Mr William Tyler for the local authority was that the tests which Dr Van Ee proposed to undertake amount to a reconstruction in a case where it is impossible to arrange for a meaningful reconstruction given that no-one – not even the father – witnessed the incident he described. The ‘reconstruction’ would therefore be based upon speculation as to what actually happened. At best, he submitted, biomechanical engineering evidence in this case would be of no more than tangential relevance, so to allow it would offend against the principle of proportionality

 

 

 

And this was pretty pivotal – as whilst a detailed explanation of an observed injury could be unpicked by a biomechanical engineer to see if the forces involved were sufficient and the mechanism itself physically possible, with no observation of the incident itself, all that could be done was a wide range of the possibilities.

 

 

  1. On the central issue Mr Tyler has three submissions. The first is that there is no witnessed incident to reconstruct. Even on the father’s account he did not witness it. Moreover, says Mr Tyler, the father’s account has varied over time. So the crucial question is: what is a biomechanical engineer here to recreate? What, he asks, is being tested? Whether a toddler could overturn the bouncy chair and in doing so create the requisite forces? If so, how: forwards, backwards, sideways? In one movement, or a number? And so on. Thus, even were biomechanics an established and tested scientific discipline with a track record of assisting the family courts, this is not, he says, a case in which any assistance could be gleaned. He also asks rhetorically, what is the purpose of biomechanical testing in relation to the rib fractures, as proposed by Dr Van Ee, when the radiological evidence dates them as having occurred earlier than the incident recounted by the father?
  1. Mr Tyler’s second submission is that in any event biomechanics is not yet established as being of any use in a case such as this. Properly read, he says, the authorities relied upon by Mr Vine do not establish what he seeks to derive from them. He concludes a careful analysis of the cases with the submission that, whilst it is certainly true that various courts have allowed the instruction of experts in the field of biomechanics (including, as we have seen, Dr Van Ee), it is rather less clear that any court has derived any significant assistance from such evidence. Mr Tyler accepts that in a case where there is a single, witnessed and reconstructable incident said to have caused the totality of the suspect injuries there may be a place for such expertise – a proposition which, he suggests, will probably require some degree of ‘case by case’ evaluation in the Family Division over time. But this, he says, is simply not such a case.
  1. Mr Tyler’s third submission is that the court, informed as it will be by the other five experts, has no need of such evidence or assistance as could be obtained by biomechanical reconstruction. This is not, he says, a particularly unusual case, whether as suggested by Mr Vine or otherwise. Given that there are already five other experts, the assertion that the refusal to allow the father to adduce evidence from Dr Van Ee would involve a breach of Article 6 is, he says, simply wrong. He points to the fact that, in contrast to Dr Anslow, Drs Shaw and Cartlidge and Professor Taylor have each, with varying degrees of emphasis, expressed scepticism as to the utility of biomechanical evidence. He ends with a floodgates argument: if biomechanical evidence is permitted in this case, where an unwitnessed incident is said to account for injuries some of which in any event pre-date the incident, then, he says, it is hard to see how such evidence could be disallowed in many, many routine care cases up and down the country.

 

 

 

But on the other side of the coin

 

Mr Vine asserts that the appeal raises a point of law of general importance, namely the admissibility of biomechanical evidence in suspected non-accidental head injury cases. He says that the question of the forces generated by the bouncy chair overturning will be a central issue; it is a question of physics and biomechanical engineering; and one outside the direct experience and expertise of the various medical experts already instructed. He points to the authorities I have referred to as showing, as he would have it, that the criminal division of the Court of Appeal has recognised the importance of biomechanical engineering in this context and that biomechanical evidence has been permitted in both the criminal and the family jurisdictions. He took us to R v Harris, Rock, Cherry and Faulder [2005] EWCA Crim 1980, [2008] 2 FLR 412, [2006] 1 Cr App R 5, [2005] All ER (D) 298 (Jul), para [148], where Gage LJ referred to “the growing science of biomechanics” as having “had the effect of moderating to some extent the conventional view that strong force is required to cause the triad of injuries.”

 

 

And

  1. The judge will need to consider the nature of the particular expert evidence the admission of which is in issue. The evidence of an expert in one discipline may be of marginal use; the evidence of an expert in another discipline may be crucial. The judge will also need to be sensitive to the forensic context. The argument for an expert in a care case where permanent removal is threatened may be significantly stronger than in a case where the stakes are not so high. We strive to avoid miscarriages of justice, but human justice is inevitably fallible and case management judges need to be alert to the risks. The Oldham and Webster cases stand as terrible warning to everyone involved in the family justice system, the latter as stark illustration of the fact that a miscarriage of justice which comes to light only after the child has been adopted will very probably be irremediable: see W v Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council [2005] EWCA Civ 1247, [2006] 1 FLR 543, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council v GW & PW [2007] EWHC 136 (Fam), [2007] 2 FLR 597, and Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (By Their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378. But although the case management judge must be alert to the risks, the potential for such tragedies does not entitle a parent in care proceedings to an expert for the asking: see Re S; WSP v Hull City Council [2006] EWCA Civ 981, [2007] 1 FLR 90, paras [15]-[18]. Nor does it relieve the case management judge of the duty to exercise his or her discretion in accordance with the various provisions of the Family Procedure Rules to which I have drawn attention.
  1. In every care case, as indeed in every case, the case management judge will need to assess and evaluate the degree of likelihood that a particular expert’s evidence, or the evidence of an expert in a particular discipline, will or will not be of assistance to the parties in exploring, and to the judge in determining, the issues to which the evidence in question is proposed to be directed. It is vital that the case management judge keeps an open mind when deciding whether or not to permit expert evidence. The judge will need to be alert to the risks posed by what may turn out to be ‘bad science’. On the other hand, the judge must always be alert to the possibility that some forensically unfamiliar or even novel expert discipline may provide the key to explaining what at first blush appears to be a familiar type of case: consider, for example, what happened in Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (By Their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378.
  1. In this connection the case management judge will also need to bear in mind what Hedley J said in Re R (Care Proceedings: Causation) [2011] EWHC 1715 (Fam), [2011] 2 FLR 1384, para [10]:

“there has to be factored into every case which concerns a disputed aetiology giving rise to significant harm a consideration as to whether the cause is unknown.”

My Lord elaborated the point in an important passage (para [19]) which merits quotation in full:

“I have been impressed over the years by the willingness of the best paediatricians and those who practise in the specialities of paediatric medicine to recognise how much we do not know about the growth patterns and what goes wrong in them, particularly in infants. Since they grow at a remarkable speed and cannot themselves give any clue as to what is happening inside them, and since research using control samples is self-evidently impossible in many areas, perhaps we should not be surprised. In my judgment, a conclusion of unknown aetiology in respect of an infant represents neither professional nor forensic failure. It simply recognises that we still have much to learn and it also recognises that it is dangerous and wrong to infer non-accidental injury merely from the absence of any other understood mechanism. Maybe it simply represents a general acknowledgement that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Sometimes what has happened is medically inexplicable. A striking example is provided by Re M (Children) [2012] EWCA Civ 1710, in which, by coincidence, judgment was handed down on the day we heard the present appeal.

  1. As against all this, we must never forgot the point made by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P in In re U (A Child) (Department for Education and Skills intervening), In re B (A Child) (Department for Education and Skills intervening) [2004] EWCA Civ 567, [2005] Fam 134, para [23]:

“The judge in care proceedings must never forget that today’s medical certainty may be discarded by the next generation of experts or that scientific research will throw light into corners that are at present dark.”

 

 

 

 

[I suspect that these passages might well be snipped into submissions and skeletons on applications for assessments of a medical nature over the next few months – they are pretty impressive arguments]

 

So, a lot potentially at stake – on the one hand, risks of injustice which could be cleared up by a biomechanical engineer, on the other, the risk of floodgates being opened  (if you need a biomechanical engineer in this case, why not in every case of unexplained physical injury?)

 

“Topic!”

 

The Court of Appeal remind themselves also that the bar for expert assessments is about to be raised, though they were deciding on the previous test. [And they confirm that judicially speaking, the bar has been significantly raised – my underlining]

 

  1. (3) Third, the court has particular case management responsibilities in relation to experts. Rule 25.4(1) provides that:

“No party may call an expert or put in evidence an expert’s report without the court’s permission.”

Rule 25.1 provides that:

“Expert evidence will be restricted to that which is reasonably required to resolve the proceedings.”

  1. Thus the Family Procedure Rules as they are today and as they were when Judge Bellamy had to decide what was to happen in the present case. But they are very shortly to be modified. With effect from 31 January 2013 the amendments made by The Family Procedure (Amendment) (No 5) Rules 2012 come into force. Rule 1.4(2) is re-cast to provide (paragraph (e)) that active case management includes “controlling the use of expert evidence.” Rule 25.4(1) is also re-cast, to provide that:

“In any proceedings, a person may not without the permission of the court put expert evidence (in any form) before the court.”

Rule 25.1 is significantly amended, to provide that:

“Expert evidence will be restricted to that which in the opinion of the court is necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings”

It is a matter for another day to determine what exactly is meant in this context by the word “necessary”, but clearly the new test is intended to be significantly more stringent than the old. The text of what is “necessary” sets a hurdle which is on any view significantly higher that the old test of what is “reasonably required.”

 

 

“Topic!”

 

 

The consideration of how useful biomechanical engineering is as a discipline to the family Courts is a good one. It is all set out in paragraphs 39-44, and if you are seeking such an expert, or opposing it, that is a good place to start.

 

If you want something more pithy, here it is:-

 

44. During the course of argument in the present case, Hedley J asked Mr Vine whether he was aware of any case, criminal or family, in which biomechanical evidence had been found to be of any significant assistance to the court. My Lord added that he was not aware of any such case. No such case was identified at the Bar and we are not aware of one.

 

 

That was clearly a moment when poor Mr Vine for the father felt this case had probably slipped away from him.

 

 

“Topic!”

 

 

The Court stressed that they were not making any decisions as to whether the field of biomechanical engineering was admissible evidence, and it was accepted by all that it was – the issue was whether it was ‘reasonably required’ on the test as it was then, and whether article 6 could be construed as meaning that father was entitled to call the evidence that he was advised was needed to run his case.

 

 

  1. At the outset I should clear two matters out of the way. Mr Vine, as we have seen, suggests that the present appeal raises a point of law of general importance, namely, as he identifies it, the admissibility of biomechanical evidence. With all respect to Mr Vine, it raises no such question. The local authority does not challenge the admissibility of Dr Van Ee’s evidence, any more than it challenges his expert credentials. And in any event the question of admissibility is not determinative, because rule 22.1(2) empowers the court to exclude evidence that would otherwise be admissible. The issue before Judge Bellamy was rather, in accordance with rule 25.1, whether Dr Van Ee’s evidence was “reasonably required” – and it was to that question that Mr Tyler appropriately directed his submissions both here and below.
  1. Mr Vine also mounted an argument based on Article 6. Plainly, Article 6 is engaged, as are the principles set out in the two Strasbourg authorities to which he took us. But this does not, in my judgment, take him anywhere. The relevant statutory scheme, including the relevant provisions of the Family Procedure Rules, is Convention compliant. No-one has suggested the contrary. And a case management judge who properly applies the statutory scheme and the Rules will be acting in a Convention compliant way. There is nothing in the Strasbourg jurisprudence to entitle a litigant to demand that he be permitted to call whatever evidence he wishes. So far as material for present purposes what the Convention requires is a ‘full merits’ investigation by a court and a procedure which ‘taken as a whole’ is fair. The fact finding hearing will involve a ‘full merits’ investigation by the High Court. The refusal to permit the father to adduce evidence from Dr Van Ee involves no unfairness and breaches neither of the principles upon which Mr Vine relies.

 

 

“Topic!”

 

 

So, on the issue of whether biomechanical engineering had something to offer in this case, the Court of Appeal concluded that it did not. 

 

What I love here is that we start with science and quite carefully argued science

 

  1. In the present case the hypothesis is that the bouncy chair tipped over forwards, rotating, with TG strapped in, about the fulcrum represented by the two points of the V at floor level. Although no doubt the actual analysis and calculations are more complex, the basic principles of the mathematics and physics which are here engaged will be familiar to many. Simple geometry demonstrates that on this hypothesis TG’s head will have travelled through the arc of a circle, the radius of which is the distance between his head and the points of the V. The first part of the arc is that part of the trajectory as the chair is tipping forwards until the head is vertically above the fulcrum; the second part of the arc is that part of the trajectory where the head rotates forwards through 90º from the vertical until it hits the floor.
  1. It will be appreciated that in a case such as this there are two questions of particular importance. (1) What is the amount of force required to pull (or push) the bouncy chair forwards until it reaches the tipping point at which, if unsupported, it falls forward under the force of gravity until the baby’s head hits the floor? Alternatively, on the mother’s hypothesis, what is the amount of force required to pull the chair backwards as far as it will go before it is released, springs forwards and (assuming this is even possible) reaches the tipping point? (2) What are the forces exerted on the baby’s head and upper body as it hits the floor? In principle, one would expect well known principles of Newtonian physics to be capable of providing at least approximately accurate answers to both these questions once one has fed into the relevant calculations factors such as the radius of the notional circle, the baby’s weight and the location of the baby’s centre of gravity.
  1. But the answer to the second question will depend upon a number of other factors: What is the rotational speed of the baby’s head as it passes the tipping point? This will in turn depend upon the mechanism by which the baby’s head reached that point. On the mother’s hypothesis, the bouncy chair will have acted as a spring, projecting TG forward, potentially at some speed, as MG released his weight from behind. If, on the other hand, the bouncy chair was pulled forwards from the front, then the rotational speed at the tipping point may have been less, possibly much less or even zero. What, if any, forces, other than gravity, were operating once the baby’s head had passed the tipping point? This again will depend upon the mechanism. On the mother’s hypothesis the only forces would seem to be (i) the forces reflecting the rotational speed as TG’s head passed the tipping point and (ii) gravity. If, on the other hand, the bouncy chair was pulled forwards from the front, then there may have been additional forces, either pulling the baby forwards and downwards or, possibly, working in the other direction to restrain its free fall.

 

 

And then the President returns to the non-maths planet most people live on

 

Now one does not, I think, need the expertise of a biomechanical engineer to demonstrate what every parent will know, that an eleven-day old baby strapped into a bouncy chair is simply incapable of generating the forces required to tip the chair over

 

 

And that if what one is instead doing is trying to establish whether the rambunctious toddler, MG, could have tipped the chair over whilst poor TG was in it…

 

  1. entirely accept that a biomechanical engineer will, in principle, be able to obtain values, whether by theoretical calculations and/or by experimental measurements, and in relation to a variety of postulated factual scenarios, for (a) the forces required to tip the bouncy chair over with TG in it (what I will call the ‘tipping forces’) and (b) the forces applied to TG as his body and head hit the floor (what I will call the ‘impact forces’). But that information of itself is of very limited value in the present case. There are three problems.
  1. First, we simply do not know, even on the father’s case, what actually happened. Was the bouncy chair pulled from in front or pushed from behind? Or was it, as the mother hypothesises, pulled back and released like a spring? Was MG’s weight part of the load on the bouncy chair as TG hit the ground, and if so where about on the bouncy chair was his weight operating? Did MG land on top of TG? These different scenarios (and they are not necessarily an exhaustive list) are likely to provide a range of very different values for both the tipping forces and the impact forces. Second, and in the nature of things, we do not know whether MG was capable of exerting the required tipping forces. Dr Van Ee proposes practical experiments using toddlers of the same age, but such experiments, even if feasible, are unlikely to provide compelling answers, given the number of different scenarios that would have to be tested and, not least, the near impossibility of comparing the actual physical strength and other characteristics of the experimental 13-month old subjects with the characteristics at that age of the now 20-month old MG. Third, and even assuming all these difficulties have been overcome, there remains the fundamental problem that, in the nature of things, we have only a very imperfect understanding of how a baby’s body works and, in particular, of how much force is required to produce a particular form of injury in a baby. Let us assume that Dr Van Ee is able to produce values for the impact forces on different scenarios of, let us say, x, y and z. How do we know whether x, y, or z is sufficient to cause any of TG’s injuries? Mr Vine suggested that the answer is to be found in the ‘risk probability curve’ referred to by Dr Van Ee, but he did not explain why, nor does Dr Van Ee in his interim report. Indeed, we were not even shown the curve or the paper in which it was published.
  1. In these circumstances it seems to me that the prospect of Dr Van Ee’s work producing any useful evidence in this particular case is sufficiently slight as to fall well short of the “reasonably required” test. The fundamental problem, as Mr Tyler correctly identifies it, is that there is no witnessed incident to reconstruct. So, as he puts it, what is Dr Van Ee to recreate? The reality is that we are, factually, too far into the realm of speculation in this case for biomechanical engineering to be capable of providing the court with any significant assistance

 

 

So, in this case, biomechanical engineering had nothing of value to add, and the trial judge had been within his judicial discretion to refuse to commission the report.

 

What about cases generally? Does biomechanical engineering have something to offer generally?  Here the President, in stylish language to be sure, gives an answer which is pretty similar to that of a parent when asked by a six year old “Mum, can we have a rabbit?”

 

 

That leaves the more general question of whether, in other cases, biomechanical evidence might in future satisfy the “necessary” test. I would not wish to rule out the possibility, though I suspect that in the present state of the relevant science such cases will be at best infrequent in the family courts. As of today, it remains the fact that there is no case of which we are aware where such evidence has been found to be of any significant assistance. But I emphasise the qualifying words I have just used. We can only operate on the best and most up-to-date science available to us today. But we must always bear in mind that tomorrow may bring about a transformation of scientific knowledge so that, to use Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P’s words, new scientific research will throw light into corners that are at present dark. Whether and if so when this will come about in relation to this particular scientific discipline we cannot say. That is why, as I have already emphasised, case management judges must always keep an open mind when deciding whether or not to permit expert evidence particularly where, as here, the science is both complex and developing.

 

 

Translation   “We’ll see”

 

 

“Topic!”

 

 

The Court then go on to talk about adversarial v inquisitorial, and produce the lovely line which titled this piece.

 

  1. It is a truism that family proceedings are essentially inquisitorial. But in certain respects they are inevitably and necessarily adversarial. Human nature being what it is, parents will fight for their children; so in care cases where the State is threatening to remove children permanently from the care of their parents, the process will inevitably be highly charged. But care cases are not merely adversarial in the colloquial sense; since the local authority has to establish ‘threshold’ they are also necessarily adversarial in the technical sense. If, as typically, the local authority seeks to establish threshold on the basis of what it asserts are events which happened in the past, then the burden is on the local authority to prove on a balance of probability that those events did indeed happen. And if it cannot do so, then its case will fail and must be dismissed.
  1. The process of determining whether the local authority has or has not proved its case on threshold takes place under the vigilant eye of the judge. But in our adversarial system the ultimate safeguard for the parent faced with the might of the State remains today, as traditionally, the fearless advocate bringing to bear in the sole interests of the lay client all the advocate’s skill, experience, expertise, dedication, tenacity and commitment. There are some principles that ring down the centuries, and the efficacy of the adversarial process is one of them. It is over 600 years since Hankford J is reported as having said in 1409 (YB 11 Hen 4, Mich fo 37) that:

“Home ne scaveroit de quel metal un campane fuit, si ceo ne fuit bien batu, quasi dicerit, le ley per bon disputacion serra bien conus [one does not know of what metal a bell was made if it has not been well hit, in other words, by good disputation will the law be well known].”

In a world inconceivable to Hankford J and in a forensic context he would find baffling, the point remains as true today as then, and it surely applies as much to the facts as to the law.

  1. In an arresting phrase, Megarry J (to whom I am indebted for the reference to Hankford J), once referred to the aid afforded to the judge by “the purifying ordeal of skilled argument on the specific facts of a contested case”: Cordell v Second Clanfield Properties Ltd [1969] 2 Ch 9, 16. The context there was very different, but the same goes for cases in the family courts. Most family judges will have had the experience of watching a seemingly solid care case brought by a local authority being demolished, crumbling away, at the hands of skilled and determined counsel. So the role of specialist family counsel is vital in ensuring that justice is done and that so far as possible miscarriages of justice are prevented. As Wall LJ said in Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (By Their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, para [197], “the system provides a remedy. It requires determined lawyers and determined parties.” May there never be wanting an adequate supply of skilled and determined lawyers, barristers and solicitors, willing and able to undertake this vitally important work.

 

 

Translation :- “hooray, lawyers are great!”

 

 

But we move on

 

  1. Yet this is all funded out of the public purse, as it must be if there is to be equality of arms between the citizen and the State. And the public purse is not limitless, least of all in these times of financial stringency. We cannot allow scarce public resources to be frittered away and squandered. Every £100 of public money spent paying for the separate representation of litigants in family cases who do not require to be separately represented is £100 unavailable to pay for representation which is required. If money is allowed to leach away in this way, the consequence will inevitably be, sooner or later, a reduction in the levels of remuneration. That cannot be in the interests of those, often frightened and disadvantaged in so many ways, who find themselves in an unfamiliar situation, critically dependent upon their advocates and other legal representatives.
  1. Not for the first time this court was dismayed by what appeared to be the separate representation of parties who, whatever the position below, in this court stood together in the same interest. The question for us was simple and binary: Should the appeal against Judge Bellamy’s order be allowed, or should his order stand? On that issue, as we have seen, the mother stood behind the father’s appeal and the children’s guardian supported the local authority in resisting the appeal. In each instance, so far as could be seen, the position before us of the supporter was indistinguishable from that of the main protagonist. Yet we had before us four counsel, and no doubt four solicitors, when it might be thought that two of each would have sufficed – and all this at public expense. Included amongst the directions I gave on 14 December 2012 was this:

“The court will be much assisted by submissions from the children’s guardian but does not require the CG to be present or represented if the CG takes the view that filing a skeleton argument will suffice.”

Very often, all that will be needed in such a case is a skeleton argument or even a letter, which may be appropriately brief, setting out the absent party’s stance. Was this not such a case?

  1. This is not a matter which we raise for the first time. Almost twenty years ago, in Birmingham City Council v H (A Minor) [1994] 2 AC 212, 217, the House of Lords made some very pointed comments which seem to have had little effect. More recently, it is a matter on which the then Master of the Rolls expressed himself strongly in Oxfordshire County Council v X, Y and J [2010] EWCA Civ 581, [2011] 1 FLR 272, paras [44]-[50]. I draw the attention of the profession to what Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury MR said in a passage which is too long to quote but which should be required reading for every family practitioner. Included in what the Master of the Rolls said was this (para [45]):

“We take this opportunity to emphasise in the strongest possible terms that it is only where it is clear that there is an unavoidable conflict of interest, as a matter of law, between two parties in the same interest that they should have separate legal representation, especially where public money is involved.”

He went on (para [48]) to refer to the possibility of parties confining themselves to written representations and (paras [47], [50]) to warn of the adverse costs consequences that might follow in cases where legal representation is unnecessarily duplicated.

  1. That was said in May 2010. Experience since then suggests that the warning has, too often, fallen on deaf ears. This must stop. The profession must take heed. So too, if I may say so, should the relevant professional bodies.
  1. In fairness to those who appeared before us I should make clear that we did not explore this issue at the hearing. Accordingly, it would be unfair if what we have said was seen as any adverse comment on the lawyers involved in this particular appeal. But in future those in such a situation may find themselves having to explain their position.

 

 

Translation :- “What are you doing here? Aren’t you saying the same as that bloke next to you?”

 

The passage I have underlined is something which has potential consequences for all cases, not just appeal hearings.

 

I do recall, quite vividly, when the Protocol came out, a fleeting moment of crackdown, where tribunals were quizzing advocates on why the mother and father were separately represented when they sought to care for the child together, and the view being that this would be the exception rather than the norm.

 

But this was pretty quickly resolved, advocates worked out that there was a formula of words, along the lines of “potential for conflict to arise at a later stage, and the need for parents to have continuity and for them to have independent advice”  was enough to defuse that, and keep two of them in each case.   

 

[There are, I know, very very many cases where there is genuine potential for conflict, and it is perfectly right and proper for mother and father to be separately represented, but I do also go to many final hearings where you could not put a cigarette paper between the case of the mother and the father, yet they have separate counsel making the same points for each of them, and handing up two forms, resulting in due course in two bills being paid from the public purse. . The Court of Appeal are dropping a pretty heavy hint here that in a time of austerity, that might have to be addressed, and probably that if it is not self-policed, the consequences will be financial squeezes in other areas affecting the professionals]

 

 

All in all a fascinating judgment, and as it is effectively the President’s first, and Lord Justice Hedley’s last, the two of them being very stylish constructors of judgments, I think it is well worth a read.

 

 

[And if you’re my age, you have been wanting throughout this piece to hear the Topic jingle, so I will put you out of your misery.  Next week,  Ordinary Residence and “Nuts, Wh-oh-oh-le  Hazelnuts, Cadbury’s take them and they cover them with chocolate!”   ]

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksxdrMPUAwk