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Trying to get child back after adoption order made

This case made quite a lot of news last year – parents of a boy born in 2012, who suffered significant fractures. Within care proceedings, there was a finding of fact that the parents had caused these injuries and in 2013, a Care Order and Placement Order was made. In 2014, the child was placed with prospective adopters and an adoption order was made. In late 2015 (3 years after the injuries, and a year after the adoption order was made) the parents were acquitted at the criminal trial.  In fact, the Judge at the criminal trial directed the jury to acquit as there was no case to answer.  (That’s obviously a lot stronger than the case going before a jury and the Jury not reaching a 12 or 10 juror verdict that they were sure the parents were guilty. This was a criminal Judge saying that the evidence showed no case to answer)

Understandably, there’s a lot of public disquiet about whether there’s been a miscarriage of justice here, and what would happen.

 

The law isn’t very helpful to the parents in terms of their ultimate aim to get their child back. An adoption order being overturned after it has been made is very very unusual. I’ve found only 2 reported cases where that happened. One was a step-parent adoption which the birth father had agreed to and later learned that the mother had lied to him, concealing the fact that she had a terminal illness and he would never have agreed to the adoption. The other was

PK v Mr and Mrs K 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2316.html

 

Where the child had been adopted by family members who had physically abused the child, who later left them and went back to live with mother. Everyone in the case was supportive of the adoption order being revoked.  I wrote about the difficulties here:-

Revocation of adoption order

 

The lead case on ‘oh, maybe we got this wrong, but the adoption orders have been made now’ is  Webster, where adoption orders were made on the basis of physical injuries and a Court was later persuaded that the injury had been the result of scurvy, itself the result of a failure of a brand of formula milk to have sufficient vitamin C.  The Court there, as a result of the passage of time and public policy issues declined to revoke the adoption orders.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2009/59.html

 

“Adoption is a statutory process; the law relating to it is very clear. The scope for the exercise of judicial discretion is severely curtailed. Once Orders for Adoption have been lawfully and properly made, it is only in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances that the court will permit them to be set aside.”

 

 

Anyway, in this case

Re X (A Child) 2016

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/1342.html

 

the parents went to the Court of Appeal, and all parties there *  supported a hearing taking place to DECIDE whether there should be a re-hearing of the finding of facts taking place, for the benefit of the child having the truth about their life and childhood and the public confidence in fairness of the justice system.

 

(* I add the asterisk, because as you can see from Re X, the adopters – who were at that point the child’s legal parents and had been for over a year, were not told about the circumstances or the litigation and were not parties to the proceedings. I’m not at all sure how that is fair or compliant with their article 6 rights. They were and are in law, the legal parents of the child, and it clearly had an impact on their family life.

Ms Fottrell QC made that same point, and I absolutely agree with her. The President bravely ducks the issue.

At the adjourned hearing, Ms Fottrell set out her clients’ position as being that they “appreciate and accept that in the interests of fairness the birth family are entitled to have a hearing on the facts following on from the outcome of the criminal trial”, but opposing any application to set aside the adoption order. Although making clear that her clients made no point against any of the parties, Ms Fottrell submitted that the decision to exclude the adoptive parents – X’s legal parents – from the appeal process and the permission hearing in the Court of Appeal was wrong and in breach of both Article 6 and Article 8 of the Convention. I record Ms Fottrell’s submission on the point; it is not a matter on which it would be proper for me to comment.)

 

The case has now come before the President, and he has published this judgment.   Bear in mind that the re-hearing has not taken place, so at this stage the family Court hasn’t decided whether the threshold criteria was wrongly found in 2013, or even whether it was right then on what was known at the time, but on what we know now it can’t stand.  The parents have been cleared and pretty comprehensively in a criminal Court, but the standard of proof is higher there, so it doesn’t automatically follow that any re-hearing would be bound to clear them. It very well might, but it might not.

 

As a matter of law, there isn’t really an easy legal framework for this to operate in. The parents aren’t able at this stage to apply to revoke the adoption application, because the findings in the care proceedings still stand, it isn’t an appeal out of time. So we of course use the Court’s magical sparkle powers of the inherent jurisdiction to have a decision as to whether to have a re-hearing. That’s not automatic legal aid, but it doesn’t say in the judgment that the parents  lawyers are acting pro-bono (for free) so they must have been one of those rare cases where the Legal Aid Agency grant exceptional funding under s10 LASPO.

 

The President reminded everyone that if there was a re-hearing and the findings were overturned, that would not automatically lead to the return of the child, and that the Court are not dealing with that application at all (yet), but of course, it is a prelude to the parents making such an application if the re-hearing vindicates them.

 

 

  • I am not concerned today with any application which may hereafter be made by the birth parents seeking to challenge the adoption order. That is a matter for another day and, in all probability, for another court. It is relevant only because Ms Cover has made it clear on instructions, both in her position statement and again orally, that the present application before me is, at least in part, what might be called the springboard for such a further application. However, as I observed in In re C, paras 44-46:

 

“44 The law sets a very high bar against any challenge to an adoption order. An adoption order once lawfully and properly made can be set aside “only in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances”: In re W (Children), para 149. In that case, the adoption orders “were made in good faith on the evidence then available” (para 177) and therefore stood, even though the natural parents had suffered a “serious injustice”: para 148. In re W (Children) can be contrasted with In re K (A Minor) (Adoption: Foreign Child) [1997] 2 FLR 221 where an adoption order was set aside in circumstances where there had been (p 227) “inept handling by the county court of the entire adoption process” and (p 228), failure to comply with the requirements of the Adoption Rules, “procedural irregularities go[ing] far beyond the cosmetic”, “a fundamental injustice … to [the child] since the wider considerations of her welfare were not considered” and “no proper hearing of the adoption application”. Butler-Sloss LJ held (p 228) that: “there are cases where a fundamental breach of natural justice will require a court to set an adoption order aside.”

45 Whether the natural father would have succeeded in meeting that very stringent test is, in my judgment, open to serious question. I do not want to be understood as saying that he would not; but equally I do not want to be understood as saying that he would. It certainly should not be assumed that his appeal would have succeeded.

46 In relation to this aspect of the matter I propose to add only this: I am bound to say that I find Judge Altman’s decision to proceed in the full knowledge that there was a pending application to this court for permission to appeal very difficult to understand, let alone to justify.”

 

  • Likewise here I express no view on a point of no little difficulty and which is, as I have said, a matter for anther day. The significance of it for present purposes is simply that, as Ms Fottrell correctly submitted, success by the birth parents (if they are successful) on the re-hearing of the facts by no means assures them of success in seeking to have the adoption order set aside.

 

 

 

In terms of whether there should be a re-hearing, the President summed up the arguments

 

 

  • The case put forward by the birth parents is simple and compelling. They have been, they say, just like the parents in Webster, the victims of a miscarriage of justice. They seek to clear their names, both so that they may be vindicated and also so that there is no risk of the judge’s findings being held against them in future, whether in a forensic or in any other context.
  • For different reasons, their desire for there to be a re-hearing is supported by X’s guardian, who submits that it is in X’s best interests that he should know the truth about his birth parents and about what did or did not happen to him.
  • I agree with the guardian. X has a right (I put the matter descriptively rather than definitively) to know the truth about his past and about his birth parents. This has long been recognised in our domestic law. In S v McC (Otherwise S) and M (DS Intervener), W v W [1972] AC 24, 57, Lord Hodson, in the context of disputed paternity, said that:

 

“The interests of justice in the abstract are best served by the ascertainment of the truth and there must be few cases where the interests of children can be shown to be best served by the suppression of truth.”

In In re H (A Minor) (Blood Tests: Parental Rights) [1997] Fam 89, 106, Ward LJ said, apropos paternity:

“every child has a right to know the truth unless his welfare clearly justifies the cover-up.”

To the same effect, in Re H and A (Paternity: Blood Tests) [2002] EWCA Civ 383, [2002] 1 FLR 1145, para 29, Thorpe LJ identified one of the principles to be drawn from the cases as being:

“that the interests of justice are best served by the ascertainment of the truth.”

 

  • But this principle is not confined to issues of paternity, as is clear from Strasbourg law, which recognises it as an ingredient of the rights protected by Article 8: Gaskin v United Kingdom (1990) 12 EHRR 36, [1990] 1 FLR 167, and Mikulic v Croatia (2002) 11 BHRC 689, [2002] 1 FCR 720. It is also recognised in Articles 7 and 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • The wide impact of the principle that, from a child’s perspective, their interests are best served by the ascertainment of the truth, whatever that truth may be, is illustrated by Re Z (Children) (Disclosure: Criminal Proceedings) [2003] EWHC 61 (Fam), [2003] 1 FLR 1194, para 13(vii):

 

“the children … have a direct and important interest … in ensuring that the truth, whatever it may be, comes out. As they grow older they will need to know, if this is the case, and however painful it may be, that their father is a murderer … In this as in other respects, better for the children that the truth, whatever it may be, comes out.”

 

  • There is also, however, a wider and very important public interest which, in my judgment, is here in play. I make no apologies for repeating in this context what I said in Re J (Reporting Restriction: Internet: Video) [2013] EWHC 2394 (Fam), [2014] 1 FLR 523, paras 29-30:

 

“29 … We strive to avoid miscarriages of justice, but human justice is inevitably fallible. 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: 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. Of course, as Wall LJ said in Webster, para [197], ‘the system provides a remedy. It requires determined lawyers and determined parties’. So, as I entirely agree, 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. But that, if I may say so with all respect to my predecessor, is only part of the remedy. We must have the humility to recognise – and to acknowledge – that public debate, and the jealous vigilance of an informed media, have an important role to play in exposing past miscarriages of justice and in preventing possible future miscarriages of justice.

[30] Almost 10 years ago I said this (Re B (A Child) (Disclosure), para [103]):

‘… We cannot afford to proceed on the blinkered assumption that there have been no miscarriages of justice in the family justice system. This is something that has to be addressed with honesty and candour if the family justice system is not to suffer further loss of public confidence. Open and public debate in the media is essential.’

I remain of that view. The passage of the years has done nothing to diminish the point; if anything quite the contrary.”

 

  • In my judgment, and giving appropriate weight to the terrible burden which what is proposed will inevitably impose on the adoptive parents, although bravely and responsibly they do not oppose what is proposed, the claims of the birth parents, the best interests of X, and the public interest all point in the same direction: there must be a re-opening of the finding of fact hearing, so that the facts (whatever they may turn out to be) – the truth – can be ascertained in the light of all the evidence which is now available.

 

 

 

The law on re-opening a case is Re Z, and the President quickly skates through that (having already decided above that there is going to BE a re-hearing)

 

The re-hearing is going to take place in October 2016. That will be four years after the injury, three years after the Care Order, two years after the Adoption Order, and a year after the parents were exonerated at the criminal trial.  If nothing else, this case has not shown that the legal process can react swiftly. The President has also indicated that there may be before then a hearing about how the Press can report the re-hearing (thinking of the Poppi Worthington case, and the press interest there is going to be in this, it might for example include almost-live reporting and tweeting)

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/09/parents-cleared-of-abuse-launch-legal-battle-to-win-custody-of-adopted-baby

 

IF the findings are overturned at that re-hearing, there’s still a massive legal mountain to climb for the parents. The guidance in Webster is from the Supreme Court, so it isn’t open to the President to simply ignore it. It does however, give the small chink of light  An adoption order once lawfully and properly made can be set aside “only in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances”:

So a Court could potentially find that these ARE highly exceptional and very particular circumstances.  (though showing why very similar circumstances in Webster didn’t meet the test but this one does is going to require some particularly skilful footwork.)

 

I appreciate that people’s FEELINGS about this will be very strong, and many of you will strongly support the parents getting the child back. If I was doing the odds, based on the Webster decision, it is at best a 20% chance, even if they overturn the findings.  The Webster decision, in law, is a really high mountain to climb.  That test, as a Supreme Court decision, is a test that really only Parliament or the ECHR could change. So it is not hopeless for these parents, but legally they have a mountain to climb.

It is certainly true that the public debate and the judicial position on adoption is rather different than it was in 2008 when Webster was decided. It is possible that this will have an impact.

 

A dreadful set of circumstances for everyone involved – if the parents are found both to the criminal AND civil standard of proof to have not injured their child then what has happened to them has been the most awful thing one can imagine. They will have been completely let down by the British justice system.

It is almost impossible to understand how the child would make sense of it. The child’s adopters, who have had this child in their home for two years and who are now the legal parents of that child and consider him as part of the family, and who went into that process in complete good faith have to face months of doubt and anxiety about the future.  It would be nice if whatever the Court finally decide about the adoption order, both his adoptive parents and his birth parents get to play a strong part in his future life, but that in itself would be a brand new arrangement, never tried before in England, and litigation doesn’t often foster that spirit of all parties wanting to work together to do what is best for the child.

 

One thing is for sure, we are going to have a huge public debate about adoption in October 2016 when this case is decided, and an even bigger one if the parents are cleared but the adoption order still stands  (as the precedents suggest that it would)

A child found to be lying in criminal court, should she give evidence in family Court?

Well, obviously, if the answer to this was “Yes, of course”, it wouldn’t be a very interesting case to write about. So the fact that the Judge in this case said no to a 16 year old giving evidence, twice, is worth reading about. It’s quite long, I’m afraid, but there’s some good stuff in here.

It involves five judgments, all of which were published today. Yes, five.

When this popped up on the feeds, it was nearly a Seven Brides for Seven Brothers moment, but we did eventually stop at five.

Kent CC v D and Others  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) 2015

The Court were dealing with care proceedings involving three families, which they linked together. When you read the list of counsel that were in the case, it must have been an absolute nightmare to coordinate hearings so that they could all do them, and how even the advocates meetings worked is beyond me.

They are always horrendous when you’ve only got four advocates to get together  (one person always forgets whether it is 5 or half 5, or has a phone line that drops out, or has a hacking cough). Doing it with EIGHTEEN counsel….  Just doing the  introductions must have felt like the “Goodnight ma, goodnight pa, goodnightJim Bob” schtick from the Waltons.

 

 

 

[It was practically mandatory at any camping trip or sleepover that someone had to start doing this when it was finally time to go to sleep. There would be a few moments of unsupressable giggles, then someone would take it far too far and you’d have to get out of your sleeping bag and give said person a dead arm to make them shut up. Apologies if I have rekindled that tradition]

 

By the time all 18 counsel had introduced themselves on day one of the final hearing, it was probably time to go to lunch.

 

 

Anyway, most of the broader interest in this case comes from one child, named Z. Z was at the time of the original hearings 16 years old, and was making allegations that various adults had sexually abused her and involved her in sexual exploitation, trafficking her and selling her for sex. Those allegations had an impact on all three cases (there were other allegations but these I think were the major ones).

 

Some of the parents in the linked care proceedings wanted Z to be called to give evidence.

 

Z was giving evidence in the criminal proceedings, so there was no issue about her CAPACITY to give evidence.  However, she did not WANT to give evidence in the care proceedings.

 

  1. Z was first informed about these family proceedings in early October by one of the police officers, who she is said to have a good relationship with. The officer explained to Z about these proceedings and the possibility of her giving oral evidence using an explanation that had been agreed by the parties in this case. Her response was to say ‘No way I’m not. That means I’d have to go two times and remembering about them makes me sick’. She asked whether the family case concerned her siblings, when she was told it didn’t she repeated her refusal to give evidence in more explicit terms. The police officer reports that she discussed with Z the special measures that could be put in place for her to give evidence, but she stated she could not put her mind to it. Z telephoned her mother to ask for her advice and was heard to say that she felt too much was being asked of her.
  2. Shortly afterwards Z was assessed by a psychologist. One of the matters the psychologist was asked to assess was whether Z was able to give evidence in the family case and then again in the criminal case. The report describes Z as ‘an extremely suspicious person who attempts to gain control of situations’ and described her engagement with the assessment as ‘negative and variable’. It is clear from the assessment she is deeply distrustful of social services and sees them as the reason why she is separated from her parents against her wishes.
  3. The psychologist was not able to complete the psychological tests she wished to undertake, due to Z’s refusal to answer the questions. From her assessment she stated ‘Psychologically Z presents as a person who has a limited ability to concentrate and attend within situations, especially in situations that she does not find rewarding or does not see the necessity of, and of course, situations that she wishes to avoid psychologically because of distress that the memories potentially cause to her. Z appears to be psychologically a person who does not necessarily comply easily with authority and there is a possibility that she could, in my opinion, present as angry and disinterested in a trial situation if she is faced with the recollection of trauma…..I consider that it is highly likely that when Z is distressed she is more likely to respond in an antagonistic way and it is likely that she would in such a situation withdraw or become aggressive or antagonistic, rather than cope with underlying distress and psychological difficulties. This psychological aspect of her functioning, in my opinion, would affect her ability to give evidence and deal with a Court situation. Furthermore, she does have a history of emotional and behavioural difficulties described within her records and if Z is under a situation of acute pressure or distress her behaviour may become inappropriate and disruptive. Such a situation would clearly be detrimental to Z psychological functioning and detrimental in terms of her ability to deal with the Court case.’
  4. In answer to the question about whether Z is able to give evidence initially in the family court and then in the criminal court she states ‘This again is difficult to answer given the information that is available to me both from the background papers and from this assessment. However, I am of the opinion tentatively that Z, with support, is strong enough to give evidence in both courts, but close monitoring of her psychological stability will be needed. I am of this opinion because Z presents as extremely determined to see justice done in relation to her alleged abusers. In my opinion she needs to be enabled to keep her focus on the issue of her receiving a degree of justice in order to facilitate her continued co-operation.’ It is of note that she did not discuss giving evidence in both cases directly with Z during the assessment.

 

 

  1. The social worker’s intention had been to meet with Z for two periods of 3 hours to assess her, however due to Z’s volatile behaviour she only managed to spend 1 hour in her company in total over the two sessions. She said ‘Although Z is sixteen years old, and can present as being a mature young lady, this behaviour is short lived and she will quickly display behaviour which is characteristic of a much younger child if she deems she is not getting her own way’. She said the second visit was more ‘successful’ in that she ‘had a full conversation about her role and what was being asked of her, this too quickly deteriorated and she refused to speak to me becoming rude and aggressive. I am not confident she fully understands the court process and what it means for her, nor am I confident that she will be able to withstand the rigours of cross examination.’
  2. In her conclusions she states ‘Z is currently experiencing a high level of stress. She admits to being very angry and has stated, in no uncertain terms, that she will not give evidence in the family hearing….Z is vehemently opposed to giving evidence in the family case. If Z gives evidence in the family law hearing, prior to the criminal case, it is the view of the local authority with responsibility for Z, that this puts her in grave danger and at risk of significant harm, it is felt that the risk to Z and potentially others is extremely significant and could lead to her being seriously harmed or worse.’ She refers to the concerns about risk of Z absconding, particularly if there is some distance to travel to enable her to give evidence. She continues ‘Z is an emotionally traumatised young girl. Her level of volatility and challenging behaviour evidences this. She has previously received treatment for psychiatric difficulties and she is especially vulnerable in this area….In my professional opinion Z presents as one of the most severely abused children I have met within the area of Child Sexual Exploitation. The majority of the trauma which she has experienced is currently unknown to professionals and the potential for re-traumatising her by placing her as a witness is significantly high and could have lifelong emotional consequences for her…I am of the view that Z should not give evidence in the family hearing and that to call, her as a witness would place emotional stress upon her which would be significantly detrimental to her mental health and could potentially destabilise the current placement.’

 

The Judge, Theis J, in the first judgment in November 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/59.html

 

decided that the child, Z, would not be called to give evidence.

 

  1. In considering how I should exercise my discretion it is important that I remind myself that it is being considered against the backdrop of the court’s objective to achieve a fair trial of the issues in dispute between the parties as to the threshold criteria (see Lady Hale Re W (Children) UKSC 12 paragraph 23:
    1. “The object of the proceedings is to achieve a fair trial in the determination of the rights of all of the people involved. Children are harmed if they are taken away from their families for no good reason. Children are harmed if they are left in abusive families. This means that the court must admit all the evidence which bears upon the relevant questions; whether the threshold criteria justifying state intervention have been proved; if they have what action if any will be in the best interests of the child? The court cannot ignore relevant evidence just because other evidence might have been better. It will have to do the best it can on what it has.”
  1. Having undertaken the balancing exercise that I am required to do in accordance with the guidance laid down in Re W, I have reached the conclusion that Z should not be required to give oral evidence in these proceedings, as I consider it more likely than not the harm that such a course is likely to cause her outweighs the advantages of her giving oral evidence.
  2. I have reached that conclusion for the following reasons:
  1. (1) There is considerable evidence about Z’s vulnerability; emotionally, physically and psychologically. She has been receipt of psychiatric care in the past and has displayed severe emotional vulnerability about her current situation. She is considered to be at risk of absconding and that risk is said to increase if she was required to leave where she currently resides to join a link for video evidence against her wishes. Whilst it is likely the risk of absconding could be managed, the adverse risk to her emotional and psychological health is more likely than not to be considerable by requiring her on two occasions to recall the details of what she has said took place.

(2) I have evidence from a number of sources about her wishes about giving evidence in the family proceedings. Z has made it clear she does not want to give evidence in these proceedings, and it is more likely than not that she would refuse to co-operate with directions to do so by the court. I have carefully considered the context in which she has expressed her wishes; namely to the officer in the case and the social worker. She is reported to have a trusting relationship with the officer, but in their discussions was unable to countenance the prospect of giving oral evidence twice and an important feature from her perspective is that these proceedings did not concern her siblings. As regards the views she expressed to the social worker I have borne in mind her negative views about social services, but the social worker who went to see her was not her allocated social worker, she is an experienced social worker and she saw her on two occasions so was able to assess her views and reactions over a period of time. Her written and oral evidence was clear; Z is unwilling to give evidence in these proceedings. I have carefully considered whether when faced with a direction by this court to give evidence she would, in fact, actually comply. Whilst that is a possibility it is more likely that she would not and, in fact, such a direction is likely to cause her more distress and increase her level of anxiety.

(3) The ‘tentative’ view expressed by the psychologist of Z’s ability to give evidence in the family and the criminal case was done without the information this court has as to Z’s wishes about giving evidence in the family proceedings. In addition this was not an issue that was not discussed directly with Z by the psychologist. Therefore, whilst I take it into account I do not give it the same weight as the direct evidence I have about her wishes not to give evidence in these proceedings and her emotional vulnerability if required to do so.

(4) It goes without saying that providing her welfare needs could be properly safeguarded the Convention rights of all the parties in these family proceedings would be protected if Z could give oral evidence. In principle special measures could be put in place to ensure her evidence is given in a way to protect her welfare. However, that is only one aspect of the discretion the court has to exercise, albeit it is an important one.

(5) I have carefully considered whether any more steps can, or should, be taken to explain to Z the purpose of these proceedings and the need for her to give oral evidence. The LA in their oral submissions suggested that I could undertake that task. Whilst superficially attractive I cannot ignore the points made by the intermediary, who has probably had the most consistent involvement with Z. In her reports she is very clear of the need for there to be consistent support for Z. In the light of the experience of others (in particular the psychologist who could not be seen to be connected to social services) it seems very unlikely that Z will easily be able to comprehend the alternative view of something she is so vehemently against in just one meeting. It is only likely to be considered by her, if at all, if explained by someone with whom she has an established trusting relationship with over a period of time. That is likely to take some time and may not succeed. As the intermediary observed there is a real risk of overloading Z with demands if she is required to give evidence in these proceedings in the context of the situation she is in, namely in the build up to preparing to give evidence in the criminal proceedings. In my judgment the same applies, in the context of her situation now, to any further assessment of her understanding of the purpose of these family proceedings with a view to seeking her agreement to give evidence in these proceedings too.

(6) I have also factored into my considerations the fact that this is not a single issue case. There is a complex background, which even with sensitive oversight by the court would need to be explored in oral evidence.

(7) An important consideration is that it is accepted there is other material the court can consider, both to support and undermine what Z has said. The court will be able to observe the DVDs of Z and all parties will have the opportunity to challenge or support the accounts give by her on the other available evidence. The court will be able to direct itself in advance of making the appropriate factual conclusions. It is acknowledged in the skeleton argument on behalf of the mother in the D case that ‘this may be an increasingly attractive option in the light of the recent evidence filed by XLA.’

 

 

[I’ll pause for a moment – the Judge was clearly very mindful here that Z would not cooperate with giving evidence, and as we now know, whilst a Court CAN compel a child to give evidence and to issue a witness summons, they can’t actually do anything if the child doesn’t come to Court, won’t get in the box or won’t answer questions. They can’t lock the child up.

Theoretically, the penalties for failing to attend in answer to a witness summons are committal to custody and/or a fine. However, there can be no detention for contempt of a person under the age of 18, see sections 89 and 108 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/02/11/can-you-compel-a-child-to-give-evidence/     ]

 

Judgment number 2 is the fact finding hearing, where some findings were made – the Judge gave Z’s evidence less weight than if she had been able to be cross-examined and as a result not all of the allegations Z made were found to be proven.

 

That was compounded because there were flaws in the ABE video interviewing process. (Sounds depressingly familiar)

 

  1. As has been made clear in a number of cases the ABE guidelines are important and should be followed. I have been referred to the relevant extracts and have those parts very much in mind. It is quite apparent the Guidelines have not been followed in this case in a number of important respects, in particular:
    1. (1) Pre interview meetings being properly recorded (ABE Guidelines paragraph 2.6)

(2) Avoiding leading questions (ABE Guidelines paragraph 3.61)

(3) The importance of remaining neutral (ABE Guidelines paragraph 2.229)

(4) Repeated interviews (ABE Guidelines paragraph 3.130)

  1. The breach of these guidelines are serious, they have the effect of undermining the reliability of the account being given which I must carefully balance in my assessment of the evidence. This has made my task in this already complex case particularly difficult in the context where I have not heard Z give oral evidence.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/93.html

 

Judgment number 3 is an application for a re-hearing.  In large part, that was as a result of the criminal proceedings mentioned earlier. Z did give evidence, and her evidence was not good.

 

Following the conclusion of the fact finding hearing the parallel criminal proceedings started on 12 January. Two of the mothers in the care proceedings, AK and JE, were defendants in those proceedings together with 5 male defendants facing charges of sexual exploitation concerning Z. Z gave oral evidence in those proceedings over a period of 12 days. In addition prior to giving oral evidence she was able to view her ABE interviews and read her section 9 statements. The memory refreshing procedure was video recorded. The criminal proceedings concluded on 6 March 2015 when HHJ O’Mahony acceded to the application at the end of the prosecution case that there was insufficient evidence for the case to continue on the basis of the inherent unreliability of Z’s evidence.

 

Theis J considered that application for a re-hearing.

 

  1. All parties agree the framework governing applications for re-hearing is set out by the President in ZZ and Others [2014] EWFC 9. At paragraph 33 he endorsed the words of Hale J in Re B [1997] 1 FLE 286 ‘Above all, the court is going to want to consider whether there is any reason to think that a rehearing of the issue will result in any different finding from that in the earlier trial. By this I mean something more than the mere fact that different judges might on occasion reach different conclusions on the same evidence….the court will want to know….whether there is any new evidence or information casting doubt on the accuracy of the original finding.’ There must be what the President called ‘solid grounds for challenge’.
  2. In considering such applications there are three stages: (1) Whether the court will permit any reconsideration or review or challenge to the earlier finding. (2) If it does, to consider the extent of the investigations and evidence concerning the review. (3) The review hearing where the court decides the extent to which the earlier finding stands by applying the relevant test to the circumstances then found to exist.
  3. In summary, it is submitted that new evidence, not previously before the family court, requires this court to re-consider the findings founded in whole or part on the evidence of Z in the schedule dated 6 January. There is no serious opposition to this course by the Local Authority in the case of AK, JE, JC or LF; or by the respective Children’s Guardians or DF (who is now separately represented).

 

That was the legal background to the decision. The factual background was set out in this way.

 

New Material

  1. The new material relied upon to re-open the findings can be summarised as follows:
  1. (1) Z’s oral evidence in the criminal trial (together with the recorded memory refreshing sessions beforehand when she viewed the ABE interviews) which resulted in the conclusion by the trial judge not to allow the case to go before the jury on the basis of the second ground in Galbraith, due to what he considered were the ‘extreme flaws in the reliability and credibility of Z’s evidence’. Z gave oral evidence over 12 days with careful consideration having been given to appropriate safeguards and the use of an intermediary. HHJ O’Mahony’s conclusion was founded on a number of grounds, which included

(i) 8 men being wrongly put in the frame in allegations of rape and trafficking, 2 of whom were defendants in the criminal proceedings. HHJ O’Mahony stated when giving his ruling ‘it is clear from the cross examination based on sound and undisputed disclosure that by mistake, confusion or sheer lies, Z has implicated eight men of serious crime and then in evidence withdrawn the allegations or robustly rejected them as being wholly wrong’. The detailed analysis in the ruling in the criminal proceedings includes some evidence available at the family hearing, although the further inconsistencies, retractions and reasons for retractions in Z’s oral evidence in the criminal proceedings is clearly new.

(ii) The lack of corroborative evidence to support the two weeks Z had said she spent in hospital. That position was largely known at the family hearing although in the memory refreshing stage Z stated that the hospital stay was not true.

(iii) The different accounts Z had given of her return from Town C to Town A, 3 of which were known to the family court, but a further account was given in oral evidence.

(iv) The differing accounts of times she was taken to Town C, she gave a different account in her ABE interview (known about at the time of the family hearing) and in her oral evidence (both in her examination in chief (30 – 40 times) and her cross examination (‘I made a mistake’)). The accounts in the oral evidence are new.

(v) The events when Z was in town A. The documents disclosed Z had been seen by the police, told them her parents were selling her for sex and then Z denied to the police having said that (this was all known in the family proceedings). In her oral evidence she rejected any of the events disclosed in the town A documents had occurred and that all was well throughout her time in town A. In a lunch break during cross examination she was seen on the phone to her mother writing notes which she tried to tear up when the police tried to take them from her. She refused to answer any more questions about town A. When her mother gave oral evidence about the phone call she said Z had told her on the phone that she, Z, had lied about it in evidence before the jury. The account in Z’s oral evidence, and her mother’s evidence about the phone call are new.

(vi) Inconsistent accounts by Z as to whether she had taken drugs voluntarily or not, when the prosecution case was she was forced to take drugs. In her 13 February interview (which was known to the family court) she said she was addicted to drugs. In her oral evidence she said she did not know or remember if she brought drugs or was addicted to drugs. There is reference to a facebook conversation concerning drugs and a video of Z expertly rolling a joint. The oral evidence, facebook conversation and video are new.

(vii) Inconsistent accounts concerning sex with JDI, which were described by HHJ O’Mahony as ‘remarkable’; alleging that in the 6 March interview, denying it in the 24 October interview (both of which were known in the family proceedings) and in her examination in chief and cross examination stating that he had raped her. The content of her oral evidence is new.

(viii) False complaint by Z against her father, she admitted this in her oral evidence. This was not before the family court although her mother gave evidence in the family proceedings that she thought Z had done this as the father had stopped her going out to a nightclub.

(2) Further details emerged in the criminal proceedings about the evidence gathering of DC Verier that puts into question the neutrality of the investigation, which I had already been critical of. It emerged during the criminal trial that DC Verier had been instructed to pre-prepare a statement in section 9 form and turn up at the address with it and present it to Z. This was not disclosed in her evidence during the hearing before me, although it was raised as an issue in cross examination.

(3) The evidence available in the criminal proceedings (notably the evidence of DC Brightman in the voir dire) regarding the circumstances surrounding the ABE interview of CC such that HHJ O’Mahony excluded it under section 78 PACE as having been obtained in circumstances which he considered as oppressive bearing in mind the vulnerability of the witness. The full detail about the circumstances of this ABE interview appears to be new.

  1. The courts overriding objective is to deal with cases justly having regard to the welfare issues involved. The factual and welfare issues in this case could not be more serious or complex. The threshold findings relied upon by the Local Authority are the only basis upon which they are justified, by law, in seeking to interfere with the Article 8 rights of each of the adults and children.
  2. Although the Local Authority submits that the family court was aware of and alive to the significant emotional, psychological and intellectual difficulties of Z and the inconsistencies in her evidence at the time of the family hearing it acknowledges the procedural bind the court is in.

 

You will see that the criminal trial condemnation of the ABE interview went further than the Family Court, indeed excluding the ABE as evidence at all.  [The “voir dire” reference is to a hearing or part of a hearing where argument took place in the absence of a jury as to whether certain evidence could be seen be a jury or had to be excluded. If the Prosecution loses the voir dire hearing to decide whether the jury can see the ABE interview, that would be a massive – if not fatal – blow to the Prosecution case.  ]

 

 

  1. Decision
  1. I have reached the conclusion that in the somewhat unique circumstances of this case that justice requires the applications for a rehearing should be permitted on behalf of AK, JE, JC and LF in relation to the findings identified above. In reaching this decision I have taken into account the following considerations:
  1. (i) The need to balance the public interest in finality in proceedings and minimising delay to a child against the importance of ensuring findings of fact have been correctly determined to ensure matters are justly determined.

(ii) Whilst any further delay is inevitably inimical to the welfare of each of these children in different ways, due to their varying ages and needs, the importance of the court’s findings in each of the cases as to any welfare decisions is clear, and weigh the balance in favour of ensuring the findings are correctly determined.

(iii) It is clearly important for each of these children to know the truth.

(iv) Any findings that involve Z will have an impact on the risk assessments that are undertaken and are likely in each of these cases play a key part in the welfare decisions made by the court, which include whether the children are rehabilitated and/or decisions as to contact.

(v) The credibility of Z was at the core of the Local Authority’s case. It is an issue that has already received careful consideration by this court but the new information from the evidence in the criminal proceedings provides a ‘solid ground’ upon which the findings I made should be reconsidered. It will be necessary for this court to consider again the reliability of Z’s evidence in the light of the new material that is now available.

(vi) Although the outcome of a further hearing cannot be predicted it is possible that the court may reach a different conclusion; a review of the new material may lead to different findings, it may not. The new material raises serious issues for the court to consider.

(vii) The findings that are sought to be re-considered are inextricably linked and should be considered together.

So there would be a re-hearing (there were some findings that would be untouched by the issues over Z’s credibility, and those matters would not be re-heard)

 

Judgment 4 (nearly there) was the decision as to whether Z should be called as a witness at the re-hearing of the fact finding in the care proceedings.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/95.html

 

Understandably, the parents, given that litany of complaints about Z’s credibility arising from the criminal trial, were keen for Z to be compelled to give evidence and have the opportunity to demonstrate that her allegations were false.

Complicating things still further, Z had gone to live in another unconnected Local Authority in foster care, and had told them that she wanted to go back to live in Slovakia with her maternal family, which she duly did. So by the time Theis J was dealing with this, Z was not in the UK and her precise whereabouts were not known.

 

Submissions

  1. An order is sought on behalf of AK and JE requiring Z to give oral evidence, although the difficulties that are presented to the court are acknowledged. They seek an order, in principle, that Z should be required to give oral evidence. They recognise there may be difficulties in effectively enforcing any order as Z is out of the jurisdiction. They submit the court should make that decision requiring her to give oral evidence for the following reasons:
  2. (1) Z should not be permitted to pick and chose which proceedings she participates in. This is particularly so when considering the observations of HHJ O’Mahony regarding the false allegations she has made before and during the criminal proceedings.

(2) By not requiring Z to give evidence this court is depriving itself of the advantage the judge had in the criminal proceedings of being able to observe her oral evidence over a number of days.

(3) There are relevant issues that they seek to explore with Z that were not fully dealt with in the criminal proceedings.

(4) It is acknowledged Z would suffer emotional harm if she was required to give evidence, although the information available to the court is out of date, due to Z’s failure to co-operate with any Re W assessment. It is submitted that Z was able to give evidence over a number of days within the criminal proceedings, and there is no reason why she should not be able to do so if carefully and sensitively handled within these proceedings. It is submitted there is no evidence of grave harm suffered during the criminal process.

  1. The LA does not support the Re W application. They submit
  1. (1) There is no evidence that would indicate a change in Z’s vulnerability and ability to engage with the court to give evidence.

(2) The evidence the court has from Z LA sets out Z’s extreme stress during the criminal proceedings, exacerbated by her frequent attendance and the conclusion of the trial; her extreme stress regarding her previous experiences and her family leaving the country without her; her anger at being placed in secure accommodation and her reluctance to provide any evidence in relation to any more proceedings; her intention to kill herself if she was not allowed to join her family in Slovakia.

(3) In the updated statement dated 8.7.15 XLA state that since their previous statement on 22.5.15 Z has continued to experience high levels of stress in relation to her experiences of having to provide evidence in the previous proceedings and her family returning to Slovakia.

(4) The most recent statement from XLA details Z’s views were sought on three separate occasions in respect of giving evidence in the family proceedings. On each occasion she has been clear she did not want to participate in the proceedings or give evidence.

(5) Although Z has not engaged in an up to date assessment XLA report that in any event the psychological aspect of Z’s functioning would affect her ability to give evidence and deal with a court situation.

(6) The court has significant additional material to consider in its evaluation of Z’s accounts; video recording and notes from the memory refreshing exercise and transcripts of all of her evidence in the criminal proceedings.

 

 

The Judge decided not to make orders compelling Z’s attendance as a witness

 

Discussion and Decision

  1. The inherent difficulties in dealing with family proceedings that involve vulnerable witnesses have, once again, come into sharp focus in this case. At each stage this court has had to conduct the difficult balancing exercise of seeking to ensure the court has the best evidence available, so that any decision reached is on a secure foundation, against the welfare considerations of the individual witness.
  2. In November last year, faced with a similar application, I determined that the welfare considerations of the witness outweighed the other considerations, and Z should not be required to give oral evidence.
  3. This court is reconsidering this issue in the light of the fact that Z was able to give oral evidence over a number of days in the criminal proceedings, the adverse conclusions reached regarding her credibility by HHJ O’Mahony and that this court has listed a re-hearing of the findings made previously, that were in large part founded on Z’s evidence.
  4. Having now considered this issue again, in the light of the recent events and evidence, I have reached the conclusion on the information available to the court that Z should not be required to give oral evidence, as on analysis of that information such a course would be contrary to her welfare and this outweighs the benefits of her giving oral evidence. I have reached that decision for the following reasons:
  1. (1) If Z were able to give oral evidence undoubtedly this court would have the best opportunity of assessing her evidence. It has rightly been referred to as the ‘gold standard’ and it fully protects the Article 6 and 8 rights of the parties, which include the adults and the children. Reliance is placed on what took place within the criminal proceedings where the reliability of Z’s evidence was tested through the forensic process.

(2) However this court cannot ignore the evidence it has concerning Z’s welfare. In November I concluded that a combination of her express wishes and the evidence the court had about her psychological vulnerability resulted in the court determining she should not be required to give oral evidence. Since Z concluded her oral evidence in the criminal proceedings her psychological position has deteriorated to the extent that XLA sought and obtained orders to place her in secure accommodation to protect her. In the two statements the court has from Z LA it is clear Z was suffering extreme stress through a combination of events. Her expressed wishes have not changed; on each occasion she was asked about giving evidence in these proceedings it was clear she did not want to participate in them.

(3) Whilst this court does not have detailed updated information regarding her psychological state it is clear from what is available that her current functioning would inevitably affect her ability to give evidence and deal with the court situation. Forcing her to give oral evidence, even if that was possible, would undoubtedly be contrary to her welfare.

(4) In conducting the re-hearing the court does have significant additional material to re-evaluate Z’s accounts by way of the video recorded memory refreshing exercise, together with the notes taken and full transcripts of her oral evidence within the criminal proceedings.

  1. I have reached this conclusion on the information available to the court now.
  2. Some criticism has been made of the fact that XLA took steps to facilitate Z leaving the jurisdiction without notifying this court or the LA of the steps they were taking. The effect of the Z leaving the jurisdiction has curtailed this court’s ability to take any further steps to assess Z’s ability to give oral evidence. XLA state that they were not formally aware of Z’s position until the morning of 9 June, the next hearing was two days later. It was a fast moving situation which they state did not give them sufficient opportunity to inform this court or the LA of the developing position. Whilst it is regrettable this court and the LA were not kept updated about the developing position regarding Z’s status here, the reality is there would have been limited, if any, steps this court could have taken to prevent Z leaving the jurisdiction.
  3. I have directed the LA to continue its efforts through the Central Authority to get updated information about Z’s whereabouts and her current circumstances.

 

 

Finally then, part 5, was the judgment from the re-hearing, which took place without Z’s evidence.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/96.html

 

I have to say, as a prelude to this, a key witness who had admitted to having made false allegations and whose evidence in the criminal Court led a Judge to conclude that the prosecution could not safely continue, who doesn’t want to give evidence in the family Court and who leaves the country,  that’s evidence that it is hard to give any weight at all to. One can only speculate as to what view the Court would take of a parent’s evidence if those features applied.

There was fresh criticism of the police investigation

 

Criticisms regarding the police investigation

  1. In the January judgment I made a number of criticisms of the police investigation (see in particular paras 432 – 435). In his ruling in March HHJ O’Mahony agreed with those concerns and expressed his own concerns about the investigation in trenchant terms. I hope that any review of the police investigation will take on board what has been said in both sets of proceedings about the investigation. Like HHJ O’Mahony I appreciate that this investigation was a difficult and challenging process for all those involved dealing with a young, vulnerable person as Z.
  2. This hearing has done little to improve the position regarding the investigation. Whilst this court recognises the enormous sensitivities involved in this type of investigation, it is clear that some of the decision decisions taken have seriously undermined the evidence. For example, the decision made not to challenge Z in relation to possible inconsistencies, the methods used to put her at ease and gain her trust seriously risked being seen by her as encouragement, with the consequence of undermining the quality of her evidence. When looked at in the context of her low IQ and the information regarding her tendency to confabulate (which information was only available after all the interviews and discussions with her had concluded) made the task for this court challenging when evaluating the reliability of the evidence to support any of the findings sought in January. The events since January, has undoubtedly made that task significantly more challenging.

 

and later in the judgment here

 

Further criticisms of the police investigation

  1. In addition to the criticism this court made in the January judgment and HHJ O’Mahony in his 6 March ruling, further matters have emerged to the forefront during this hearing. They can be summarised as follows:
  1. (1) The failure to follow up any further enquiries relating to SA. He is the neighbour who lived next door to AK against whom cross allegations had been made. Z alleged AK sold her own daughter AD to him, which AK and AD deny. AK alleged that it was Z who used to visit him, have sex with him. In his oral evidence in this hearing DI Cooper said this man was interviewed, denied the allegations and it was not taken any further. Very recent disclosure from the CPS confirmed this man was seen by the police in August 2014. He denied having sex with any of the occupants of AKs address and described an isolated occasion when he smoked cannabis and was offered sex for money by a woman who visits AK who he described as being ‘in her late twenties, slim build, blond hair and who always wears sexy clothes’.

(2) The very recent disclosure of the s9 statements of LS. His existence was not known during the previous family hearing and was only noted as being referred to in the written submissions in the criminal proceedings. He is the former boyfriend of AD who described Z being a regular visitor to AK’s home, but makes no reference to Z being there against her will. This disclosure was made on the last day of this hearing; no party sought this witness to attend to give oral evidence.

(3) The failure to interview AD who would have been able to shed light on what was going on. This was raised in the previous hearing. Z had alleged that AK prostituted AD and that she and AD had spent the night in bed with a Pakistani man. It is submitted that this gap in the information available has to be seen in the context of the frequent meetings with AD’s much younger sister, KD. This, it is submitted, supports the lack of balance in the investigation.

(4) The failure to challenge Z (for example, in relation to the hospital stay), the deliberate departures from the best practice outlined in the ABE guidelines, the failure to properly record key events (in the drive round and the meetings with potential witnesses where there were incomplete records regarding the questions asked). Most of this was known at the previous hearing but need to re-evaluated in the context where this court has not had the advantage of Z giving oral evidence.

(5) KV’s evidence in the criminal proceedings about the pre-prepared s 9 statement she took to the meeting with Z on 7 May. This was not disclosed in the previous hearing before me, although it raised as an issue in cross examination by Mr Larizadeh. In her evidence in this hearing KV said she ‘forgot’ that was what happened when she previously gave evidence before me. She said she had more time to prepare for her evidence in the criminal proceedings. Although I accept at face value what KV says I do find it very surprising that such an important detail was forgotten when she gave evidence in the previous hearing. It was, as HHJ O’Mahony described, an usual step to take in such an investigation, especially with such a vulnerable witness. It was based on information given two months previously and KV accepted the way it was presented to Z risked limiting her ability to say what she disagreed with.

(6) There was much debate during this hearing about when the police were made aware of the information from Slovakia, which included information about Z’s tendency to confabulate. The evidence very recently disclosed now shows DI Cooper received this on 28 October 2014, considered it and circulated a note about it on 30 October 2014 attached to an email that was copied to KV. KV said in evidence at the previous hearing (which is now known to be after receipt of the email from DI Cooper) that she was seeing the information from the Slovakian psychiatrist for the first time. That was clearly not the complete position as in her very recent s 9 statement she states ‘I can confirm that looking back through my email records, I received an email on 30/10/2014 titled ‘CONCERNS REGARDING 3rd PARTY MATERIAL FROM SLOVAKIA.DOCZ’. This email contained a report ‘outlining’ the points made about Z by a Psychiatrist in Slovakia including as per DI COOPER’s statement on 24/09/15

• She has tendencies to distort reality

• has tendency to confabulation

Looking at DI COOPER’s statement and the email he sent to me on the 30/10/!4, I have only now remembered receiving this. I can state that I did read DI COOPER’s chronology on Z’s 3rd party records but did not read the translated Psychologist report itself as believed his chronology to contain all necessary points of concern.

(7) KJ was closely questioned about how the investigation proceeded. Although it was clear all decisions regarding the investigation were being led by the police, it appears that there was no effective contribution by the LA to the strategic decisions being taken (eg the conduct of ABE interviews, non compliance with ABE guidelines, meetings not fully recorded in writing or by video etc). KJ was questioned about leading questions in some of the ABE interviews and it became clear that she, like KV, believed what Z was saying and as a result risked remaining neutral in gathering the relevant information. As with the police, the LA in this type of situation should have early access to specialist legal advice to enable them to fulfil their statutory obligations, particularly in circumstances where there are likely to be care proceedings based on the evidence gathered during the police investigation.

 

 

There’s also an interesting nugget about “police intelligence”   (insert your own joke here, if you like)

 

Police Intelligence reports

  1. Much criticism has been made of these reports. They are, as Mr Storey puts it, as the bottom of the evidential food chain to such an extent that they are no more than ‘tittle tattle’ and should not be used to prop up an already weak case. He makes the obvious points that the reporter is not known, no attempt has been made by the LA to identify them, produce a statement from them and call them to give evidence. As a result, he submits, they barely amount to evidence.
  2. Mr Feehan recognises they are hearsay accounts and the court should treat them with caution. However, he relies on the accuracy of many of the details given in them to lend support to other evidence, particularly that of Z, who was very unlikely to have known about the content of them.

 

The Judge dealt with Z’s evidence and the issues with it

 

Z’s evidence

  1. The evidence from Z has been put under renewed scrutiny in this hearing.
  2. It is right that the main reason why the re-hearing was sought was the collapse of the criminal trial and the reasons that underpinned that. Obviously this court is not bound by any conclusions reached by HHJ O’Mahony in his ruling, but the evidential position that brought about that conclusion is clearly very relevant.
  3. The first matter is that prior to her first ABE interview on 6 March 2014 Z had made serious allegations against a number of individuals, including two people who were defendants in the criminal proceedings. In the meetings Z had with DC Verier (KV) and Kayleigh Jones (KJ) on 13 and 20 February Z implicated a number of people as causing sexual harm to her. In the first meeting JDI, MC, and A. In the second S, T, RK and RF. In her the memory refreshing exercise and her oral evidence in the criminal proceedings she withdrew her allegations against a number of men including A, S, RF, T and U.
  4. Two of these men, RK and A, she had described in her oral evidence as having been very kind to her; RK was a former boyfriend. She went further in her oral evidence in that she denied she had ever said to KV in her meeting on 13 February anything unpleasant about A.
  5. It is submitted that the importance of this is that it is now known that prior to the first ABE interview Z had already told untruths about a number of men regarding serious sexual offences. As Mr Storey submits, this was also at a time when those who were speaking to Z were ignorant of the information that subsequently became available about Z’s low IQ and suggestibility.

 

 

That is of course, a pretty major issue – if it was already known before the first ABE that Z had made up serious sexual allegations about a number of men that proved to be untrue, then surely the police investigation into the next batch of investigations had to bear that in mind. It didn’t automatically mean that she was lying this time, but you surely don’t go into the investigation assuming that what is emerging is automatically true. You have to bring some sort of sceptical eye to bear on what is being said.  The police in this case would be pointing fingers at the villagers in the Boy Who Cried Wolf story, saying, “Well, I simply can’t understand why they didn’t evacuate the village the fifth time that he Cried Wolf, it was OBVIOUS that there was a wolf on the way”

 

[*Of course there might be a wolf, and you have to be alive to that possibility, but there’s another possibility to take into account, surely?]

 

 

  1. It is submitted that this behaviour by Z supports the suggestion that Z has the capacity to make up allegations against people for little or no reason. Two of the people she had made up allegations about, RK and A, she subsequently described as having been very kind to her. In other instances, when she has given a reason it has been a slender one (such as the allegation of assault against her father when she stated she wanted him to be in prison, to then subsequently state she had made the allegation as he had refused to allow her to attend a disco). This behaviour, it is submitted, supports the evidence given by Z’s mother, ZM, in the previous family proceedings that Z was someone who would ‘make up stories, someone who made up allegations of sexual abuse against people’. ZM said something similar in her oral evidence in the criminal proceedings.
  2. Feeding into this is the further inconsistent oral evidence given by Z about a number of other matters. For example, the times she was allegedly taken to Town C. In her ABE interview it was twice, in examination in chief in the criminal court it was 30 – 40 times and in cross examination she said it was a mistake. The rest are set out in HHJ O’Mahony’s ruling.
  3. Another feature of Z’s evidence is the additional information regarding what occurred in City A. It is suggested to have been missed by all the parties in the family proceedings that buried within the papers was a separate reference by Z to her family selling her for sex. This arises from a question put in the criminal proceedings by Mr Saxby Q.C. (leading counsel for RB). At the time of the first family hearing it was thought this had only been said by her once (to PC Swift, which she subsequently denied). It now appears that the records show this was possibly done on two separate occasions, to two separate people. The second occasion was two days prior to the time with PC Swift to someone called N (although the records available do not specifically record her saying to this person she was sold for sex but that question was put in the criminal case without objection being raised). It is pointed out that this now lends more support to such behaviour by her own family, further supported by her reaction recorded in her meeting with KV on 26 March 2014 when asked if her parents had ever received money for her she ‘looked extremely sad and refused to provide an answer or make eye contact’. This additional information resulted in both KV and KJ agreeing with Mr Storey in cross examination in this hearing that if they had known about these reports from City A they would have considered removing Z from her parents care, both for her own protection and so she was in a neutral environment.

 

 

The Judge did eventually conclude that some of the matters of concern relating to Z were proven (it is very difficult, from the outside, having not seen the undoubtedly huge volumes of paper and detail or heard the evidence, to know whether that is a fair decision or not – the Judge must certainly have been very worried about placing any credence on accounts given by Z that could not be independently corroborated and evidenced by other sources)

 

Discussion and Findings

  1. In considering these findings afresh I remind myself of a number of key matters:
  1. (1) That the burden of proof remains on the LA throughout. The parents do not have to prove anything.

(2) It is critical that I keep an open mind when considering the evidence again, which I do.

(3) I have not had the benefit of hearing and observing the oral evidence of Z whose evidence is such an integral part of the LA’s case.

(4) In considering the Lucas direction and in the event the court concludes a witness has lied the court may factor in the circumstances of the witness (including social and cultural) in considering why that witness may have told untruths.

(5) Whilst hearsay evidence is admissible the court must be careful to assessing the relevant considerations as to what weight it should be given.

(6) I must be careful when considering the wide canvas of evidence that this court is required to do that the burden of proof not reversed.

  1. Mr Storey was careful, in his well crafted submissions, not to make what was in effect a submission of no case to answer (recognising what is set out in cases such as Re Z [2009] 2 FLE 877). What he submits is that Z’s evidence is now so undermined and unreliable that it cannot be supported by what is, in effect, hearsay evidence that there has not been adequate or proper opportunity to challenge.
  2. Mr Feehan on behalf of the LA recognises the difficulties there is with the reliability of the evidence from Z, but submits that when looked at in the context of the corroboration that is available, albeit from mainly hearsay evidence, demonstrates that some aspects of her account is in fact credible to the extent that it is more likely than not that it occurred. He fully recognises there is no burden on the Respondents, but submits the court is entitled, when considering the wide canvas, to take into account in evaluating the evidence the Respondents evidence too. That must be correct although the court must be alive to ensuring that a weak case is not bolstered by evidence other than that called by the LA with the result that the burden of proof is reversed.
  3. This court in the previous hearing analysed and evaluated the evidence then available. On a fresh analysis and evaluation, in the light of the new material outlined above, I have reached the following conclusions in place of the findings set out at paragraph 4 above:
  4. (1) AK, JE and JC had much more contact with and knowledge of Z than each of them has revealed in their evidence in these proceedings.

(2) They were each aware Z was being sold for sex and that she was under 16 years.

(3) LF knew Z was being sold for sex and that she was under 16 years.

  1. I have reached those conclusions for the following reasons:
  1. (1) Whilst I acknowledge that within the criminal proceedings Z did not back down in her allegations about AK, no one has suggested that I should revisit my earlier conclusions about the ABE interviews after 6 March. There is no basis to do so.

(2) The findings I made concerning AK’s involvement in the arrangements for Z being sold for sex and that she kept Z in her home against her will were founded in large part on the first part of the ABE interview on 6 March. That now has to be looked at in the light of the further retractions and inconsistencies made by Z within the memory refreshing exercise, her oral evidence in the criminal proceedings and the fact hat this court has not had the advantage of hearing her give oral evidence. Whilst I was aware of and took into account the retractions and inconsistencies known about before the previous hearing, they are now of such a scale and extent in relation to allegations of serious sexual abuse that her account of her allegations regarding AK’s involvement in her exploitation has been very seriously undermined. The schedule of inconsistencies and lies produced on behalf of JE accurately sets out the position. The withdrawal by Z of the allegations against the two defendants in the criminal proceedings, are clearly very important. As set out in para 253 of the January judgment Z’s credibility is a central issue; in the light of the new material her credibility is now even more seriously undermined.

(3) Another factor that has to be considered and re-evaluated are the significant criticisms about the way the investigation was conducted, the numerous breaches of the ABE guidelines, the failure to challenge inconsistencies and the worrying lack of neutrality in the way Z was dealt with and the lack of balance in evidence gathering (for example not speaking to AD). These failures further seriously hinder the reliance the court can place on Z’s evidence.

(4) I have had to re-evaluate the consideration of motive for Z to lie in relation to AK. In the light of the fresh information the submission that she lies for the sake of it cannot now be readily ignored. There can be little doubt that Z has had the most difficult background, and has been grossly let down by those adults who have had responsibility for her care. I agree with the analysis by the LA in their closing submissions ‘that everything we know about Z, her background and experiences lend support to the fact that she has been sexually exploited. These experiences left her with little chance that she would be able to fortify herself against it’. The involvement of her own family in her difficulties also has to be re-evaluated in the light of the evidence about what occurred in City A. Her wholesale denial of any difficulties in City A in her oral evidence, together with her subsequent admission to her mother that she told untruths in evidence about City A, illustrates the extent of her vulnerability and unreliability. She has made up serious allegations about her father as she was not allowed to go out and about a former boyfriend due to jealousy about his new relationship.

(5) I have carefully considered what the LA submits is the corroborative evidence to support such a finding against AK as to her direct involvement in Z being sold for sex. It consists of hearsay accounts, unattributable intelligence records or inferences to be drawn from such evidence. Whilst this evidence leaves the court very suspicious of AK’s role in Z’s exploitation, supported by the court’s assessment of AK’s lack of credibility (which this hearing has not changed), I agree with the submissions made by Mr Storey that none of the witnesses that have been called to give evidence have directly implicated AK. The burden of proof is on the LA which, in my judgment, they have not discharged. Mr Storey also makes the point that the intelligence reports could arguably support AK in that over this period (2012/2013) her accommodation was being watched and monitored by the police, there were two police raids in 2012 yet no direct evidence has been called to support her involvement in prostitution or exploitation.

(6) The conclusion I reached previously regarding the enmeshed nature of the relationships between AK, JE and JC and their contact with Z remains secure for the reasons I set out in the January judgment. It is more likely than not they were each aware Z was being sold for sex, and that she was under 16 years. That conclusion is not fatally undermined by the unreliability of Z’s allegations concerning AK. In her interviews Z was able to give details about AK, JE and JC that were consistent with her having had more contact with them than they suggest. For example, she was able to identify AK and JE’s addresses, their children and she attended JC’s address for a bath all of which supports far more contact between Z and each of these women. Mr Larizadeh places reliance on the inconsistency of Z’s descriptions of JE (e.g as being Albanian) but that has to be balanced with other evidence which supports JE’s contact with Z. Z’s account of her contact with them is supported by evidence from a number of different sources; for example the detail AK was able to give in her interview about what Z had alleged (i.e. injections in her back and gang rape allegations) and the meeting with KD on 3.7.14. Whilst I have carefully considered again the criticisms of this meeting and record, in my judgment it provides a coherent account to support the much closer relationship of these women to each other and Z than they have each accounted for. KD was able to give good descriptions and distinguish when she did not know anyone named. Further support is provided by the telephone records of contact between AK and Z, which AK had no explanation for other than a generalised suggestion that others used her phone. It is of note that this phone contact was during one of Z’s missing periods and AK’s number was noted to be stored on Z’s phone when she was seen at school. The evidence supports Z being closely associated with IE and SS, both of whom were respectively visitors to JC and AK’s homes and IE is JE’s daughter.

(7) I have carefully considered why AK, JE and JC would lie about their relationship with each other and Z and am satisfied that it is to seek to distance themselves from Z and their involvement with her in order to undermine Z’s reliability.

(8) It is clear it is more likely than not Z was sold for sex, even if the court cannot make a positive finding who sold her. In her interviews Z said she was sold. Whilst there are some references to Z selling herself I reject that. The weight of the evidence clearly points to her being sold by others. CC in her interviews gives a detailed account of what took place, which corroborates the core of what Z describes. Whilst it is right that there were breaches of the ABE guidelines in the interviews with CC (such as not dealing with truth and lies at the start of the interview and a lack of neutrality in some of the questions) she had the opportunity the day before she gave oral evidence to view her ABE interviews again. She did not detract from the detailed descriptions she gave in those interviews of Z being sold for sex, she maintained that evidence despite being pressed about allegations made by Z about her which she denied. This conclusion is further supported by what JC told the social worker on 11 April (when an interpreter was present). JC’s denials of this record were not credible. The reference in SS’s interview to ‘whoever was (Z’s) boss or like that..they was using her’ further supports Z being sold. It inconceivable bearing in mind my conclusions about the nature of the relationship and contact between AK, JE, JC and Z that they were not aware of Z’s age and that she was being sold for sex. It was something Z did not seek to hide and had clearly been reported by others (such as JC, IE and SS).

(9) I can’t reach any conclusion as to the extent, if at all, Z’s family may have been implicated in some way in her exploitation. There is evidence that points both ways. ZM appropriately reported Z missing and took steps to secure appropriate medical help for her. However there is also evidence of Z saying she was selling herself to help her family, she was picked up by men from the family home and her reaction when asked by social workers whether her family were involved in her abuse.

(10) The further evidence since January 2015 doesn’t in reality affect the finding under re-consideration regarding LF. All those in his household and with whom he had contact with knew of the sexual exploitation of Z by individuals. The evidence still supports the conclusion that she was being sold for sex and that LF knew that, although not specifically of Z being exploited by JE. Those around him and in his household knew or suspected that about Z, and it is inconceivable that he was not aware of that too. I reject his oral evidence that he remained ignorant of this.

 

 

Whilst the Court did not make all of the findings that it had made first time round, enough were made to have still crossed the threshold. So the parents of those three families were really no better off after all of this litigation.

 

Court proceedings were a shambles

 

I would agree with the Court of Appeal’s summing up here.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/992.html

In the case of Re K-L (Children) 2015, the Court of Appeal had to unpick an appeal centred around a judgment of Her Honour Judge Lyon after a finding of fact hearing in care proceedings. There were a raft of allegations to determine, and centrally, some of them involved findings that the father had sexually abused a child.

However a Judge determines those findings, it is vital that everyone knows exactly what was and wasn’t decided.

At the end of the finding of fact proceedings on 23rd April 2015, which had overrun somewhat, the Judge was more than a little exasperated

  1. At 4.40 pm, the judge returned to court and delivered a short judgment. Paragraph 1 of the judge’s judgment was as follows:

    “I am not to be held to anything I now say which is why I have deliberately not given it to you and I am saying it has yet to be perfected because I have not had enough time. Unfortunately your colleagues massively underestimated how much time they needed on their case, which I ended up taking in, and of course we have the police as well so I have not had a full run at this at all today so my apologies. However, as I say what I am going to do is just give a rough indication of what I am doing and how I have set things out in the judgment.”

  2. The judge then recounted what had happened in the course of the trial. In the last four paragraphs of the judgment, the judge set out her conclusions as follows:

    “10. The court heard the next day from the mother, TL, who became very upset as she recalled her discussion with both T and P as to what had happened to them. Then finally the court heard from Mr LE. The court is finding in accordance with the submissions made on behalf of the Local Authority and counsel for the mother, who united in their submissions, with the Local Authority adopting those of the mother. Therefore I am basically going with the submissions made on behalf of the Local Authority and the mother and supported to a considerable degree by the submissions made on behalf of the guardian so I have reproduced all of those. I have also reproduced the submissions made on behalf of Mr E by Mr Heaney but I am finding against him essentially with regard to the abuse of the children.

    11. The issues are set out very clearly in the various submissions and as I say the court is accepting those of the Local Authority supporting the mother and that is the purport of your submissions, was it not, Miss Mallon?

    [Miss Mallon: Yes]

    12. Miss Mallon, in relation to the mother, however, you did raise issues about whether the mother had acted appropriately and so in accordance with the findings sought, and I am just having to leaf back to those, I am finding points 3, 4 and 5 of your findings sought which will be between pages 1 and 2 of the document, I am finding those to be made out again on the basis of the evidence that we heard. Again I am going to have to craft this appropriately to indicate what I am finding there but the First Respondent, TL, failed to protect the children from sustaining physical harm at the hands of LE; that she failed to seek medical attention for P and for T after they had sustained physical harm at the hands of LE and finally that she repeatedly failed to protect the children from witnessing, whether through hearing or seeing, domestic violence. Are you with me, Miss Mallon?

    [Miss Mallon: Yes]

    13. Therefore to indicate again very clearly as far as the schedule of findings sought I am finding that the third respondent, LE, sexually abused T as exemplified by his doing rudies, namely inappropriately touching T’s penis, masturbating the child T, putting curry up his bottom. Also finding that the third respondent, LE, physically abused the children, PL and TK, as exemplified by kicking T on the leg, attempting to strangle T — and so the court does not accept the “play” explanation offered by the father — and punching P on the back which, as was submitted, was a very serious injury to inflict on a child of P’s age with all the attendant concerns that would have arisen.”

 

Whether or not those findings were right, it is absolutely and totally clear that the Judge had made findings that father had sexually abused the child as alleged, and had physically abused the child including strangling him on one occasion.

It was therefore something of a shock to everyone when the judgment itself was circulated on 8th May 2015 and set out that those findings were NOT proved in relation to sexual abuse, but were proved in relation to the physical abuse allegations.

 

Understandably, the parties sought clarification from the Judge

 

What the judge said in judgment 3 was this:

“I did go into court without any papers in front of me and stated that I agreed with the case put forward by the local authority with which, in very large part, I did except, one being “except in relation to the allegation of sexual abuse”. I did not make this clear, as essentially this was an ‘off the cuff indication’ and I did not make things clear at all, so it did appear as though I was making findings agreeing with each of the allegations made in the Schedule, whereas whilst I was agreeing with all the other findings sought as to physical and emotional abuse I did not agree with the finding of sexual abuse and I have now set the reasons for this out which given the difficulties we had over the ABE Interviews of T, is perhaps more to have been expected and I can only apologise fully for the rushed way in which I handled things on the final day of the hearing and thus stated my finding as to these sexual abuse allegations wrong.”

The legal issues for the case are :- can a Judge change his or her mind about a judgment, and when does that power end?  And was the Judge wrong in changing her mind in this particular case?

As long-term readers may recall, this issue has come up before. And the Supreme Court resolved it.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/02/21/if-you-change-your-mind-im-the-first-in-line/

A Judge CAN change their mind about a judgment even after delivering it even after the order arising frtom the judgment is sealed, but they must provide reasons for doing so.

  1. The Supreme Court held that justice might require the revisiting of a decision for no more reason that the judge had had a carefully considered change of mind, since every case could depend upon the particular circumstances. The Supreme Court held that the power of the judge to change his or her mind had to be exercised judicially and not capriciously.
  2. The leading judgment was given by Lady Hale. At paragraph 30, Lady Hale said this:

    “As the court pointed out in Re Harrison’s Share Under a Settlement [1955] Ch 260, 284, the discretion must be exercised “judicially and not capriciously”. This may entail offering the parties the opportunity of addressing the judge on whether she should or should not change her decision. The longer the interval between the two decisions the more likely it is that it would not be fair to do otherwise. In this particular case, however, there had been the usual mass of documentary material, the long drawn-out process of hearing the oral evidence, and very full written submissions after the evidence was completed. It is difficult to see what any further submissions could have done, other than to re-iterate what had already been said.”

  3. Lady Hale went on to discuss what would be the position if the order made by the judge after the preliminary judgment had been sealed. Lady Hale held that that would have made no difference. The judge would still have been entitled to have a change of mind if there was good reason to do so.
  4. At paragraph 46, Lady Hale said this:

    As Peter Gibson LJ pointed out in Robinson v Fernsby [2004] WTLR 257, para 120, judicial tergiversation is not to be encouraged. On the other hand, it takes courage and intellectual honesty to admit one’s mistakes. The best safeguard against having to do so is a fully and properly reasoned judgment in the first place. A properly reasoned judgment in this case would have addressed the matters raised in counsel’s email of the 16 December 2011. It would have identified the opportunities of each parent to inflict each of the injuries by reference to the medical evidence about the nature, manner of infliction and timing of those injuries and to the parents’ and other evidence about their movements during the relevant periods. It would have addressed the credibility of the evidence given by each parent, having regard in this case to the problems presented by the mother’s mental illness. Had she done this, the judge might well have been able to explain why it was that she concluded that it was the father who had more than once snapped under the tension. But she did not do so, and it is a fair inference that it was the task of properly responding to the questions raised by counsel for the father which caused her to reconsider her decision.”

In passing, I’ll remark that “tergiversation” is not a word that I’ve ever enountered in polite conversation, and I’d even be slightly surprised if it cropped up in an email from long-time reader Martin Downs who does occasionally seek to expand my vocabulary.

It has two meanings :-

1. Evasion of straightforward action or clear cut statement

2. Desertion of a cause, position, party or faith

 

As luck would have it, both apply here. Keen-eyed readers will have spotted that Her Honour Judge Lyon was not claiming here that having thought further about her judgment, she had reconsidered her position and changed her views, she was just flatly denying that she’d ever found that father HAD perpetrated the sexual abuse.

So it was a bit different to the Supreme Court case, in which the Judge freely admitted that having decided X she later came to the conclusion that Y was the only proper decision to make. This was more an Orwellian “we have always been at war with Eurasia”

 

So, was Judge Lyon right in the assertion made in the third judgment?

  1. What the judge said in judgment 3 was this:

    “I did go into court without any papers in front of me and stated that I agreed with the case put forward by the local authority with which, in very large part, I did except, one being “except in relation to the allegation of sexual abuse”. I did not make this clear, as essentially this was an ‘off the cuff indication’ and I did not make things clear at all, so it did appear as though I was making findings agreeing with each of the allegations made in the Schedule, whereas whilst I was agreeing with all the other findings sought as to physical and emotional abuse I did not agree with the finding of sexual abuse and I have now set the reasons for this out which given the difficulties we had over the ABE Interviews of T, is perhaps more to have been expected and I can only apologise fully for the rushed way in which I handled things on the final day of the hearing and thus stated my finding as to these sexual abuse allegations wrong.”

  2. That explanation simply does not stand up to examination. Paragraphs 10 and 13 of judgment 1 cannot possibly be explained away as a mere slip of the tongue or misstatement on the part of the judge. It was simply not the case that the judge was saying one thing and meaning another.
  3. At paragraph 13 of judgment 1, the judge said:

    “Therefore to indicate again very clearly as far as the schedule of findings sought I am finding that the third respondent, [the father], sexually abused T as exemplified by his doing rudies, namely inappropriately touching T’s penis, masturbating the child T, putting curry up his bottom.”

  4. The judge was clearly saying what she meant and clearly stating what her findings then were. Therefore, as I say, the explanation for the changed decision given in judgment 3 does not stand up to scrutiny.

 

Given that the Judge HAD changed her position, the failure to provide a compelling explanation of what led to that was obviously going to fall short of the high test of the Supreme Court to change a judgment in a safe way.

 

  1. In my view, the history of this case is such that no one can have any confidence in the judge’s findings contained in judgment 3.
  2. In my view, the three judgments and the April order must be set aside. The case must be remitted to be reheard on all issues at the Liverpool Family Court.
  3. Finally, I must say this. The proceedings in the court below were a shambles. That is not the fault of any counsel in the case, nor is it the fault of the deputy judge. It is the four children at the centre of this case who suffer as a result of what has happened. Also, both the mother and the father have suffered much needless stress as a result of the course that this case has taken.
  4. On top of that, huge expense has been incurred, which no doubt will be borne by the public purse, as a result of matters which have gone wrong in this case.
  5. If my Lords agree, the judgments of this court will be referred to the President of the Family Division, so that he can consider whether any steps need to be taken to prevent such a situation arising again.

 

 

The case therefore will have to be re-heard.

Ryder LJ agreed, whilst defending that this was clearly out of character for Liverpool  Family Court.  [hmmm. There have been some decidedly peculiar appeals coming out of Liverpool in 2015 though]. And of course adds that there should never have been a finding of fact hearing in this case anyway…

 

  1. My Lord Jackson LJ describes a profoundly worrying sequence of events from the perspective of parties to children proceedings, including the children themselves.
  2. I am persuaded that the judge did not make a mistake on 23 April 2015. She clearly intended to make findings of sexual abuse against the father. Thereafter, she changed her mind, but did not accept that she had done so and has, as a consequence, not reasoned that change of mind.
  3. She misremembered what she had said on 23 April 2015 and subsequently recollected only an accidental use of language. That is sadly not an accurate memory, with the consequences described by my Lord, Jackson LJ.
  4. This is not, in my judgment, a circumstance described by the Supreme Court in Re: L. That is where the change of mind can stand. In this case the change of mind was not made judicially.
  5. I say in parentheses that this was a public law children’s application and I can see no basis for a split hearing upon the facts.
  6. Be that as it may, I am very concerned about the other aspects of the judge’s conduct of the determination described by my Lord, not least because it should be understood that this is not the way family proceedings are normally conducted before the Family Court in Liverpool, a matter impressed upon us by all counsel.

My blood runs wild (and not as a result of angels in the centrefold)

 

I often kvetch about the President’s burning desire to make the welfare of the bundle paramount (which on the ground is resulting in me spending hours of precious time removing actual EVIDENCE that the Court has ordered be filed from bundles, negotiating with other sides about what statements should be removed, and bracing myself for the inevitable complaints at the final hearing that the whole case is now going to turn on that document), but I do think that His Honour Judge Wildblood QC has a point here.

 

Re A and B (children : fact finding) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B48.html

[Of course, when the Judge reads the next blog post, about Ryder LJ’s further pronouncement in the Court of Appeal on fact-finding, he will observe that fact finding hearings are still effectively banned and thus the hearing ought to have never happened, but that’s by the by]

 

i) The bundles. To deliver eight lever arch files to a judge on a Thursday evening for him to start a case on Monday morning is unrealistic where the summarising documentation is inadequate. To those who did so I pose this question: ‘How long would it take you to read that amount of material?’ During the hearing I asked what the advocates’ expectations were of me in relation to enclosures M, N, P and Q which extend to over 1,250 pages which had not been adequately summarised (medical records, Local Authority records etc) and the discussion ended with me understanding that I was asked to read them and summarise them myself during the hearing. That would have been manifestly unfair because the advocates and parties would not then know what I was taking into account when reaching a decision before I did so and would not have an opportunity to comment on things that I discovered. In the end I required a list of pages to be given to me from enclosures M and N and read those. I read the whole of enclosures P and Q over two nights (a total of 542 pages). If I had attempted to read 1,250 pages and each page had taken an average of one minute to read and summarise it would have involved over twenty hours of reading mid-case on part only of the documentation that was filed.

ii) The case was given a three day time estimate which was never realistic, particularly if I was going to be expected to read that amount of material during it. As it is I have dealt with the case in five days and have typed this judgment during the fifth day.

iii) The bundles that were produced were in disarray. Many pages were blank. Many reports were repeated. Some pages were upside down. The medical records were not in chronological order and switched between years randomly. Important documents were not included.

 

Even the purpose of this hearing was somewhat hard to fathom – there were two children A (aged 10) and his half-brother B (aged 7 months). A was in care for other reasons and B was living happily with his mother, about whom no complaint was made. The allegations related solely to the father – there was no proposal that the father move back in with the mother, and his contact was supervised twice per week. There were a wide range of allegations made against the father by the Local Authority (most having emerged from A himself).

  1. In this judgment I am critical of the Local Authority. I list the main reasons why at the end of the judgment. I consider that it has approached this hearing without any adequate consideration of the quality of the evidence that it could place before the court. Its approach has been unrealistic and lacking in analysis. As a consequence, scarce resources have been wasted.
  2. This has been a five day hearing which came into my list two working days before it started, bearing eight lever arch files. On the working day before the case started I held a telephone directions hearing in which Advocate B, Counsel for M2, rightly questioned the proportionality of it proceeding but was told by the Local Authority that it thought the hearing to be necessary; I had not been able to read enough of the papers overnight to intervene. I regret that.
  3. Given the outcome of this hearing I think that very little has been achieved from it. He oldest child, A, is in care and, by mutual agreement, does not have contact with his father, his mother or M2. There is very clear evidence that B’s mother cares for B well. She and B have lived together in a residential placement since 19th December 2014. Within the parenting assessment undertaken by the Local Authority at E106 the following is stated at E125 : ‘I do consider that B’s mother can care for him adequately in the community at this stage…[E126]…She has been unfailingly polite, patient, co operative and compliant throughout this assessment. She has responded to advice and guidance with polite interest but [we] have not been entirely convinced that she welcomed it…[E131] …there have been no concerns about her care and he is a healthy, happy baby who is thriving’. B’s mother has been assessed over a long period of time. The father, from whom she is now separated, has contact with B twice a week under supervision. The Local Authority’s position is that B’s mother has been assessed whilst in her current placement and that ‘no concerns have been raised with regards to her basic care of B’.
  4. As will be plain I have rejected most of the allegations that the Local Authority has made. Much of the Local Authority’s case rested on things that A has said against the father. In the telephone directions hearing that I held before the case started I enquired whether the Local Authority regarded A as a reliable source of evidence. I was told that it did; as the evidence (both expert and factual) shows, that was totally unrealistic. When I asked the child’s solicitor what the guardian’s assessment was of the reliability of A I was told that the guardian was away (and has remained away during this hearing) and so it was not possible to answer my question, a response that does not require further comment.

 

[Although that response does not require further comment, I must remark that there is considerable restraint being exercised there. On a case that turns largely on the reliability of A as a complainant, it is astonishing for the Guardian or those representing her not to have a view as to that reliability.]

 

The Judge was also rightly unhappy that the chronology provided was wholly inadequate. The absence of a full chronology meant that several vital questions were unanswered and could only be established by a trawl through the eight bundles of evidence.

 

  1. Chronology – As I state at the end of this judgment when I deal with matters of practice, there was no adequate chronology in this case to summarise the evidence and put matters in context. As Lady Hale observed in a case relating to another area of family law (home ownership), context is everything. For instance (and this is an abbreviated list) i) What preceded the ABE interviews? ii) When did the child make the first allegations against the father? iii) When was the firebell incident (when A says in interview the father began to abuse him physically)? iv) What sexualised behaviour did the child exhibit and when? v) What other false allegations had the child made and when? vi) What state was the child in when he came from Portugal? vii) What happened in the first set of proceedings which ended in August 2013? viii) What was A’s weight loss (see above)? ix) When did A make the first allegation against M2? x) What role did M2 play in A’s care? xi) What does the information from the school demonstrate when it is put into a schedule (I had to require production of the school / home books and the ‘SF’ file was handed in at the start of the hearing)?
  2. It has been left to me to put the evidence in order (and I say more about this at the end of the judgment). That being so I think that it is essential to put the case into its chronological perspective if any sense is to be made of it and I have done that by putting the evidence into chronological order. The result is a judgment of much greater length than I would have liked which has taken me a very long time to produce. I have typed it within the five day listing that I have had to allow for this case

 

The judicially composed chronology is excellent, and completely necessary to make proper sense of the case.  Of course, whilst it is excellent and necessary, it breaches the President’s guidance on chronologies, by first going back further than 2 years in time, and second it is far longer than the President’s mandate.

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of a Judge having to produce their own chronology, however. That is not an activity that is likely to make him warm to the applicant’s case.

 

The Judge also felt that none of the professionals involved – either the professional clients or the lawyers had properly attempted to analyse the evidence. With eight bundles having been produced, everyone had clearly been very dilligent in identifying bits of paper that needed to be collected up and distributed, but somewhat lacking in the process of analysing where all this evidence would take the Court.

v) The advocates themselves had not seen relevant material. The papers from the previous proceedings were produced late and omitted important material, such as the threshold document from the 2013 proceedings. Nobody knew, when the case started, what had happened about the January 2013 allegations within those proceedings. There was no mention of the parenting assessment, the psychological report or the guardian’s report in the chronology. I had to call for the threshold document from those proceedings. The chronology jumps from 21/01/13 to 01/05/2013 then to 10/10/2013 and therefore somersaults over the 2013 proceedings. That is just not sensible.

vi) It was perfectly plain to me that there had been no realistic assessment of the evidence that was being placed before me by the Local Authority, upon whom the burden of proof rests. The Local Authority is the prosecuting authority and has the burden and responsibility of proving the case that it brings. There are many examples of this. A particularly obvious one is that A says that his father started to hit him after the firebell incident in July 2013 – what impact did that have on the January 2013 allegations against the father? The sexual allegations against M2 should have been put in the context of the other material, not least the similar and false allegations that A had made against others. The chronology that I have put together (which can be compared with the Local Authority chronology) speaks for itself. Huge parts of relevant and important evidence had been omitted in the Local Authority’s analysis.

vii) There has been no overview by the Local Authority or by the guardian (and I deliberately include the guardian and the child’s solicitor in this) about the reliability of the child’s evidence. That is not the fault of this child. But it does mean that before presenting a case that is so heavily dependent upon what the child has said it is of obvious importance to consider the reliability of the child as a source of evidence. I held a telephone conference hearing on the Friday before the case started and I asked for the Local Authority’s assessment of the child’s reliability. The guardian’s solicitor told me that the guardian was not available and she could not take instructions on that issue. The Local Authority counsel told me that the Local Authority viewed A as a reliable source of evidence. It was plain that there had been no proper assessment of this issue and that there had been no proper thought given to the many untrue allegations that this child had also made. That is not just unfair to the parties but it is unfair on the child whose future should not be subject to such a process.

viii) The important evidence relating to A’s weight and the condition of his feet and hands was not summarised or analysed before the case started. I created the weight chart which I extracted from the papers. Other than that the important job of seeing what the child’s weight had been had been covered by Dr GR in his report. If the point was to be made and proved it needed to be supported by evidence from the medical records. The child’s solicitor tried to cross examine on this point without any information from or reference to those records and, in doing so, sought to make a point that was wholly invalid. As to the state of A’s feet in January 2014 it was necessary for me to require an analysis of the level of pain that the child would have felt at the time that the blisters etc were developing (would it have been obvious to his carers that he was so injured?); I very nearly made a totally false assumption that the child would have been in obvious pain (as to which see Q10).

ix) Despite the abundance of evidence about the psychological difficulties that A has, there is no evidence that any consideration was given to how A should be interviewed in the light of his very specific difficulties. The questioning that I saw gave no demonstration at all of questioning being crafted by reference to those difficulties or in a way that reflected the very large amount of medical information that was available in relation to him.

x) There was a wrongful absence of enquiry into the interview that took place on 15th January 2013 [the M10 interview]. There was no recording of it or any evidence of an investigation arising from what A said in it. There is no point in me expressing my opinion about the standard of practice that those absences demonstrate because the points are too obvious.

 

 

None of the findings sought by the Local Authority (and supported by the Guardian) were made. It is therefore theoretically possible that either of them could appeal. I really wouldn’t….

 

 

 

 

The spine was white like snowflakes

No one could ever stain

But lifting all these bundles

Could only bring me pain

 

Hours go by, I’m flicking through, I’m reading J nineteen

But there’s no hint of threshold, on the pages in between

 

My blood runs wild

I can’t believe this crap they’ve filed

My blood runs cold

The chronology is not that old

Chronology is not that old

 

Na na na na na na na na na

 

(Apologies to the J-Geils band)

Children giving evidence

 

This is a Court of Appeal decision, arising from a private law case in which there was an issue as to whether a child should give evidence as part of the forensic exercise of determining the truth of what happened.

Re B (Child Evidence) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1015.html

 

John Bolch does an excellent summary here

http://www.familylore.co.uk/2014/07/re-b-children-giving-evidence.html

 

The case builds on, but doesn’t change the principles set down by the Supreme Court in Re W  http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2010/12.html

 

The fundamental difference is that in Re W, the potential child witness was the subject of proceedings (thus the welfare of the child was a legitimate component of judicial decision-making, though not the paramount consideration), whereas this was a sibling/half-sibling of the child in question and thus wasn’t covered by that umbrella of welfare.  Other than in the broader philosophical sense that a Court dealing with the welfare of a particular child ought not to cause harm to another child in that pursuit of a decision. Also, in Re W, the child had given a video interview to the police and that could potentially stand as evidence, in this one, the child had not given any interview and the issue was whether and how the child’s evidence ought to be placed before the Court if at all

 

The original trial Judge had decided that a series of questions ought to be drawn up and the CAFCASS adviser ask them of the child and record the answers, deciding to leave the issue of live evidence to one side until that information was available.

I’m not quite sure why the appeal was brought before that decision was made, or how the Court of Appeal dealt with it so quickly (it feels a bit premature to me, but nonetheless they did)

 

The Court of Appeal backed the decision of the trial judge to proceed in that way, but were keen to stress that this was not sanctioning an opening of the floodgates (as Jack of Kent has pointed out, floodgates opening is actually a good thing contrary to the metaphor – they are SUPPOSED to open).

 

  • I would not expect our endorsement of Judge Cameron’s decision to open the floodgates, leading to a widespread practice of calling children as witnesses in cases such as this one. The Supreme Court did not consider that their decision would lead to children routinely giving evidence, predicting that the outcome of the court’s balancing exercise, if it was called upon to adjudicate upon such matters, would be the conclusion that the additional benefits in calling the child would not outweigh the additional harm it would cause him or her. I am sure that the natural sensitivity and caution of the family courts, which originally generated the now defunct presumption, can be relied upon to ensure that matters are approached in a way which properly safeguards all the interests involved.

 

 

 

  • In addition to the argument that G’s evidence was peripheral, it was also argued on F’s behalf that it was wrong to have embarked upon the Family Court Adviser path because it would (or should) lead nowhere as the shortcomings in G’s evidence rendered that evidence of little value. The shortcomings were said to arise from matters such as G’s age, the lack of a contemporaneous statement from her, the passage of time since the incidents, and the likely influence upon her account of having lived in the meanwhile with M who was negative to F.

 

 

 

  • I recognise the logic in the submission that the court should not involve a child in steps designed to explore the possibility of him or her giving evidence unless satisfied that the evidence is likely to be of value. However I would not take such an absolute position. It can be difficult to take a reliable decision in a vacuum and there can sometimes be merit in a step by step approach which enables more information to be gathered before deciding irrevocably. In deciding what steps to take, the apparent nature, quality and relevance of the evidence are obviously material but the court may not know enough in the early stages to form a concluded view about matters such as this.

 

 

 

In the light of the Court of Appeal’s decision to nuke fact finding hearings in public law from orbit, a decision I respectfully think is something one could happily eat with cheese, I thought these remarks from the Court of Appeal were interesting

The pursuit, in public and private children proceedings, of “the truth” about past events is not an abstract endeavour. What happened in the past is the foundation for informed decisions about the future, including decisions as to what, if any, risk of harm a particular course of action may present to the child who is the subject of the proceedings. The more reliable the court’s findings as to what happened in the past, the more reliable should be the prognosis for the future and the better the court should be able to judge where the welfare of the subject child lies.

 

Quite so.

Private law appeal (unsuccessful)

The Court of Appeal have given judgment in Re H (Children) 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/733.html

 

This relates to an appeal from the decision of Parker J to make an order transferring residence of three children from their mother’s care to their father’s care AT AN INTERIM STAGE – the case is not over and further steps are being taken prior to the final hearing of the private law applications.

 

The interim change of residence followed a finding of fact hearing in which the mother made very serious allegations about the father – including that he had raped her and hit the boys with a belt. The boys had made that allegation during police ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interviews.

 

The Court of Appeal are quite right, to make sense of the appeal, one needs to look at the context of the litigation, which they set out in summary form

 

  • In order to make sense of what follows, it is necessary to set out the bare bones of the chronological history which catalogues the development of evidence with respect to each of these two core themes.

 

 

 

  • On 4th April 2013 the mother applied for an injunction against the father under the Family Law Act 1986 and made applications for residence and supervised contact orders with respect to the children. In her witness statement supporting those applications the mother did not complain that she was the victim of any physical or sexual violence from the father save for one occasion nearly twenty years earlier prior to their marriage. She did, however, allege that the father was highly controlling and threatening in his manner towards her and that he would regularly assault the children and, in particular, would take a belt to them if he considered that they had misbehaved. The father issued a counter application for contact and specific issue orders regarding the children’s schools.

 

 

 

  • The first court hearing took place on 15th April 2013 before DJ Hodges. At that hearing the mother’s position had changed from one of supporting supervised contact between the children and the father. Her case was that the elder boy, A, opposed the two younger children having direct contact with the father and the mother herself therefore opposed direct contact for any of the children. At the hearing the District Judge explicitly stated that the court would start with the presumption that children should grow up knowing both parents. Some 2 hours after the conclusion of that hearing the mother and A attended the local police station and made allegations about the father’s behaviour. The police record shows that, in addition to the allegations of violence towards the children, the mother alleged that the father had also been violent towards her, but that his abuse of her was “mostly emotional and sexual”.

 

 

 

  • On the following day, 16th April, police visited the mother and the children at the refuge. Notes of that visit indicate that C and A made allegations of physical assault by their father, but that these were not substantiated by B’s account. The mother’s complaint was of emotional and mental abuse. She made an historical allegation that he had raped her and she stated that he had physically abused her, but that this had not happened for some years. In subsequent police interviews (in April and in September) the mother came to make allegations of repeated rape and controlling behaviour.

 

 

 

  • On 23rd April A undertook a formal Achieving Best Evidence [“ABE”] interview with the police in which he made various allegations of physical assault by the father, including the use of a belt.

 

 

 

  • Matters then took a striking turn when, on 30th April, the father filed a statement exhibiting a number of notes and other documents written by the mother which described how she had herself been violent to the children, that she was unable to cope and was unable to control her consumption of alcohol.

 

 

 

  • At his subsequent police interview the father denied the allegations of rape, violence and controlling behaviour. He accepted that during one of A’s violent outbursts he had physically intervened.

 

 

 

  • The first hearing before Parker J took place on 7th May 2013 in which the judge heard oral evidence from the mother, father and paternal grandmother. The judge’s judgment on that occasion indicates that the background material produced by the father, originating as it did from the mother’s own hand, suggested that the father’s case that the mother was emotionally very troubled, was borne out. The judge said that the material that had been produced “worries me in the extreme, particularly the mother’s reference to drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous and being physically out of control with regard to the children”. The case was thus one in which allegations flowed in both directions.

 

 

 

  • Having heard the mother’s oral evidence with regard to the father’s behaviour and, in particular, his use of a belt on the children, the judge was plainly unimpressed with her credibility and stated “I thought that the mother’s evidence with regard to the belting was all over the shop to put it bluntly as to what actually she said had happened and what precisely she knew”. The judge was, however, plainly impressed with the “quite excellent” paternal grandmother who the judge described as being “true as steel, stout as oak”.

 

 

 

  • As a result of this, her first encounter with this case, the judge developed a very clear strategy as to the way forward. Whilst expressing concerns that the mother’s presentation, and the children’s allegations, might indicate that the children had become “recruited children”, in the sense that they had fallen in with their mother’s view of matters, the judge was prepared to accept, for the moment, that these matters were as a result of her troubled emotions and were not deliberate acts. The judge therefore ordered that the two younger children should be made available for contact with their father each Saturday during the day, but that all such contact should be supervised by the paternal grandmother and a paternal aunt. A was free to attend contact with his father and brothers should he desire. The judge fixed a further hearing for the end of June.

 

 

 

  • Three days later, on 10th May, the mother made a without notice application to stay the contact order. Fortunately it was possible for the father and his legal team to attend court on that hearing before Parker J, who, having heard the matter, dismissed the mother’s application. It is apparent that, again, the judge heard oral evidence from the mother on that occasion. The judge records the mother as saying that she was not relying on her serious allegations of domestic violence against herself and the children in opposing contact, but upon the need for the family to “heal” from the difficult marriage and marital circumstances and for the children to repair their relationship as siblings before contact could take place. The judge expressed great concern about what she perceived as the mother’s shifting stance in the proceedings, which did not demonstrate a solidly-founded mindset upon which the court could place any confidence. The mother’s application for a stay was founded upon A refusing point blank to attend any contact with the father and the younger children being said to be visibly upset and awake all night after being told of the proposal for contact. The judge on this second hearing expressed herself as having far more cause for concern as to the extent to which the children had been drawn into adult concerns and adult perceptions. The judge considered that the mother’s “havering and wavering about what her case actually is” supported her view that a firm grip was needed to be taken on contact before there was further opportunity for matters to deteriorate. The judge therefore repeated that she expected contact to take place in accordance with the order.

 

 

 

  • On 28th June all three children were interviewed by police and made allegations of violence against their father.

 

 

 

  • The judge had directed the local authority to provide a report pursuant to Children Act 1989, s 37. In that report, which is dated 26th July, the local authority recommended that no contact with the children’s father should take place “for the time being”.

 

 

 

  • At the end of September, and again in a revised document one week later, the mother filed a detailed schedule of allegations. That second (revised) document raised, for the first time during the court process, allegations of rape “on numerous occasions” from l992 onwards.

 

 

 

  • At this stage the father filed additional material including video, audio and photographic evidence which included a film apparently taken by A of a violent assault by C on B. It was apparent that the father was not present in the house and the children were in the care of the mother, who, apparently, can be seen ineffectually attempting to stop the assault and then leaving the room. This material was viewed by Parker J during a hearing on 29th October. That hearing, which had been intended to be a substantial fact finding process, was thwarted in two respects. Firstly, sadly, the mother’s father had died some five days earlier and she was not available to attend for all of the three or four day trial. Secondly, as a result of a failure by the police to respond to orders for disclosure, the court did not have access to key police records. The case was therefore adjourned part heard. However, at this hearing the court again heard evidence from the mother, father and paternal grandmother. In a short judgment given on 30th October the judge concluded that the risk of the children being put under pressure by the mother was very high in the light of the mother’s inability (apparently demonstrated in the witness box) to restrain herself in airing what she says about the father, including allegations of rape, in the children’s presence. The judge concluded that professionally supervised contact was not in the children’s interests, as there was a high risk that the children would understand that they should behave badly at contact so that this behaviour would be seen by the contact supervisors.

 

 

 

  • Although the judge was plain that the fact finding process was not concluded, and that she kept an open mind, she was struck by the fact that the two younger children had not made assertions of being belted by their father until after the judge herself had made her adverse comments relating to the mother’s oral evidence at the May hearing. The judge seriously entertained the view that the younger children may well have sought to provide corroboration for the allegations that were being made by picking up from the mother’s conversation, either directly with them or by overhearing what she said to A, what the issues in the case were. The judge therefore considered that contact should be reinstated to the father as soon as possible for the younger two children. The judge was clear that, because of A’s alliance with his mother, he should not attend those contact visits, but could, if he wished, have supervised contact with the father. The matter was set down to conclude the fact finding process at a two day hearing on 19th December.

 

 

 

  • Between the October and December hearings contact took place, but not without incident. It is not necessary to spell out the details, but in consequence of the difficulties on 4th December the father applied to enforce the contact order and applied for a residence order with respect to the two younger boys.

 

 

 

  • The fact finding hearing concluded on 19th and 20th December with judgment being given on Monday 23rd December. On the first day of the hearing the court ordered that B and C should stay overnight that night with the father. During their stay the two boys received a text message on their mobile phone from their elder brother A encouraging them to disrupt their time with the father. Part of the message read “fight, break stuff and argue to get out of this situation…you know what to do to get out of this situation…if you don’t act [F] will have custody of you after tomorrow. Good luck. Break, destroy and burn.”

 

 

 

  • At the conclusion of the hearing on 23rd December the judge made an immediate order transferring residence of the two younger boys to the father and making a residence order for A to the paternal grandmother. It is against those orders that the mother now seeks permission to appeal.

 

 

The appeal was centred around 3 issues

 

1. That the judge had come to conclusions prematurely about the allegations, making up her mind before hearing all of the evidence. In part because the earlier history of the litigation had set her mind against the mother’s allegations before the evidence was properly tested at a finding of fact hearing.

2. That in meeting the boys whilst the finding of fact hearing was going on, the exercise crossed from the appropriate one of familiarising the children with the Court and the process into an inappropriate one of gathering evidence  (I note, in passing that Parker J was of course the Judge who was recently criticised by the Court of Appeal for just this issue, having asked a child some 87 questions during an hour long interview http://www.familylore.co.uk/2014/05/re-kp-childs-meeting-with-judge-is-not.html )

 

3. That the Judge had decided that the case warranted an expert of particularly high calibre to assist, but then went on to decide that as the expert she had in mind was not available, no expert would be instructed.

 

[For my mind, looking at this purely from the outside, the third point is the best one, but relatively little was made of it]

 

Point 1 – the appellant claimed that the Judge had prematurely reached conclusions and as a result had curtailed mother’s ability to call witnesses and to put matters to those witnesses who had been called (regular readers will know that this is the Jones v NCB point – has the Judge ‘descended into the arena and become a participant in proceedings’ ?

 

This in part is complicated by the fact that the Judge had previously conducted a hearing in the case, and evidence had been heard during that hearing. Was the Judge entitled to rely on the impressions she formed of the evidence in the earlier hearings, thus allowing her to fairly restrict evidence and the extent of the evidence this time around? The Court of Appeal said yes, she was.

 

  • The range of detailed points about the judge’s conduct of the proceedings all, to a greater or lesser extent, come back to the central submission that the judge formed a premature conclusion on the factual material which was adverse to the mother’s case. That the judge had formed a preliminary view by, at the latest, the end of the October hearing, seems clear. In the light of that view, and conscious of the very tight timetable within which the December hearing had to be completed (given that the judgment was in fact handed down on the first day of the vacation), the judge may have been justified in excluding certain matters entirely from consideration in oral evidence, limiting the witnesses and the time available for cross-examination. On this point Mrs Crowley’s core submission is that the judge was wrong to use the early adverse view she had formed of the mother’s evidence to determine the allegations that had been made by each of the three children and to do so without a proper evaluation of the primary material that only became available to the court at the December hearing. That primary material comprised of the disclosure that was received from the police, including, importantly, the records of the various interviews undertaken by the children and the parents together with a DVD recording of A’s ABE interview. In particular, a point is made concerning the judge’s assumption that the younger boys only made allegations of physical assault by their father after Parker J had made adverse observations about the mother’s credibility at the May hearing. That assumption was shown to be erroneous with respect to C on disclosure by the police on the eve of the December hearing of a note of the interview with him undertaken by the police on 16th April. Mrs Crowley submits that the judge simply failed to engage with this new material and did not refer to it in the judgment.

 

 

 

  • In this respect Mrs Crowley is correct. At paragraph 63 of her December judgment the judge deals with the issue in this manner:

 

 

“I have thought very hard, notwithstanding the evidence that I have heard about good contact, whether there could have been incidents when the father had taken a belt to the children, whose behaviour was, as I have said, seriously out of control at this time. But as a result of the combination of the timing; the older boy’s assertions; the fact that the children were taken to the police station, as they must have been, in order to make this disclosure; the fact that I had made comments in my judgment only weeks previously about the lack of any assertion by the boys; I have come to the conclusion that I cannot place any reliance on these allegations. Also, the mother’s case about what she knew at the time has been markedly unreliable and inconsistent. She cannot possibly have not known about beatings at the time had they happened.”

 

  • It can be seen that the judge’s understanding of the timing of the boy’s allegations, coming after her adverse comments in the May judgment, is but one of the factors relied upon by the judge. It must also be borne in mind that the interview with the boys at the police station on 16th April, whilst happening prior to Parker J’s observations, took place within 24 hours of DJ Hodges indicating that the presumption would be for direct contact to take place.

 

 

 

  • In her skeleton argument in response to this application, Miss Pamela Scriven QC for the father submits that the premium now placed upon ensuring judicial continuity in these cases is partly justified by the fact that it is beneficial for a judge, over the course of successive hearings, to form a developing view of the evidence as it unfolds. I entirely agree with that submission, and Mrs Crowley does not seriously dispute it. It is, in my view, wholly artificial to regard one part of the series of hearings conducted in front of Parker J to be, in some manner, a free-standing, fact finding hearing in which the judge must ignore any previous views she had developed as a result of evidence heard on prior occasions. In a case such as this, where, fortunately, judicial continuity had been largely maintained, the proceedings before the judge, at successive hearings, should be regarded as one single process. Before the start of the December hearings this judge had heard the mother give oral evidence on three previous occasions. At the December hearing she received the material that had been disclosed by the police and watched A’s ABE interview.

 

 

 

  • In her judgment the judge rejected the allegations that were made by the mother having expressly referred, once again, to the “marked inconsistencies” in the mother’s accounts. With respect to A’s ABE interview the judge observed that his demeanour was “quite remarkably flat” with no sense at all of any emotional engagement. The judge observed that “there was every sense of giving an account which had been repeated, perhaps in his own mind, on many occasions, rather than being any form of spontaneous recall”. That description is not challenged within this appeal and we have not been invited to view the ABE interview ourselves. The judge concluded that the father may very well have been over-rough with A on one particular occasion, but she observed the difficulties in dealing with a child whose behaviour is physically very challenging.

 

 

 

  • The judge reviewed the evidence relating to allegations made by the boys more generally, and, in particular, about being hit by the father with a belt. I have already set out the judge’s conclusion on this point which is at paragraph 63 of her judgment. The reasons given by the judge, save for her misunderstanding as to the timing of the first allegations made by the younger boys, is supported by the evidence to which she refers and the conclusion to which she came was plainly open to her on that evidence.

 

 

 

  • Once it is established, as I consider it is, that the judge was entitled to form a preliminary view of the veracity of the mother’s core case following hearing her oral evidence at the two hearings in May, I consider that the criticisms of the robust case management that the judge undoubtedly deployed in December must fall away.

 

 

The nub of this is really the timing of the allegation that the father had hit the boys with a belt, which came right on the heels of  DJ Hodge telling the mother that direct contact would be in the interests of the children (no allegations of physical abuse were being made by mother at that hearing, but they emerged immediately after). At the fact finding all of the mother’s allegations were rejected, and Parker J reached a decision that the mother’s behaviour had gone beyond a misguided belief that the children were at risk or over-protectiveness and into darker areas.

 

The change of residence is interesting – the boys were expressing the view that they did not want to live with their father. The social worker did not support a move, nor did the Guardian. (note the criticisms below of the Guardian)

 

  • Neither the social worker nor the Children’s Guardian supported an immediate change of residence. In justifying her conclusion in favour of an immediate change of residence, the judge explained her reasons for disagreeing with these two professionals as follows:

 

 

“72. The social worker, JW, who is warm, caring and committed, urges me to leave the children living with the mother because that is what they say they want. Until I enforced contact she was also saying that there should be no contact, because that is what the boys say they want. The proof of that pudding has been very much in the eating, on present showing. I have more than once stressed in this case, as in others, that the word used in the Children Act about wishes and feelings is “ascertainable” and not “expressed”. “Ascertainable” often means that the Court has to look at actions rather than words. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of these boys have been demonstrated by the evidence that they are more than happy to be with their father. I suspect they may feel some relief being out of the maelstrom. Their grandmother is calm and robust.

 

73. The Children’s Guardian also urged me to do nothing and not to intervene because of what the boys say they are not willing to see their father. She has done remarkably little as a Guardian. She has not read most of the papers, she hardly knows the boys. When it was put to her that if this was a case of parental manipulation and recruitment, then this could be or would be emotionally abusive to the boys, she took that on board seemingly, or at least superficially, but then said, “But the boys say they don’t want to go.” She was reminded that they were fine when they went on contact. “Oh,” she said, “but the boys don’t want to go.”

 

  • At paragraphs 74 to 76 the judge then set out her conclusions:

 

 

“74. I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional. Bearing in mind the documented history of this mother’s inability to control these children, their relationship with one another and wholly inappropriate empowerment, it strikes me as highly damaging in this case. I am disappointed that the professionals in this case are unable truly to understand this message. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal, Re M (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1147 requires to be read by all practitioners in this field. Lady Justice Macur gave firm and clear guidance about the importance of contact. Parents who obstruct a relationship with the other parent are inflicting untold damage on their children and it is, in my view, about time that professionals truly understood this.

75. I am in no doubt that I am entitled to disagree with the view of both the Guardian and the social worker, both of whom, although expressing their own views forcefully, recognise that the decision is for me, having surveyed all the facts and depending upon the findings that I make. I disagree with them because they have not taken into account the degree of parental manipulation and the dangers presented to the younger children from the inappropriate power given to the eldest boy. I am in no doubt that the mother’s track record is such that she cannot safely have unsupervised contact to her two younger boys at the moment. Much though I would like to give these boys a Christmas as they want it, or as they believe they want it, it is unsafe for them to spend Christmas Day with their mother and her family. Quite apart from anything else, the mother accepts that the two younger children should spend Christmas with the father and his family. They should be told that that is now the parental agreed plan.

76. I am in no doubt that the boys must remain living with their father until this case can be looked at again. I see no chance of any significant change to divert me from that view. I am not inclined to bring this matter back before the circuit judge in January, when I am away, unless there is some emergency which needs to be dealt with. There does need to be some form of further investigation. I am not at the moment persuaded, particularly because an expert of proper calibre has not been identified, that there needs to be any form of psychological assessment. That simply detracts from the judicial role and, after all, it is not experts who make findings and decisions; it is the Court. I would like to see how things settle down.”

 

 

Point 2 – the Judge meeting with the boys

 

 

  • On the morning of the second day of the December hearing the judge conducted two judicial meetings with the children, firstly with the younger two and secondly with A. Depending on the circumstances of any given case, a judge may see a child for a variety of purposes. Such purposes are, however, likely to fall under one or both of two heads, namely providing an opportunity for the young person to say anything that they wish to say to the judge and, secondly, providing an opportunity for the judge to explain the process being undertaken by the court and to otherwise enhance the young person’s understanding of, and feeling of engagement with, the court proceedings. Judges are encouraged to adhere to the guidelines issued under the authority of the President of the Family Division by the Family Justice Council (Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family Proceedings (April 2010) [2010] 2 FLR 1872). The guidelines make it plain that a judicial meeting is not for the purposes of gathering evidence:

 

 

“It cannot be stressed too often that the child’s meeting with the judge is not for the purpose of gathering evidence. That is the responsibility of the CAFCASS officer. The purpose is to enable the child to gain some understanding of what is going on, and to be reassured that the judge has understood him/her”

 

  • It is clear that the meeting with the judge occurred in consequence of the judge’s conclusion that such a meeting was likely to be beneficial, rather than arising out of any request from any of the children. The judge indicated both at the October hearing and on the first day of the December hearing that she considered a meeting with the children was likely to be useful. Mrs Crowley submits, and the transcript supports her, that the meeting arose from a desire on the part of the judge to inform the children of the process and of the orders that might be made, rather than to ascertain their wishes and feelings, which were well recorded. On 19th December the judge told the parties that she perceived a need to be open with the children and to “put her cards on the table” at that stage of the process.

 

 

 

  • The judicial interviews were conducted entirely in accordance with the guidelines. The judge saw the boys in the court room, albeit no doubt in an informal configuration, so that the encounters were recorded and have been transcribed. She was accompanied by her usher, her clerk and the Children’s Guardian. First of all the judge saw the two younger boys together. In addition to hearing the boys give a short account of their wishes and feelings, and their reaction to spending the previous night in the father’s home, the judge used the encounter to describe the possibility that the court might order a change of residence and her expectation that the young people, as would be the case with the adult parties, would co-operate with her decision and abide by it. The boys were plain in stating that they did not want to go to live with their father. During the second interview with A the judge adopted an approach which was commensurate with his age and sought to explain to him that he was not “the man of the family” and that it was the grown ups who had to take responsibility for the arrangement of the affairs of the children.

 

Point 3 – the instruction of an expert

 

 

  • Given the extreme behaviour displayed on occasions by A and given the striking content of the mother’s own handwritten notes reflecting on her own behaviour and emotional stability, the question of whether or not the assistance of a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist inevitably arose for consideration. On the first day of the hearing in December the judge indicated that an expert of a particularly high calibre was required. She indicated that she had a particular expert in mind, but, on the second day of the hearing the judge reported that she had made enquiries which had ascertained that that particular expert was not available to take this case on. The judge therefore concluded that no other expert should be considered and the case would proceed without additional expert involvement.

 

 

 

  • That sequence of events had initially been one of the grounds of appeal   [The Judge went on to grant an application in February 2014 for the instruction of a different expert, so that bit of the appeal falls away]  Although any appeal on the question of whether or not an expert should be instructed therefore falls away, Mrs Crowley criticises the judge’s approach to this matter, on the one hand considering that only an expert of high calibre should be instructed but, on the other, taking it upon herself to assess the situation. She submits that as indicating that the judge went outside the boundary of her judicial role in developing an analysis of the family dynamics which, wrongly it is submitted, supported the decision to make an immediate change of residence.

Even though that point did not have to be determined, since it had fallen away by that stage, the Court of Appeal still say that Parker J was entitled to make that decision and did not need to have expert evidence in order to make her decision that in the interim, the children should move from mother’s care to father’s care.

Although I understand the argument as is so clearly put by Mrs Crowley, I do not consider that the judge’s approach to this matter is open to that criticism. The residence arrangements that are currently in place are plainly interim arrangements pending the further assessment by Dr Asen and the further consideration of the court. Given that the judge was required to make findings of fact in December, and given that those findings were so adverse to the mother, the question naturally arose as to whether the children could be emotionally “safe” if they continued in their mother’s care after those adverse findings had been made. The judge having concluded that the allegations made by the boys were not grounded in reality, it was necessary to consider other explanations to explain the fact that the boys had nevertheless said what they had said to the police. Of the limited range of alternative explanations available, the judge’s conclusion, at that stage of this ongoing process, that the allegations in some manner arose out of a dysfunctional relationship with the mother is not, in my view, seriously open to challenge.

 

Any hearing where the allegations are as strong and vivid as this carries risk for both parents – if the Court finds mother’s allegations proven, then father will have difficulty in establishing any relationship with his children. If the Court finds that mother, as they did here, has made them up and drawn the children into a web of deceit, then a change of residence is a distinct possibility – by that time, the children having taken sides so manifestly are going to find a change of residence very difficult. And of course, worst-case scenario is that a Court eventually concludes that the children are so damaged and the parents so culpable that the children can live with neither parent.  Great care has to be taken over making allegations for tactical reasons, rather than raising  a genuine concern. If the concern is genuine, then it is vital to raise it early on in evidence, rather than filing statements that make no mention of something so serious.

 

 

Concessions and fact-finding

The High Court dealt with these issues in a case called Re AS (A child) 2014.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/606.html

There was to have been an 8 day finding of fact hearing. The central allegation was that the child who was six, had been given excessive doses of insulin, causing him to become very unwell.  Although he had diabetes, his condition and situation had been made worse by this over-medication, and therefore this was a case of Fabricated or Induced Illness.

It was also noteworthy that the mother had told the child, and many other people, that she herself had cancer, when it was clear from her medical records that she did not.

Before the finding of fact hearing began, mother’s legal team talked to her – what is said is obviously confidential, but the end result is that the Judge was told that mother did not make any admissions that she had administered the excessive doses of insulin to her son, but accepted that it was inevitable that at the conclusion of the finding of fact hearing that those adverse findings would be made against her, and thus if certain amendments were made to the Local Authority threshold document, there would be no challenge to the Judge making findings in accordance with that threshold document.

That’s quite a nuanced position, since mother was not making any admissions but simply accepting that the findings were inevitable and not wanting to put everyone through an 8 day process to end up at that result. It is also quite a smart way of avoiding the self-incrimination issue that I’ve previously blogged about, whereby if there were any criminal proceedings being considered the admissions if any made might end up being used in criminal trial as inconsistent statements.

The Judge obviously mulled over this position – on the one hand,mother was making no admissions , on the other there was the need to be proportionate given that the threshold was not actually challenged.

(a) I have read the papers in this case in great detail. I have formed exactly the same view as Ms Henke and Ms Japheth, namely that it was inevitable that I would find, on the balance of probabilities,, that the threshold criteria were established for the reasons given by the Local Authority and, in particular, that I would have concluded that there was induced illness in relation to AS by the Mother secretly giving AS excessive dosages of insulin. At this stage, I do not know why she did so. This will be a matter for the welfare hearing that is fixed for May.

(b) The binary system adopted in this jurisdiction means that my findings become a fact. In other words, it would no longer be open to the Mother to challenge those findings. The case would proceed on the basis that this is what happened. The assessment I have already ordered by Professor A Mortimer, Consultant Adult Psychiatrist will be conducted on the basis that the Mother has indeed induced illness in AS, which was, of course, extremely serious and potentially life threatening. The Mother understands and accepts this.

(c) I have already noted that the Mother has not been able to bring herself to admit to me that she did this. I wondered for a time whether it was therefore necessary for me to conduct a fact finding after all but I concluded that counsel were right when they said I did not need to do so. The Mother is prepared to accept today that I will make the same findings as I would have made if I had heard evidence over eight days. There seems absolutely no purpose therefore in doing so. I have to remember the overriding objective of dealing with cases justly. This includes ensuring that the case is dealt with expeditiously and fairly in a way that is proportionate. I must also consider the need to save expense. I cannot see that it would have served any useful purpose to proceed with a very emotionally draining hearing, which would inevitably have caused immense unnecessary distress to the Mother. I am quite sure there would be no material advantage in doing so as the findings of fact I would have made after a contested hearing would have been exactly the same as the ones I make now. I therefore approve unreservedly the course of action urged upon me.

(d) The fact that the Local Authority has proved its threshold document does not mean that there will inevitably be a final care order. I will have to consider that issue in May, acting on the basis of what is in the best interests of AS.

(e) Finally, I do accept that it has taken considerable courage for the Mother to accept the inevitability of my finding of induced illness. I have already indicated that I am sure she was right to do so. It follows that I commend her for the position she has adopted and confirm that the advice she has received was undoubtedly correct. She is to be praised for having accepted it and taken what I entirely accept will have been a very difficult decision for her.

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