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Committal to prison – making false accusations

Gibbs v Gibbs 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/1700.html

This was an application by the father of a child (who by 2017 had turned 18) to commit the mother to prison for breaching court orders, notably about publishing allegations that mother had made within the private law proceedings but had never been found to be proven.

The private law proceedings have a dreadful history, set out by Hayden J, going back to 2001 and only ending in 2004.

A Consent Order was placed before the Court which was scrutinised by the Judge in a short judgment which has been transcribed and filed in this application. The preface to the order records that it was acknowledged specifically by the mother ‘that she was afforded the opportunity to pursue the allegations but did not seek to do so’. Secondly, it was recorded that the mother:

“accepts that by not raising any allegations of emotional, physical or sexual abuse against Mr Gibbs the contact between [B] and her father should proceed on the basis that all the allegations are unfounded”

6.Thirdly, the Order recorded that the mother ‘should not seek to raise any allegations of emotional, physical or sexual abuse against the Reverend Gibbs in any other forum with any other person or body and specifically including Mr Gibb’s employers’, the Methodist Church. Finally, it was expressly acknowledged that ‘contact between the younger child B and her father should proceed on the basis of the concessions made by the mother that day’.

7.Though the case had in effect settled, by the agreement of the parties, Mr Justice Munby nonetheless delivered a short judgment. Aspects of that judgment require to be highlighted:

“The advice which mother has received and the decision which the mother has taken seem to me to be entirely appropriate in the circumstances. These matters must now once and for all finally be laid to rest. That, as I understand it, is the basis on which I am being invited to approve this order. I am sure that I do not have to say this, but it is important for the parties to appreciate that this is intended to be a final order which maps out into the foreseeable future the pattern of father’s contact with B and, equally importantly, B’s contact with her father.”
8.Later the Judge recorded that both the mother and father:

“have taken a brave decision, and a decision which in many respects and for different reasons must have been difficult for each of them, [they] are to be congratulated and thanked for agreeing to this order. I hope that each of them will join with me in thanking the lawyers collectively, and indeed the other professionals involved, whose input and assistance I have little doubt has done much to bring this about. ”
9.There was therefore no doubt that the mother had received clear advice, that it was identifiably, on the available evidence, correct, and that the understanding of the parties as to the significance of the order was investigated and established to the satisfaction of the Judge.

At the end of the proceedings in 2004, Ryder J (as he then was) made a Prohibited Steps Order that prevented the mother publishing her allegations about the father (she having had ample opportunity to present those allegations before the Court and seek findings and having always declined to do so – almost certainly because they had no substance or merit and were utterly incapable of being proved) and attached a penal notice to them.

It appears that in 2017, the mother realised that the Prohibited Steps Order and penal notice were no longer in force, as the child was now 18, and thus sent out thousands of emails making allegations about the father.

17.From early in 2017 and perhaps for a little time before that, the mother had begun to step up her campaign of vilification against the father. She issued a raft of emails to thousands of individuals all of which either accused the father directly of physical, sexual and emotional abuse or inferred in the most unsubtle of ways that he was an abuser. The father had undoubtedly become used to his character being traduced by the mother in this way but this bombardment against his reputation was, as the mother herself frankly acknowledges, beyond anything that she had undertaken before. She had, she told me, visited her lawyer ‘some time in approximately 2014’. She discovered that the prohibited steps order made in the Children Act proceedings was not life long, as she had understood it to be but in fact expired when B turned 18 years of age. This in part explains, in my view, the liberation she felt in being able to pursue her campaign more vigorously.

18.In contemporary society it is difficult to think of any allegation against a man or a woman which attracts greater public opprobrium than one of sexual abuse against a child. Where these allegations are proved that public censure is entirely understandable. Here allegations are not proved. The responsibility of mature adults is to take such complaints seriously, but to avoid rushing prematurely to judgement. The Reverend Gibbs believes that, faced with the onslaught of his ex wife’s allegations, his Church, his friends and his colleagues have done precisely that, moved ultimately to judgement against him. They have, he believes, succumbed to the openly malevolent objectives of his ex wife to discredit him publicly and to attack his position in the Church.

19.Mrs Gibbs does not deny any of this. She accepts that she sent the emails, she asserts, unequivocally that she does not think her husband should be part of the Church. She believes that there has been ‘perjury’ and ‘sexual abuse’ and she believe it is her bounden duty to expose that, notwithstanding the history of the litigation that I have taken time to set out.

20.Like DJ Hayes, now 16 years ago, I have no doubt that the mother has come to believe that what she asserts is true. Again, it requires to be said: neither of the party’s children, both well into adulthood, has ever made a complaint to the police or been subject to investigative ABE interview; neither has appeared before, or presented written evidence to a Court alleging abuse. There is no extraneous medical evidence pointing to abuse. Mrs Gibbs, when represented, as I have said, by experienced counsel before a judge of this division, readily accepted that the evidence before the court could not, even on the civil standard of proof, establish a finding. At risk of repeating myself: there has been no finding of sexual abuse; no finding of perjury against the father; no evidence produced either in 2003 or in the years that followed that would be likely to establish such findings.

The father made an application to the Family Court, both for permission for he himself to be able to produce material from the family Court proceedings to show that there had been no suspicion or findings that he had abused his children, and also to obtain an order to make the mother stop doing this.

Up to that point, the mother had cleverly exploited a loophole and could not be punished for her behaviour. But once the order was made, she had to then comply with it because the loophole had been closed. This is where mother made a dreadful error, because within 24 hours of Roberts J making an order to stop mother’s behaviour

On 19th June Mrs Gibbs appeared (in person) before Roberts J in response to the father’s application for permission to disclose material from the Children Act Proceeding into the public domain and to prohibit the mother from further defamatory publication. Paragraphs 10 and 11 of the Orders made that day, which were reinforced by penal notices, state:


10: Until further order, the Respondent must not disclose, disseminate, or publish any information about these proceedings concerning the Applicant, or any proceedings in the Family Court that have involved the parties, and any allegations made within the context of proceedings in the Family Court, whether by print, electronic form, or on the world wide web and should not instruct, encourage or in any way suggest that another person should do so.

11: Until further order, the Respondent shall not copy any third party into her correspondence with the Applicant’s solicitor, save her own legal advisor.

She had breached that order

22.These provisions make it clear that the respondent (mother) must not disclose or publish any information generated from any Family Court proceedings. The objective of the order was to disable Mrs Gibbs from further denigrating the father’s reputation. She is unapologetic about what happened thereafter. Within 24 hours of Roberts J’s order Mrs Gibbs was barraging rafts of individuals with her unsubstantiated allegations. There were, by 6.45am on 20th June, a hundred further recipients to her allegations. The schedule below sets out the breaches of the order, each of which is admitted by Mrs Gibbs.

In respect of paragraph 10

i) Email at 06:45 on 20.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (at C309-C310);

ii) Email at 07:08 on 20.06.17 to Rev Horton and copied to circa 100 others (at C311);

iii) Email at 20:11 on 20.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and copied to circa 100 others (at C332-C333);

iv) Email at 20:16 on 20.06.17 to President of Methodist Conference and copied to circa 100 others (at C334-C335);

v) Email at 06:56 on 21.06.17 to Prof Jay and copied to circa 100 others (at C324-C325);

vi) Email at 07:05 on 21.06.17 to George Freeman MP and copied to circa 100 others (at C326-C327);

vii) Email at 22:58 on 21.06.17 to President of the Methodist Conference and copied to circa 100 others (at C336-C337);

viii) Email at 08:43 on 22.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (at C338-C339);

ix) Email at 02:39 on 23.06.17to circa 100 recipients (at C340-C341);

x) Email at 03:00 on 23.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and copied to circa 100 others (at C342-C344);

xi) Email at 06:47 on 23.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and copied to circa 100 others (at C344-C345);

xii) Email at 11.23 on 24.06.17 to Rev Horton and copied to 100 others (at C346-C347);

xiii) Email at 16:45 on 24.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and copied to 100 others (at C348-C349);

xiv) Email at 05:57 PM on 24:06.17 to circa 100 recipients (at C329-C330);

xv) Email at 17:36 on 25.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (C355-C356);

xvi) Email at 17:43 on 25.06.17 to Mrs Poxon and circulated to circa 100 others (C357-C358);

xvii) Email at 18:42 on 25.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (C359-C360);

xviii) Email at 06:14 on 26.06.17 to circa 100 recipients (C352-C354).

In respect of paragraph 11

xix) Email at 20:00 on 20.06.17 to Applicant’s Solicitor and copied to circa 100 others (at C321);

xx) Email at 06:41 on 21.06.17 to Applicant’s Solicitor and copied to circa 100 others (at C322-C323);

xxi) Email at 07:36 on 22.06.17 to Applicant’s Solicitor and copied to circa 100 others (at C328);

xxii) Email at 17:57 on 25.06.17 to Applicant’s solicitor and copied to 105 others (at C350-C351).

That put her at risk of a custodial sentence. Hayden J told her that she was entitled to free legal representation, and she declined it. He told her that he did not want to send her to prison and that an alternative would be for her to genuinely promise not to do this in the future and stick to it, she refused.

23.Mrs Gibbs appears before me today unrepresented. I have advised her at least twice that I have it within my power to order that criminal legal aid be provided so that she can be represented by counsel. She does not, she tells me, wish to be represented by counsel. She only wants to explain to me that it is her duty to stand up to what she perceives to be perjury. She has looked at the core material with me, she has been sent the bundle of documentation in advance, though she has not brought it with her to court. She tells me, she hardly needs it for she ‘has lived it’ and most of the documents relate to material drafted and sent by her.

24.This is an application to commit her to prison for breach of those orders. The breaches are not contested. Instinctively, the last thing I would want to do would be to send Mrs Gibbs to prison. I advised her of the options available to this court, one of which was to suspend a sentence of imprisonment on her undertaking that she would comply with Roberts J’s order. She declined to do so unless, as she put it, and I repeat verbatim, “This court could give assurance that it can require a judicial review of the background facts of the case.”

25.This case has been exhaustively litigated. Three senior judges have reviewed the scope of the protective framework, and Mrs Gibbs has flagrantly undermined or actively disobeyed Court Orders. She tells me that she has come to Court expecting to go to prison and is ‘happy, proud, and completely at peace to be in contempt of court’. In an email directed to the President of the Family Division she states ‘short of killing me or having me killed, you will not silence me…’

Even after sentencing her to prison for 9 months, Hayden J explained to her that she could apply to purge her contempt (i.e say sorry, promise not to do it again and go free) and she declined
this. Hayden J says “I do not find it necessary to repeat her defiant response”


[I know that I’m going to get comments about ‘gagging’ and ‘free speech’ and that she was sent to prison for speaking ‘the truth’ and for trying to protect her children. I would have no love for father if he had done what mother accused him of. But he obviously hasn’t. IF HE HAD, there’s no way that the mother would have agreed over and over again to drop the allegations against him. Please read the portions of the judgment that make it really clear that this mother had had many opportunities to place evidence of abuse before the Court and failed to do so time after time. And imagine for a moment being in the shoes of a father who has done nothing wrong, but is finding thousands of poison pen letters circulating to almost everyone he has ever met accusing him of the most dreadful things you can contemplate. You can accuse anyone of anything in a Court hearing and be free of libel – make your allegations and have the evidence for them tested. But don’t pass up that opportunity and write poison pen letters]

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No winners here only losers

 

The Court of Appeal dealt with an intractable contact case in Re Q  a child 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/991.html

 

In this case, which involved a boy aged 8, and private law contact proceedings that have now been going on since May 2008, some seven years and almost his entire life. The boy lives with his mother and the father had not been able to have meaningful contact since the parents separated in February 2008.

The trial judge, His Honour Judge Brasse, reached the following conclusions

In his judgment, Judge Brasse set out that:

      1. “the conclusion that the court has come to on the basis of having heard and read a huge amount of evidence over those years is this:
  • the father is well disposed towards his son and has never done him any deliberate harm;
  • the allegations against the father are manifestly false;
  • the recent allegations made by the child against the father are so incoherent that it is difficult to formulate any single consistent charge against him;
  • the evidence in my judgment is overwhelmingly in support of the view that this child has been influenced by the mother’s hostility towards the father. She has demonstrated by the presentation of her case over and over again that she is only willing to hear from this child what supports her view, and ignores those parts of his presentation which does not.”

 

We don’t know what those allegations are, but can probably guess at their approximate nature. The important thing is that after seven years of litigation the wealth of evidence before the Court was such that it was clear that false allegations had been made against dad in order to thwart his contact and that father would be perfectly safe to have contact.

 

Sadly, as a result of this behaviour by the mother, the Judge was also of the view that ordering contact to take place now would also harm the child. He set out, rather mournfully, the possible options before the Court

 

  1. He set out events since his previous judgment on 9 January 2014. He identified the four options before him:

    i) To order the mother again to allow contact: He rejected this, accepting KD’s advice that it would, for reasons he identified, be harmful to Q.ii) To order a section 37 report and engage the help of the local authority: He agreed with KD’s view that, for reasons he set out, this would be highly likely to cause Q harm. Moreover, as he commented, to go down this route would be both undesirable and unnecessary; undesirable because it would prolong the proceedings and unnecessary because he could make an order today – a specific issue order – which would achieve exactly the same thing.

    iii) To bring the proceedings to an end without further order: He described this as the counsel of despair.

    iv) To enlist the assistance of the Violet Melchett Centre.

  2. In relation to option (iii), Judge Brasse said this:

    “The third possibility is the counsel of despair – that is that notwithstanding the harm which I have found as a fact to have been caused to this child by the mother’s influence, and the harm that he would suffer from not being able to develop a relationship with his father, which I have also found, the course of least harm would be to bring these proceedings to an end without further order. That would leave Q living with his mother, who provides well for him materially and educationally and, apart from supporting the relationship with his father, provides a loving atmosphere for the child too.

    [Counsel] submits on behalf of the father that that would leave Q with an entirely false view of his father as some kind of monster; that would do huge harm to Q in the long term, because Q as he grew older would reflect that part of his biological inheritance comes from a person who is that horrible. He would have no sound or realistic understanding of his identity because he would be cut off from his father and his father’s family. With all that I agree. But, once again, at this juncture to force a child against his wishes into contact sessions would cause just an aggravation of the harm which was manifest in the reports the court received.”

  3. In relation to option (iv), Judge Brasse said:

    “The fourth possibility which was foreshadowed in the guardian’s position statement but developed in the course of argument was that as the child has been seriously emotionally harmed (I would attach the expression, “significantly emotionally harmed”), as a result of the care he has received – that not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give him – some affirmative action should be taken to address the harm and, if possible, reverse it. As, in the guardian’s view, removal of the child from the mother’s care is not a reasonable option, if this child’s welfare is to be protected and safeguarded, then at the very least the court should ensure he receives psychological intervention.

    And there, it was submitted, appeared a glimmer of hope. The Violet Melchett Centre is a well-established NHS resource staffed by very experienced people who have, over the decades, helped children who have been harmed as a result of parental conflict. This child, I have found as a fact, has been significantly harmed as a result of parental conflict. The Centre can offer help of an effective kind if the parents themselves are willing to participate. Here, [the mother] is. She has said so in terms to this court. Further, she has agreed that she would not place any impediment in the way of [the father] to participate in that therapeutic process if he wished; and, thirdly, it would be possible to ensure that the therapists were provided only with, as I put it, “neutral” information …

    The object of the sessions at the Violet Melchett Centre would be, as I have said, to repair the emotional harm; possibly if the therapist thought this was helpful, to promote communication between the parents of a helpful kind; and possibly to revive the seriously damaged relationship between the child and his father.

    Violet Melchett have informed the guardian they would not start work until these proceedings have come to an end, because the continuation of the proceedings cause an additional stress for the child which is out of their control.”

  4. The judge’s overall conclusion was summarised in these two paragraphs:

    “I find the child, as I have explained, has suffered significant emotional harm which continues to go unaddressed while he is living in an atmosphere which is so hostile to his father, and I find that there is clearly a case that this child needs therapeutic intervention as he is unlikely to recover from the emotional harm unless such steps are taken. I am persuaded that he needs a cessation of these proceedings for that therapeutic intervention to be effective.

    … So my conclusion is that I shall make a specific issue order, and I shall order that both parents co-operate in the referral of this child to the Violet Melchett Centre for an assessment of his emotional and psychological wellbeing, and for such treatment as the staff at the Violet Melchett Centre recommend.”

 

 

Somewhat surprisingly, the mother had expressed a willingness to participate. The difficulty that the Judge found himself in, having dealt with options three and four in the way he had, was to be told that the staff at the Violet Melchett Centre had a clear view that in order to meaningfully work with the family, the court proceedings had to come to an end.  That of course meant that the proceedings, which had lasted seven years and where mum had tried to thwart dad having contact or a contact order would end with no order about future contact.

Understandably, dad appealed this decision, feeling that it flew in the face of fairness and the principles that the Court ought to not give up on contact without properly exhausting all of the options.

 

  1. Inevitably in these circumstances the debate before us, putting it in legal terms, has focused on the intersection between two sets of principles.
  2. The first are the principles which I sought to distil in Re C (A Child) (Suspension of Contact) [2011] EWCA Civ 521, [2011] 2 FLR 912, para 47, as follows:

    “• Contact between parent and child is a fundamental element of family life and is almost always in the interests of the child.

    • Contact between parent and child is to be terminated only in exceptional circumstances, where there are cogent reasons for doing so and when there is no alternative. Contact is to be terminated only if it will be detrimental to the child’s welfare.

    There is a positive obligation on the State, and therefore on the judge, to take measures to maintain and to reconstitute the relationship between parent and child, in short, to maintain or restore contact. The judge has a positive duty to attempt to promote contact. The judge must grapple with all the available alternatives before abandoning hope of achieving some contact. He must be careful not to come to a premature decision, for contact is to be stopped only as a last resort and only once it has become clear that the child will not benefit from continuing the attempt.

    • The court should take both a medium-term and long-term view and not accord excessive weight to what appear likely to be short-term or transient problems.

    • The key question, which requires ‘stricter scrutiny’, is whether the judge has taken all necessary steps to facilitate contact as can reasonably be demanded in the circumstances of the particular case.

    • All that said, at the end of the day the welfare of the child is paramount; ‘the child’s interest must have precedence over any other consideration.'”

  3. The most recent in-depth analysis of the case-law is to be found in the judgment of McFarlane LJ in Re W (Direct Contact) [2012] EWCA Civ 999, [2013] 1 FLR 494, to which we were referred. He drew attention to the decision of the Strasbourg court in Gluhakovic v Croatia (Application number 21188/09) [2011] 2 FLR 294, para 57, to the effect that obligation upon authorities, including the court, is not absolute and, whilst authorities must do their utmost to facilitate the cooperation and understanding of all concerned, any obligation to apply coercion in this area must be limited since the interests, as well as the rights and freedoms, of all concerned must be taken into account, and more particularly so must the best interests of the child.
  4. The other principles relate to case management. We were taken to my judgment in Re C (Family Proceedings: Case Management) [2012] EWCA Civ 1489, [2013] 1 FLR 1089, paras 14-15:

    “14 … These … are family proceedings, where it is fundamental that the judge has an essentially inquisitorial role, his duty being to further the welfare of the children which is, by statute, his paramount consideration. It has long been recognised – and authority need not be quoted for this proposition – that for this reason a judge exercising the family jurisdiction has a much broader discretion than he would in the civil jurisdiction to determine the way in which an application of the kind being made by the father should be pursued. In an appropriate case he can summarily dismiss the application as being, if not groundless, lacking enough merit to justify pursuing the matter. He may determine that the matter is one to be dealt with on the basis of written evidence and oral submissions without the need for oral evidence. He may, as His Honour Judge Cliffe did in the present case, decide to hear the evidence of the applicant and then take stock of where the matter stands at the end of the evidence.

    15 The judge in such a situation will always be concerned to ask himself: is there some solid reason in the interests of the children why I should embark upon, or, having embarked upon, why I should continue exploring the matters which one or other of the parents seeks to raise. If there is or may be solid advantage in the children in doing so, then the inquiry will proceed, albeit it may be on the basis of submissions rather than oral evidence. But if the judge is satisfied that no advantage to the children is going to be obtained by continuing the investigation further, then it is perfectly within his case management powers and the proper exercises of his discretion so to decide and to determine that the proceedings should go no further.”

  5. We were also taken to the observations of Wall LJ in Re H (Contact: Domestic Violence) [2005] EWCA Civ 1404, [2006] 1 FLR 943, para 106:

    “Of course, an experienced judge can cut corners and make substantive orders on short appointments. But if a judge is to take that course, he must be very sure of his ground, and demonstrate clearly that he has taken all relevant considerations into account.”

  6. The father’s case, as formulated by counsel then acting for him in the skeleton argument to which I have referred, can be summarised as follows:

    i) There was procedural irregularity: The essential argument is that Judge Brasse was wrong summarily to determine the application and to bring the proceedings to an end at a one-hour review hearing without hearing oral evidence from the parties, allowing cross-examination of the guardian and allowing the father to cross-examine the mother as to her alleged commitment to therapy. What he should have done, it is said, was list the matter for a further contested hearing on oral evidence. It is submitted that Judge Brasse went outside the permissible as contemplated in Re C (Family Proceedings: Case Management) and fell into the trap identified in Re H (Contact: Domestic Violence). Amongst a number of supporting arguments, it is pointed out that there had been no evidence from the parties, written or oral, since 2012. Stress is laid on the assertion that the potential consequence for Q of not making a child arrangements order is the loss of his relationship with his father.ii) Judge Brasse was wrong in bringing the proceedings to an end without making a child arrangements order: Given his own findings, he should have directed a section 37 report. He should have pursued the strategy he had set out as recently as January 2014 and again approved in June 2014. He failed to explain why he was departing so radically from a strategy so recently approved. In support of the argument that his decision was simply wrong, stress is understandably laid on the judge’s own findings, on the one hand damning of the mother, on the other hand, acknowledging the facts that contact presents no risk to Q, has almost always been positive for him and would be damaging for Q if terminated.

    iii) In the circumstances, and having regard to all these matters, the process has not been compatible with the father’s Article 6 and Article 8 rights.

  7. The father supplemented these legal arguments with his own powerful submissions that Q was growing up, as Judge Brasse recognised, in a household where he was being fed a completely distorted view of his father; that he (the father) had, unlike the mother, done everything asked of him; that Q was being denied a relationship not merely with his father but with his wider paternal family, and was thereby being denied that part of his heritage; and that the mother was selfishly motivated to monopolise her son. He said that he had never asked for Q to be removed from his mothers care. He submitted that the judge ought to have treated the mother as a vexatious litigant. The time had now come when the judge should have been prepared to consider a change of residence, at least until such time as the mother was prepared to facilitate contact. He asked us to remit the matter for a final hearing, with evidence

 

The Court of Appeal, however, felt that His Honour Judge Brasse had done the right thing in this case.

 

  1. In my judgment, Judge Brasse, faced with an almost impossible situation, took a course which was not merely open to him but which was, in reality, probably the only course that stood the slightest chance of achieving what was so pressingly needed – the resumption of Q’s relationship with his father.
  2. The judge was acutely conscious of the desperate position in which Q and his parents now find themselves. He was, rightly, unsparing in his criticism of the mother and unflinching in his analysis of the harm she was causing Q. But he was faced with what he realised was the reality, that the strategy he had hitherto adopted had not worked, in circumstances where, moreover, there was no reason to think that this strategy would work in future. He was realistic in his appraisal, securely founded in the materials before him, that any further attempt to enforce contact by force of law was almost bound to fail and, at the same time, be harmful to Q. He was, in my judgment, entirely justified in concluding that a further hearing, with or without a section 37 report, was most unlikely either to tell him anything he did not already know or to bring about any change in parental attitudes. He was sensible in thinking that therapy might achieve what all previous interventions had failed to achieve and justified in deciding that this was the best way forward. It was, after all, something that had been recommended in the past by Dr CL. He was plainly entitled to accept the advice of the Violet Mechett Clinic, as commended to him by the guardian, and repeated by Dr JP more recently, that therapy required a cessation of the proceedings.
  3. In my judgment, it is quite impossible for us to interfere with Judge Brasse’s decision. He was entitled to decide as he did and for the reasons he gave. Indeed, I would go further: I suspect that if I had been where he was I would have come to precisely the same conclusion.
  4. In my judgment, in deciding to proceed as he did, Judge Brasse was acting well within the latitude afforded him by the principles explained in Re C (Family Proceedings: Case Management) and he did not offend the principles set out in Re C (A Child) (Suspension of Contact). His decision to proceed as he did was not premature. He was not abdicating his responsibility to do everything in his power to attempt to promote contact. He was not abandoning the ongoing judicial duty to reconstitute the relationship between Q and his father. He was engaging with an, albeit non-judicial, method which he hoped might prove effective where merely judicial methods had failed. The very terms of his order, as I have set it out, show that he contemplated a future role for the court. I reject the complaint that there has been a breach of either Article 6 or Article 8.
  5. It was for these reasons that I agreed with my Lords that the appeal had to be dismissed.

 

 

In short that all legal solutions to the case which had a chance of working had been tried and had not worked, and the Judge was right to have looked outside of the legal system for a solution.

The Court of Appeal then delivered a very powerful message to the mother – let us hope that it did not fall upon deaf ears

 

I would not want the mother to think she has won. She has not. There are no winners here, only losers. Q is far and away the greatest loser – and that, in overwhelming measure, is because of his mother’s behaviour. I urge her again, as I urged her during the hearing, to reflect on Judge Brasse’s findings. They are an indictment of her parental failings hitherto. She, and Q, now stand at the cross-roads. It is vital, absolutely vital, that she participates, with Q and with the father, in the therapy which is at present their only hope for a happy future. I repeat what I said during the hearing. Sooner or later, and probably sooner than she would hope, Q will discover the truth – the truth about why he is not seeing his father, the truth about the harm his mother has done to him, the truth about his father, the truth that his father is not the monster he has been brought up to believe he is, the truth about, and the dreadful details of, the litigation. When he discovers that truth, what is his mother going to be able to say to him? How is she going to begin to justify her behaviour? She needs to think very carefully about how she is going to handle that day, not if but when it comes. Whatever she may think about the father, does she really want to imperil her future relationship with her son? Run the risk of being disowned by him? Run the risk of never seeing her own grandchildren? I urge her to think, long and hard, and to act before it is too late.

 

 

The ‘were babies murdered’ case

 

I know that this has been attracting a lot of attention of my commenters, and that it has been quite divisive. As I said at the time, I didn’t know the full facts and from what little I had it sounded like an incredible story that would require compelling evidence to be true.  I don’t think that any of the cases alleging Satanic abuse have ever amounted to be anything more than fantasies or concoctions.

The High Court, having examined the evidence reaches the conclusion that none of the lurid allegations are true. And also that the people who had been shouting the loudest about the allegations had abused the children to get them to say these things, had been giving them cannabis and had caused them injuries.

 

P and Q (Children : Care Proceedings: Fact finding) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/26.html

 

I am going to be clear from the off here – whilst I am happy for people to comment and debate on this story, I will take down any post that asserts or insinuates that the people named in this judgment as being wholly innocent of these dreadful accusations has done any of those things. There are probably dozens of places on the internet where you can do that if you want to, but this won’t be one of them. Nor will I allow any comments which name the children. [If you want to say “I believe the mum and Mr Christie” then I think you are utterly wrong about that, but I won’t stop you saying that]

 

 

I know that there will be people who remain convinced otherwise, who have seen the films for themselves, made up their own minds and will view this as being a cover-up. Nothing I say is likely to change your mind about that.

 

For those of you who don’t know, what is this case all about?

  1. The subject children have been named repeatedly on the internet. Their photographs and film clips in which they feature have been published and re-published widely. Filmed police interviews of the children have been uploaded on to publicly accessible websites; so, too, intensely personal information relating to both children. As at 10 March 2015, more than 4 million people worldwide had viewed online material relating to this case.
  2. It is inevitable that a large proportion of those have a sexual interest in children. Any rational adult who uploads film clips to Youtube featuring children speaking about sexual activity must be assumed to realise that fact.
  3. I considered but ultimately rejected the suggestion that the children’s names should appear within the judgment. My priority is to protect them from further harm of whatever kind. Those who have posted material identifying the children have done so with flagrant disregard for their welfare interests. I see no good reason for adding to the damage already done. Only those with prurient or unhealthy curiosity will take steps to identify the children. My faith in humanity indicates that the overwhelming majority of individuals will do nothing because they, like me, have no interest in inflicting further harm.
  4. In the period before 13 January 2015, there had been some relatively limited online publication of court and other relevant material. It had been my hope that after discussion with the mother and her McKenzie Friend on 13 January, there would have been withdrawal of material from the internet. Since about 26 January the volume posted in a variety of formats on different sites has increased markedly; and the claims made against the father, the children’s former head teacher, other teachers, professionals and a very large number of parents at the children’s former school have proliferated.
  5. Many of those individuals are now living in fear because they have been identified on the internet as abusers of children and their contact details including telephone numbers, home and email addresses have been published. Lives have been disrupted. Several of those implicated have received malicious, intimidating ‘phone calls and emails at all hours of the day and night from all over the world. For example, “Hey cock. We’re coming for you. You scum paedo.
  6. It has been necessary for the police to protect worried parents and children at the gates of the school in Hampstead at the centre of the allegations. Prospective parents have wondered whether to withdraw their children from allocated places. Existing parents have been uniformly supportive of the school and every member of the teaching staff.

 

The Court had been asked as part of care proceedings, to consider all of the evidence and reach conclusions as to whether these allegations were true.

 

They all arose from two children, P and Q, and specifically from films that were taken of them making very strong allegations, principally about their father but then involving many other people.  These films had been taken by their mother and her partner. The films had then found their way onto the internet and had been viewed by millions of people (many of whom took them at face value)

 

  1. This necessarily lengthy judgment has one essential purpose. It is to provide definitive conclusions upon a quantity of evidence at the end of a thorough-going hearing. I have surveyed the relevant history as well as all of the significant developments in a wide-ranging police and social services investigation. Everything of importance on all sides of the dispute has been considered so as to enable me to arrive at authoritative findings.
  2. These are care proceedings brought by the London Borough of Barnet relating to two children, P and Q who are 9 and 8 years old respectively. Their parents are Ella Draper and Ricky Dearman.
  3. In September 2014, lurid allegations of the most serious kind were drawn to the attention of the Metropolitan Police. In a variety of ways, it was suggested that P and Q were part of a large group of children from north London who had been sexually abused, made to abuse one another and that they had belonged to a satanic cult in which there was significant paedophile activity.
  4. Specifically, it was said that babies were supplied from all over the world. They were bought, injected with drugs and then sent by TNT or DHL to London. The assertions were that babies had been abused, tortured and then sacrificed. Their throats were slit, blood was drunk and cult members would then dance wearing babies’ skulls (sometimes with blood and hair still attached) on their bodies. All the cult members wore shoes made of baby skin produced by the owner of a specified shoe repair shop.
  5. Children, it was alleged, would be anally abused by adult members of the cult using plastic penises or “willies.”
  6. Christchurch Primary School in Hampstead was said to be where the “main action” occurred but at least seven other local schools were named. East Finchley swimming pool was identified as one of the other meeting venues for the paedophile ring. Rituals were performed, so it was claimed, in an upstairs room at the McDonald’s restaurant where the “boss” allowed child sacrifice because he was a member of the cult. Human babies were prepared, cooked in the ovens within a secret kitchen and then eaten by cult members.
  7. It was alleged that the children’s father, Ricky Dearman, was the leader of the cult and that others included the children’s headteacher, Ms Forsdyke, another teacher, Mr Hollings, the priest at the adjacent church, a large number of named parents of other children, social workers, CAFCASS officers and police officers. It was said that, in all, more than a hundred people were involved in ‘doing sex‘ to the children.
  8. I am able to state with complete conviction that none of the allegations are true. I am entirely certain that everything Ms Draper, her partner Abraham Christie and the children said about those matters was fabricated. The claims are baseless. Those who have sought to perpetuate them are evil and / or foolish.

 

But, some people will be saying, the children said these things – they must be true, or why would they say them?

  1. All the indications are that over a period of some weeks last summer, P and Q were forced by Mr Christie and Ms Draper, working in partnership, to provide concocted accounts of horrific events. The stories came about as the result of relentless emotional and psychological pressure as well as significant physical abuse. Torture is a strong word but it is the most accurate way to describe what was done to the children by Mr Christie in collaboration with Ms Draper.
  2. The children were made to take part in filmed mobile ‘phone recordings in which they relayed a series of fabricated satanic practices. Subsequently, at the instigation of Abraham Christie and Ella Draper, the children repeated their false stories to Jean-Clement Yaohirou, Mr Christie’s brother in law, in a late night discussion. It lasted for about three hours; Mr Christie and Ms Draper did most of the talking.
  3. P and Q were ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interviewed on 5, 11 and 17 September 2014. On the first two occasions, they supplied information about events they claimed had occurred, similar in their overall content to the mobile ‘phone video clips and audio recording. On 17 September, in ABE interview, both children withdrew their allegations. Each stated they had been made to say things by Abraham Christie, the mother’s partner, which were not true; and they gave very full details of the way in which he had secured their compliance.
  4. Ms Draper and Mr Christie have not participated by being present in court. I am as sure as I can be that their absence has been deliberate. They have chosen to remain away; but the internet campaign has continued. Countless online articles have been posted in which the truth of the satanic abuse claims is asserted repeatedly. Notwithstanding injunctions restraining Ms Draper and Sabine McNeill, one of her supporters, from publishing information from the proceedings on the internet or elsewhere, such material continues to be uploaded. Efforts to persuade internet servers to remove material have been of only limited value. As soon as information is removed by one provider, it emerges elsewhere.

 

You may pick up as you read the document, that the mother was not present in Court for most of the hearing, and no doubt a Telegraph journalist is already preparing a piece about how she was refused a voice. Just to clear that particular topic up – she was entitled to free legal representation, she had that representation and sacked them, she had a McKenzie Friend and refused to come to Court.

  1. The mother’s and Mr Christie’s participation
  2. In the initial stages of the proceedings, Ms Draper had the advantage of representation by experienced Solicitors and Counsel. On 10 December 2014, at court, she dispensed with her legal team. My first involvement with the case was on 13 January 2015. Dates were secured for this hearing as follows: 17 – 20 February, 3 – 6 and 10 – 12 March. On 13 January, the indications from Ms Draper were that once again she would avail herself of legal representation.
  3. Until 26 January 2015, the mother appeared as a litigant in person assisted by McKenzie friends. On 9 February my clerk notified the parties, by email, that there would be a hearing the following day. Ms Draper failed to attend court on 10 February when mandatory and prohibitory injunctions were made against her. Ms Draper has not filed further evidence nor any schedule of the detailed findings sought as directed by my order of 20 January. Arrangements had been made for her to attend at the offices of the local authority to collect the final bundle and Practice Direction documents. Ms Draper did not attend although her email communication had suggested she would.
  4. The oral evidence began on 17 February. At 08.51 that day, my clerk received an email from Ms Draper in which she asked permission for her McKenzie friend, Belinda McKenzie to represent her and her parents’ interests in court. Ms Draper stated that she had been “prevented from being present in the court” and that Ms McKenzie had her “formal instruction to convey (her) position.” Ms McKenzie reiterated that request at the beginning of the hearing. But, as I explained to Ms McKenzie, in circumstances where the mother herself was absent, the Practice Guidance relating to McKenzie Friends expressly prohibits such an individual from acting as the litigant’s agent or from conducting the litigation on her behalf. In Ms Draper’s absence, it seemed to me that there was no proper role for Ms McKenzie.
  5. In response to my inquiry, it was established that Ms McKenzie remained in contact with Ms Draper. She assured me she would pass on a message urging the mother to participate by coming to court and informing her that the hearing would continue in her absence. Outside court on 17 February, Ms McKenzie apparently indicated to the local authority’s legal team that Ms Draper was in the process of instructing a lawyer. However, at no stage, has there been any contact with anyone purporting to act on behalf of Ms Draper.
  6. The mother has remained absent from the court. Her partner, Abraham Christie was outside the front entrance of the building on 17 February as part of the group campaigning for the “return of the ‘Whistleblower Kids’ to their Russian family.” A witness summons was issued requiring his attendance to answer questions on Friday 20 February. Attempts to serve that summons were unsuccessful.
  7. Earlier attempts at securing Mr Christie’s participation in the proceedings because of the likelihood that the local authority would seek findings against him were wholly unsuccessful. A series of communications from the local authority’s Solicitor went unanswered.

There is no substance in the assertion that the mother has been prevented from participating at this hearing. If she had been arrested on 12 February in connection with harassment allegations, the overwhelmingly likelihood is that she would have been released on bail enabling her to come to court on 17 February. If she had been remanded in custody, I would have been in contact with the police and prison authorities so as to make appropriate arrangements for Ms Draper’s attendance at court.

 

The mother instead chose to fight the case on the internet rather than in Court.

 

  1. Within her position statement for 26 January hearing, written for her by Ms Sabine McNeill as she later revealed, the mother made a thinly veiled threat as to what would happen if the children “were not returned to their mother and grandparents with immediate effect.” Ms Draper stated that the consequence would be “high level embarrassment.” An open letter to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, posted on the internet, explicitly states that the Position Statement was “our offer NOT to expose this scandal in exchange for returning the children.”
  2. The clear message from recent events is that whilst Ms Draper is prepared to campaign using the internet she is not willing to take part in this inquiry.

 

The Judge goes through the detail of the films that were taken of the children in which the mother and Mr Christie draw these allegations out of the children. They make for very depressing reading. I haven’t the stomach or heart to put them all in. Please though, if you are immediately wanting to line up with the parents against the evil State and the corrupt and wicked Courts, read the judgment first and see if these are people that you really want to give your support to.

I’ll just give you the final bit

Towards the end of the recording there is a passage when the children and Mr Christie are all shouting, excitedly, “Kill, kill, kill.” Mr Christie urges the children to “Say it… Say it how they say it.” A. “Kill, kill, kill.” …. Mr Christie, “What’s the word that you say?” A. “Kill.” Mr Christie, “Say it more for me. I want to hear it…. I like the sound of it. Can you say it together, say it, let’s all say it together.” There is then repeated chanting of the word “Kill” and a little later of the phrase, “Kill the baby.” Once more Mr Christie urges the children on saying, “Let’s say it together. Let’s say it together. Kill the baby.” And they do.

 

The Judge, who had read everything, watched everything, and seen the witnesses give evidence, had this to say about the children’s presentation in the ABE interviews they originally gave to the police after the mother and Mr Christie made their complaint and provided them with films.

 

  1. Again and again, as I watched the interviews of 5 and 11 September my sense was that the children, for the most part, were in the realms of fantasy. There was an urgency and an excitement about what they were saying as the detail became ever more elaborate. It was as if they had been transported away from reality and into dream land. There were obvious parallels in what P was saying with some aspects of the story line in C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.’
  2. There was no change in the presentation of either child when they described apparently horrific acts as experienced by them and others. There did not appear to be any emotional connection with what they were saying except that they seemed energised.
  3. The other significant deduction is that material supplied by P relating to the physical abuse of both children by Mr Christie in order to get them to talk should alert any sensible observer to the potential for false reporting.

 

 

The conclusions are stark

  1. Overall conclusions in relation to Ms Draper’s allegations
  2. In addition to my findings already made both within the opening paragraphs of the judgment and subsequently it is necessary to consider how and the extent to which the children have been harmed.
  3. Both P and Q have suffered significantly. Their innocence was invaded. Their minds were scrambled. Their grip on reality was imperilled. They were introduced to sexual practices of which they had no real understanding at a time when they should have been shielded from such things.
  4. Perhaps most significantly of all, the children were made to absorb and repeat on film and in interview grotesque claims against so many blameless people including the father whom they love.
  5. I have no doubt but that the physical injuries described by the children as having been inflicted by Abraham Christie were, indeed, caused by him. I reject as baseless Ms Draper’s suggestion that instead Mr Dearman was responsible. A straightforward conclusion given that neither child had seen him for about three months at the time of Dr Hodes’ examination and subsequent police photography. Those photographs clearly show recent rather than healed injuries.
  6. There is good evidence to find, as I do, that in the three months leading to their reception into care both children ingested cannabis. Scientific analysis revealed that both children had metabolites of the drug (THC) in their hair – a finding which could not be explained by ingestion of ‘hemp based products’ because none would contain sufficient levels of cannabis to produce the metabolite. It is impossible for the analysts to say whether the children had ingested the drug whether by passive smoking or oral ingestion. However, the children were clear in interview when describing the way hemp was made into soup using the juicer.
  7. The amounts found in the children’s hair samples suggested their ingestion had not been, as Ms Cave of Lextox described, a “one-off” but regular over the period. It is hard to imagine how any parent could deliberately expose a child to an illegal drug. But it may have been part of Mr Christie’s and Ms Draper’s plan so as to gain the children’s compliance. I need hardly say now profoundly damaging it was to administer illegal drugs to a child.
  8. The posting of film clips featuring the children speaking about sexual matters has exposed P and Q to the potential for very serious embarrassment and humiliation in the years ahead maybe, even, throughout the whole of the rest of their lives. Doubtless they will grow and develop so that their visual appearances will alter. But it may be difficult to shield them from unwelcome interest and reputational damage unless radical steps to divert attention are taken.Final thoughts about the investigation
  9. If there is one key message at the end of this inquiry it is that it is not and never will be sufficient to consider just one or two evidential features in isolation. It is always necessary to take account of all the material not just a selection. Those who arrived at their own early conclusions on the basis of partial material were woefully misguided.
  10. The individuals who have watched online film clips, read online articles and believed in the allegations would do well to reflect that ‘things may not be what they seem’ and that it is all too easy to be duped on the basis of partial information. There are many campaigning people, sadly, who derive satisfaction from spreading their own poisonous version of history irrespective of whether it is true or not.
  11. Proper consideration should always be given to the context within which allegations are made. In this instance, years of court conflict over the issue of contact and Ms Draper’s antipathy for Mr Dearman provided fertile territory for the creation of false allegations and their reiteration by the children.
  12. The history of the key protagonists may also play a part in untangling the intrigue so as to get at the truth. Mr Christie has a background of criminality for drugs offences, violence and dishonesty. More recently, he received a police caution for assaulting his adolescent son.
  13. Finally, that it is never possible to predict how a court inquiry of this kind will unfold. Against the preconceptions of many including my own, when the maternal grandparents gave evidence on 4 March 2015 they made their views about the allegations plain. They consider them to be “total nonsense and fantasies.”
  14. This is a summary of my salient findings – • Neither child has been sexually abused by any of the following – Ricky Dearman, teachers at Christchurch Primary School Hampstead, the parents of students at that school, the priest at the adjacent church, teachers at any of the Hampstead or Highgate schools, members of the Metropolitan Police, social workers employed by the London Borough of Camden, officers of Cafcass or anyone else mentioned by Ms Draper or Mr Christie.

    • The children’s half brother, his father and stepmother – Will and Sarah Draper – are likewise exonerated of any illicit or abusive acts involving the children.

    • There was no satanic or other cult at which babies were murdered and children were sexually abused.

    • All of the material promulgated by Ms Draper now published on the internet is nothing other than utter nonsense.

    • The children’s false stories came about as the result of relentless emotional and psychological pressure as well as significant physical abuse. Torture is the most accurate way to describe what was done by Mr Christie in collaboration with Ms Draper.

    • Both children were assaulted by Mr Christie by being hit with a metal spoon on multiple occasions over their head and legs, by being pushed into walls, punched, pinched and kicked. Water was poured over them as they knelt semi-clothed.

    • The long term emotional and psychological harm of what was done to the children is incalculable. The impact of the internet campaign is likely to have the most devastating consequences for P and Q.

 

Having had a discussion with Ian from Forced Adoption this week, I said that I had very mixed feelings when a Court imprisons a parent for speaking out about their case – I’m not at all sure that it is the right solution for a difficult problem and I would rather it didn’t happen.  I would not have those mixed feelings in this particular case.

 

You can’t hurry issues of disclosure of anonymous referrers

 

Tenuous title, based on nothing more than it being a Supreme Court decision – and it didn’t fit my “Chicken Supreme” headline, which will be saved for a decision which deserves it. Big important case though.

I’d previously blogged about the Court of Appeal decision in this case, but now the Supreme Court have decided it once and for all.  In RE A (a Child) 2012    (which is weird, because the appeal case was re j, and we all anticipated this being re x)

The judgment is here

http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2012_0193_Judgment.pdf

 

You may recall, that the case involved an allegation of  a sexual nature being made against a father by a person who wished to remain anonymous. The father wanted to know the details of the referrer, with a view to establishing  a case of why this person might make ghastly and untrue allegations against him; and the Court of  Appeal had to grapple with the twin concepts of article 6 right to a fair trial, and the broad public interest immunity in people being able to make referrals about child abuse in an anonymous capacity, to remove the risk that proper referrals might not be made if the person wishing to make one was fearful of reprisals, both in and out of Court.

I have put that in a very clumsy manner, let’s see how genuinely clever and articulate people do it

1.We are asked in this case to reconcile the irreconcilable. On the one hand, there is the interest of a vulnerable young woman (X) who made an allegation in confidence to the authorities that while she was a child she had been seriously sexually abused by the father of a little girl (A) who is now aged 10. On the other hand we have the interests of that little girl, her mother (M) and her father (F), in having that allegation properly investigated and tested. These interests are not only private to the people involved. There are also public interests, on the one hand, in maintaining the confidentiality of this kind of communication, and, on the other, in the fair and open conduct of legal disputes. On both sides there is a public interest in protecting both children and vulnerable young adults from the risk of harm.

Much better.

 

The issues in this case of course go much broader and deeper than the case itself, and cut to the heart of how the Court is to tackle allegations which on the face of it are serious and grave but where the primary evidence is from someone who wishes to remain anonymous and does not want to come before the Court and have the primary evidence tested by cross-examination.

From the ‘public interest in anonymity’ standpoint, a better case could not have come before the Court – the allegations were not to be determined at a fact-finding, the identity of the referrer was known to the Local Authority who were able to notify her and she was able to secure intervenor status and undertake psychological assessments showing how devastating and harmful revealing her identity might be. It must be at the high watermark of cases where the concern about disclosure is significant and real, rather than theoretical and about the principle in a wider sense.

The Supreme Court helpfully set out the positions of the respective parties

13.The positions of the parties are as follows:
(i) Sarah Morgan QC, on behalf of X, resists disclosure on the primary ground that this will violate her right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, contrary to article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Alternatively, the balance between her right to respect for her private life and the rights of the other parties should be struck by the court adopting some form of closed material procedure which would enable the allegations to be tested by a special advocate appointed to protect the parents’ interests but without disclosure to the father.
(ii) Paul Storey QC, on behalf of the Children’s Guardian, supports disclosure in the interests of A. A’s right to respect for her private and family life is engaged, as potentially is her article 3 right to protection from abuse: see Z v United Kingdom (2001) 34 EHRR 97. The allegations cannot be ignored but they cannot be taken into account unless they can be properly investigated.
(iii) The mother is in the same position, but with the additional feature that she knows who X is and believes the principal thrust of her allegations to be true. She understands that it will not be possible to rely upon these unless they can be properly investigated but she will have great difficulty in agreeing that the father should resume unsupervised contact with A unless they are.
(iv) The father also supports disclosure. He might instead have relied on the mother’s inability to pursue the allegations without disclosure but he wishes to have them resolved. Not having seen the history of how and when X’s allegations were made, he does not accept the judge’s conclusion that they were not prompted by the mother.
(v) The local authority now adopt a completely neutral stance as to disclosure. Roger McCarthy QC on their behalf accepts that if the material is not disclosed in these proceedings it would not be possible for the local authority to bring care proceedings to remove A from her mother unless the material could be disclosed in those proceedings. In other words, they accept that they cannot have it both ways and put all the burden of protecting A upon the mother without giving her the material with which to do so.

 

The law is then set out

 

14. It is convenient first to look at the principles governing the issue at common law, before considering how these may have been affected by the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998.

15. The local authority claim public interest immunity for their records relating to X and her allegations. They are doing so because of the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of information given to the authorities responsible for protecting children from abuse. That this is a class of information to which public interest immunity attaches has been established since the decision of the House of Lords in D v National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children [1978] AC 171. That case accorded to people who informed the authorities of allegations of child abuse the same protection as informants to the police and the gaming authorities. It is not the fact that the information is communicated in confidence which attracts the immunity, but the public interest in encouraging members of the public to come forward to help the authorities to protect children. That this may also protect an untruthful or malicious informant is the necessary price to be paid. Although D v National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was concerned with a neighbour who claimed to have witnessed the alleged abuse, rather than a victim, I can see no reason why the same rationale should not also apply to the victims of alleged abuse.

16.That is not, of course, the whole story. The immunity is only the starting point, for without it there is no question that all documentation relevant to the proceedings must be disclosed. Public interest immunity is not absolute. The public interest in maintaining confidentiality must be balanced against the public interest in a fair trial, according to principles which have developed since the landmark case of Conway v Rimmer [1968] AC 910 required the court to strike that balance.

17.If the public interest against disclosure prevails, the decision-maker, whether judge or jury, is not entitled to take the information into account in deciding the result of the litigation. There is no hard and fast rule as to whether the same judge can continue to hear the case. It is well-established that a judge may do so in a criminal case, but then the jury and not the judge are the finders of fact. It may also be possible to do so in a civil case: see Berg v IML London Ltd [2002] 1 WLR 3271. The well-established test of apparent bias will apply: see Porter v Magill [2001] UKHL 67, [2002] 2 AC 357.

18.Are cases about the future care and upbringing of children any different? The whole purpose of such cases is to protect and promote the welfare of any child or children involved. So there are circumstances in which it is possible for the decision-maker to take into account material which has not been disclosed to the parties. As Lord Devlin put it in In re K (Infants) [1965] AC 201, 238, “a principle of judicial inquiry, whether fundamental or not, is only a means to an end. If it can be shown in any particular class of case that the observance of a principle of this sort does not serve the ends of justice, it must be dismissed”. He went on, at p 240, to approve the words of Ungoed Thomas J at first instance [1963] Ch 381, at p 387:
“However, where the paramount purpose is the welfare of the infant, the procedure and rules of evidence should serve and certainly not thwart that purpose. . . . In general publicity is vital to the administration of justice. Disclosure to the parties not only enables them to present their case fully but it provides in some degree the advantages of publicity; and it further ensures that the court has the assistance of those parties in arriving at the right decision. So when full disclosure is not made, it should be limited only to the extent necessary to achieve the object of the jurisdiction and no further.”
Thus, while there was no absolute right for the mother to see the report made by the Official Solicitor as guardian ad litem for a ward of court, the discretion to refuse it was to be exercised “occasionally and with great caution”. Lord Evershed had earlier set the bar extremely high when he said (at p 219) that “a judge should not reach such a conclusion without the relevant disclosure to the party or parent save in rare cases and where he is fully satisfied judicially that real harm to the infant must otherwise ensue” (emphasis supplied).

19. In In re D (Minors)(Adoption Reports: Confidentiality) [1996] AC 593, referred to by the Court of Appeal in this case as the “starting point”, Lord Mustill, at p 611, did not accept that Lord Evershed intended those words to be read literally as a standard applicable in every wardship case, let alone in adoption cases which were governed by the Adoption Rules. These then provided that all reports were confidential, but that an individual could inspect any part of such report which referred to him, subject to the court’s power to direct otherwise. In Children Act proceedings, Lord Mustill preferred the broader principle enunciated by Glidewell LJ in In re B (A Minor)(Disclosure of Evidence) [1993] Fam 142 at p 155:
“Before ordering that any such evidence be not disclosed to another party, the court will have to consider it in order to satisfy itself that the disclosure of the evidence would be so detrimental to the welfare of the child or children under consideration as to outweigh the normal requirements for a fair trial that all evidence must be disclosed, so that all parties can consider it and if necessary seek to rebut it.”

20. Thus Lord Mustill concluded, at p 614, that “the presumption in favour of disclosure is strong indeed, but not so strong that it can be withheld only if the judge is satisfied that real harm to the child must otherwise ensue”. He went on, at p 615, to enunciate the principles which have been recited ever since:
(i) It is a fundamental principle of fairness that a party is entitled to the disclosure of all materials which may be taken into account by the court when reaching a decision adverse to that party.
(ii) When deciding whether to direct that a party referred to in a confidential report in adoption proceedings should not be able to inspect the part which refers to him or her, the court should first consider whether disclosure of the material “would involve a real possibility of significant harm to the child”.
(iii) If it would, the court should next consider whether the overall interests of the child would benefit from non-disclosure, weighing on the one hand the interest of the child in having the material properly tested, and on the other both the magnitude of the risk that harm will occur and the gravity of the harm if it does occur.
(iv) If the court is satisfied that the interests of the child point towards non-disclosure, the next and final step is for the court to weigh that consideration, and its strength in the circumstances of the case, against the interest of the parent or other party in having an opportunity to see and respond to the material. In the latter regard the court should take into account the importance of the material to the issues in the case.

21.It will thus be seen that these principles are designed to protect the welfare of the child who is the subject of the proceedings, to prevent the proceedings which are there to protect the child being used as an instrument of doing harm to that child. If they were to be applied in this case, it is clear that there is little or no risk of harm to A if the material is disclosed. The risk is if the material is not disclosed and a wrong decision is reached as a result.

22. The principles enunciated by Lord Mustill do not address whether it might be possible in Children Act proceedings to withhold information which is to be taken into account by the court from any of the parties on the ground that disclosure might cause harm to someone other than the subject child. In In re B, above, the proceedings were about a father’s contact with his 12-year-old son. His 15-year-old half-sister had made serious allegations of sexual abuse against her stepfather which the mother wanted the court to take into account without
disclosing them to the father. As Glidewell LJ pointed out, at p 156, the order was sought, mainly if not entirely, for the protection of the half-sister and it was the son’s welfare which was the court’s paramount consideration. Even if it were suggested that in some way the son might be harmed by disclosure (though the suggestion was rather that having to keep his sister’s allegations secret would be harmful to him), that possibility had to be weighed against the grave injustice which would result from non-disclosure. So even in a case where the third party was a child, it was the interests of the subject child which might have justified non-disclosure.

23.We therefore have to look outside those authorities for the source of any power to withhold such information in the interests of a third party. As the common law stands at present, in the absence of a statutory power to do so, the choice is between the case going ahead without the court taking account of this material at all and disclosing it to the parties.

 

The Court went on to consider the human rights implications, and chief amonst these was whether there were article 3 and article 8 rights attaching to the referrer who wished to be anonymous, to be weighed against the article 6 rights of the parents facing allegations about which they did not have full information

24.To what extent, if at all, are these principles affected by the Human Rights Act 1998? In A Local Authority v A [2009] EWCA Civ 1057, [2010] 2 FLR 1757, the Court of Appeal accepted that the principles of non-disclosure might now have to be extended to other people whose Convention rights might be violated by disclosure.

25.It is common ground that several Convention rights are, or may be, in play in this case. There are the article 6 rights of all three parties to the proceedings, A, M and F, to have a fair trial in the determination of their civil rights. The right to a fair trial is absolute but the question of what is fair may depend upon the circumstances of the case. There are the article 8 rights of A, M and F to respect for their private and family lives. There is also the article 8 right of X to respect for her private life. Article 8 rights are qualified and can be interfered with if it is necessary in a democratic society in order to protect the rights of others.

26.However, Miss Morgan on behalf of X has relied principally (as did the mother in A Local Authority v A) upon her article 3 right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. Requiring X to give evidence in person would, she argues, amount to treatment for this purpose, but so too would the act of disclosure because of the effect that it would have upon X. Dr W was specifically asked to distinguish between the effect of disclosure and the effect of giving evidence (see para 6(vi) above). She replied that disclosure alone would potentially be detrimental to her health. She pointed out that her condition had deteriorated considerably recently, to such an extent as to be life-threatening. Disclosure would
inevitably subject her to further stress. There was therefore a significant risk that exposure to further psychological stress would put her at risk of further episodes of illness. That, argues Miss Morgan, is sufficient to bring the effects of the treatment up to the high threshold of severity required by article 3. X has therefore an absolute right not to be subjected to it.

27.The other parties to these proceedings question whether mere disclosure can amount to treatment within the meaning of article 3. They also support the conclusion of the Court of Appeal that the effects of disclosure alone would not reach the minimum level of severity required to violate article 3. Indeed, Peter Jackson J, while concluding that requiring X to give evidence would probably reach that high threshold, did not hold that disclosure alone would do so. He did not say that it would not, but it is clear, not least from the questions he asked of Dr W, that he was fully alive to the distinction between the effects of disclosure and the effects of giving evidence.

28.If her argument on article 3 is not accepted, Miss Morgan’s secondary case on behalf of X is that the invasion of her private life which would result from disclosure of this material in these proceedings is so grave that it would be disproportionate to disclose it. The court should therefore contemplate some form of closed material procedure, which would enable the material to be put before the court and tested, without disclosing either her identity or the details to the other parties.

 

That suggestion is broadly what had happened in the original High Court case, the Judge had seen the information and determined that it was not something on which a finding of fact hearing was required, and put it out of his mind – one major issue for the Court of Appeal was whether the Judge who had undertaken that process and set the information out of his mind could genuinely do so and was in a position to conduct the remainder of the case without the parties having the impression that evidence not seen by them might be influencing him in some way.

29.If we were dealing with the common law principles alone, the answer would be clear. There is an important public interest in preserving the confidence of people who come forward with allegations of child abuse. The system depends upon the public as its eyes and ears. The social workers cannot be everywhere. The public should be encouraged to take an interest in the welfare of the children in their neighbourhoods. It is part of responsible citizenship to do so. And that includes victims of historic child abuse who have information about the risks to which other children may now be exposed.

30.But many of these informants will not be required to give evidence in order to prove a case, whether in criminal or care proceedings, against the perpetrators of any abuse. Their information will simply trigger an investigation from which other evidence will emerge. Their confidence can be preserved without harming others. In this case, however, that is simply not possible. We do not know whether A is at risk of harm from her father. But we do know of allegations, which some professionals think credible and which would, at the very least, raise the serious
possibility of such a risk. Those allegations have to be properly investigated and tested so that A can either be protected from any risk of harm which her father may present to her or can resume her normal relationship with him. That simply cannot be done without disclosing to the parents and to the Children’s Guardian the identity of X and the detail and history of the allegations which she has made. The mother can have no basis for seeking to vary the arrangements for A to have contact with her father unless this is done. If this were an ordinary public interest immunity claim, therefore, there would be no question where the balance of public interest would lie.

31.It is, of course, possible that the harm done to an informant by disclosing her identity and the details of her allegations may be so severe as to amount to inhuman or degrading treatment within the meaning of article 3. The evidence is that X suffers from a physical illness which is at times life-threatening and that her condition deteriorates in response to stress. The father does himself no credit by belittling this. There was some discussion about whether we were here concerned with the duty of the state to take positive steps to protect her from harm (under the principles explained in Osman v United Kingdom (1998) 29 EHRR 245) or with the duty of the state to refrain from subjecting her to harm. As we are here considering the actions of the state – whether the state should disclose to others information which she gave it in confidence and, in future, whether the state should compel her to give evidence in these proceedings – I have no doubt that we are here concerned with the primary, negative, duty of the state to avoid subjecting her to inhuman treatment.

32.However, when considering what treatment is sufficiently severe to reach the high threshold required for a violation of article 3, the European Court of Human Rights has consistently said that this “depends on all the circumstances of the case, such as the nature and context of the treatment, the manner and method of its execution, its duration, its physical or mental effects and, in some instances, the sex, age and state of health of the victim”: see, for example, Kudla v Poland (2000) 35 EHRR 198, para 91. The court has also stressed that it must go beyond “that inevitable element of suffering or humiliation connected with a given form of legitimate treatment or punishment”: para 92. Thus the legitimate objective of the state in subjecting a person to a particular form of treatment is relevant. A well-known example is medical treatment, which may well be experienced as degrading by a patient who is subjected to it against his will. However, “A measure which is therapeutically necessary from the point of view of established principles of medicine cannot in principle be regarded as inhuman and degrading”: Juhnke v Turkey (2008) 49 EHRR 534, para 71, citing Herczegfalvy v Austria (1992) 15 EHRR 437, para 82. Obviously, the ends do not justify the means. But the context in which treatment takes place affects the severity of its impact. The context here is not only that the state is acting in support of some important public interests; it is also that X is currently under the specialist care of a consultant physician and a
consultant psychiatrist, who will no doubt do their utmost to mitigate any further suffering which disclosure may cause her. I conclude therefore, in agreement with the Court of Appeal, that to disclose these records to the parties in this case will not violate her rights under article 3 of the Convention.

33.However, that may not be the end of the matter, for to order disclosure in this case would undoubtedly be an interference with X’s right to respect for her private life. She revealed what, if true, would be some very private and sensitive information to the authorities in the expectation that it would not be revealed to others. She has acquiesced in its disclosure to her legal advisers and to the court in these proceedings, but that can scarcely amount to a waiver of her rights. She had no choice. Clearly, her rights are in conflict with the rights of every other party to these proceedings. Protecting their rights is a legitimate aim. But the means chosen have to be proportionate. Is there, therefore, some means, short of full disclosure, of protecting their rights?

 

The Supreme Court here are agonising with the irresistable force of not wanting to cause harm to a vulnerable individual who made an allegation in an expectation of anonymity, and the immovable object of article 6 and the right to a fair trial. They have a quick look at whether they can avoid the irresistable force hitting the immovable object by digging a hole to divert the path. Will it work?

 

34.It is in this context that it has been suggested that the court might adopt some form of closed material procedure, in which full disclosure was made to a special advocate appointed to protect the parents’ interests, but not to the father himself. It faces two formidable difficulties. The first is that this Court has held that there is no power to adopt such a procedure in ordinary civil proceedings: Al Rawi v Security Service (JUSTICE intervening) [2011] UKSC 34, [2012] 1 AC 531. That case can be distinguished on the ground that it was the fair trial rights of the state that were in issue, and the state does not enjoy Convention rights. It is arguable that a greater latitude may be allowed in children cases where the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount concern. But the arguments against making such an inroad into the normal principles of a fair trial remain very powerful. The second difficulty lies in the deficiencies of any closed material procedure in a case such as this. We have arrived at a much better understanding of those difficulties in the course of the control order cases, culminating in Secretary of State for the Home Department v AF (No 3) [2009] UKHL 28, [2010] 2 AC 269. The essential requirement of any fair procedure is that the person who stands to lose his rights has an opportunity effectively to challenge the essence of the case against him. There may be cases in which this can be done by offering him a “gist” of the allegations and appointing a special advocate to scrutinise the whole of the material deployed against him. In a case such as this, however, it is not possible effectively to challenge the allegations without knowing where, when and how the abuse is alleged to have taken place. From this information it is inevitable that X’s identity will be revealed. Even if it were theoretically possible to devise some form of closed material procedure, therefore, it would not meet the minimum requirements of a fair hearing in this case.

35.The only possible conclusion is that the family life and fair trial rights of all three parties to these proceedings are a sufficient justification for the interference
with the privacy rights of X. Put the other way round, X’s privacy rights are not a sufficient justification for the grave compromise of the fair trial and family life rights of the parties which non-disclosure would entail.

No.

And they therefore have to conclude that the immovable object of article 6 is indeed immovable, and the irresistable force of articles 3 and 8 and PII will just have to be resisted. The parents have a right to see the details of the referrer.

 

They do go on to assess how the article 3 and 8 rights might be massaged a bit, and that disclosure of the referral and identity of the referrer does not necessarily mean the referrer giving evidence, that would be a separate issue as to whether she was fit to do so.

 

The cynic in me suggests that we might well see an end to the days when the Local Authority took the names of the referrer who wished to be anonymous. That obviously sidesteps any issue of disclosure of their identity. But Local Authorities will certainly need to arrive at a proper script in the light of this case for what is told to people who ring up wanting to make a referral and who wish to be anonymous.

Because if they are told now “It’s okay, your name will be kept out of it and the family won’t know it was you” then it seems to me that there’s a prospect of satellite litigation about whether the LA properly informed them of the consequences of their action.

Additionally, it is not clear to me whether the LA are supposed to cough up the name and just waive PII (which poses some, but not insurmountable problems in PII law), or whether they place the matter before the Court and for the Court to order that the interest of justice override PII, or whether the procedure here where the referrer get intervenor status and a chance to argue article 3 and article 8 is the right one.

 

One thing is for sure, seeing the words “Anonymous referral” in a social work chronology is now not the end of the story, but the start of a whole new diverting chapter of litigation.