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“I completely forgot”

 

This is a successful appeal (indeed fairly unusually it was an appeal that by the time the Court of Appeal came to look at it, all four parties were in agreement should be granted) about a decision in the High Court to make a finding of sexual abuse against a child, T, who had just turned 16 when the High Court considered the case. T had been the subject of a Care Order and Placement Order when she was six, then placed for adoption.

 

(Bit nervous about this one, as I know that 75% of the silks in the case read the blog… and I have a mental crush on all three of them. And because I also have a lot of respect for the High Court Judge who gets monstered in the appeal judgment)

 

The adoption got into difficulties, and T went into respite care for a short time in May 2014. She went back to her adopted family at the end of May and that carried on until the end of August 2014, at which point the adopters agreed a section 20 arrangement – the social work team wishing to remove T as a result of her allegation to a CAMHS worker. The allegation was that during that period from May 2014-August 2014 when she was with her adopted family, the adoptive father had sexually assaulted her, including one allegation of rape.

P (A Child), Re [2018] EWCA Civ 720 (11 April 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/720.html

 

The section 20 arrangement continued. It was obvious to all that T would not be going back to the adopters. (Listen, I know that at this point, the adopters are legally her parents and I don’t seek to diminish that, but I think to understand the case it is easier to say adoptive parents and birth parents). The s20 continued until the Local Authority issued proceedings in April 2016. By that time, T had given an ABE interview, made further allegations and declined a second ABE interview and made partial retractions of the allegations. Her behaviour had deteriorated and by the time of the Court case, had been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. (which is rare for a child)

 

The first question the case raises then, is why this child was under a section 20 arrangement for so long, rather than proceedings having been issued?   I’ll preface this by saying that obviously a case involving an allegation of rape against a child – particularly rape where the alleged perpetrator is an adopter and someone still approved to adopt children, ought to have been placed before the Court. Very quickly after those allegations were made – perhaps allowing a short period of time for the investigation to take place.

(I can’t lay my hands on the authority at the moment, and Hershman McFarlane is being uncooperative, but I’m fairly sure that there is a mid 1990s authority that says where the LA believe the child has been the subject of serious sexual or physical abuse, they ought to place it before the Court by issuing proceedings… I wish I could find the authority. Perhaps one of my illustrious silk readers can illuminate us.  The Act itself just says that the LA can’t issue proceedings unless they believe the threshold criteria to be met – so it says that there are situations where they shouldn’t, it is silent about the circumstances in which they should. The LA don’t have to issue proceedings on every child where the threshold is met. )

 

So what follows is not a justification or excuse for the delay, but an attempt to consider the context.

 

Here are some possible reasons why proceedings were not issued :-

 

  1. It just never got considered (prior to April 2016), and it wasn’t a conscious decision not to, so much as just nobody thinking about it.
  2. The adoptive parents were not asking for T back, T didn’t want to go back, T was in what was considered to be a safe place, and so there was a thought process that nothing was to be gained by going to Court. T wasn’t going to be adopted by anyone else and a Care Order would add nothing to the situation on the ground. Perhaps people even actively thought about the ‘no order principle’ and considered that it wasn’t possible to make out a case that the making of a Care Order (as needed by article 8) would be ‘proportionate and necessary’
  3. This was happening BEFORE the s20 drift was coming to judicial attention and prominence as an issue, and when those s20 cases did emerge, that’s when the LA did take action.
  4. Perhaps everyone was caught up in the day to day management of T and what she needed in terms of placement and stability, and overlooked the bigger picture.
  5. Let’s be quite honest – there’s the potential that the parents in this case were treated differently (because they were adopters) to the way they would have been treated as birth parents.

 

However, ALL of those issues are hard to excuse the fact that T’s sister, X, remained with the adoptive parents. So the LA had an allegation of rape by T, known about for over 18 months, and knowing that a younger sister was still living with the adopters.

 

(So either they didn’t believe T’s allegations OR they thought for some reason that X was safe, but the point is they couldn’t know for sure either way)

Anyway, the Court of Appeal were critical of the delay

 

12.Unfortunately, and to my mind inexplicably, the state of affairs whereby T was accommodated under CA 1989, s.20 was maintained from August 2014 until the institution of care proceedings in April 2016, notwithstanding the clear and stark issue of fact created by T’s allegations and the father’s wholesale denial. Irrespective of the fact that T’s mental health and presenting behaviour may have rendered it impossible for her placement in the family home to be maintained, the need to protect and have regard to the welfare of the younger sibling, X, who remained in the family home, required this significant factual issue to be determined

 

The next issue in the case is that the adoptive parents agreed that the threshold was met for T, because she was beyond parental control. The LA, however, sought a finding about the sexual abuse allegations (five findings in all). That obviously makes sense given that X wasn’t beyond parental control, and there was a need to establish what happened to T, to decide if X was at risk of sexual harm. That makes sense to me. (I can’t, so far, make sense of why it appears that the proceedings were about T, and not T AND X – and the Court of Appeal say that

 

 

50.So far as X is concerned, although she has been the subject of arrangements made under the Pre-commencement Procedure operated within the Public Law Outline, no proceedings have ever been issued with respect to her since the making of the adoption order )

 

The High Court heard from 16 witnesses at the finding of fact hearing. Things went wrong when Parker J came into Court to deliver her judgment

 

 

 

 

The judgment

17.The oral evidence had been concluded on 18 November 2016 and closing submissions were delivered on 18 and 25 November. The case was then adjourned to 8 December 2016 for the delivery of judgment. On that occasion, however, the Judge explained that she had been occupied with other cases and had been unable to prepare a written judgment. She had, however, reached “some conclusions” and, with the parties’ agreement, she stated what those were in the course of a short judgment which runs to some 6 pages in the agreed note that has been prepared by the parties. In short terms, the Judge rehearsed a number of the significant points in the case, for example, T’s mental health, the recording of her allegations and the ABE interview process, any evidence of inconsistency and T’s overall reliability, and an assessment of the father’s credibility before announcing her conclusion in the following terms:

 

 

 

“I have come to the conclusion therefore, and I am sorry to have to do so as I thought the mother and the father were the most likeable people, but during the course of 2014, there was an attempt at least, it may have been more, of sexual congress between the father and T.”

18.The case was then adjourned to 30 January 2017 for the delivery of a full judgment. A note of what had been said in court on 8 December was agreed between the parties and submitted to the Judge. On 30 January the Judge again indicated that, due to pressure on her time as a result of other cases, she had not been able to prepare a full judgment. Instead the Judge gave a lengthy oral judgment, seemingly based on prepared notes.

 

 

19.On 30 January, when the Judge had concluded her judgment, counsel for the father immediately identified a number of aspects in which, it was submitted, the judgment was deficient. The Judge directed that an agreed note of what she had said should be prepared and submitted to her within 7 days, together with requests from each party identifying any suggested corrections or requests for clarification.

 

 

20.The parties, in particular those acting for the parents, complied with the tight 7-day timetable. The Judge was provided with an agreed note of judgment which runs to some 115 paragraphs covering 42 pages. In addition, counsel submitted an annotated version of the note indicating possible corrections, together with a list of more substantial matters which, it was claimed, required clarification. In doing so those acting for each of the parties were complying precisely with the process originally described by this court in the case of English v Emery Reimbold and Strick Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 605 and subsequently endorsed in the family law context by this court on many occasions.

 

 

All of this was compounded then, because despite knowing that the case was going to be appealed, following the judgment in January 2017, the transcript of the judgment wasn’t made available. The transcribers sent it to the Judge on 18th March 2017 – the Judge sent an approved copy back to them SIX MONTHS later, September 2017, but that approved copy never got sent to the parties or the Court of Appeal.

 

The Court of Appeal (at the time of hearing the appeal) were therefore working from an agreed note of the judgment rather than the transcript

The Judge’s decision

26.Early in the judgment of 30 January the Judge records the decision that she had already announced at the December hearing in the following terms (paragraph 17):

 

 

 

“I have decided that she has been sexually interfered with by her father and that she has been caused significant emotional harm by reason of her mother’s disbelief in telling her so, although my criticism of the mother was highly muted in the circumstances for reasons I will come back to.”

27.After a summary of the evidence the Judge stated (paragraph 58):

 

 

 

“It is against that background that I need to assess the threshold.”

 

She then set out the content of the local authority fact-finding Schedule introducing it with the following words:

 

“I am asked to make findings in terms of:”

 

Unfortunately, the judgment does not record the Judge’s decision on any of the five specific findings of sexually abusive behaviour alleged in the local authority Schedule save that, at paragraph 71, the Judge stated “I also find that the description T gives of her father attempting to penetrate her is wholly believable”. Whether that statement amounts to a finding is, however, not entirely clear as it simply appears as a statement in the 8th paragraph of a 40 paragraph section in which the Judge reviews a wide range of evidence.

28.The basis of the appeal is that the Judge’s judgment fails sufficiently to identify what (the local authority would submit, if any) findings of fact the Judge made.

 

 

29.Before leaving the 30 January judgment, it is necessary to point to 2 or 3 other subsidiary matters that are relied upon by the appellants as indicating that the judgment, substantial though it may be in size, is inchoate:

 

 

 

  1. a) Prior to listing the witnesses who gave oral evidence the Judge states “I think I heard the following witnesses”. The list of 13 witnesses is said to omit 3 other individuals who also gave oral evidence.

 

  1. b) In the closing stages of the judgment the Judge makes one additional point which is introduced by the phrase “one thing I forgot to say” and a second which is introduced by “also one thing I have not so far mentioned, and I should have done”.

 

  1. c) At the very end of the judgment, and after the Judge has gone on to deal with procedural matters unrelated to the findings of fact there appears a four paragraph section dealing with case law related to the court’s approach to ABE interviews where it is asserted there has been a breach of the ABE guidelines. That section is preceded by the phrase “I completely forgot”.

 

There are of course, all sorts of different styles and approaches one can adopt to delivering a judgment and the Court of Appeal are not trying to be prescriptive or to fetter a Judge’s discretion of   stylistic delivery. Having said all that, if the immediate comparator that comes to mind is Columbo talking to Roddy McDowell, that’s not a good thing.

 

Have I ever been happier to be able to get a particular picture into the blog? Maybe Kite-Man, but I am VERY pleased about this one

 

The appeal itself

30.Two notices of appeal issued on behalf of the father and mother respectively were issued in August 2017. Although this was many months after the making of the care order and the delivery of the oral judgment in January 2017, I accept that the delay arose because the parties were waiting for the Judge to engage in the process of clarification that she had directed should take place and, thereafter, the production of a final version of the judgment. There were also considerable difficulties in securing legal aid, caused at least in part by the absence of a judgment. At various stages the Judge’s clerk had given the parties some hope that a final judgment might be produced. The notices of appeal were only issued once the parties were forced to conclude that a final version of the judgment was unlikely to be forthcoming. Following the failure of the efforts made by the Court of Appeal to obtain a judgment, I granted permission to appeal on 16 November 2017.

 

 

31.The grounds of appeal and skeleton arguments that argue the cases of the father and of the mother from their respective positions engage fully with the underlying facts in the case in addition to arguing that the process as a whole has been fatally compromised by the court’s inability to produce adequately precise findings and to do so in a judgment which sufficiently engages with the significant features of the evidence. As it is on this latter basis that the appeal has preceded by consent, my Lords and I have not engaged in the deeper level, granular analysis of the evidence that would otherwise be required.

 

 

32.In terms of the English v Emery Rheimbold process, those acting for each of the two parents submitted short (in the mother’s case 3 pages, in the father’s case 5 pages) requests for clarification on specific issues. Each of those requests is, on my reading of the papers, reasonable and, even if a specific request were unreasonable, it was open to the Judge to say so.

 

 

33.The resulting state of affairs where the only record of the Judge’s determination is imprecise as to its specific findings and silent upon the approach taken to significant elements of the evidence is as regrettable as it is untenable.

 

 

34.That the state of affairs that I have just described exists, is made plain by the stance of the local authority before this court. Rather than simply “not opposing” the appeal, the local authority skeleton argument, as I will demonstrate, specifically endorses the main thrust of the appellant’s case. Further, we were told by Miss Hannah Markham QC, leading counsel before this court, but who did not appear below, that the local authority’s position on the appeal has been approved at every layer of management within the authority’s children services department. For one organ of the state, the local authority, to conclude that the positive outcome (in terms of the findings that it sought) of a highly expensive, time and resource consuming, judicial process is insupportable is a clear indication that the judicial system has, regrettably, failed badly in the present case.

 

 

35.Against that background it is helpful to quote directly from the skeleton argument prepared by Miss Markham and Miss Grieve on behalf of the local authority:

 

 

 

“5 At the heart of the appeal are findings that (father) behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards his daughter T. The findings are set out in this way, as it is accepted by the respondent local authority that the judgment given by Mrs Justice Parker does not particularise the findings made nor does it cross refer findings to the local authority Schedule of findings. As such the findings have not been accurately recorded or set out.

 

….

 

“14 The local authority does not oppose the appeal for reasons set out below.

 

15 However the local authority does not accept that all grounds as pleaded would be matters or arguments which the local authority would either not oppose or indeed agree, if taken in isolation. The focus in approaching this appeal has been to stand back and have regard to the fairness and integrity of the judgment and the process taken by the parties to try to clarify the judgment and in particular the findings made.

 

16 It is submitted that it must be right and fair that a party against whom findings are made should know the actual findings made and the reasons for them. It is submitted that reasons on reasons are not necessary, but clarity as to findings and a clear basis for them is a primary requirement of a Judge.

 

17 It is significant that the learned Judge has resisted requests of her to clarify her judgment and that in particular she has not taken opportunities to set out the findings she has in fact made.

 

18 Dovetailing into that error is the argument that flows from that omission; absent clear findings it is impossible to see, understand and argue that the Judge formulated her findings on clear, understandable and right reasoning.

 

 

21 In this instant case it is submitted on behalf of the parents that the judge did not even set out the findings, not least allow them to see whether she fairly and with significant detail set out her reasoning for coming to the findings she then made. Further requests of the Judge were properly made and the learned Judge has neither responded to them nor clarified why she is not engaging in the requests of her

 

 

23 (Having listed the short specific findings made by the Judge) It is acknowledged that these matters are the most detail (the Judge) gives to her findings. Whilst it is asserted by the local authority that the learned Judge was able, within the ambit of her wide discretion to make findings, it was incumbent upon her to set out with clarity what those findings were and how she came to make them.

 

24 It will be apparent from the matters set out above that she failed in this task and that she failed to cross refer back to paragraph 59 (where the Judge listed the content of the local authority Schedule of findings) and set out what she had or had not found proved.”

36.The local authority identified two specific grounds relied upon on behalf of the father, one asserting that the Judge rejected the father’s case on the deficits on the ABE interview, against, it is said, the weight of the evidence, but provides no analysis for coming to that conclusion. Secondly the local authority accepts that there were many examples of inconsistency within the accounts that T had given. In both respects the local authority expressly acknowledged that the Judge failed to engage with these two important aspects of the case and failed to set out her findings in respect of each.

 

 

37.The local authority, rightly, argue that a Judge has a wide discretion to accept or reject evidence in a case such as this and that the Judge does not have to refer expressly to each and every detail of the evidence in the course of their judgment. The local authority’s skeleton argument, however, accepts “that a fair and balanced assessment of the cases advanced and evidence for and against said cases is necessary, proportionate and fair and has not occurred sufficiently in this complex case.”

 

 

38.Miss Kate Branigan QC, leading Miss Lianne Murphy, both of whom appeared below for T, acting on the instructions of the children’s guardian adopt a similar stance to that taken by the local authority. In their skeleton argument (paragraph 10) they state:

 

 

 

“Albeit T maintains that the allegations made against her father are true, the children’s guardian has had to conclude that the judgment as given by the court on 30 January 2017 is not sustainable on appeal and that inevitably the appeals on behalf of both appellants must succeed.”

 

Later (paragraph 14) it is said:

 

“Regrettably we accept that it is not possible from the judgment to identify what findings the court has made. At paragraph 59 of the judgment note, the court sets out the detail of the findings it is invited to make, but at no stage thereafter does the learned Judge indicate which of the findings she has found established to the requisite standard nor does she attempt to link what she is saying about the evidence to the specific findings sought….On this basis alone the judgment is arguably fatally flawed.”

 

And at paragraph 15:

 

“We further recognise in certain key respects the court has failed to engage with the totality of the evidence to the extent that any findings the court has purported to make are unsustainable in any event. In particular, we accept the arguments advanced on behalf of the appellant father… that the court failed to undertake a sufficiently detailed analysis of the context in which T’s allegations came to be made, failed to engage with the professional evidence which called into question the reliability of those allegations and did not weigh appropriately in the balance the inconsistencies which were clearly laid out on the evidence in relation to T’s accounts.”

39.In the light of the parties’ positions, the oral hearing for this appeal was short. All were agreed that the appeal must be allowed with the result that, at the end of a process which started with allegations made in August 2014, and in included a substantial trial before a High Court Judge, any findings of fact made by the Judge and recorded in her oral determinations made in December 2016 and on 30 January 2017 must be set aside and must be disregarded in any future dealings with this family.

 

 

40.For our part, my Lords and I, rather than simply endorsing the agreed position of the parties, had, reluctantly but very clearly formed the same view having read the note of the 30 January judgment and having regard to the subsequent failure by the court to engage with the legitimate process of clarification that the Judge had, herself, set in train

           41.Before turning to the question of what lessons might be learned for the future and offering some guidance in that regard, a formal apology is owed to all those who have been adversely affected by the failure of the Family Justice system to produce an adequate and supportable determination of the important factual allegations in this case. In particular, such an apology is owed to T, her father and her mother and her younger sister X, whose own everyday life has been adversely affected as a result of professionals justifiably putting in place an intrusive regime to protect her from her father as a result of the statement of the Judge’s conclusions 16 months ago.      

 

    

The Court of Appeal were asked to give some clarifying guidance in relation to the issue of what happens where the parties ask (as they must) for the Judge to clarify flaws in the judgment and after a period of time the Judge has not done so. For a start, when does the clock for the appeal start to tick? After judgment, or after the request for clarification, or after receipt of such clarification?

 

 

 

42.Whilst it is, fortunately, rare for parties to encounter a situation such as that which has arisen in the present case, such circumstances do, however, occur and we have been invited to offer some limited advice or guidance.

 

 

43.The window in which a notice of appeal may be issued under Civil Procedure Rules 1998, r 52.12(2) is tight and is, in ordinary circumstances, limited to 21 days. It is often impossible to obtain a transcript of a judgment that has been delivered orally within the 21 day period. Unfortunately, it is also the experience of this court that not infrequently problems occur in the five or six stages in the administrative chain through which a request for transcripts must proceed and it may often be months before an approved transcript is provided. Whilst it is plainly more satisfactory for the judges of this court to work on an approved transcript, and that will normally be a pre-requisite for any full appeal hearing, the Lord or Lady Justices of Appeal undertaking evaluation of permissions to appeal in family cases are now more willing to accept a note of judgment (if possible agreed) taken by a lawyer or lawyers present in court in order to determine an application for permission to appeal rather than await delivery of an approved transcript of the judgment. It is therefore important for advocates attending court on an occasion when judgment is given to do their best to make a full note of the judgment so that, if it is needed, that note can be provided promptly to the Court of Appeal when a notice of appeal is filed.

 

 

44.The observation set out above requires adaptation when a party seeks clarification of the Judge’s judgment. In such a case, it must be reasonable for the party to await the conclusion of the process of clarification before being obliged to issue a notice of appeal, unless the clarification that is sought is limited to marginal issues which stand separately to the substantive grounds of appeal that may be relied upon.

 

 

45.Where, as here, the process of clarification fails to achieve finality within a reasonable time, it is not in the interests of justice, let alone those of the respective parties, for time to run on without a notice of appeal being issued. What is a reasonable time for the process of post judgement clarification? The answer to that question may vary from case to case, but, for my part, I find it hard to contemplate a case where a period of more than 4 weeks from the delivery of the request for clarification could be justified. After that time, the notice of appeal, if an appeal is to be pursued, should be issued. The issue of a notice of appeal does not, of itself, prevent the process of clarification continuing if it has not otherwise been completed. Indeed, in some case the Court of Appeal at the final appeal hearing may itself send the case back to the Judge for clarification. The benefit of issuing a notice of appeal, apart from the obvious avoidance of further delay, is that the Court of Appeal may itself directly engage with the Judge in the hope of finalising any further outstanding matters.

 

 

Whilst the Court of Appeal say that because of the administrative nightmare that is obtaining an approved transcript, they will accept an agreed note from the lawyers I wonder how on earth that is going to work with cases involving only litigants in person (eg about 90% of private law proceedings)

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Snug as a bug in a rug

 

Well, you write up one case about bugging, and then another one comes along. If I get a third, it is going to have to be entitled “Mind the bugs don’t bite”  (which is what my parents used to say to me when I was a tiny tot before I went to sleep. I’m sure there weren’t actually bugs… They used to say ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ if I was tucked up in bed under the covers.  Perhaps my father had been Gregor Samsa before changing his name)

 

 

"As Gregor SAMOSA awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, HE found that he was very delicious, but that his bedsheets were somewhat greasy"

“As Gregor SAMOSA awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, HE found that he was very delicious, but that his bedsheets were somewhat greasy”

 

You see, here you can get updates about the law, literary references, and information about tasty snacks. It is a one-stop shop for those things.

This case is actually the same Judge, who is probably being very careful about what he says on the telephone at the moment, but this time it is the police doing the bugging of parents, not a parent bugging their child.

 

Cumbria County Council v M and Others 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/27.html

 

In this case, the police were investigating the death of a baby. There were also care proceedings about the baby’s siblings, and the family Court had to consider how that baby had died and whether either of the parents were responsible and whether there were any risks to the siblings. Within the care proceedings, as is usual, there was an order that the police provide ALL of the material from their investigation.

The police provided material, confiming that they had sent everything. That hadn’t gone that smoothly, a witness summons was issued and a representative of the police had to come to Court and confirm that everything had been provided.

Within the care proceedings, a finding of fact hearing took place and the family Court ruled that the father was responsible. The police later charged the father with manslaughter. As part of the criminal proceedings, it emerged that the police had bugged the family home, hoping to hear conversations between father and mother which might incriminate either one of them.

When the Guardian learned of this, they went back to the family Court to inform the Court that there was potentially valuable evidence that had not been disclosed into the family Court case.

 

 

  • his is the second and final published judgment in these family proceedings. The first is reported at [2014] EWFC 18.
  • The proceedings, which concern child A, were thought to have ended in July 2014 when this court determined that her father was responsible for the death of her baby brother K. However, in January 2016, the matter was rightly restored for further consideration by A’s Children’s Guardian in the circumstances described below.
  • This was necessary because of the admitted failure of Cumbria Constabulary to comply fully with orders requiring the disclosure of all material arising from the police investigation into K’s death. A great deal of material was in fact supplied in late 2013 and early 2014, albeit the process was not as smooth as it ought to have been. On one occasion, the second most senior investigating officer attended a hearing before me with a legal adviser and on a later occasion a witness summons had to be issued to ensure that (so it was then thought) all information had been supplied.
  • However one piece of information had not been supplied and did not come to the attention of the parties to these proceedings until September 2015. This was a covert recording made by the police in the parents’ home on 27/28 September 2013, immediately after their release on bail following their arrest. The recording had been authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It is of poor quality but it includes a conversation involving the mother that on one interpretation might conceivably have been relevant to the accounts given by the parents about K’s death.
  • After the 2014 family court hearing, the police reinvestigated and the father was charged with manslaughter. It was only at an advanced stage in the criminal disclosure process that the Crown Prosecution Service, having itself become aware of the recording, advised that it should be disclosed to the defence. Prosecution counsel also appreciated that it should have been disclosed to this court in 2013 and so advised. At that point the parties to the family proceedings and the court were informed and in due course the Guardian made his application.
  • In November 2015, the father stood trial and, having exercised his right not to give evidence, was acquitted by the jury. In the meantime, the 2014 judgment had not been published so as to avoid prejudicing the criminal trial and, latterly, to await the resolution of the issues surrounding the recording.
  • The Guardian’s application has had three purposes: to make the court aware of what had occurred; to raise the possibility that this court’s findings may need to be reopened; and to establish whether there were any safeguarding issues affecting A.
  • Directions were given, joining the police as a party and directing the filing of evidence by it and by the local authority. In response the Constabulary has filed a full account of events from seven witnesses: two officers involved in the 2013 investigation (including the senior officer who appeared before me), two officers who were respectively concerned with the quality of the covert recording and with record-keeping, one very senior officer who was responsible for the reinvestigation, and two legal advisers.

 

 

There were two issues in the case – firstly, did anything from the tape recording within the home justify re-opening the finding of fact hearing or considering amending those findings? And secondly the practice issues of something so important having been kept back from the family Court despite assurances that EVERYTHING had been provided.

 

 

 

  • The first issue is whether the findings of the family court should be revisited in light of the disclosure of the recording. The threshold for reopening is that there is a real reason, based on solid grounds, for believing that a different outcome might result. Having studied the issue closely, none of the parties applies for this to happen. For my own part, I am independently satisfied that the further information falls far short of crossing the threshold for reopening the case. In particular, the confused and partially audible recording does not cast significant doubt upon the mother’s evidence or supply any plausible alternative explanation for K’s injuries. True it is that the father has not been convicted of any offence and continues to deny responsibility for K’s death, but that is no reason for this court to reconsider its conclusions.
  • There will therefore be no further hearing in this court in relation to these matters.

 

 

Practice issues

  1. Turning to the non-disclosure, I find that the nub of the matter is as follows. The existence of the recording was known to the three investigating officers in 2013, but they did not consider that it had any evidential value. It should have been obvious, in particular to the officer who appeared before me just four weeks after the recording was made, that it had to be disclosed, but it was not. Because of its special status, it was not held on the case file. The Constabulary’s lawyers and the officers who were not involved in the investigation process were therefore not aware of its existence until a much later stage.
  2. The efficient process of disclosure between the criminal and family jurisdictions is essential to the proper administration of justice. It is governed by protocols and on occasions reinforced by court orders. The criminal and family courts must be able to rely on assurances that all relevant material has been disclosed, though in some cases they may have to resolve claims of public interest immunity.
  3. In this case, the process took place against a background where concerns had already been expressed about the investigation into K’s death. Moreover, there was an unusually drawn-out sequence of events surrounding police disclosure. In those circumstances, the failure of Cumbria Constabulary to disclose the recording was particularly regrettable. It has led to further anxiety for the mother and significant extra expense for the public.
  4. However, it is important to record that there is no evidence to suggest that the recording was withheld from the court deliberately or that there was any bad faith on the part of the officers who were responsible. I also note the expression of regret made on behalf of the Chief Constable, reflected in the attendance of the Assistant Chief Constable at this hearing, and the assurances that lessons have been learned from this unhappy episode. In the circumstances, there is in my view nothing to be gained from any further action by the family court. These proceedings are accordingly concluded.

 

 

The lesson may be that simple acceptance of an assurance that all documentation has been provided might not be sufficient – there may be a need to go back with particularised questions “Do the police have X?” “Did the police carry out Y?”

 

 

Physical chastisement – Court of Appeal

 

A Local Authority appealed the decision of a Recorder at a finding of fact hearing, that having made some serious findings about physical injuries sustained by a child and caused by a parent, he went on to find that the threshold was not made out in terms of risk to that child’s sibling.   This case also deals with some important principles as to what extent making SOME findings has on the other allegations to be dealt with.

 

Re L-K 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/830.html

 

The Recorder had made these findings about the injuries

  1. The Recorder found that two sets of bruising had been inflicted by the parents, although he was unable to say which of them was responsible. They were as follows:

    i) There were parallel lines of bruising on R’s buttocks which the Recorder found were caused by someone striking him across the buttocks with a linear object (§20 of the Recorder’s first judgment). The Recorder thought it likely that the object used was a ruler or a belt, in which case there were at least two blows, but it may have been a stick or flexible cable, in which case there were at least four blows.

    ii) There were three bruises on the inner part of R’s right thigh, immediately below his buttocks, which were described as “loop pattern or crescent shaped injuries” and a further “sigma shaped pattern bruise” to the right of the lower buttock crease (§21). The Recorder found that these marks were caused by at least two deliberate slaps (§24).

  2. The Recorder found that both the instances of inflicted injury had the character of corporal punishment (§29). The parents had denied that they were responsible for the injuries but the Recorder found that they both knew who did it and had agreed to stick together and protect each other (§33), trying to mislead the social workers and lying in court. He said that it was “difficult to blame them in the circumstances” (§35) (referring, I think, to their lies and collusion, although he may have been referring to their treatment of R) as they were in a foreign country and had a difficult child to look after.
  3. It is not entirely clear how the Recorder viewed the corporal punishment inflicted on R. At §36, he said it “may well be regarded as going well beyond reasonable chastisement”. At §37, he said that he could envisage that if the parents had admitted it, they would have argued that it was no more than reasonable chastisement and said, “I cannot judge that question”. Later in the same paragraph, however, he went on to say that it certainly seemed excessive to him to hit a five year old at all, especially with an implement. What is clear is that he was unwilling to find it established that what happened to R was “abuse”. He seems to have taken into account in reaching this conclusion the possibility that it was “an over exercise of parental authority in a disciplinary capacity”, the evidence that the parents are loving parents and that R loves them and is not afraid of them, and the fact that he could not know how much R had suffered in the process (§37 of the main judgment and §5 of the Recorder’s supplemental judgment).
  4. The parents did admit one of the local authority’s allegations, that is that they had, each independently of the other, made R stand in a corner for more than two hours when he was naughty. The Recorder described the father’s conduct in so doing as “treating R cruelly” (§31). However, he accepted the parents’ evidence that this was something that happened when the family was under great stress and was not a regular occurrence (§34).

 

 

He then went on, however, to conclude that whilst the threshold was met for R, it was not met for R’s brother even in terms of risk of harm:-

 

 

14. He was accordingly asked to deal with the threshold thereafter, and did so, after further argument and consideration, in a short ex tempore judgment. In it, he found the threshold crossed in relation to R on the basis that R would have suffered significant harm because a) hitting a child of five who suffers from psychological problems with an implement will cause significant harm b) standing such a child in a corner for two to three hours must also cause significant harm and c) there must be a significant risk of repetition as the parents had closed ranks and said nothing about it to social services and the courts (supplementary judgment §5). As to M, in that judgment the Recorder stated baldly that he did not think the threshold was crossed.

  1. He returned to the threshold in relation to M in his judgment refusing permission to appeal and in his final short judgment. He determined that M was not at risk in his parents’ care, essentially on the basis that he was a very different child and had not suffered any harm so far. In the permission judgment, he referred to the findings he had made about R, and the evidence as to how very difficult R was to look after, contrasting that with M, in relation to whom there was neither evidence of psychological difficulty nor evidence of any problem with him in foster care. He said:

    “6. The difference between these two children is such that I cannot conceive that anybody could imagine that the findings I have made in respect of the older brother should lead to a finding that the younger brother is at risk.”

 

 

Well, the Recorder couldn’t concieve that anyone could imagine this, but the Court of Appeal not only imagined it, but did it.

 

36. The local authority argued that, in the light of the findings that R had been beaten with an implement and slapped sufficiently hard to leave bruising and had been excessively punished by being made to stand in a corner for a prolonged period, it was wrong to conclude that there was no risk of significant harm to M. What those facts indicated, in their submission, was that at times of stress or challenging behaviour from one of the children, the parents may harm their child whether by way of discipline or simple loss of control. They argued that the Recorder placed too great a weight on the difference between the two boys as a protective factor for M and failed also to take account of the fact that M is more vulnerable because of his young age and may also become more challenging as he grows older.

  1. I would accept this submission. Rightly or wrongly, the Recorder did not make any findings on the issue of whether M was present during the punishments of R and whether he was emotionally harmed by what he saw and there was no evidence that M himself suffered any physical harm. The threshold in relation to M therefore depended on whether he was “likely to suffer significant harm”. “Likely to suffer” in this context means that there is “a real possibility, a possibility that cannot sensibly be ignored having regard to the gravity of the feared harm in the particular case”, see Re H and R (Minors)(Child Sexual Abuse: Standard of Proof) [1996] 1 FLR 80. The threshold is therefore “comparatively low”. It was, in my view, plainly satisfied on the facts that the Recorder had found. Every case depends upon its own facts, but in this particular case it was not at the threshold stage but at the welfare stage that matters such as the parents’ circumstances at the time R was injured and the differing personalities of the children were relevant. Given the nature of the Recorder’s findings in respect of R, and the parents’ failure to acknowledge or explain what had happened and why, I do not think that the factors that the Recorder relied upon in differentiating between the two boys in fact provided any reassurance in relation to the risk to M for threshold purposes. I would therefore substitute for the Recorder’s dismissal of the proceedings in relation to M, a finding that the threshold criteria were satisfied in his case on the basis of likely harm.

 

 

The next limb of the appeal was that, having made those findings, was the Judge wrong in discounting the other injuries to R that he made no findings on?  I.e in relation to say ten physical injuries should the Judge approach each and every one in isolation, OR if the Judge had made findings in relation to four or five or them, does the fact of those findings become a relevant consideration when approaching the remainder?

 

  1. The local authority argued that the Recorder was wrong to decline to make findings in relation to the injuries to R’s face, neck/chest, and thigh, and a finding that he was “abused”. They submitted that he had gone wrong because he failed to look at the totality of the picture, instead considering the injuries only individually. It was argued that the findings that he did make, whilst not probative of the other injuries, were capable of being corroborative and supportive evidence in respect of them. Also relevant to the overall evaluation, it was submitted, was the parents’ dishonesty.
  2. I agree with these submissions. It is always necessary for a judge who is considering possible non-accidental injuries to look at the whole picture before determining causation. So, for example, what might be accepted as an accidental injury if it stood alone, might take on a wholly different aspect if it is only one of a number of injuries. Similarly, the fact that it is firmly established that one of a number of injuries has been inflicted by a parent must be taken into account when evaluating the cause of other injuries.
  3. In this case, I have no doubt that when it came to considering the possible causes of the other marks found on R, attention had to be paid to the fact that the parents had a) beaten R with an implement causing bruising, b) smacked him to the extent that bruising was caused, and c) lied in an attempt to conceal what they had done. Regard should also have been had to the excessive punishment which the parents conceded had been imposed on R in the form of having to stand in a corner for a prolonged period. As the local authority acknowledged, the fact that one injury is inflicted does not prove that others are non-accidental, but it changes the context in which the child came by the other injuries from a home which may be beyond reproach to one in which it is known that there has been, at the least, excessive physical punishment. As Mr Roche for the father observed during submissions, it was also the case that R had injuries which were accepted to be accidental. That fact was relevant too, but it did not remove the potential significance of the findings of non-accidental injury. The fact that the parents had lied about what they had done was also relevant to their credibility in relation to other matters. The Recorder’s approach did not pay proper regard to these factors as part of the overall picture he was surveying.

 

Whilst the Judge did not have to slavishly follow the medical opinions  (see dozens of Court of Appeal decisions that confirm that), the Judge does have to pay proper attention to them, and where a theory for the explanation of the injury emerges from the Judge himself, it is necessary for the Judge to explore that theory with the expert.

 

  1. In my view, the Recorder also failed to pay proper attention to the evidence of Dr Fonfé in determining what had happened. It was, of course, for him to decide, on the basis of all of the evidence, whether it was established that particular injuries were non-accidental, and not for Dr Fonfé. However, he needed to take her expert views into account in his determination. In referring to what she said about each of the injuries as her “suspicion”, he seems to me to have understated the force of her opinion. He also failed to take account of her more general advice as to causation, perhaps because he concentrated on the injuries individually. As can be seen from the passages from her reports which I have quoted above, Dr Fonfé’s approach was entirely conventional in that she looked at R’s situation overall as well as considering the various injuries individually. The Recorder was not bound to accept her general observations but he did, at least, need to show that he had considered them. Had he done so, he may have structured his judgment differently and avoided falling into error. As it was, he appears to have made his determination about each of the individual injuries before, at §26 (see above), turning to look at the picture collectively, and when he did look at the whole canvas at this point, it was not with a view to considering what the overall picture might tell him about the individual injuries, but in order to address the local authority’s allegation that R had been subjected to a prolonged single attack or a series of individual episodes of attack.
  2. In short, the Recorder was wrong to conclude that there was nothing but Dr Fonfe’s suspicions in relation to the other injuries. His own positive findings and Dr Fonfé’s expert evidence about what, in her view, the overall picture revealed were important too. It is not a foregone conclusion that they would have led to a different conclusion as to the other injuries but they needed to be put into the equation and considered with the rest of the evidence.
  3. In my judgment, this deficiency in the Recorder’s approach is sufficient to render his decision in relation to the balance of the local authority’s allegations unsafe. It would follow that, in so far as it is necessary in order to make decisions about the children’s futures for there to be findings in relation to those allegations, there would have to be a further hearing for that purpose. I need not therefore say much more about the other flaws that there may have been in the Recorder’s approach. I would, however, mention a number of matters.
  4. The first is the Recorder’s crayon explanation (see §16 of the judgment). It seems that this came entirely from him. Dr Fonfé’s view as to the feasibility of the hypothesis was not sought. If a particular explanation such as this is to carry weight in the court’s decision, it is important, in my view, for it to be offered for comment by the relevant expert and in submissions. Had that been done, the response may well have been that the crayon explanation ignored the existence of what Dr Fonfé saw as a pair of marks which looked like grip marks.
  5. I wonder also whether this passage in the Recorder’s judgment indicates that he was veering towards requiring that all other possible causes must be excluded before a finding of non-accidental injury could be made (see also §14, for example) and/or proceeding on the basis that no finding could be made without corroboration. Depending on the particular facts of the case, it may not be necessary for the evidence to go that far. What is required is simply that it should be established on the balance of probability that the injury was non-accidental.
  6. As to the Recorder’s conclusion that the findings he had made were not established to be abuse, I am not inclined to spend time on that issue for two reasons. First, there is little point in debating whether what the Recorder found to have been established should or should not be classed as “abuse” when his findings may not be the last word on what happened to R. Secondly, what actually happened is much more important than how it is classified and it may well be that evidence which is relevant to this may continue to emerge, for example from Poland, from the parents themselves in response to the findings made so far, and in the course of any further fact finding hearing in relation to the balance of the allegations.

 

 

The appeal was therefore successful

 

 

For the reasons I have already given, I would allow this appeal. In relation to the threshold in respect of to M, I would substitute a finding that it is satisfied on the basis of likelihood of harm. As far as the Recorder’s findings of fact are concerned, I would not interfere with the facts which he found proved but I would set aside his determination in relation to the balance of the local authority’s allegations and remit the case to the Family Court for an urgent directions hearing at which the future conduct of it will be decided.

Proof of facts – High Court guidance on disputed injuries

This is a very short judgment, with not a single word wasted, and it sets out not only a helpful summary of the state of the law on resolution of disputed injuries but clarifies some areas where there has been doubt and confusion.

It does not really need my ham-fisted attempt to summarise it, so I will simply alert you to its existence, and recommend heartily that you read it. [I am inferring that this judgment is setting out points of general principle arising from the Poppy Worthington case – that particular judgment of the facts in the case is not going to be published until the Autumn, when the re-hearing is underway]

 

BR (Proof of Facts) 2015

Mr Justice Peter Jackson

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/41.html

Mr Justice Peter Jackson:

 

  • A fact-finding hearing into how a baby came to have a very large number of fractures took place in March and in April I gave a judgment that cannot be published at this stage. This short published judgment touches on three topics of more general relevance, described below.
  • The context is that the local authority alleged that the injuries were inflicted by the parents. They denied this and relied on expert medical opinion that the injuries may have been the manifestation of a condition as yet unknown to medical science that caused transient fragility in the baby’s bones. Other expert medical opinion considered it more probable that the fractures and other appearances were the result of assaults. It was common ground that there is no known medical condition that might explain the fractures, but that the radiological appearances were highly unusual.
  • The topics that I extract from the fact-finding judgment are these:

 

(1) Proof of facts.(2) Evidence about a child’s likely pain response, discussed in a recent decision of HH Judge Bellamy: Re FM (A Child: fractures: bone density) [2015] EWFC B26 (12 March 2015).

(3) An analysis of generic risk factors and protective factors.

Proof of facts

 

  • The court acts on evidence, not speculation or assumption. It acts on facts, not worries or concerns.
  • Evidence comes in many forms. It can be live, written, direct, hearsay, electronic, photographic, circumstantial, factual, or by way of expert opinion. It can concern major topics and small details, things that are important and things that are trivial.
  • The burden of proving a fact rests on the person who asserts it.
  • The standard of proof is the balance of probabilities: Is it more likely than not that the event occurred? Neither the seriousness of the allegation, nor the seriousness of the consequences, nor the inherent probabilities alters this.

 

(1) Where an allegation is a serious one, there is no requirement that the evidence must be of a special quality. The court will consider grave allegations with proper care, but evidence is evidence and the approach to analysing it remains the same in every case. In my view, statements of principle (some relied on in this case) that suggest that an enhanced level of evidential cogency or clarity is required in order to prove a very serious allegation do not assist and may lead a fact-finder into error. Despite all disclaimers, reference to qualitative concepts such as cogency and clarity may wrongly be taken to imply that some elevated standard of proof is called for.(2) Nor does the seriousness of the consequences of a finding of fact affect the standard to which it must be proved. Whether a man was in a London street at a particular time might be of no great consequence if the issue is whether he was rightly issued with a parking ticket, but it might be of huge consequence if he has been charged with a murder that occurred that day in Paris. The evidential standard to which his presence in the street must be proved is nonetheless the same.

(3) The court takes account of any inherent probability or improbability of an event having occurred as part of a natural process of reasoning. But the fact that an event is a very common one does not lower the standard of probability to which it must be proved. Nor does the fact that an event is very uncommon raise the standard of proof that must be satisfied before it can be said to have occurred.

(4) Similarly, the frequency or infrequency with which an event generally occurs cannot divert attention from the question of whether it actually occurred. As Mr Rowley QC and Ms Bannon felicitously observe:

“Improbable events occur all the time. Probability itself is a weak prognosticator of occurrence in any given case. Unlikely, even highly unlikely things, do happen. Somebody wins the lottery most weeks; children are struck by lightning. The individual probability of any given person enjoying or suffering either fate is extremely low.”

I agree. It is exceptionally unusual for a baby to sustain so many fractures, but this baby did. The inherent improbability of a devoted parent inflicting such widespread, serious injuries is high, but then so is the inherent improbability of this being the first example of an as yet undiscovered medical condition. Clearly, in this and every case, the answer is not to be found in the inherent probabilities but in the evidence, and it is when analysing the evidence that the court takes account of the probabilities.

 

  • Each piece of evidence must be considered in the context of the whole. The medical evidence is important, and the court must assess it carefully, but it is not the only evidence. The evidence of the parents is of the utmost importance and the court must form a clear view of their reliability and credibility.
  • When assessing alternative possible explanations for a medical finding, the court will consider each possibility on its merits. There is no hierarchy of possibilities to be taken in sequence as part of a process of elimination. If there are three possibilities, possibility C is not proved merely because possibilities A and B are unlikely, nor because C is less unlikely than A and/or B. Possibility C is only proved if, on consideration of all the evidence, it is more likely than not to be the true explanation for the medical findings. So, in a case of this kind, the court will not conclude that an injury has been inflicted merely because known or unknown medical conditions are improbable: that conclusion will only be reached if the entire evidence shows that inflicted injury is more likely than not to be the explanation for the medical findings.
  • Lastly, where there is a genuine dispute about the origin of a medical finding, the court should not assume that it is always possible to know the answer. It should give due consideration to the possibility that the cause is unknown or that the doctors have missed something or that the medical finding is the result of a condition that has not yet been discovered. These possibilities must be held in mind to whatever extent is appropriate in the individual case.

 

Evidence about pain response

 

  • In the present case, the medical experts commented upon the absence of an account by the parents of any pain response at the moments when the multiple fractures must have occurred. All the doctors stated that fractures are painful, whether bones are normal or not, and that a distinctive pain reaction would be expected from a baby when a bone breaks. The nature of the acute reaction might vary depending upon the bone. The nature of the chronic reaction in the hours and days afterwards might be confused with other childhood ailments.
  • The cause of the fractures was undoubtedly the application of force to the baby by an adult, who must have been touching the baby at the moments when the bones broke. The fractures did not occur spontaneously and the baby did not cause the injuries to itself. The question was whether the bones could have been weakened so that they fractured on normal handling.
  • On behalf of the parents, reference was made to an aspect of the judgment of HHJ Bellamy in Re FM (above). In that case, the allegation was that a mother was responsible for causing bilateral leg fractures to a child of just under a year of age. Accepting the evidence of Dr Allgrove, who was also a witness in this case, the judge found it possible that excessive use of a mid-strength topical eczema cream might have led to bone demineralisation and a propensity to fracture in a child with some degree of hypotonia and hypermobility of her joints. He concluded that the local authority had not proved its case and dismissed the proceedings.
  • The relevant part of the judgment concerns the judge’s observations on the medical evidence about a child’s likely reaction to a fracture at the moment that it occurs. A paediatrician had given evidence that it must have been “a memorable event”. At paragraph 115, the learned judge said this:

 

“As I have noted, that opinion is frequently given by paediatricians in cases such as this. In my judgment the contention that there must have been a ‘memorable event’ is unhelpful and potentially prejudicial to carers. Not only is it a formulation which invites an inference as to the veracity of any carer unable to describe a ‘memorable event’ [but] in my judgment it also comes perilously close to reversing the burden of proof, suggesting that a carer should be able to describe a ‘memorable event’ if the injury really does have an innocent explanation.”

 

  • Since this passage has been cited to me, and may be cited elsewhere, I will say something about it. It would of course be wrong to apply a hard and fast rule that the carer of a young child who suffers an injury must invariably be able to explain when and how it happened if they are not to be found responsible for it. This would indeed be to reverse the burden of proof. However, if the judge’s observations are understood to mean that account should not be taken, to whatever extent is appropriate in the individual case, of the lack of a history of injury from the carer of a young child, then I respectfully consider that they go too far.
  • Doctors, social workers and courts are in my view fully entitled to take into account the nature of the history given by a carer. The absence of any history of a memorable event where such a history might be expected in the individual case may be very significant. Perpetrators of child abuse often seek to cover up what they have done. The reason why paediatricians may refer to the lack of a history is because individual and collective clinical experience teaches them that it is one of a number of indicators of how the injury may have occurred. Medical and other professionals are entitled to rely upon such knowledge and experience in forming an opinion about the likely response of the individual child to the particular injury, and the court should not deter them from doing so. The weight that is then given to any such opinion is of course a matter for the judge.
  • In the present case, an adult was undoubtedly in the closest proximity to the baby whenever the injuries occurred and the absence of any account of a pain reaction on the baby’s part on any such occasion was therefore one of the matters requiring careful assessment.

 

Risk factors and protective factors

 

  • On behalf of the Children’s Guardian, Mr Clive Baker has assembled the following analysis from material produced by the NSPCC, the Common Assessment Framework and the Patient UK Guidance for Health Professionals.

 

Risk factors

  • Physical or mental disability in children that may increase caregiver burden
  • Social isolation of families
  • Parents’ lack of understanding of children’s needs and child development
  • Parents’ history of domestic abuse
  • History of physical or sexual abuse (as a child)
  • Past physical or sexual abuse of a child
  • Poverty and other socioeconomic disadvantage
  • Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence, including intimate partner violence
  • Lack of family cohesion
  • Substance abuse in family
  • Parental immaturity
  • Single or non-biological parents
  • Poor parent-child relationships and negative interactions
  • Parental thoughts and emotions supporting maltreatment behaviours
  • Parental stress and distress, including depression or other mental health conditions
  • Community violence

Protective factors

  • Supportive family environment
  • Nurturing parenting skills
  • Stable family relationships
  • Household rules and monitoring of the child
  • Adequate parental finances
  • Adequate housing
  • Access to health care and social services
  • Caring adults who can serve as role models or mentors
  • Community support

 

  • In itself, the presence or absence of a particular factor proves nothing. Children can of course be well cared for in disadvantaged homes and abused in otherwise fortunate ones. As emphasised above, each case turns on its facts. The above analysis may nonetheless provide a helpful framework within which the evidence can be assessed and the facts established.

 

Epilepsy and rib fractures

 

 

This is a County Court decision on a finding of fact hearing, involving a child of two Brazilian parents who sustained a rib fracture.

Because I am childish, I like to think that the Judge specifically named the case Re O because of the Brazilian connection…

Re O (Minors) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/B44.html
The case threw up a number of important issues. The parents defence had been that they had not done anything and that there had been a Vitamin D deficiency, leading to rickets, leading to weak bones. A substantial amount of expert evidence was called on this, and eventually it went nowhere.

The mother, who had been caring for the child L, during the relevant period, is someone who has epilepsy. She gave evidence about whether she had had a fit on that day
As to her epilepsy the mother said that she had five such fits during her pregnancy with F and two during her pregnancy with L. She could recall no fits between F’s birth and her pregnancy with L. Although she does not remember having such fits she usually begins to feel unwell shortly beforehand. Following a fit she feels drowsy, unwell and everything seems muddled. She did not recall any such symptoms occurring on 7th April 2013.
With that in mind, you may be surprised that the finding of His Honour Judge Bond was that the injury was caused during an epileptic seizure. I think, to be fair, that everyone else was surprised as well, and this emerged as a result of some expert evidence from a Dr Hillier
121 Attempts had been made before and during the hearing to secure the attendance of Dr. Hillier. He is a Consultant in Neurology. Unfortunately he did not give evidence until after the parents. He was the last witness to give evidence.

122. The mother’s G.P. had first referred her to Dr. Hillier in 2009. He has written a short report dated 30th September 2013 (C2199) about the mother’s possible epilepsy. He last saw the mother in November 2012. Dr Hillier found it difficult to make a clear diagnosis but thought that the mother suffered from faints which look like seizures, but perhaps has a tendency to fainting and to suffering seizures.

123. In his oral evidence Dr. Hillier went further and took everybody by surprise. He distinguished between what he described as partial epileptic fits and full epileptic fits. In his opinion it was possible that the mother could have had a partial fit, during which she injured L, but remembered nothing of it. Further he thought it possible that the mother would experience no symptoms, before or after a partial fit, that would lead her to remember that she had suffered such a fit.

124. The doctor described situations where a patient had attended his clinic and reported that he had suffered no fits since the last appointment. Not infrequently, the patient’s partner reported that he/she had observed occasions when the patient was “spaced out”, having had some form of partial fit, but which the patient could not remember.

125. It was because of this evidence that the local authority reconsidered its position and no longer sought any public law orders.
The very vivid illustration given by Dr Hillier was that he had once had a patient who had been peeling an orange, had had a partial fit, and continued peeling the orange afterwards, and that for this patient there had been no gap at all in the sequence of events, she had simply peeled an orange and nothing of any significance had occurred at all.

The suggestion therefore was that mother could have had a partial fit, injured the child completely accidentally during it and been utterly unaware of it.

The Local Authority, in the light of that evidence, threw the towel in (save for shutting the door on all of the Vitamin D debate in relation to this case)

That suggestion that a parent could injure their child during a partial fit and have NO RECOLLECTION of it at all is startling, but Dr Hillier’s evidence was clearly compelling.
The Judge had to consider whether this was capable of meeting the section 31 threshold in any event (for example was there some negligence or fault or flaw in the mother handling a child when she was prone to fits?)
In paragraph 8 of his written submissions, Mr Hand [counsel for the LA] deals with the question of whether the threshold criteria are satisfied. He referred to the case of Re D (Care Order: Evidence) [2011] 1 FLR 447 per Hughes LJ that the test under Section 31(2) of the Children Act is an objective one. As the Lord Justice said in that case:

“It is abundantly clear that a parent may unhappily fail to provide reasonable care even though he is doing his incompetent best.”

145. Mr Hand submits, and I agree, that on the facts of this case, if the court finds L’s injuries were caused by the mother during a partial fit, the threshold criteria are not met by reason of the fractures that L suffered. Mr Hand said that, had the Local Authority been aware, at the outset, of Dr Hillier’s evidence, they would not have instituted proceedings under Section 31.
[i.e so far as the LA were concerned, although it was theoretically possible for the Court to find that the s31 threshold was crossed by the child being injured whilst being held by mother who had a partial fit that she had no recollection of, they were not going to invite the Court to do so]
The next interesting point to arise is that clearly once the LA accepted the partial fit theory, and the mother and father accepted it, was it a done deal? In this case, those representing the Guardian felt uncomfortable about that.

168. Mr Tolson QC [counsel for the Guardian] submits, and I agree, that the medical evidence did not alter during the course of the hearing. The three jointly instructed experts agreed substantially, as did Dr Allgrove. The thrust of the evidence was that non-accidental injury is the only explanation, save in wholly exceptional medical circumstances which it is submitted do not exist in this case. It is submitted that the parents’ evidence was not credible and in this case the matter goes further than simply being unable to offer an explanation. It is submitted on behalf of the guardian that the omission of any recall prior to the observation of the lump is particularly striking given the obvious thoroughness with which the parent’s statements have been prepared in other respects. Further submits Mr Tolson QC it is clear that the parents were tired and under some stress on Sunday 7th April 2013.

169. In his oral submissions Mr Tolson QC accepted that he was now the only advocate who contended for a finding of non-accidental injury. Following Dr Hillier’s evidence, Mr Tolson QC had been able to take brief instructions about the Local Authority’s change of position. The guardian maintained her position, as I have just described.

170. Mr Tolson QC dealt with the point raised by Charles J in Lancashire CC v D & E, in respect of the guardian’s position in a case such as this. In the particular circumstances of this case, and particularly since the Local Authority’s change of position, the guardian felt it important that the court should have before it, on behalf of the children, arguments which supported a finding of inflicted non-accidental injury.

171. It is the case that the role of the guardian’s advocate in a fact-finding exercise is to be fully involved in testing, in particular the expert evidence. Generally I would expect the guardian to help the court by making submissions which alert the court to the important matters, but to remain neutral as to the court’s findings. In the unusual circumstances of this case, it was helpful for the guardian to maintain the position that she did, although I regard it as an exceptional course.
The Court therefore permitted the Guardian’s advocate to ‘test the evidence’ and to make submissions that the partial fit explanation might not be the correct answer in this case. (It would perhaps have been interesting to see if the Court would have taken a different view had the key piece of evidence, Dr Hillier, not been the very last witness in the case)

Here is what the Guardian (through leading counsel) had to say about the partial fit theory
172. As to the question of the burden of proof, and given that the Local Authority no longer pursued a finding of inflicted non-accidental injury, Mr Tolson QC pointed out that the court must still, in the circumstances of this case, consider whether such a case has been proved on the balance of probabilities.

173. As to the question of the mother’s epilepsy, Mr Tolson QC pointed out that there was no evidence that the mother had had a fit on the day in question. Further, there was no evidence that the mother had ever had a partial fit of a kind which Dr Hillier thought might have been possible. Mr Tolson QC did not accept that Dr Hillier’s evidence necessarily meant that during a partial fit the mother would drop L and not remember such an event. He submitted that a partial fit would not fill the gap to explain the vagaries of the mother’s evidence, in respect of what happened between about 13.00 and 18.00 on 7th April 2013. It is accepted, on behalf of the guardian, that if the mother had had a full epileptic seizure she might not recall dropping L.

174. Mr Tolson QC submitted that an epileptic fit does not explain L’s rib injuries. For example if L had been dropped that would not involve a squeezing mechanism, which is generally thought to be the cause of a type of rib fracture that L had suffered. Further, said Mr Tolson QC, one such fit would not explain the presence of the bruises.

The Judge said that before having heard from Dr Hillier, he had reached the tentative conclusion that he was satisfied that the injuries had occurred but was not satisfied that they had been deliberately caused by either of the parent, their overall presentation and absence of any other troubling issues weighing significantly in these deliberations.
The applications for Care Orders were dismissed and the children returned home.  [It is worth noting that the Judge indicated that even before Dr Hillier’s evidence, he had been of the view that he should not make a finding of fact that either of the parents had deliberately harmed the child]

 

The Judge had this to say about epilepsy

184. The question of epilepsy and its possible implications in cases such as this has been explored. There is clearly much to learn.

 

The placement of an adult away from their family

This Court of Protection decision LBX v TT and Others 2014  touches on some important issues. It is a case involving a 19 year old girl, and the decision of the Court that she lacked capacity to make decisions for herself and that it would be in her best interests to continue to live in foster care.

 

 

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/24.html

 

The background to this is that there were allegations of serious sexual misconduct by her step-father, who awaits criminal trial. The case had been set down for what would have been quite a long and tricky hearing, particularly in the Court of Protection, to determine the truth of those allegations.  Since, if they were not true, the best interests decision would be very different, or potentially very different.

That starts to look like care proceedings, but on a vulnerable adult rather than on a child.

An additional complexity is that whilst mother and probably stepfather would have been entitled to free legal advice to fight the case in care proceedings, that’s not the case in the Court of Protection.

 

The Judge, Cobb J, said this  (MJ is mum, JJ stepfather)

At the outset of the hearing on 7 July, MJ and JJ made an application to adjourn the proceedings to obtain legal advice. They told me that they had been advised that they did not qualify for legal aid (on grounds of means) and did not have funds to instruct a solicitor privately. They had tried, without success, to obtain a litigation loan from the bank. I had been advised at the pre-trial hearing that the Bar Pro Bono Unit could not offer counsel for this hearing.
 

I recognise the considerable disadvantage to someone in the position of MJ and JJ appearing unrepresented in proceedings of this kind; their article 6 ECHR rights are imperilled. However, as there seemed no realistic prospect of MJ or JJ obtaining representation in these proceedings, and given the need to reach conclusions at this hearing, I refused the application to adjourn.
 

I was advised that JJ had solicitors acting for him in the criminal proceedings. I caused a message to be communicated to those solicitors over the short adjournment expressing my hope that they would be able to offer JJ some advice. I was very pleased to see Mr Levy at 2pm appearing on a pro bono basis.
 

On the third day of this hearing, MJ attended court with a McKenzie Friend. I considered it appropriate to allow this gentleman to assist MJ, and in doing so, applied the Guidance offered by the McKenzie Friends Practice Guidance Civil and Family Courts (12 July 2010): this Guidance is said to apply to civil and family proceedings in the Court of Appeal (Civil Division), the High Court of Justice, the County Courts and the Family Proceedings Court in the Magistrates’ Courts. I have assumed, and unless advised to the contrary will continue to conduct hearings in my court on this basis, that it applies to proceedings in the Court of Protection.

 

A further problem was the unwillingness of the police to provide any of the source material, which would have been vital to the conduct of any finding of fact hearing. In the event, the finding of fact hearing did not take place, due to MJ’s position at the hearing on 9th June 2014:-

I arranged a hearing on 9 June 2014 to consider the viability of the fact-finding hearing. At that hearing the case took an unexpected turn; MJ and JJ (who were helpfully represented by counsel instructed by the Bar Council Pro Bono Unit) indicated that they intended to remain together as a couple, irrespective of the allegations &/or the outcome of any trial of the allegations, and did not propose to offer TT a home, now or in the long-term. Specifically, they conceded that:
 

 

i) MJ could not envisage a situation in which she would separate from JJ “even if findings were made against him”. 

ii) TT should not return to live with MJ and JJ; she should remain living with KK (MJ: “we cannot offer her a home”).

iii) That the decision that TT should remain with KK is a “long-term decision” on the part of MJ;

iv) JJ was “is not willing to, and will not, have any contact with TT in the future. Contact is defined as direct and indirect contact and facebook/social media messaging”. He further agreed not to attempt to have any contact.

 

 

Within the case, the Official Solicitor (representing the 19 year old, TT) argued that the Court should still conduct the forensic exercise about the allegations and what happened to this young woman, and went further in suggesting that the Court had a duty to do so.

The Official Solicitor, on behalf of TT, contended that I am under a duty, or, if not under a duty should nonetheless exercise my discretion, to hear oral evidence in order that I can determine a solid factual basis for establishing TT’s best interests orders, even on an interim basis. Mr. McKendrick referred me to Re W [2008] EWHC 1188 (Fam) where McFarlane J held at paragraph 72:
 

“It is important that the planning in the future for these children, particularly C, is based upon as correct a view of what happened to R as possible. It is not in the children’s interests, or in the interests of justice, or in the interests of the two adults, for the finding to be based on an erroneous basis. It is also in the interests of all of the children that are before this court for the mother’s role to be fully understood and investigated.”
He contended that the principles outlined above could be appropriately transported from the Family Division to the Court of Protection. I interpolate here to say, as will be apparent later, that I agree.

The Official Solicitor’s argument was developed further thus:
 

 

i) Section 48 provides jurisdiction to make interim ‘best interests’ orders where it is necessary to make those orders “without delay”; this phrase in section 48(c) imports into the section a degree of expectation that this provision should be used very much as an interim measure; 

ii) While the evidential bar is lower on determination of capacity in section 48(a), there is no qualification to the court’s approach on ‘best interests’; therefore unless the case is urgent, there ought to be a reasonable and proportionate enquiry into best interests;

iii) That I should endeavour to resolve the facts so far as I can at this stage; many of the issues will need to be grappled with at some point in time and it is better to do so while the events are fresher in people’s minds; this hearing was set up for that purpose, and the witnesses are available;

iv) MJ has expressed a wish for unsupervised contact in the future: see §9 above. Indeed, the Official Solicitor observes that the Applicant itself accepts that “it is … foreseeable that [MJ] will seek unsupervised contact in the future, after the conclusion of the criminal trial”;

v) That ‘best interests’ decisions should be made on the most secure evidential footing; this is particularly so where

a) interim orders are expected to last for a considerable period (the criminal trial may not be for many months);
b) interim orders are inconsistent with TT’s expressed wishes (see §95-98 below);
vi) Prolonged interference with TT’s Article 8 ECHR rights for unrestricted contact without a clear determination of facts is not proportionate;

vii) That particular caution is required before the Court proceeds to make determinations largely on the basis of concessions offered by an unrepresented party (MJ), particularly where that party is plainly distressed by the issues.

 

 

As a family lawyer, it interests me that lawyers in the Court of Protection are placing reliance on McFarlane J ‘s (as he then was) decision in the family Court in Re W, which is a decision I wholeheartedly agree with, when the Court of Appeal in dealing with family cases are taking quite the reverse view about finding of fact hearings in family cases.  My support for the latter stance is somewhat less than wholehearted.

 

Cobb J goes on to borrow some principles from family law cases to provide guidance for if and when to embark on a finding of fact exercise in the Court of Protection, and these would now be rules or guidelines to follow in such cases

By analogy with the position in family law, the judge would in my judgment be well-served to consider the guidance of Butler-Sloss LJ in the family appeal of Re B (Minors)(Contact) [1994] 2 FLR 1 in which she said as follows:
 

“There is a spectrum of procedure for family cases from the ex parte application on minimal evidence to the full and detailed investigations on oral evidence which may be prolonged. Where on that spectrum a judge decides a particular application should be placed is a matter for his discretion. Applications for residence orders or for committal to the care of a local authority or revocation of a care order are likely to be decided on full oral evidence, but not invariably. Such is not the case on contact applications which may be and are heard sometimes with and sometimes without oral evidence or with a limited amount of oral evidence.”
It is acknowledged that the ‘spectrum’ may now be narrower than that described in 1994 following the revisions to rule 22.7 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, but the principle nonetheless remains, in my judgment, good.

Butler–Sloss LJ went on to define the questions which may have a bearing on how the court should proceed with such an application (adapted for relevance to the Court of Protection):
 

 

i) whether there is sufficient evidence upon which to make the relevant decision; 

ii) whether the proposed evidence (which should be available at least in outline) which the applicant for a full trial wishes to adduce is likely to affect the outcome of the proceedings;

iii) whether the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses for the professional care or other agency, in particular in this case the expert witnesses, is likely to affect the outcome of the proceedings;

iv) the welfare of P and the effect of further litigation – whether the delay in itself will be so detrimental to P’s well-being that exceptionally there should not be a full hearing. This may be because of the urgent need to reach a decision in relation to P;

v) the prospects of success of the applicant for a full trial;

vi) does the justice of the case require a full investigation with oral evidence?
In deciding whether to conduct a fact-finding hearing at all, I consider it useful to consider the check-list of considerations discussed by McFarlane J in the case of A County Council v DP, RS, BS (By their Children’s Guardian) [2005] EWHC 1593 (Fam) 2005 2 FLR 1031 at [24]. Following a review of case-law relevant to the issue he stated that:
 

“… amongst other factors, the following are likely to be relevant and need to be borne in mind before deciding whether or not to conduct a particular fact finding exercise:
(a) the interests of the child (which are relevant but not paramount)
(b) the time that the investigation will take;
(c) the likely cost to public funds;
(d) the evidential result;
(e) the necessity or otherwise of the investigation;
(f) the relevance of the potential result of the investigation to the
future care plans for the child;
(g) the impact of any fact finding process upon the other parties;
(h) the prospects of a fair trial on the issue;
(i) the justice of the case.”
There is some (but not universal) acknowledgement at the Bar in this case that this list (with modifications as to (a) to refer to the best interests of ‘P’ rather than ‘the child’) provides a useful framework of issues to consider in relation to the necessity of fact finding in the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection.

 

Those principles are familiar to family lawyers (or at least they were, before the Court of Appeal took its newer position) but are probably fresh to Court of Protection lawyers.

 

The Court decided not to embark on a full-blown fact finding hearing, but did take evidence on some limited allegations which were of particular import. As part of that judgment, the Judge also clarified that hearsay evidence is permissable in the Court of Protection.

 

Hearsay: The factual allegations which I have been required to investigate rely very extensively on what TT has reported to third parties. She has not been called to give evidence at this hearing (no party proposed that she should), and I have therefore had to rely on a range of hearsay accounts, and on records, and interpretations, of her behaviours.
 

Hearsay evidence is plainly admissible in proceedings of this kind; as McFarlane J made clear in LB Enfield v SA [2010] 1 FLR 1836. While ruling (at §29-30) that proceedings in the Court of Protection under the MCA 2005 must fall within the wide definition of ‘civil proceedings’ under section 11 of the CEA 1995, they are civil proceedings before a tribunal to which the strict rules of evidence apply. He went on to conclude (§36) that:
 

“COPR 2007, r 95(d) gives the Court of Protection power to admit hearsay evidence which originates from a person who is not competent as a witness and which would otherwise be inadmissible under CEA 1995, s 5. Admissibility is one thing, and the weight to be attached to any particular piece of hearsay evidence will be a matter for specific evaluation in each individual case. Within that evaluation, the fact that the individual from whom the evidence originates is not a competent witness will no doubt be an important factor, just as it is, in a different context, when the family court has to evaluate what has been said by a very young child”
In all the circumstances, I guard against accepting without careful consideration of the evidence as a whole, the hearsay evidence of what TT told LT and WT as proof of the substance of what is alleged against MJ; this is particularly so given the unchallenged evidence of Dr Joyce that TT has a “very limited understanding of the oath”.

 

This is, as always with Cobb J, a very detailed and well-structured judgment, and he eventually reaches these conclusions about the declarations sought

 

Conclusions

Having regard to the matters listed above, I propose to make the following orders/declarations:
 

 

i) For the reasons fully set out above at §25-29, I declare (under section 15 MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to litigate these issues; 

ii) For the reasons fully set out above at §25-29, I declare (under section 15 MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to make decisions about her care and residence;

iii) For the reasons fully set out above at §25-29, I declare (under section 15 MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to make decisions about her contact with others;

iv) For the reasons fully set out above at §28 and §30, I declare that there is reason to believe (section 48 of the MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to consent to sexual relations;

v) For the reasons fully set out above at §30 and §105, I declare that there is reason to believe (section 48 of the MCA 2005) that it would be in TT’s best interests for any education about sexual relations to await the outcome of the criminal trial (in which JJ is a defendant);

vi) For the reasons fully set out above at §8(ii), and §100-102, I find that it is in TT’s best interests that she should continue to reside with her foster carer KK (and that I should make this order under section 15 of the MCA 2005);

vii) For the reasons fully set out above at §8(iv), §100 and §104, I find that it is in TT’s best interests to have no contact with JJ (and that I make this order under section 48 of the MCA 2005);

viii) For the reasons fully set out above at §100 and §103, I find that it is in TT’s best interests to have restricted supervised contact with her mother; this order is made under section 48 MCA 2005; I propose that this should be at a frequency of about twice per week, although with a degree of flexibility. For the time being, the contact should be supervised at least until the conclusion of the criminal trial. At the conclusion of the criminal trial, urgent consideration will be required in relation to whether on-going supervision of contact is in SS’s best interests.

 

 

It does raise important questions – not least being that if the Court of Protection is going to develop a jurisprudence of quasi-care proceedings about vulnerable adults then shouldn’t the parents/carers of those vulnerable adults have access to free legal advice and representation to deal with what can potentially be very grave issues and (as here) potentially extremely serious findings against them of sexual misconduct?

Unravelling the Triad

 

The judgment of Mostyn J in Lancashire County Council and R 2013

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/3064.html

 

This is an interesting one, particularly as it pulls together a body of medical thinking on the cluster of symptoms which normally end with a finding of a non-accidental “shaking injury”

 

The two features of the classic “Triad” which were present here were a subdural bleed in the brain of the child and retinal haemorrhages. One never wants to see those injuries in a child, and for a long time they have been warning indicators that whatever had happened to the child might require the Courts to become involved, not just doctors.

 

The judgment begins by saying that the LA involved were right to bring the case, that they would have been badly criticised if they had not done so, and though the Judge is disappointed that the fact-finding hearing took some eight months to get going he attributes no blame to any of the parties.

 

 

 

The local authority, who through Miss Heaton QC has conducted its case professionally, coolly, and responsibly, argues also that this was not a case of an assault coming out of a clear blue sky perpetrated by a man of unblemished character. Rather, they say that this father is a man with criminal convictions for unprovoked assaults who had at least once prior to the incident assaulted the mother by placing his hands around her throat. Since the incident he has done the same thing again. He had recently lost his job and they were all living in inadequate cramped accommodation. There were plenty of stressors here, it says, which in combination with the father’s aggressive and impulsive personality should lead me to disbelieve him and to conclude in conformity with Mr Newman (in particular) that this was indeed a case of abusive assault.

 

The medical evidence was not speaking with one sole voice

 

On the other hand, some of the medical evidence suggests that this was an assault, although it is fair to say that the experts do not speak with one voice. The expert consultant paediatric ophthalmologist, Mr Newman, believes it is very much more likely than not that these retinal haemorrhages, both in their type and plenitude, are indicative of non-accidental injury. The expert neonatologist, Professor Wyatt, believes it is more likely than not that this was a non-accidental injury, although his degree of certitude is far less firm. However each of these experts accepts that it is possible that the father’s explanation furnishes the true reason for the injuries. The expert paediatrician, Dr Samuels, and the expert paediatric neurosurgeon, Mr Richards, are more equivocal and each believes that the competing scenarios are equally likely.

 

 

The father’s account was that he had got up to tend to the child in the night and had tripped and fallen on the child.

 

 

 

 

It is agreed that the case really boils down to the question of whether I believe the father or not. If I believe his story that this was an accident where he tripped and fell when holding N then that is the end of it. That story is not incompatible with the expert evidence. Mr Newman, while believing it to be highly unlikely does not rule it out. The other experts, more or less, believe that it is about as likely as the assault theory.

 

 

The Judge summarised current medical thinking in relation to subdural bleeds and retinal haemorrhages, and this will be useful to anyone involved in such a case.  It has been some years since I was last involved in an alleged “shaking” injury case, and I cross my fingers that I never see another, but things have certainly developed very significantly since my last one. Underlining here mine for emphasis.

 

  1. Before I look at the individual contributions I wish to make some preliminary observations:-

i) The presence of subdural and retinal haemorrhages, and for that matter encephalopathy (which taken together constitute the famous “triad” referred to in the jurisprudence and the medical literature), do not of themselves prove anything other than the infliction of a head injury. As Mr Richards said, the triad is an indicator of injury only, not of how it occurred.

ii) Inasmuch as the presence of the triad is, or some of its components are, used in the process of forensic proof then this is based on statistical or empirical evidence, which states that there is a high prevalence of these features in many proven cases of abuse. However I was not given evidence as to how many of these cases were proven as a result of the presence of these features, as opposed to those which were proven to be abusive by reference to other evidence, such as confessions. If many were in the former class then of course the process of logical proof may be said to be circular, as Mr Richards pointed out. Further, it is a fact that very many children who present with head injuries arising from an indisputable accident such as a fall are neither scanned nor subjected to ophthalmological testing. They are just patched up and sent home. This is because a CT scan by definition irradiates the brain, which is something to be avoided wherever possible. For a child of more than three months of age a MRI scan requires general anaesthesia – again a procedure not be undertaken unless unavoidable. Ophthalmological testing requires awkward and unpleasant dilation of the pupils. These tests are only likely to be commissioned where there is either a suspicion of abuse or where there are clear symptoms of head injury, such as persistent vomiting. Therefore the data is compiled from a class which has a high prevalence of suspected abusers. Accordingly it might be said, and Mr Richards agreed, that the sample on which the empirical analysis is based is a false or skewed sample.

iii) In the realm of subdural bleeds there seems to have been a relatively recent shift away from the prevailing orthodoxy. Not so very long ago the presence of a subdural haemorrhage in a recently born child was taken to be strongly indicative of abuse unless the birth was especially traumatic. On the basis of this supposition very many children will have been permanently separated from their parents. Yet, authoritative research over the last decade has demonstrated that this supposition is false. The Rooks paper in 2008 was the last of three important pieces of research and showed that no fewer than 46% of normal births caused subdural bleeding. We now know that many appalling miscarriages of justice must have been perpetrated in reliance on the old, now discredited, orthodoxy. Further, current medical and clinical thinking is now prepared to accept that short falls can in many cases cause subdural bleeds; the view that this could only happen exceptionally is now regarded as outdated. As Mr Richards said to me (and this chimes with the judicial opinions cited by me at para 8(ix) above as well as with Secretary Rumsfeld’s famous apothegm about unknowns) “the more you know the more you know you don’t know”.

iv) The ophthalmological world has not undergone an equivalent shift in thinking. Here the view remains that multitudinous bilateral retinal haemorrhages are strongly indicative of abuse and that it will only be exceptionally that they will be the result of an accident. But this is not a unanimous view. Mr Richards told me of the work of Dr Gillian Adams at the Great Ormond Street Hospital who is apparently collating a body of material which she intends to publish which challenges this orthodoxy. Further he referred me to the work of an American pathologist called Dr Lantz who (among other pieces of similar work) has published an article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in November 2011 entitled “Fatal Acute Intracranial Injury, Subdural Haematoma, and Retinal Haemorrhages Caused by Stairway Fall”. This was a case study concerning a 7¾ month old child who fell down a flight of six stairs through a vertical height of 1.42m at a pitch of 37°. Sadly he died. An autopsy established that he had not only suffered from subdural bleeding but also from extensive bilateral retinal haemorrhages. This led Dr Lantz to conclude:

“These published reports of original data are discordant and controversial, making the correct classification of a young child death following a reported short fall a diagnostic challenge. Most childhood stairway and low-level falls do not cause serious head injuries. Nevertheless, not all seemingly minor falls are minor. This case report refutes a pervasive belief that childhood low height falls are invariably trivial events and cannot cause subdural bleeding, fatal intracranial injuries, and extensive multi-layered retinal haemorrhages. The harmful and potentially devastating consequences for a caregiver or family facing a false allegation of child abuse obligate physicians to thoroughly investigate and accurately classify paediatric accidental head injuries”

 

 

There are a number of important things in those passages. Mostyn J makes the very good point that the CT scans and eye examinations tend to be done in cases where abuse is suspected or really serious injuries observed. One knows therefore that the symptoms are present in such cases, but what one doesn’t know is whether they may have been present in much milder cases, such as falls from short heights or accidents. 

 

Also that medical orthodoxy has shifted considerably in recent years in relation to subdural bleeds (the figure of how frequent these are in births made me blink, and I dare say it might make others do the same) and it seems that we may be at an early stage on the same path in relation to retinal haemorrhages.

 

 

 

The final expert witness was Mr Peter Richards, consultant paediatric neurosurgeon at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. In his written report he stated that it is generally considered by most paediatric specialists who deal with infant head injury that low level falls described here do not cause acute subdural haemorrhages, and that a similar thinking applied in the ophthalmological world to retinal haemorrhages. Tellingly he stated that 12 months ago he would have agreed with this view but now he has had cause to doubt it. Only a very small percentage of children who suffer low level falls undergo specialist neuro-radiological investigation. Therefore it is possible that the incidence of low level falls causing subdural bleeding has been underestimated. Indeed in his own practice he had a child who fell off a sofa and who was perfectly well but because that child had a shunt in place it was felt prudent to have a CT scan to make sure that the shunt was working properly. To everyone’s surprise the CT scan showed a subdural haemorrhage. This case, and other cases encountered by him in his medico-legal practice, have led him to question the view that low level falls of the type described here does not lead to subdural bleeding. While he defers to an ophthalmologist in relation to retinal haemorrhages he drew my attention to the work of Gillian Adams to which I have referred which apparently will show that low level falls may cause significant retinal haemorrhaging. In the circumstances from a medical standpoint he could not determine whether the history as given is true or false on the basis of the medical features alone

 

 

There were four very heavyweight experts in this case, drawn from a variety of disciplines. Their evidence was necessary for the Judge to reach a proper finding, and one hopes that the drive towards less experts and faster resolution (remember, this finding of fact hearing took two months longer than the entire duration of proceedings that we are meant to be aiming for) doesn’t end with investigations of this type in future not being sufficiently thorough.

 

 

The Judge then drew these strands together, and considered the totality of the father’s evidence

 

  1. I therefore now state my final conclusions. I am of the opinion that a schism is beginning to form between the subdural and retinal disciplines concerning the forces involved in low level falls. I agree with the submission made by Mr Storey QC that in some respects the medical evidence given on behalf of the respective disciplines is irreconcilable.
  1. I remind myself that medical science is always moving on. It was not that long ago that the bleeding of patients and the use of leeches was de rigueur. Given the striking differences of emphasis and approach by the two disciplines it would in my judgment be dangerous for me to judge this case predominantly by reference to the mainstream orthodox opinion of Mr Newman particularly where there is research in the wings which may question that orthodoxy. If Mr Newman had not made his contribution I doubt whether this case would have been pursued after the subdural reports were in. So my overall assessment of the medical evidence looked at in isolation is that it does not provide me with a sure or firm basis on which to conclude that it was more likely than not that these injuries were caused abusively.
  1. In my opinion the absence of any of the tell-tale concomitant injuries which so often feature in shaking cases is important in helping me to inform the judgment which I must make.
  1. I do not know how the medical profession will resolve the statistical conundrum to which I have referred. Obviously children who have suffered minor falls cannot be routinely scanned and tested ophthalmologically. But until the data referable to these minor falls has been assembled I do not see how a statistically valid survey can be undertaken which can authentically and rationally conclude whether such falls do, or do not, regularly give rise to retinal and subdural haemorrhaging. Further, in order for the empirical work to be sufficiently persuasive to lead to the very serious findings that are sought here there surely has to be a discrimination between short falls from a standing start and the sort of fall described here which must have involved considerable horizontal, vertical and rotational forces. Yet so far as I am aware no such discrimination is made in the medical literature.
  1. And so I turn to the credibility of the father. I do not form the same adverse view of him as a man and a parent as that advanced by the local authority. He has very obvious flaws; but he has qualities also. I judge him to be truthful in his evidence to me, but I have to be alive to the possibility that he is a highly accomplished liar capable of embellishing a pack of lies with convincing snippets of circumstantial detail and by affecting displays of emotion. However in this particular regard I am assisted by the stance of the mother who is represented by the highest quality counsel and solicitors. Having heard all the evidence, having received appropriate advice, and knowing the father better than anyone in the courtroom, she firmly believes that he is telling the truth.
  1. In judging the father’s credibility I do not place any weight on his criminal record as being suggestive of a propensity to assault his infant daughter. The crimes in question, while deplorable, are of a totally different character to the one alleged here. By the same token I do not derive any assistance in my task from the two ugly and unpleasant incidents where the father manhandled the mother. Again, this conduct, which is much to be deprecated, is in a class apart from the conduct which is alleged here. Further, I do not accept that this was a family beset by stress. In fact the evidence shows that the family was living a mundane quotidian existence where the focus of attention of the parents was their beloved daughter.
  1. If this was a case of abuse then it was a very bad case indeed because it would not only have involved a violent shaking but then the hurling of N, or the bashing of her face, against a hard surface. It would have been an assault in two parts. This takes the theory beyond a momentary loss of self-control into the territory of sheer malignity. I consider this to be unlikely. On the other hand the father’s account is perfectly consistent with both the haemorrhages and the facial wounds. Mr Rowley QC submitted, that when looking at this aspect the process of logical reasoning known as Occam’s Razor favours the father’s case. I agree. Further, there are aspects to the local authority’s theory that are problematic. If N was crying loudly and incessantly, so much so that the father snapped and brutally assaulted her in the manner alleged, then why did these cries not wake the mother up? If N was crying loudly and incessantly why did the father not simply take her upstairs to her mother? No satisfactory answers to these questions were given to me.

 

 

[Of course, being trite, the last two questions are true of almost every case of physical abuse that is actually proven. We will never know why the other parent did not wake up, or why the parent who felt that they were about to lose it faced with an inconsolable baby doesn’t just walk away. I didn’t feel, personally, that the last two questions really add much. Nor would I necessarily want to see Judges placing huge weight on the underlined passage – the fact that mum believes dad isn’t all that helpful necessarily.  I can see why in this case, they added to a preponderance of evidence that was pointing towards exonerating the father, of course]

 

Despite those slight qualms about the final summation, this is a very rigorous judgment, drawing together some important strands and highlighting the tension between medical thinking on subdural bleeds and retinal haemorrhages and that there is research around or forthcoming which challenges the orthodox view on the latter.

 

This case is likely to be a good starting point for any lawyer faced with a case involving such injuries.