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Adoption rates in freefall

I’ve been asked if I would write about the story in the newspapers this week about adoption rates going down and the blame being placed on some high profile case law decisions. This is the first time that I have ever received a request, so I should oblige.  [If anyone’s future request is that I write about my love of Jaime Lannister, or that Joe Hill’s Locke and Key is the best comic series since Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol, then for those, it’s on like Donkey Kong]

 

The Painting that Ate Paris (Doom Patrol)

The Painting that Ate Paris (Doom Patrol)

 

Locke and Key - this is what happens when you use the Head key to look inside your own mind

Locke and Key – this is what happens when you use the Head key to look inside your own mind

 

 

So, here is the Independent piece – there’s a startlingly similar one in the The Times, but you need to pay Rupert Murdoch money to look at it. The choice is yours.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/adoption-rates-in-freefall-after-court-ruling-leaves-children-languishing-in-unsuitable-homes-10245614.html

 

This piece is very knowledgeable about family law and case law – more than you’d expect from a journalist. The fact that two newspaper articles with the same cases turned up this week makes me suspect a press release was involved.  The same piece appears on the BBC website.

 

Let’s have a look at it bit by bit.

The number of children being put forward for adoption has plummeted over the past year following a series of court rulings that have left local authorities frightened of removing them from birth families.

Child welfare experts are worried the decline will mean more children suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes. It also means agonising delays for parents approved for adoption who now find no children are available.

The number of children signed off for adoption fell from 1,550 in the summer quarter of 2013 to 780 in the same period last year, down almost 50 per cent.  

 

Okay, well firstly, whilst one feels for an adopter who is waiting for a child, the family justice system isn’t, and shouldn’t be, prioritised to deliver children to adopters. The idea is that the family justice system tests fairly whether a parent can be helped to care for their child, with adoption being the last resort. Secondly, “Signed off for adoption” is not only a very ugly expression, it is hard to put a proper meaning on it. Does it mean “The Agency Decision maker decides that adoption is the plan the social worker should recommend to the Court”?  or does it mean “A Placement Order is made”?

As the Department for Education hasn’t published (yet) the statistics that is getting all of these newspapers up in arms, it is a bit difficult to tell. The thrust of the article suggests that the drop in figures is that Local Authorities are too scared to ask for adoption, so the assumption is that the drop here is in the number of APPLICATIONS for Placement Orders (i.e a social worker recommending to the Agency Decision Maker that adoption should be the plan and the ADM agreeing) – that in itself could be that social workers are asking the Agency Decision Maker less often, or that the Agency Decision Maker is saying no more often, or both.

That in turn could be because the thrust of the Re B, Re B-S et al decisions made social workers look harder and more carefully at whether adoption really was the right plan for a child – could more be done to support a parent, could those grandparents who are not ideal be good enough? Really hard to guage that from statistics – you’d need to have a look at a pile of actual cases and compare the sort of cases that were ending up with adoption in 2013 that are now ending up with parents or grandparents.  It is also difficult to know whether that’s a bad thing anyway. If the trend is to be more willing to work with parents or grandparents who are not perfect, but could be helped to be good enough, that could be a perfectly laudable aim. We might not know whether that greater willingness to give things a try was a long overdue adjustment or a bad mistake for a few years – the real test will be whether those attempts broke down.  At the moment, we can’t even tell if that’s what happened.

Certainly Local Authorities aren’t taking any less care proceedings than they used to. The latest CAFCASS statistics show that the number of applications is continuing to go up – 18% up on this time last year.

I honestly don’t think, and the recent clarifications from the Court of Appeal make this clear, that the caselaw ever meant that children should be “suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes”. If the Court considers that the alternatives to adoption are unsuitable and unsafe, then adoption is going to be the outcome. Nothing has changed there. I also don’t think that social workers have decided to leave children “suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes” as a result of Re B, Re B-S et al, rather than asking for adoption as the plan. What might have changed is that it is no longer enough to just assert that an alternative is ‘unsuitable’, but you have to evidence it. I don’t consider that a bad thing.

 

Next

But in November 2013 the President of the Family Court, Sir James Munby, made a ruling that left many local authorities convinced they must try every extended family member before putting a child up for adoption. The judge said that six-month targets for adoptions should not be allowed to break up families unnecessarily and that grandparents and other extended family members should be considered before placing children for adoption.

It had been hoped that a second ruling last December from the same judge, clarifying he had not changed the law in the original judgment, would curb the freefall in adoption numbers. But instead further rulings from Sir James and other judges have exacerbated the problem.

 

The first case is Re B-S  – and you can read my post about that case here https://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/09/17/this-is-some-serious-b-s/    – it was undoubtedly a big case, telling social workers, Guardians AND Judges that decision-making on adoption cases had gotten very sloppy and that the argument to justify making such a serious order needed to be clearer, stronger and more analytical. It was no longer enough to parrot stock phrases about why a child needed to be adopted – a proper comparison of the pros and cons of EACH option tailored for the individual child needed to take place. It is really hard to see much wrong with Re B-S. If anything, it should have been said years earlier. There’s nothing in it to suggest that a Court should leave a child ‘suffering in an unsafe and unsuitable home’

 

The scond case is Re R – and you can read my post about that case here https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/12/18/re-r-is-b-s-dead/  – that clarifies that some of the more outlandish claims that lawyers had pushed to extremes about Re B-S – that it was a “climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every river – before you make a Placement Order” case was not right, but that everything I just said above was still right, and the Supreme Court’s formulation that “the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do.”  was still bang on right.

 

Next – let’s have a look at these further confusing rulings

In January Sir James granted an appeal in a case in Liverpool where three children were taken away from a mother with a history of drug and alcohol abuse who was given no opportunity to prepare a case.

The President of the Family Court ruled that the “ruthlessly truncated process” employed by the earlier judge in the case – who had admitted he was motivated by a desire to embrace family justice reforms designed to encourage adoption – was “unprincipled and unfair”.

 

Well, that’s the His Honour Judge Dodds case, where he made Care Orders at the very first hearing (i.e in week one) in order to beat the week 26 target, even though nobody in the case had asked him to do that and there was no final evidence filed by anyone. That’s not a warning to Judges not to make adoption orders – that’s basic common sense that a Judge who behaves in a way that is utterly unfair is going to get overruled. Nobody with any common sense looked at that case and felt that it had worrying implications for adoption cases, or that it meant that children should be ‘suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes” –  If you read this piece and think “Well, I don’t know why the Court of Appeal had any problem with what the Judge did” then I’m not sure I can help you. https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/02/sentence-first-verdict-afterwards/

 

What’s the next ‘confusing’ ruling?  (I wasn’t in any way confused by the last one) – this one apparently had a “similar chilling effect on Local Authorities desire to expedite adoption cases” as the His Honour Judge Dodds one did.  (not that it should have done – the Dodds one wasn’t even about adoption)

 

Another case decided in January is understood to have had a similar chilling effect on local authorities’ desire to expedite adoption cases. Mr Justice Keehan ruled that Northamptonshire County Council had made “egregious failures” in its handling of the case of a baby taken into care without proper assessments of the mother or the maternal grandparents in Latvia. The baby was eventually placed with his maternal grandparents.

I wrote about that one too – you may pick up a slightly different tone from the title of the piece https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/03/unfortunate-and-woeful-local-authority-failings/

This was just an old-fashioned Local Authority f**k-up. Sorry to anyone involved, but that’s what it was. This wasn’t a case where Local Authorities read it and it had a chilling effect on them, making them think “gosh, if social workers are getting told off for this exemplary work, then we may as well pack it in and let children suffer in unsuitable and unsafe homes” – it was one that you read and thought “If you f**ked up as royally as that, you are going to get the judicial ass-whupping that they got”.   There’s nothing in that case that would make anyone think “well, I really think in my heart of hearts that this child should be adopted, but because the law has done something weird and stupid, I guess I’ll have to leave the child to suffer in an unsuitable and unsafe home”

[Yes, I’m hammering home that phrase, because I think it is seriously misleading]

If there are Local Authorities, or social workers (and I really doubt it) that took the His Honour Judge Dodds decision and the Northamptonshire decision and interpreted them as ‘adoption is even harder to get now’  rather than ‘if you really screw something up, expect not to get away with it” then these articles are doing a great public service in correcting that total misapprehension and interpretation of the law.

Anything else?

 

No, there are no other “chilling” or “confusing” cases cited.  That’s a shame, because one could make a case for the President’s decision in Re A fits the bill far better than the two examples they have chosen.  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/17/a-tottering-edifice-built-on-inadequate-foundations/

 

For a start, it is a case where a Local Authority asked for adoption and didn’t get it – and walked away with nothing but a flea in their ear. More than that, it is a case where what looked like perfectly decent threshold criteria (the concerns that a Local Authority have to prove exist in order to get an order) was torn to bits by the Judge. And finally, it had principles and issues which affected all cases, not just the particular one being decided (unlike the two examples that were used), and there is a distinct possibility that that bar was raised, making Care Orders (and hence indirectly Placement Orders and hence adoptions) more difficult to obtain, since it is now harder to prove that the threshold is met.

But once again, the law is not saying that children ought to suffer in unsuitable and unsafe homes. It is saying that where a Local Authority says that a child should live somewhere else, they need to produce proper evidence and analysis to show WHY their home would be unsuitable and unsafe. Re B-S and Re A are not saying that adoption isn’t the right outcome for some children, but they are saying that where the State (whether that be a social worker or a Judge) is taking a child permanently away from a parent, the least that society can expect is that they both work very hard and have proper evidence and reasons for why that has to happen.

Perhaps when the stats do come out, the adoption figures really will have ‘fallen off a cliff’, just as the article claims.  Perhaps that is because social workers, lawyers, Agency Decision Makers and Judges are paralysed by chilling and confusing case law. But it might be that the numbers were too high before, and proper scrutiny of the evidence and proper analysis of what is really involved has meant that we aren’t placing children for adoption unless the proper tests are met.

 

Sometimes, an initial look at something can make you chilled and scared, and even want to throw stones. But a longer more detailed careful consideration can make you realise that Jaime Lannister kicks ass y’all, and that a Lannister always pays his debts.

 

Plus, he has a gold hand. A hand made of gold. What's not to like?

Plus, he has a gold hand. A hand made of gold. What’s not to like?

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Judicial appointment is not a licence to be gratuitously rude

 

You may recall His Honour Judge Dodds, who has not had the best time with appeals in the lifespan of this blog.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/02/sentence-first-verdict-afterwards/

where he made full Care Orders at the first hearing, when none of the parties were expecting that or asking for it.

 

and

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/07/02/go-on-then-appeal-me-i-dare-you/

 

Where the Judge refused to assess family members largely because they were in Poland and offered the remarkable sentence of “If you don’t like it, there is always the Court of Appeal”

 

And this is the one that I’ve been waiting for.

Re A (Children) 2015

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed143386

 

This was an appeal, arising from the conduct of a hearing. The Judge was asked for several things at that hearing. The mother and father both applied to discharge the Care Order and for more contact. The child SA, asked for DNA testing, saying that she had always had doubts that the father was really her biological father.

It is quite a short judgment, and practically every line of it is remarkable. This is the sort of thing that people who disapprove of the family justice system can rightly point to and say “This is the sort of thing that goes on”

In this case, the appeal was probably the easiest that the Court of Appeal have ever had to deal with – every single aspect of the hearing was wrong and improper. So in this case, the system screwed up royally, but then worked because an appeal put things right. But what we can never know is how many times something a bit like this happens and the advocates don’t appeal. Either they can’t get funding, or their client doesn’t want to, or they take the view that appealing a Judge who approaches things in this way is going to be counter productive in the future  (the “don’t poke an angry bear with a stick” argument)

 

It is a terrible indictment and this case makes sorry reading. The only consolation really is that the child herself was not in Court.

 

5. The importance of and the right of children to know the identity of their biological father has long been recognised and has only recently been restated by the President in Re Z (Children) [2014] EWHC 1999 Fam. Para 5. An application under section 55A is the proper procedural route in order to determine the parentage of a child. It must therefore have caused Ms Roberts and Mr Saunders (who acted on behalf of the Local Authority), considerable consternation when the judge, having dismissed out of hand the father’s application to discharge the care order as, “Factious” and the mother’s as, “An affront”, turned to Mr Saunders and told him that in relation to the section 55A application, “You may want to put your crash helmet on”.

6. Mr Saunders and Ms Roberts valiantly tried to explain to the judge what they sought and why they sought it, only to be met with evermore intemperate responses from the judge. In relation, for example, to the cost of the DNA testing, Ms Roberts told the judge that Legal Aid would paid for it. The response was, “You can pay for it if you want, I will let you. In fact, I am half minded to make an order that you do so”. Judge Dodds continued, “If she (meaning SA) told you that the moon is made of green cheese will you say, ‘Yes, S, no, S, three bags full S?” He continued: “The lunatics have truly taken over the asylum” and “For heaven sake, in this day and age especially, just because the lunatic says, ‘I want, I want’, you do not have to respond by spoon feeding their every wish”. The judge went on to comment, “Can I tell you how bitterly resentful I am at how much of my Saturday I spent reading this codswallop”.

7. Finally, the judge in dealing with the actual application said, “There is not a syllable of evidence before me to warrant making the order you seek and so it is refused”. He went concluded:

“At lest there be a nanosecond’s doubt as to the application for an order under section 55A of the Family Law Act 1986, I am nothing short of appalled that it was thought that public funds could be expended upon such nonsense. And I tell you I am within a hair’s breadth of ordering that any costs incurred in respect of that application should be paid by you.”

 

 

The Appeal Court, as indicated earlier, had no trouble in deciding that the appeal had to be granted and the case sent back to a different Judge for re-hearing.

 

9. In my judgment, it is not necessary to consider the merits of the application itself. The submission that the hearing amounted to a serious procedural irregularity is unanswerable. Each of the points made in the skeleton argument are made good when the transcript is considered. The judge did not allow proper submissions to be made; the premature threat of costs inevitably, and rightly, gave the impression that the judge had a closed mind in relation to the application and no proper reasons were given for the decision to dismiss the application. The manner in which the hearing was conducted went far beyond anything that could be characterised as robust case management.

10. In the event, neither parent attended the hearing, fortunately, although not surprisingly, SA was not there either. Even so, the unrestrained and immoderate language used by the judge must, I am afraid, be deplored and is wholly unacceptable. Such bombast can only leave advocates seeking to present, on instructions, their cases to the court feeling browbeaten and impotent and, rightly, as though their lay clients have been denied a fair hearing.

 

 

and

 

The transcript of the hearing makes embarrassing reading and I hope that Judge Dodds will read it for himself and be ashamed of his behaviour on that particular occasion. Appointment as a judge, at whatever level, is not a license for intemperate language or for being gratuitously rude to advocates and others appearing before you. Judge Dodds’ behaviour on that occasion was beyond what is permissible. It meant that there was a serious procedural irregularity. That particular hearing was not fair. I do emphasise that my remarks concern only that one particular hearing. However, this appeal must be allowed.

 

I am aware that the newspapers in Liverpool made enquiries about whether there was an investigation or complaint into judicial conduct as a result, and were told that there was not, because no complaint had been received.  One does not want to see judicial complaints made each and every time a Judge loses an appeal or gets something wrong, but you might think that an appeal judgment as serious as this might be a trigger for an investigation without a formal complaint being made.

 

[In case you are ever before a Court and this sort of thing happens, and I very much hope that it never does, there is a formal body who deal with complaints about judicial conduct, as a separate body to the appeal process which deals with the decision made.

 

http://judicialconduct.judiciary.gov.uk/making-a-complaint.htm

Sentence first, verdict afterwards

Some extraordinary appeals kicking around – there’s a cracker called Re A, which involves a judge shouting at a 13 year old child and threatening to make costs orders against her personally (but I’m waiting for that to go up on Bailii).

 

In the meantime, this little treasure.

Re S-W children 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/27.html

 

Three children, 14, 11 and 10. They’d been living with grandparents for about a year and a half by the time the case came to Court, because the mother was having problems with alcohol and drugs and was struggling to end a violent relationship.  There had been a period just before issue where rehabilitation looked like a possibility, but the assessment looking at that had been unsuccessful.

It wasn’t an initial hearing where there looked to be great prospects of these children returning to mother’s care, but one has to bear in mind that these were not tiny tots, but children of 14,11 and 10, and who would have their own views to express and be considered.

The Children’s Guardian had made it plain in the initial document that she hadn’t been able to meet the children yet, but knew that all three were saying they wanted to go home to mother, and that this would be an important part of her work.

The first hearing then, was one in which all of the lawyers were in agreement that there was some work to be done

 

i) The local authority would pay for a drugs hair strand test on the mother. This was a matter of considerable importance …….because

ii) the local authority were to convene a Family Group conference in order to see if a way could be found for LW to return, in whole or part, to the care of his mother. It was hoped that if that could safely be achieved, it might act as a break on the disruptive behaviour which was leading to the constant breakdown in his placements. The local authority note of the meeting says “is it just about good enough with mum, may be able to go back.” The timetable was to provide for an addendum to the parenting assessment already filed by the local authority;

iii) Efforts were to be made to trace the father of ES who had not been served;

iv) Neither of the grandmothers wished to be considered as foster carers and therefore Special Guardianship assessments were to be carried out by the local authority with a view to securing the future of those two children by the making of Special Guardianship Orders;

v) It was agreed that a slimmed down number of documents from that listed by the Guardian in her report would be disclosed, but that only one or two of those documents would be placed in the bundle. This would allow the Guardian to carry out a full review of the case whilst ensuring compliance with Practice Direction 27A – Family Proceedings: Court Bundles (Universal Practice to be applied in the High Court and Family Court)… the Bundles Direction) para 5.1 which limits the court bundle to 350 pages of A4 text; (see also Re W (Children)(Strict Compliance with Court Orders) [2014] EWFC 22);

vi) The matter would be listed for an early Issues Resolution Hearing (IRH) with a view to the case being concluded substantially within 26 weeks.

 

The Judge, His Honour Judge Dodds (who you might remember from https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/07/02/go-on-then-appeal-me-i-dare-you     – they did, he lost)  took something of a robust approach, making Care Orders and ending the case at the first hearing, making that decision within minutes, not listening to anyone, and not giving a judgment.

 

  1. A transcript of the hearing in front of the judge has been made available; it reveals that within a matter of minutes, the judge had made abundantly clear, in trenchant terms, his determination to conclude the case there and then by making final care orders. The judge was fortified in his approach, he told the parties, by the fact that the previous week (30 July 2014), an application for permission to appeal in relation to another final care order he had made at the CMH in a different case had been refused by McFarlane LJ : Re H (Children) Case No: B4/2014/2033.
  2. The judge was scathing of the Guardian’s report and her reasons for requesting further information, saying that “advice about the practice direction that came in on 31st July” (a reference to the new Bundles Direction), would signal the end to what he referred to as “this sort of Victorian detail”.
  3. In relation to LW’s situation he said that whilst he wished LW “every good luck in the world but the Children Act and the court has nothing to do with it”.
  4. All the parties crumbled under the judge’s caustically expressed views, and as a consequence, were unable to explain to the judge that the situation was more complicated than the one the judge clearly saw, and expressed. The judge viewed the case as one in which he had before him three children each of whom had been in care for well over a year, two of whom were in settled placements. The mother he saw had had a recent positive drugs test, and therefore in his mind, the inevitable outcome was the making of care orders. The judge said that all future placement decisions in relation to LW would be made by the local authority through the Looked After Children review process (LAC reviews).
  5. At one stage the judge referred to the mother as looking “upset and bewildered”. It is hard to see how she could have looked otherwise given the course the proceedings were taking.
  6. The judge gave neither a judgment nor reasons prior to making final care orders in relation to all three children.

 

I imagine there was something of a sprint or scissors-paper-stone battle as to which of the parties was going to appeal this first.  Bear in mind that this was a DIRECTIONS hearing, the first hearing in the case and that nobody had been suggesting that the Court should make final orders.

 

The Court of Appeal had to consider whether the Judge might, just might, have exceeded his robust case management powers, and instead made an order which was disproportionate and unfair.

The fact that when Permission to appeal was granted, McFarlane LJ had effectively said to the appeal judges “Bloody hell folks, you really need to check THIS ONE out” was rather telling:-

“In any event, there is a compelling reason sufficient to justify this case being considered by the Court of Appeal. The judge’s approach could not have been more robust. He sought to justify such an approach on the basis that recent family justice reforms and case law. There is a need for the Court of Appeal to consider whether such a robust summary approach is justified and/or required by the recent extensive changes to procedure and case law and, if so, how the basic requirements of a fair trial and judicial analysis are to be accommodated in such a process”.

 

Nicely put.  The  approach adopted ‘could not have been more robust’  – well, not unless the advocates in sequential order had carefully and precisely driven their cars into the Judge’s own car in front of him, moments before the hearing. The Court of Appeal do wonders with their “hell to the power of no, squared”

  1. The expectation is therefore that a CMH will ordinarily be an essential management hearing designed to get the case in proper order to enable it to be ready for disposal, whether by consent or following a contested hearing, within 26 weeks. This is in contrast to the IRH when all the evidence, including expert evidence should be filed and where, unlike the CMH, the rules specifically require consideration to be given as to whether the IRH “can be used as a final hearing” (PD12A Stage 3- Issues Resolution Hearing)
  2. Every care judge will be conscious that, whilst it is in a child’s best interests for their future to be determined without delay, it is equally in their best interests that the management of the case which determines their future should be fair and Article 6 compliant. The danger lies when, as unfortunately happened here, vigorous and robust case management tips over into an unfair summary disposal of a case.

 

The President took up the baton

  1. My Lord has drawn attention to the famous words of Lord Hewart CJ in R v Sussex Justices [1924] 1 KB 256, 259. In the present case it is unhappily all too apparent that no dispassionate observer of the proceedings or reader of the transcript could think that justice was done, let alone that it was seen to be done. It was not.
  2. Vigorous and robust case management has a vital role to play in all family cases, but as rule 1.1 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 makes clear, the duty of the court is to “deal with cases justly, having regard to any welfare issues involved”. So, as my Lord has emphasised, robustness cannot trump fairness.
  3. In the context of case management, fairness has two aspects: first, the case management hearing itself must be conducted fairly; secondly, as I observed in the passage in Re TG to which my Lord has referred, the task of the case management judge is to arrange a trial that is fair. Here, there was a failure in both respects.
  4. We are all familiar with the aphorism that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. But justice can equally be denied if inappropriately accelerated. An unseemly rush to judgment can too easily lead to injustice. As Pauffley J warned in Re NL (A child) (Appeal: Interim Care Order: Facts and Reasons) [2014] EWHC 270 (Fam), [2014] 1 FLR 1384, para 40, “Justice must never be sacrificed upon the altar of speed.”
  5. Rule 22.1 gives the case management judge extensive powers to control the evidence in a children case: see Re TG, paras 27-28. But these powers must always be exercised, especially in care cases where the stakes are so high, in a way which pays due regard to two fundamental principles which apply as much to family cases as to any other type of case.
  6. First, a parent facing the removal of their child must be entitled to put their case to the court, however seemingly forlorn. It is one of the oldest principles of our law – it goes back over 400 years, to the earliest years of the seventeenth century – that no-one is to be condemned unheard: see Re G (Care: Challenge to Local Authority’s Decision) [2003] EWHC 551 (Fam), [2003] 2 FLR 42, paras 28-29. As I observed (para 55):

    “The fact, if fact it be, that the circumstances are such as to justify intervention by the State, … does not absolve the State of its duty nonetheless to act fairly. It is not enough for the State to make a fair decision: the State must itself act fairly in the way in which it goes about arriving at its decision.”

    A parent who wishes to give evidence in answer to a local authority’s care application must surely be permitted to do so.

  7. Secondly, there is the right to confront ones accusers. So, a parent who wishes to cross-examine an important witness whose evidence is being relied upon by the local authority must surely be permitted to do so.
  8. I stress the word important. I am not suggesting that a parent has an absolute right to cross-examine every witness or to ask unlimited questions of a witness merely with a view to ‘testing the evidence’ or in the hope, Micawber-like, that something may turn up. Case management judges have to strike the balance, ensuring that there is a fair trial, recognising that a fair trial does not entitle a parent, even in a care case, to explore every by-way, but also being alert to ensure that no parent is denied the right to put the essence of their case to witnesses on those parts of their evidence that may have a significant impact on the outcome.
  9. Quite apart from the fundamentally important points of principle which are here in play, there is great danger in jumping too quickly to the view that nothing is likely to be achieved by hearing evidence or allowing cross-examination, in concluding that the outcome is obvious. My Lord has referred to what Megarry J said in John v Rees. The forensic context there was far removed from the one with which are here concerned, but the point is equally apposite. As I said in Re TG, para 72:

    “Most family judges will have had the experience of watching a seemingly solid care case brought by a local authority being demolished, crumbling away, at the hands of skilled and determined counsel.”

  10. I agree with my Lady that there can, in principle, be care cases where the final order is made at the case management hearing. But, unless the decision goes by concession or consent, it will only be exceptionally, in unusual circumstances and on rare occasions, that this can ever be appropriate. Re H, to which my Lady has referred, was such a case, but the particular and unusual facts which there justified a summary process need to be borne in mind. Re H is not and must not be treated as justification for any general principle, let alone for proceeding as the judge did in the present case.
  11. Quite apart from the fact that such a ruthlessly truncated process as the judge adopted here was fundamentally unprincipled and unfair, it also prevented both the children’s guardian and the court doing what the law demanded of them in terms of complying with the requirements of the Children Act 1989 and PD12A. I agree with my Lady’s analysis, in particular in relation to care plans and the meaning and effect of the various provisions in sections 31 and 31A of the Act to which she has referred.

 

Now, of course Judges are human beings, and can have a bad day. And of course, there are some Judges who would have read the background and thought “well, this is one that has some inevitability written all over it”. There might even be Judges who would cut back on the timetable proposed by the parties and view this as a fast track case. One could make a reasonable argument for finishing this case in 10 weeks rather than 26.

There might even be Judges who are unable to supress what their eyebrows think of the whole state of affairs.

But if you’re a Judge in a family case who has made a decision which the appeal Courts can describe as ruthlesss, fundamentally unprincipled and unfair, then things have gone very badly wrong.

I don’t practice in this particular area of the country, but I wonder whether any advocate representing a parent could possibly feel that their client is going to get a fair hearing from a Judge who was capable of making a decision of this sort.