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A heartbreaking case of staggering genius

 

It isn’t really heartbreaking – when you read about how two people are arguing about how to divide a fortune of £144 million it stirs up the expression ‘my heart bleeds’, but it is a case where Holman J tackles the word ‘genius’   – and his approach interested me.

Gray v Work 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/834.html

 

It so happens that I agree with Holman J that the word is massively overused.  Just as a quick random sampling – 458,000 hits for “wayne rooney genius” and 35 million for ‘george north genius’  – both of whom are exceptionally talented and gifted sportsmen, but they aren’t geniuses  (geni-ii?)

  1. Paragraph 80 of Charman, excerpted in paragraph (vi) above, is one of several authorities that employ the word “genius”. It appears also in Lambert, and very recently in Cooper-Hohn, and in other authorities in which the court has debated whether the person claiming a special contribution possesses the quality of “genius.” I personally find that a difficult, and perhaps unhelpful, word in this context. To my mind, the word “genius” tends to be over-used and is properly reserved for Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein, and others like them. It may lead, as it did in this case, to the rather crude question to (in this case) the husband: “You don’t describe yourself as a genius, do you?” Not surprisingly, the husband, like any person with a modicum of modesty, was rather nonplussed by the question. Oscar Wilde is famously said to have declared that he had nothing to declare but his genius. More modest, even if exceptionally talented, people may be slow to make such a claim.
  2. What I understand is meant by the word “genius” in this context, and what is required for a claim to a special contribution to succeed, is some “exceptional and individual quality which deserves special treatment.” See Charman at paragraph 80. But the fact that judges have used the word “genius” in this context does tend to underline how exceptional, individual and special the quality has to be.
  3. It is clear from the above propositions and the outcome in other cases that hard work alone is not enough. Many people work extremely hard at every level of society and employment. Hard work alone lacks the necessary quality of exceptionality. Further, to attach special weight to hard work in employment risks undervaluing in a highly discriminatory way the hard work involved in running a home and rearing children.
  4. It is clear also that a successful claim to a special contribution requires some exceptional and individual quality in the spouse concerned. Being in the right place at the right time, or benefiting from a period of boom is not enough. It may one day fall for consideration whether a very highly paid footballer, who is very good at his job but may be no more skilful that past greats, such as Stanley Matthews or Bobby Charlton, makes a special contribution or is merely the lucky beneficiary of the colossal payments now made possible by the sale of television rights.

 

[I think personally I would go with Da Vinci, Mozart, Darwin and Einstein, and I don’t tend to use genius for anyone else – I know that my definition is narrow. {I wrestled with including Orwell, but had to finally conclude that this would open the door to too many others. If Sherlock Holmes had been a real person, would he have been a genius? Just short, I think.}  It would be a definition which means that the special contribution ancillary relief test would not be met for anyone, were I deciding it, since those four men are long gone. And actually it conflicts with the second definition in the dictionary

an exceptionally intelligent person or one with exceptional skill in a particular area of activity.  So in the unlikely event that I was sitting on the Court of Appeal, I would overrule my own definition as being wrong…]
The other issue of general application relates to the ever popular (and I use ‘popular’ here to mean ‘hatefully recurring and more difficult to ignore than one would ideally like’ as in “One Direction are a very popular band”) theme of excessively large bundles
  1. The parties have spent approaching £3,000,000 on legal fees and associated expenditure. For that, you get very high quality legal teams, and each of them has been very well represented, but it does not appear to have facilitated a conciliatory outcome to this case.
  2. Further, some of the spending has been, in my view, profligate and unnecessary. Ordinary people litigating in the family courts about very serious issues, such as whether their children should be adopted or returned from care or whether life support of a child should be maintained or ended, do not have the luxury of, nor, frankly, the need for, two shorthand writers in court throughout the hearing, producing overnight transcripts to which negligible reference was later made. It is an extravagance. Whilst it was a privilege to hear from two Texan matrimonial lawyers, I do not think the cost of their travel and attendance was justifiable or necessary.
  3. The bundles were excessive and proved inconvenient for me, for witnesses who struggled with them in the witness box, and at least at one stage for Mr Howard QC. At one point we had the absurdity of going to one bundle for a letter and another bundle for the reply. There was a pre-trial hearing before a circuit judge on 3rd December 2014. He had no other involvement in the case either before or after that day. Amongst many other directions, he did formally give “permission for the trial bundle to be extended to six lever arch files…” I asked Mr Tim Bishop QC, who appeared on behalf of the wife, and who was present on 3rd December 2014, whether the circuit judge had exercised his own independent discretion in agreeing to six bundles, or whether he had been seduced by counsel. Mr Bishop immediately and frankly said that the judge had been seduced by counsel and that it was not an independent assessment by the judge. It was rubber stamped. This is not how the very important Practice Direction 27A is intended to be applied. Further, the cardinal and over arching words of the practice direction are the opening words of paragraph 4.1: “The bundle shall contain copies of only those documents which are relevant to the hearing and which it is necessary for the court to read or which will actually be referred to during the hearing …” However many bundles the court may authorise, there should be no document within them which does not fall within that rubric in paragraph 4.1. I have not kept a tally in the present case, but I am confident that the total number of documents read or referred to is less than half the total of well over two thousand pages assembled in the bundles.
  4. In his judgment in L (a child) [2015] EWFC 15, handed down last week, the President of the Family Division has given due and crystal clear warning that these excesses will no longer be tolerated. What I wish to emphasise is that although that judgment related to care proceedings, every single word of the relevant part of it applies no less, and arguably more, to financial remedy proceedings.

I did rather like the language of whether in agreeing that there should be six bundles in the case, the Judge had been ‘seduced by counsel’.

I’m not sure that seduction efforts that involve allowing a Judge to permit additional lever arch files into evidence is going to be a subject matter that would particularly tempt Hollywood into incorporating it into Rom-coms, and probably it will be a while before my huge rollercoaster of a script “Pride and Pagination” gets picked up by Hugh Grant, but a man can dream.    [My action-ancillary-adventure movie starring Matt Damon  “The Besterman Cushion” is in post-production, so there’s that]

[I would have to say that having a letter in one bundle and the reply to that letter in a different one is fairly illustrative of things having gotten completely out of hand]

It is different counsel who later on posits that in the list of assets that the wife has suggested should be transferred to her contains some ‘duffs’ as well as ‘plums’  – I don’t think I am anywhere near well-bred enough to ever get away with using it; but I still liked it.

  1. The wife and her legal team have attempted to avoid the dispute as to discounts by proposing what they call Wells v Wells sharing. They have identified about 24 assets in the asset schedule which they suggest should be transferred in whole or in part to the wife, inclusive of any inherent discount. Whilst I welcome and appreciate their desire to minimise costs and potential further litigation, I am unable to accept that proposal. The present hearing has been largely occupied with the evidence and argument as to the two issues of the agreement and of special contribution. There simply has not been time, in the time estimated and allotted for this hearing, to hear either evidence or argument as to discounts.
  2. Mr Bishop says that their proposed Wells v Wells sharing list contains “duffs” as well as “plums”. But that is mere assertion. I am simply unable to engage judicially in consideration of discounts, save on an item by item basis, upon which the court would need to hear both evidence and argument.

The case is well worth a read if you do ancillary relief, or enjoy watching very well paid lawyers squabble about millionaire’s money. The husband clearly had cojones that would have been setting off the security metal detector given that they began with an offer that was 2% to the wife, 98% to the husband and over the course of the hearing shifted that.

Very sensible, to shift.

But probably not from 2% to 0%.

The wife ended up with 50%  – which one might have thought was a result that one could have guessed at without spending three million on lawyers, but I suppose if you thought you could get away with 98% of the assets it was worth a punt.

 

Yet another of those big money cases that ate up precious High Court time, for a very small fee. I do wonder if the time has come for the Court to get a percentage of the assets in dispute where one is dealing with sums over twenty five million. The ancillary relief Court fee of £255 is not touching the sides of what these cases are actually costing the taxpayer.

I would put this as a must-read (adoption case, dynamite)

 

The case is very fact-specific (the facts are extraordinary) but it is still very important.

 

I’ve written before about the leave to oppose adoption case law and whether this is a meaningful legal right given that there are no reported cases of an adoption being successfully opposed (there’s one law report of a Court being persuaded to make a Residence Order rather than adoption, but the child remaining with the prospective adopters).

 

For it to be a meaningful legal right, there must be some set of circumstances which would result in the opposition to adoption resulting in placement back in the birth family. But, the consequences of that for the recruitment and retention of adopters is massive.

 

As Holman J observed, this case is likely to attract strong opinions on both sides, and it does turn very much on an unprecedented set of facts.

 

Re A and B and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/47.html

 

 

 

The child, C, was the subject of Care proceedings and a Care Order and Placement Order were made in August 2013. The child was placed with prospective adopters (A and B) and they duly applied for an adoption order.

 

At the time of this hearing, the child was 20 months old and had lived with A and B for 13 months.

 

The child’s genetic father, who had not been a party to the care proceedings (and who does not hold PR for the child) sought leave to oppose.

 

This is the telling paragraph

 

It is accepted by all concerned in this case that if the father had come forward and the true paternity had been established at any time up to the moment when the child was actually placed with A and B, then he would not have been placed with them and, after due assessment of her, would almost certainly have been placed with the aunt.

 

 

I’d urge you to read the whole thing, but that paragraph is dynamite.

 

As is this one

 

The case and dilemma has provoked divergent professional opinions. The front line social workers for each of the child and A and B support the making of an adoption order. A child psychologist who was jointly instructed to perform a “paper exercise”, but has not met anyone concerned, favours the making of an adoption order. The Director of Safeguarding Children and Families and interim Strategic Director Children’s Services of the local authority (equivalent to the Director of Social Services in this field), who is the decision maker and who expresses the considered opinion and case of the local authority, firmly resists adoption and advocates that the child moves to live with the aunt. The child’s guardian also strongly advocates that outcome.

 

 

That made me blink several times, so I will spell it out. The social workers supported the adoption, but the Guardian AND MORE SIGNIFICANTLY the Director of Social Services supported the child being placed with the paternal aunt.

 

That really is an extremely difficult issue to resolve. As a Local Authority legal hack, the idea of a Director and Social Worker in an intractable difference of opinion makes me shudder. [This Director was clearly very fair minded in not just saying “well, I’m the big boss, so do what I say”]

 

I’m not surprised by what Holman J says at the opening of this judgment.

 

 

I have been a full time judge of the Family Division for almost twenty years. In all that time, apart from cases concerning serious ill health, I have rarely heard a more harrowing case. The hearing was a very painful one for all concerned, and I sincerely thank all parties and the professional witnesses for their attention, dignity and, to the extent possible, good humour. I know, and deeply regret, that my decision will cause intense grief. After hearing all the evidence and argument, and after due consideration, I am, however, clear as to the outcome, which I do not reach narrowly or marginally.

 

 

I’ve read many of Holman J’s judgments over the last few years, and he really has dealt with harrowing, peculiar and emotionally draining cases repeatedly, so to say that speaks volumes.

 

 

This passage will probably appear again – it is how the Court deals with the issue of “speculation” (and I think it is wonderfully constructed)

 

There is one further “legal” matter which it is convenient to mention in this section of this judgment. At times during the hearing, when longer term risks or advantages were being mentioned or considered, Mr Power referred, understandably but somewhat dismissively, to “speculation”. Advocates, and also judges, often do dismiss points as speculative or speculation. However, in relation to adoption, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 very clearly does require courts (and adoption agencies) to speculate. It requires, as the overarching duty, that the paramount consideration must be the child’s welfare throughout his life. This child is still less than two. He is healthy, and his normal life expectancy may be around a further 80 years. It is probable (but speculative) that he and his half sister, F, and his cousin, G, will outlive all the adults in this case by many years. I am required by statute to take a very long term view, but I cannot gaze into a crystal ball. I can only speculate. More specifically, the court is required by section 1(4) (c) of the Act to have regard to “the likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person.” Whilst that paragraph requires the court to consider only the “likely” effect, any such consideration involves speculation; and (speaking generally) the further ahead one looks (and one must envisage a whole lifetime) the more speculative such consideration necessarily becomes. My decision in this case does include speculation. That is what Parliament has told me to do.

 

 

You may, as I was, be interested in how it was that this aunt was not a feature in the care proceedings. If she had been known about then, the Placement Order would not have been made and the child never placed with the prospective adopters A and B. So why wasn’t she known about?

 

 

This is the most fact-specific bit of the case, I think. (It is not THAT unusual for a birth father to be untraced during the proceedings and to appear later, it is the WHY that is significant here. Mr E here is NOT the genetic father, but he is the man who appears on the birth certificate as the father, and who was treated as the father in care proceedings)

 

The mother is a young woman of white ethnicity who is still in her very early twenties. She has had problems with both alcohol and drugs. While a teenager she had already had two children by different fathers. They are now aged about 5 and nearly 4. They were removed into care and have since been adopted together by one adoptive family. (I will refer to them later as the adopted maternal half siblings.) The mother began a relationship with Mr E. He, too, has had an unstable past and has a criminal record for a range of offences of both violence and dishonesty, and a recorded history of drug abuse. In March 2013 the mother gave birth to C. He was a normal, healthy baby, and is now a normal, healthy young child. As had already been pre-planned by Rotherham, care proceedings were immediately commenced and the baby was removed from the mother five days after his birth and placed with foster parents. Neither the mother nor Mr E engaged with the care proceedings nor, effectively, with the local authority. However, the mother and Mr E jointly registered the birth on 18 April 2013, jointly stating and signing that Mr E was the father to the best of their knowledge and belief.

 

[Keep that in mind – the mother was white]

 

 

The child’s social worker, from the end of March 2013 and still now, is Miss Claire Fogwill. She did not know or meet Mr E for some time. She did, however, see the baby. I have seen photographs taken of him shortly after his birth, including the original colour photograph which is part of the later formal application form for the placement order. Although not black, the baby is very obviously very brown and has obvious negroid features. These are not racist comments. They are relevant facts. As all concerned with the case agree, he very obviously appeared to be of mixed race. Miss Fogwill said in her oral evidence that “when [she] first saw him as a baby he seemed obviously to have a black parent or at any rate a strong black/negroid genetic strain.”

 

Miss Fogwill was finally able to meet Mr E, who was in prison, on 22 May 2013. She said that she was expecting to meet a black man and “was quite shocked” when he came into the room, since he appeared to be an entirely white man. She asked him whether he was the biological father. He said that he was. (It is, of course, entirely possible that the mother had assured Mr E that he was the father, if she had never confessed to him that she had been having sex on the side with the actual father. As I have no evidence at all from either the mother or Mr E, I simply do not know.) Miss Fogwill questioned Mr E further and, according to Miss Fogwill, he told her that the baby was very brown because he, Mr E, had a Burmese mother, and added that the baby would become paler with age. Neither Miss Fogwill nor, so far as I am aware, anyone else, took any steps to seek to verify whether in truth Mr E has a Burmese mother. I personally do not have the slightest idea. Miss Fogwill claimed that she was “not able to meet the mother again to ask her about paternity”, but in truth she made little effort to do so, and she made no enquiries of the mother’s own mother whose whereabouts were settled and known.

 

Miss Fogwill made reports to Looked After Reviews on 12 April, 13 May and 11 July 2013. Also present at, and chairing, these reviews was the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). The minutes of the first two reviews record that the child “… is a child of mixed heritage. His mother is white British … the social worker is, to date, unclear of father’s ethnicity and has asked [sic] father to clarify this …” The minutes of the review on 11 July, also chaired by the IRO, record that “… the social worker has clarified with father that he is dual heritage as his mother is Burmese … the parents wished for the child to be referred to as White British, despite his presentation not reflecting this. Father [viz Mr E] informed the social worker that he expected the child’s skin colour to change with age …” There is no hint in those minutes that the IRO queried the account of paternity or suggested that further enquiries should be made. I do not make a criticism of the IRO for she has not been involved in this hearing and has had no opportunity to state her own point of view, but I accept the point made by Mr Prest that the responsibility of Miss Fogwill appears to have been shared with others. Miss Fogwill has, however, accepted that she made a serious error in swallowing the explanation of the Burmese mother (i.e. the child’s grandmother) and not investigating paternity further, and she has apologised from the witness box to both the true paternal family and the applicants for adoption. Miss Fogwill’s formal report to the court dated 28 June 2013 in support of the application for a placement order depicts a photograph of the child as I have already described, and refers to his having black hair and brown eyes and a dark complexion. It continues that the mother is white British and Mr E is half white British and half Burmese as his mum was Burmese and father white British. “[C’s] skin is quite dark however [Mr E] states that as [C] becomes older his skin will become paler. [Mr E’s] skin is white.”

 

The present guardian, Mrs Sheila Hassall, also acted in the care and placement proceedings. In her report dated 19 July 2013 she describes Mr E as “White British Burmese” and says at paragraph 12 “[C’s] paternal grandmother is Burmese, although I understand his father [viz Mr E] views himself as white British. At present [C] has the appearance of a baby who is not white British …” As I understand it, the guardian herself never actually met either the mother or Mr E. So she merely accepted the story via the social worker. She said that she only ever saw a blurred black and white photocopy photograph of the child. She said that she visited the baby once at the home of the foster mother. However he was asleep, face downwards, with his head largely covered. She only saw one arm sticking out. The arm looked brown but she did not examine the baby further. Mrs Hassall accepted her share of responsibility. She said during her oral evidence: “I make a heartfelt apology we are in this situation. I feel desperately sorry for all those involved.”

 

I have already referred to the report to the court for the application for a placement order. I do not know whether the circuit judge saw the original with the colour photograph which, as I have described, very clearly depicts a brown child of mixed race with negroid features; or whether he saw a black and white photocopy, one version of which I have seen, which shows the child’s face as a barely distinguishable large black blob like a large blob of spilt ink. At all events, the judge appears not to have raised any question about true paternity at the, probably short, hearing when he made the care and placement orders.

 

 

If you are following this, Mr E was named as the father on the birth certificate, the mother said that he was the father, and he said he was the father. The contradictory evidence (of people’s eyes) was firstly an area that people feel uncomfortable with – that of colour, and secondly Mr E had given an explanation for it that was accepted. On that first point, just reading the paragraph, even when said by a Judge, it made me feel uncomfortable to read that ‘n’ word.

 

So a last opportunity seriously to question paternity and consider obvious avenues of further enquiry was lost. I accept, of course, that such enquiries might not necessarily have uncovered the true father, but they well might have done, for the affair between the true father and the mother was well known in the community and circle within which they lived. The mother’s own mother certainly knew the true facts, as will later appear.

 

 

Let’s also not forget that in a culture of 26 weeks, no delay, and assessments only being done if they are ‘necessary’, it might have taken some persuasion to get the DNA test of Mr E done. If it had been done, the proceedings would have been delayed, but an inordinate amount of time and pain would have been avoided.

 

How did the real father ever find out about this? Deep breath, because this is quite complicated too.

 

The father was in a long-term relationship with someone else, Miss D. When he had been sleeping with the mother, he was cheating on Miss D. There had been speculation in the community and gossip, and someone came up to Miss D and showed her a photograph of the child as a baby.

 

Soon after the child was born someone showed Miss D a photograph of the baby. She could see that the colour and the features looked like her own daughter, F, and also like the father. She told him “I really think he is your child.” He continued to deny to her that he had had sex with the mother and that, therefore, he could be the father.

 

It seems, though this is not explicit, that these suspicions continued and finally the father’s sister (the aunt in question) approached the Local Authority in March 2014   to say that she thought her brother was the true father of this child. (For timing purposes, that’s seven months after the Placement Order, and two months after the prospective adopters had made their application to adopt)

 

On 6 March 2014 the aunt first contacted the social services and said that her brother might be the father of the baby. Miss Fogwill was shocked and surprised by this news. She and a more senior colleague interviewed the father on 14 March 2014. She then immediately arranged for DNA sampling and testing of the baby and the man, and a report dated 24 March 2014 established a 99.9999 per cent probability that he is indeed the father. All parties including A and B accept that he definitely is the father and the case has since proceeded on that basis. The father is a black African who was born and brought up in that continent. He is now aged 32. His own father died when he was young. He himself travelled to England in 2001 and claimed asylum. He has lived here ever since and has indefinite leave to remain. He is the seventh of a large family of eight children. His own mother, now aged 64, now lives in the Midlands. Two brothers live in the Midlands and South Wales. A sister lives in East Anglia, and his youngest sister, the aunt, lives in the Home Counties. The brothers and sisters in England and Wales have between them eight children who are paternal first cousins of C. Some of them are of mixed race, having also a white parent. The father’s three other siblings live variously within Africa and Canada. There is, therefore, a considerable extended paternal family, mostly located within England and Wales.

 

 

But hold on a minute – this all happened within a small community, and whether the father knew or not that he was the genetic father of this baby, he must surely have known that as he had been sleeping with the mother, there was a chance that he might have been?   The Judge found that he was aware of that.

 

And did he know that the baby was in care?

 

This evidence as a whole satisfies me that, within a very few weeks of the birth at the latest, the father knew perfectly well that it was highly likely that he was the father of the baby. He could not of course be certain, since he knew also that the mother had had other sexual partners. But she told him, in effect, that the baby was half black and that he had been her only black partner. Short of DNA testing, the likelihood was obvious.

 

He took no action at all. He showed no real interest in the baby, or even much interest in seeing him, although he did ask the mother if he could do so. I do not know why not, but it was probably due, at least in part, to his continuing stance of denial to Miss D. Whatever the reason, it is a significant part of the history of this case that for almost a year the father showed no interest at all in, or commitment at all to, the child, and denied rather than asserted that he was the father. So as well as the responsibility of Rotherham, the guardian, and possibly the court, for not investigating paternity further, a very heavy responsibility for events lies upon the father. If he had shown any real interest in the baby and put himself forward in any way as the likely father, then the true facts would probably have emerged much earlier and the baby would never have been placed with A and B.

 

A separate and distinct question is when the father first learned that the baby was in care. His case is that he learned this for the first time at the beginning of March 2014. He said that he saw the mother’s mother in the town. He asked her where the child was. The mother’s mother said that he was in care and that the mother had lied to him. He then immediately spoke to and told his sister, the aunt, and at his request she immediately contacted the social services. He says that in the first weeks after the birth he had indeed asked the mother if he could see the baby and she had fobbed him off by saying that the baby was staying with her mother or sister. She also misled him into thinking that she was caring for the baby by asking him on a few occasions for money for nappies.

 

To the very end of his evidence, even when recalled and admitting what I have recorded above with regard to his knowledge of paternity, the father remained adamant that it was only around early March 2014 that he first learned that the baby was in care, and that he at once informed the social services and requested that he or his family could care for the baby.

 

 

This last point might be critical – if the father knew that he was probably the baby’s father, he could have legitimately kept quiet not to rock the boat and jeopardise his relationship with Miss D UP UNTIL he knew that the baby was in care, whereupon it was time to speak up.

 

The Court concluded that his evidence that he had not known until shortly before his sister approached Social Services should be accepted.

 

I have to decide whether I am satisfied on a balance of probability that the father knew that the baby was in care as early as about April 2013, as the local authority allege; or only in early March 2014, as he himself claims. On this issue there is force in the point Miss Ford makes on the third page of her written closing submissions dated 21.11.14, and as she elaborated orally. The father’s case is that he first learned that the baby, of whom he was likely to be the father, was in care in early March 2014. He immediately contacted the social services (initially via his sister) and has, unquestionably, strenuously sought the move of the child to live with him or his family ever since. It was only later that he learned that the child had actually been placed for adoption or that there was a current application to adopt him. So, as Miss Ford puts it, his conduct by contacting social workers in March 2014 can only be explained by his having only recently learned that the child was in care. No other event or trigger has been identified as to why, having done nothing and shown no interest for so long, he suddenly did then make the contact which he did. Miss Ford asks, rhetorically: Assuming that he had known that the child was in care from, say, mid or late April 2013, why did he suddenly do something and with such resolve in March 2014? She submits that the activity in and after March 2014, for which there is no known other explanation, is really only consistent with his having recently learned in March 2014 that the child was in care.

 

I take into account the demeanour of the father in the witness box when he was recalled. At the same time as now admitting that soon after the birth the mother herself had told him that he was the father, he maintained his account, apparently convincingly, that he only knew that the baby was in care almost a year later, and said that the social worker must have misunderstood him. I also accept the force of Miss Ford’s point as described in the previous paragraph. There was room for misunderstanding, and I am not satisfied on a balance of probability that the father knew that the baby had been taken into care earlier than early March 2014, when he took action at once.

 

 

 

So, that’s how this situation arose. The person who had been treated as the father in the care proceedings was not the real father, and the real father had not known of the care proceedings because nobody had thought to tell him. The only person who knew both key sets of facts was the mother, and she had taken no action.  [The maternal grandmother might have known, by my reading, but whether that is definitive is hard to say]

 

 

The judgment then talks about the various assessments, but the long and the short of it is, the options available were to make an adoption order to A and B, or to remove the child from A and B and to place with the paternal aunt.

 

A and B were clearly very good, capable and loving people, well capable of caring for the child. The Judge said this about them :-

 

 

Even before C was matched with them, A and B prepared themselves very thoroughly as prospective adopters. They read widely. They attended courses. They learned about the importance of attachment, stimulation and other parenting qualities. This stood them and him in good stead. I accept unreservedly the current assessment by Miss Lancaster that A and B are the “perfect” adoptive couple. She said in her oral evidence that in spite of all the challenges they are remarkable people. They are excellent adopters doing a remarkable job. If she could paint the ideal adopters they are not far from the mark. They have an excellent understanding about attachment, about which they were trained. The have a very good understanding about the impact of loss and trauma. They have great appreciation of the kind of parenting styles that work well.

 

I accept unreservedly that C is now very well attached to A and B. He feels, and is, secure with them. They provide an excellent home. They are also undoubtedly deeply attached to him. B said very movingly “He is such a happy, settled, loving little person who knows who we are … I am so proud of him. I love him so much. I will always love him. He will always be my son.” C is also a familiar and much loved member of the extended families of both A and B.

 

There is no doubt that if the true paternal family had not emerged and put themselves forward in the way that they have, an adoption order would have been made several months ago.

 

 

And the Aunt?

My own impression of the aunt was very favourable. She is much more articulate than her brother, the father. She appeared to be thoughtful and flexible, and insightful and understanding of the issues in this case. She said that she has prepared her own son, G, for the possibility that he might be joined by another, younger, boy. She talks to G about C, and G would not be surprised if C became part of their family. She said that G himself is a lovely boy, very caring and very sharing, who plays very well with other kids. She paid generous and sincere tribute to A and B although of course she has never met nor seen them. She said she was just so grateful for what they have done. It is beautiful. They have taken very good care of him.

 

 

Even the social workers who were supporting the child being adopted by A and B were not critical of the aunt, just feeling that the child ought not to be moved.

 

 

[I will quickly note that the Aunt and Miss D were represented pro bono by counsel and solicitors, which was an extremely helpful and generous thing]

 

Holman J made it plain at the outset and repeatedly, that he was not approaching the case in a narrow “nothing else will do” manner, due to the recent authorities, but in weighing everything up as to what order would best meet the child’s needs throughout their lifetime.

 

 

The legal framework as I have so far described it is agreed by all the advocates in the case, including that I must apply all the relevant parts of section 1 of the Act. In their written skeleton arguments and written final submissions, as well as in their brief oral final submissions, there has been some debate between the advocates as to whether, in applying section 1, I should adopt the approach that I should only make an adoption order if “nothing else will do”. This led to some brief examination of the judgments of the Supreme Court in Re B (a child) [2013] UKSC 33, and some later judgments of the Court of Appeal in which that court appears to have been exercised by what the Supreme Court actually meant by what they said in Re B (most recently the judgments delivered by the Court of Appeal only two weeks ago on 18 November 2014 in CM v Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council [2014] EWCA Civ 1479).

 

In my view that is a debate and territory into which I need not and should not enter. The legal and factual situations in those cases were different. In the present case, the child has already been lawfully and appropriately placed for adoption with A and B for over a year. A range of rights under Article 8 of the ECHR is engaged. There is a continuing legal relationship between the child and his paternal genetic family, with whom he has a father, grandmother, aunts, uncles and a paternal half sibling, but no current psychological relationship. He has never met any of them. (He also has several cousins but they are outside the definition of “relative” in section 144 (1) of the Act.) In this case the child unquestionably also has a private and family life and a home with A and B, and they with him, for which all three of them have the right to respect under Article 8. With so many Article 8 rights engaged and in competition, it does not seem to me to be helpful or necessary in the present case to add a gloss to section 1 of only making an adoption order if “nothing else will do”. (Indeed Mr Nicholas Power might have argued on behalf of A and B, but wisely chose not to do so, that there could now be no interference with the Article 8 rights as between A and B and C mutually except if “necessary” within the meaning of Article 8(2).) Rather, I should simply make the welfare of the child throughout his life the paramount consideration; consider and have regard to all the relevant matters listed in section 1(4) and any other relevant matters; and make an adoption order if, but only if, doing so “would be better for the child than not doing so”, as section 1(6) requires. If the balance of factors comes down against making an adoption order, then clearly I should not make one. If they are so evenly balanced that it is not possible to say that making an adoption order would be “better” for him than not doing so, then I should not do so. If, however, the balance does come down clearly in favour of making an adoption order, then, in the circumstances of this case, I should make one. I do not propose to add some additional hurdle or test of “nothing else will do”.

 

 

 

The parties had all drawn up balance sheets, and the Judge said something that I find very helpful when looking at balance sheets.

 

I have read and re-read those “balance sheets” and all the written closing submissions, and I have all the points listed there in mind. Judges frequently use the language of “balance” and “balance sheets” (and I do myself. I think lists such as the above are indeed very helpful). But the analogy with balancing scales may be misleading. When weights or objects are put on either side of a scale, their individual precise weights are known, or ascertainable. You can put four objects in one scale pan and seven in the other, and the scales will come down one way or the other due to the aggregate of the individual precise and ascertainable weights on each side. In a case such as this, however, none of the factors have precise weights. All that may be said of any individual factor is that, as a matter of judgment, it is more or less important or weighty than another. Mr Power’s list is long on the advantages of adoption and short on the disadvantages. It is not, however, the number of factors which counts but their respective importance. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 does not itself use the language of balance. It requires the court to “have regard to” all relevant matters, including those specifically referred to in section 1(4). The effect of section 1(6) is that the court must then make a judgment (applying section 1(2) and the paramountcy of welfare throughout the child’s life) whether making (in this case) an adoption order “would be better for the child than not doing so.”

 

 

 

I often read judgments from the High Court and thank my lucky stars that I am not, and never will be a Judge called upon to decide between two impossible situations. This was one of those occasions.

 

My condensing of this judgment is not, and could not be, a fair reflection of the deliberation that the Judge undertook. I would urge you to read the whole judgment to get a proper reflection of the complexities of this matter.

 

Nonetheless, you want to know the outcome, and I need to give it to you, so that debate can occur.

 

 

This case clearly requires taking both a short term and a long term view. C is currently very well placed with “perfect adopters”. They are a well trained couple with whom he is very well attached. He is of mixed race. They are both white and share with him that half of his ethnicity. A and B are “tried and tested” as has been said. His aunt and the principal members of the paternal family are black and share with him that half of his ethnicity. The aunt is a single person. She has not been “tried and tested” as a carer for C, but she has been observed as a carer of her own child, G, and thoroughly assessed as entirely suitable to care long term for C. There would be likely to be short, and possibly long term harm if he now moves from A and B to the aunt, but that is mitigated by his embedded security and attachments with A and B, and can be further mitigated by specialist training and support for the aunt, which she will gladly accept. The unquantifiable but potentially considerable advantage of a move to the aunt is the bridge to the paternal original family.

 

It is my firm judgment and view that it is positively better for C not to be adopted but to move to the aunt. In any event, I certainly do not consider that making an adoption order would be better for C than not doing so. Accordingly I must, as I do, determine not to make an adoption order and must dismiss the adoption application. Pursuant to section 24(4) of the Act, I exercise a discretion to revoke the placement order made in respect of the child on 2 August 2013.

 

The care order made on 2 August 2013 now once again has effect. Rotherham, in whose care C again now is, must engage intensively with all the relevant parties, and file and circulate within three weeks a written care plan setting out their plan for C and how they will implement, in the least damaging way, the process of his move from A and B to the aunt. It is impossible for me or any court to micro-manage that plan and process, and inconsistent with the respective roles and duties of the local authority and the court that I or the court should attempt to do so. If (as I sincerely hope will not be the case) any further resort to the court is necessary, application must be made locally to the designated family judge in Sheffield. A copy of this judgment must be given to, and read by, the Independent Reviewing Officer and all social workers having any continuing role with these families.

 

I have found this decision extremely painful, for I sincerely and deeply appreciate the intense grief it will cause to A and B and to their extended families and friends. But I have not, in the end, found it difficult; and, as I said at the outset of this judgment, it is not one which I reach narrowly or marginally. At the directions hearing in Leeds, when I had read few of the papers (and there were several key documents still to come) and before I had heard any of the oral evidence or argument, I described this as a finely balanced case. By the end, I do not think that it is. I am clear that the welfare of C throughout his life decisively requires that he is not adopted but moves to live with the aunt. It is my duty to make that welfare paramount.

 

 

 

There are a lot of very fact specific components to this case – it is unlikely that another case with exactly these issues will ever appear again. So it is not a definitive ruling for anything other than a case with these particular facts.

 

Nonetheless it is

 

 

  • The first successfully opposed adoption that I have seen since the 2002 Act came into being (and I didn’t find any reported ones going back to the 1976 Act, though I could have missed them)

And

 

  • Potentially significant – here, the assertions of mother and Mr E that Mr E was the father was accepted, and a true father emerged later. That particular set of circumstances (stripped of all of the ethnic features and clandestine affairs) is probably not that unusual. Local Authorities and Courts are somewhat dependent on a mother telling them that there is more than one putative father. Will we see successful challenges to adoption on that narrower aspect? Will we see Courts being more inclined to DNA test putative fathers even where mother is saying that there is only one putative father?

Tarama-TOLATA

 

I don’t normally write on financial cases, but this one is rather significant (and one can see that it might end up bleeding into other areas)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4110.html

 

Seagrove v Sullivan (Practice Directions re bundles and citations of authorities) 2014

 

This was a case in which Mr Sullivan had lived with Ms Seagrove for over twenty years and they had had children together, but never married. The youngest child was ten. Mr Sullivan owned a house, valued at around £2,300,000.

 

The equity in that property amounted to about £1 million.

 

Ms Seagrove had made a claim under TOLATA Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, and under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 to seek a financial interest in that property and its 14 acres of land, as there was no marriage ancillary relief was not an option.

 

The case came before Holman J.

 

He was, well aghast doesn’t seem to overstate it. This former couple were litigating about whether Ms Seagrove was entitled to a half share in a property whose equity is worth a million, so the sum of money in dispute is £500,000.

 

For reasons that are unintelligible (unless you do cases involving financial disputes between former lovers where things have gone sour), they’ve spent £1,300,000 so far, arguing about £500,000.

 

Since she first instructed solicitors following the breakdown of their relationship, Sandra has incurred (including her estimated costs to the end of a fully contested current hearing) costs of about £800,000 inclusive of VAT. She, indeed, currently appears to be heavily in debt as a result. Larry has incurred costs of about £506,000, inclusive of VAT. So, between them, these two parties, who lived together for over 20 years and bore three children, to whom I am sure they are each devoted, have now incurred, or anticipate incurring, expenditure of about £1,300,000 on legal costs.

 

 

What are they arguing about? They are arguing about a claimed half share in an asset that may be worth around £1 million. So they are arguing about £500,000. What they have incurred in costs is not far short of three times the amount in dispute. Others might use other words of description, but as this is a judgment in a courtroom, I will merely say that the costs, and also the scale and intensity of this litigation, have been, and are, completely disproportionate.

 

 

Holman J was also considerably irritated at the volume of papers lodged in the case.

 

Having referred to the completely disproportionate costs that have been incurred, I turn now to the documentation which underlines the scale and intensity of this dispute. There were delivered to the court yesterday, or the day before, five large lever arch bundles of documents, which comprise over 2,000 pages, inclusive of the respective skeleton arguments, which are each just under 25 pages. There were also delivered to the court two large bundles and one more slender bundle containing no less than 32 authorities. As if that were not bad enough (as I will later describe), I was, frankly, flabbergasted this morning when the solicitors arrived at the court at about 10.10 am with another large cardboard box containing an additional five large lever arch files of additional documents (these are the ones with lavender coloured card on their spines). I have been told that those additional five bundles contain around a further 1,500 pages of documents. So, in aggregate, at the outset of this hearing, these parties are expecting consideration of all or part of 3,500 pages of documents as well as all or part of the 32 authorities. This needs to be considered within the framework that rule makers and the most senior judiciary have endeavoured to establish in order to ensure the proportionality of litigation.

 

 

It has been many years since I did a TOLATA claim, but a quick look at the Court fees schedule suggests that the fee is probably £255 (treating it as a family financial application), but no higher than £2,000 (treating it as a money claim).

 

I don’t know Holman J’s hourly rate, but to read 3000 pages is a considerable expense to the taxpayer, which is in no way covered by that standard fee.

 

I can imagine the baleful look that the solicitor got when he or she came in with a box of five further lever arch files.

 

 

Building on Mostyn J’s recent decision in Re J, Holman J reminded everyone about the Rules on bundles

 

 

In order to try to exert some control over documentation, which always has a considerable knock-on effect on the length and complexity of hearings, numerous practice directions have been made over the years by Presidents of the Family Division and other heads of divisions. The current practice direction in relation to bundles and documents is Practice Direction 27A, which is itself part of Part 27 of the Family Procedure Rules. This practice direction was issued by the President of the Family Division in April 2014. It was issued after a process of consultation with the well known professional organisations and associations of both the solicitors’ and barristers’ branches of the profession. It did not come out of the blue, and its existence has patently been well known now for an appreciable period of time by all the lawyers engaged in this case.

 

 

Of most relevance to the present situation is paragraph 5.1. That was specified by paragraph 13.2 to “have effect from 31 July 2014”. We are now four months on from 31 July 2014. Paragraph 5.1 provides as follows:

 

 

“Unless the court has specifically directed otherwise, being satisfied that such direction is necessary to enable the proceedings to be disposed of justly, the bundle shall be contained in one [I emphasise the word, one]A4 size ring binder or lever arch file limited to no more than 350 sheets of A4 paper and 350 sides of text.”

 

A later “statement”, to which I will shortly refer, makes plain that the 350 sides of text must be inclusive, not exclusive, of the sides of paper in counsel’s skeleton arguments

 

 

That’s right – unless the Court has specifically directed so, there is to be ONE bundle, of no more than 350 pages (including skeletons)

 

Holman J noted what Mostyn J had said when deprecating the practice which has sprung up of the parties agreeing the contents of that one bundle between themselves, but then lodging loads of supplementary bundles on the basis that the Court would be bounced into allowing all of that material, and agreed.

 

 

Mostyn J continued in a very important passage:

 

 

‘I also deprecate a practice of circumvention of which I have become aware. That is for the lawyers for both sides to agree a single “core” bundle and, in addition, an archive of many volumes of expensively prepared secondary or background material. This archive is then brought to trial in the confident belief and expectation that the trial judge will grant permission pursuant to PD27A para 5.1 at the final hearing itself to use documents from the archive. This is no better than the old regime which the new prescription was designed to stamp out … It is possible, of course, that, unexpectedly, further documents may be need to be deployed at the final hearing; but the starting point, and the usual finishing point must be that all the relevant documents should be in the single bundle …”

 

 

The advocates attempted to argue that a previous direction given in the proceedings that

 

Bundles are to be agreed between the solicitors (in consultation with counsel) and prepared by no later than 14 days before the final hearing.

 

Was in effect a direction that the parties could lodge such documents as they agreed amongst themselves.

 

“I thought we had Cate Blanchett?”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDUoTHj8AJ4

 

Holman J manifestly disagreed

 

The argument was that, by saying that “bundles are to be agreed between solicitors”, Moor J was giving some apparent carte blanche to the parties, through their solicitors, to include in the bundles anything that they wished to do so. Mr Wagstaffe denied that he was advancing such an argument, but, frankly, that is what his argument amounts to. He submits that the use of the words “bundles are to be agreed between solicitors” amounted to a “specific direction otherwise” and authorised bundles to exceed a total of 350 sides of text. Logically, his argument does mean that all and any documents that the solicitors “agreed” could go into the bundles could indeed be included, no matter how many or how long.

 

 

To my mind, that argument is spurious. It is inconceivable that, at the same time as ruling, by paragraph 10 of his order, that skeleton arguments were not permitted to exceed 25 pages, Moor J could have intended, or for a moment contemplated, that he was giving carte blanche * to these solicitors and parties to put in whatever documents they liked, no matter how many pages. In my view, there is no “specific direction” otherwise in this case and, as castigated by Mostyn J at paragraph 47 of J v J, the lawyers in this case have approached the case as if the terms of the practice direction “just did not apply to them”.

 

 

The courts have to exert discipline in relation to this. I stress, as Mostyn J did in J v J at paragraph 53, that if parties wish, at their own expense, to litigate to their hearts’ content, with thousands and thousands of pages of documents, there is a mechanism available to them known as private arbitration. But litigation within the courts has to be the subject of much more rigorous discipline and structure, precisely because the courts have a duty to ensure that an appropriate, but only an appropriate, share of the court’s resources are allocated to any one case. The same judges have to deal also with an enormous number of very difficult cases involving the future of vulnerable children, and the care and treatment of sick people, including mentally incapacitated people. It is simply not tolerable that we go on and on affording to people like Sandra and Larry an estimated eight days of court time on a dispute that ultimately is measured in something not exceeding about £500,000.

 

 

The cost of running these courts is not inconsiderable. I cannot specify what the daily cost is, for I do not know, but the state has to provide and pay for the judge, the court staff, the “back office” staff, the provision of the courtroom, the maintenance of the courtroom and all the other associated costs. It is obvious that the daily running costs of a court and courtroom such as this run into several thousands of pounds. Multiply that by eight and one can see at once that there is an expectation that this state, which as we all know is struggling still to rein in the deficit following the recession, should expend completely disproportionate amounts on resolving issues and disputes of this kind.

 

 

[* the Judge clearly meant “Cate Blanchett” here]

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDUoTHj8AJ4

 

 

The Judge also looked at the timescales for the final hearing

 

 

 

A large part of the ridiculous time estimates in this and other financial cases is referable to the sort of volume of documents, including authorities, that parties still assemble and marshal. This case was given an estimate of eight days, with a detailed trial template. That template contemplates that, after one day of reading and six days of evidence and argument, the judge should be able to give an ex tempore judgment on the afternoon of the eighth day, after merely the morning of the eighth day for consideration. It is fair to the parties and their lawyers to say that that “trial template” was annexed to the order made by Moor J on 11 June 2014. It may be that that particular judge has the mental capacity to listen to seven days of evidence and argument, to absorb up to 3,500 pages of documents and 32 authorities, and still give an ex tempore judgment in what, on that scenario, would be a very detailed case, after merely one morning of consideration. Frankly, I doubt it.

 

 

Currently, this estimate is an unrealistic estimate for a case on the scale that the parties or their lawyers contemplate. If this case were to run, including all the evidence and submissions, to the end of day seven, it would manifestly require at least two days for preparation of a detailed, considered judgment, and then a day for delivery of the judgment and working out the aftermath. In other words, frankly, as things stand, the estimate that the parties are putting forward is one not of eight, but of ten days.

 

 

If you think that Holman J was about to take ten days of litigation over £500,000 when the parties had already blown £1,300,000 arguing about it, then I have a bridge that I am interested in selling you.

 

I am absolutely determined, in this case, not to allow that to happen. There has been wholesale breach of the practice direction and of Mostyn J’s statement with regard to documents, and total disregard of the Lord Chief Justice’s direction with regard to the citation of authorities. I propose to deal with it, in this case, as follows. Except for the two skeleton arguments and the chronology, every single piece of paper that has so far been lodged will be taken away from this courtroom now. All the bundles of authorities will be taken away from this courtroom now.

              

 

I will adjourn this case now until 10.30 tomorrow morning. At 10.30 tomorrow morning, unless by then the parties have reached an overall settlement of this case, they must attend with one, single, composite bundle, containing not more than 300 pages as the President’s direction requires. I say 300, for I am excluding and retaining the two existing skeleton arguments, which, as I have said, extend to about 50 pages. There must be only one bundle of not more than five authorities.

 

 

If the parties cannot agree as to the contents of the documents bundle, then each side can select 150 pages of their own choosing, thereby making the total of 300. If they cannot agree on authorities, then they must at least agree on one essential authority (probably Jones v Kernott) and they may each include two further authorities of their own choosing.

 

 

On the skeleton authorities, Holman J was perplexed to see a bundle of 32 authorities, given that the two leading authorities are from the Supreme Court and that those authorities marshall and draw together all of the previous jurisprudence.

 

This morning, Mr Christopher Wagstaffe QC, on behalf of Sandra, and Mr Richard Todd QC, on behalf of Larry, have endeavoured to address these matters and, to some extent, to justify their positions. It is fair to say that, on behalf of Larry, Mr Todd immediately said that it was “absolutely right that the costs are disproportionate” and indicated that he and his side share my concern about the scale of the documentation. But even Mr Todd, in relation to the assembly of the 32 authorities in apparent disregard of the Lord Chief Justice’s practice direction, sought to justify his position. He fastened on the words “unless the scale of the appeal warrants more extensive citation”. He suggested in a general way that the law in relation to the topic of beneficial interests is complex, so that, somehow, the scale of this case warrants the citation of no less than 32 authorities.

 

 

I completely reject that suggestion. When the Lord Chief Justice referred to “the scale of the appeal”, which may be paraphrased as meaning, in this context, “the scale of the case”, that does not simply refer to legal complexity, but to the actual scale of the underlying litigation. This is not litigation about tens of millions of pounds. It is litigation about a half share in the former home in which these parties lived with their three children, having an equity of around £1 million and a half share, therefore, of around £500,000. In the context of family financial litigation, this is, in fact, a relatively small scale case these days.

 

 

The whole topic of beneficial interests following cohabitation has been the subject of recent consideration by the Supreme Court, in particular in the well known cases of Stack v Dowden [2007] UKHL 17 and Jones v Kernott [2011] UKSC 53. It would be surprising, frankly, if it was necessary to look beyond those two authorities; but most certainly, when the Supreme Court has, on more than one recent occasion, traversed all the historic law in relation to this topic, it is quite ridiculous and completely disproportionate to produce bundles of no less than 32 authorities. I know that some of Mr Todd’s authorities relate to some separate argument that he wishes to run with regard to “laches” and limitation, but that does not provisionally strike me as a very promising line of argument in this case.

 

 

Mr Wagstaffe began by referring to the undoubted fact that, in the recent authorities to which I have just referred, the Supreme Court have said one has to have regard to the whole course of dealing between the parties; and of course I accept that. In a general way, one does indeed have to begin at the start of the relationship between Sandra and Larry in 1989 and look at their financial dealings since then. That is why, provisionally, it does not seem to me that Mr Todd’s argument based on laches and limitation is on very fertile ground.

 

 

The Supreme Court, by what they said in those authorities, cannot have intended courts to disregard the overriding objective in both the Civil Procedure Rules and the Family Procedure Rules; nor to disregard such an integral part of the Family Procedure Rules as the practice direction with regard to court bundles. The court must, from first to last, have regard to proportionality and all the other non-exhaustive matters listed in rule 1.1(2). So I do not accept for one moment that there is something about the facts or legal context of this case which enables or requires proportionality and the practice direction to be disregarded.

 

 

The Judge invited the parties in very strong terms to stop throwing their money at lawyers and come to a sensible agreement, which they duly managed the next day.

 

If you have a Court hearing next week before Holman J and you have ten bundles, I’d get on the phone to the other side and get 300 pages agreed, pronto.

Can the Court of Protection authorise detention of an adult in a Children’s Home?

There is something of a rule of thumb that if a newspaper headline poses a question, the answer on reading the full article is invariably “No”   (as in  “Can a glass of red wine cure cancer?”  “Were Al-Qaida involved in Diana plot?”

 

Some good examples here

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/the-top-ten-questions-to-which-the-answer-is-no-8788687.html

 

This one though, is a question to which the answer (somewhat inexplicably to the naked eye) is  Yes

 

Liverpool City Council v SG 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/10.html

 

In good, dramatic novelist style, Holman J gets stuck into it from the very off, and lets us know in paragraph 2 that this is not some mere dull Court of Protection case, but that something peculiar is about to happen, read on !

 

  • This case raises the following question:

 

 

Does the Court of Protection have power to make an order which authorises that a person who is not a child (ie who has attained the age of 18) may be deprived of his liberty in premises which are a children’s home as defined in section 1(2) of the Care Standards Act 2000 and are subject to the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 (as amended)?

Both parties and their counsel in these proceedings submit that the answer is “yes”. I agree with them that the answer is “yes”.

 

We go on

 

 

  • I wish to stress at once the scope of that question which I have precisely drafted. This judgment and my answer to the question applies only in the case of a person who is not a child, that is, who has attained the age of 18. This judgment says nothing at all in relation to a person who has not attained the age of 18, and in particular to persons between the ages of 16 and 18. Further, this judgment is only concerned with a person in a children’s home, and says nothing at all with regard to a person who may be detained in a residential school.

 

 

 

  • I also wish to emphasise that both parties and their counsel who are before me in this case are agreed upon the answer to that question and the reasons for the answer. In other words, I have not heard any argument or submissions to the contrary. If, in some other case, on a future date, some party wishes to argue to the contrary, then of course that limitation or reservation upon the value of this ex tempore judgment as a precedent may be noted.

 

I have more of the average human allowance of curiosity to be sure, but my curiosity is piqued by this. It is sounding like some sort of trick question. Let’s go over it piece by piece.

 

The Court of Protection – dealing with a person who has reached the age of 18. Not a child.  They are in a children’s home though.  (we don’t yet know why). The Court of Protection is being asked to authorise their detention (we don’t yet know why). And being asked to authorise their detention in a children’s home (we don’t yet know why)

 

All of my instincts are screaming out at me that the answer to this must be no. Adults don’t get locked up in children’s homes. It just doesn’t happen. If the person is an adult, then the detention is either through the criminal justice system, the mental health act or an authorisation of deprivation of liberty under the Mental Capacity Act  – this one is the last of those, which is why it is in the Court of Protection. But the Court of Protection only deals with adults, so why has a children’s home been dragged into this?

 

I stopped reading the judgment at this point to see if I could guess why. Here’s my crack at WHY – this is a person who has huge problems, lacks capacity, and has been in a particular children’s home for many years, maybe six or seven years. They have only just turned 18 – their liberty has to be deprived, but they are doing so well in the particular children’s home that nobody wants to move them. So, in order to let them stay where they are, the Court has been asked to authorise detention of an adult in a children’s home.  Maybe I am wide of the mark, we shall see.  That’s a plausible-ish WHY, but I’m still baffled on the HOW element. How did the Court of Protection decide that this was lawful.

 

Let’s return to the judgment itself

 

  • The reason why the question has been posed appears to derive from two relatively recent developments. The first development is the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Cheshire West case. The explanation given in that case by Baroness Hale of Richmond as to the scope or breadth of the concept of a deprivation of liberty has led to a concern that a significant number of people are, or may be, being deprived of their liberty who were not previously thought to have been. As is well known, this has led to a very large number of applications to the Court of Protection in order to seek authorisations for the deprivation of liberty.

 

 

 

  • The second development is a document headed “Deprivation of Liberty – Guidance for Providers of Children’s Homes and Residential Special Schools” dated 12th February 2014 and issued jointly by the President of the Court of Protection and the National Director Social Care OFSTED. It appears that as a result of that guidance document there has been, or is, uncertainty on the part of many lawyers and providers in this field as to the scope or extent of any power of the Court of Protection to authorise, when appropriate, the deprivation of liberty of certain categories of person who are accommodated in children’s homes or residential special schools. As the above defined question indicates, that concern has arisen in the present case, but I know that it is much more widespread as a result of the circumstances which I now describe.

 

 

{Absolutely – the Supreme Court’s decision in Cheshire West means that a range of people who were not thought to be having their liberty deprived actually ARE, and the President has heard a case but is yet to give judgment helping explain what the heck lawyers and Local Authorities and the Courts are going to do with the 10,000 extra cases that are believed to now be deprivation of liberty applications. Some of those cases might arise with young persons who are currently in children’s homes, but haven’t been the subject of Secure Accommodation Orders because they lack capacity to try to abscond

Treasury Solicitors said this ” These issues potentially affect a large number of children and young people who lack capacity but who currently reside in non-secure children’s homes or residential special schools. By way of example only, as at 31st March 2014, there were more than 6,500 over 16 year olds residing in care homes, children’s homes or residential special schools. The Secretary of State has not yet been able to determine the proportion of those 6,500 odd young people who may lack capacity.”    So at the moment, we don’t know how big a problem Cheshire West is for children}

 

Now, the facts of the case in question

 

 

  • It concerns a young woman, SG, who was born in early June 1995. Today she is in fact now 19. She was born in Romania and was apparently rapidly abandoned by her parents and taken to a state orphanage there. The first few years of her life appear to have lacked human affection and natural processes of bonding or attachment. When she was about 4 she was adopted by an English couple, who are, of course, now her parents.

 

 

 

  • As she grew older, it became increasingly plain that she suffers a number of lasting disabilities or disorders. She certainly has learning disability, a disinhibited attachment disorder, and quasi autism. Features of her condition have always been hypersensitivity to external stimuli, and challenging behaviour. More recently there has been a tragic history of self harm. Her childhood has, as a result, been very disrupted. She attended, but was removed from, various schools. She has had to spend long periods in hospitals. More recently she was placed in children’s homes. Challenging behaviour towards staff, absconding, damaging property, episodes of self harm and hitting out at her father have all been recorded.

 

 

 

  • For some time before she actually attained the age of 18 she was accommodated in a certain children’s home in the area and it is in those actual premises that she remains accommodated to this day. However, now that she has attained the age of 18 and is indeed now 19, it is completely recognised by the responsible local authority, in agreement with her parents, that arrangements must be made to enable her to move on to what is described as “supported living” in the community. This will take time to identify and set up, and, I have no doubt, considerable funding issues will need to be addressed. The local authority need to find a provider who will purchase or otherwise make available a suitable property and recruit a sufficient number of staff to care for her and keep her safe. The plan is that some premises will be found in which she can live together with a small number of other young women with similar needs. I have been told in the words of the skeleton argument on behalf of the local authority that:

 

 

“…one provider has already identified a suitable property and indicated a service could be in place for October 2014. It is hoped that securing a property will take no more than six to nine months after appointing the care agency, but it may be much quicker than that.”

As I understand it, it is contemplated that a high level of staffing and supervision will be required under that plan. If (as I assume is likely) it will involve a deprivation of liberty, then, in due course appropriate authorisations will be required.

 

  • Meantime, however, she has continued to live seamlessly in the children’s home where she was living before she attained the age of 18. There, too, she is the subject of very considerable staffing on a 3:1 basis. The staffing includes monitoring her while she is in the bathroom (ensuring her dignity is maintained at all times), locking the front door as a preventative measure, following, observing and monitoring her on visits into the community, and if she “attempts to leave the staff supporting her, they should follow several paces behind her and attempt to maintain conversation.” Items which may be used for self harm will be removed, and she remains supported 3:1 during the day and 2:1 during the night.

 

 

 

  • It is completely accepted by and on behalf of the local authority that that package of existing measures clearly amounts to a deprivation of her liberty as that concept has now been explained, in particular in paragraph 46 of the judgment of Baroness Hale of Richmond in the Cheshire West case, which I do not need to cite for the purposes of this judgment. Having appreciated in the light of the Cheshire West case that they currently do, and propose to continue to, deprive the patient of her liberty, the local authority commenced the present proceedings in the Court of Protection for appropriate authorisations.

 

 

 

 

Okay, I wasn’t that far wrong with my guesses – she is 19, has severe problems and has been in a children’s home doing as well as one could hope – she needs to be moved to another placement, and everyone involved wants her to stay in the children’s home until the RIGHT adult home can be found for her, rather than just moving her into any old adult home and potentially setting her back. That makes sense. But whereas before Cheshire West, professionals could ‘overlook’ that this was an 18 year old living in a children’s home, once the Supreme Court ruled that people like this were being deprived of their liberty, an application to authorise that had to be made.

 

Having done the WHY, we can now deal with the HOW.  But first, why is the HOW potentially difficult?

 

 

  • Section 121(1) of the Care Standards Act 2000, the interpretation section, defines that in that Act “child” means a person under the age of 18. Section 1(2) of that Act provides that: “An establishment is a children’s home… if it provides care and accommodation wholly or mainly for children.” The premises in which the patient in this case currently resides, and was residing before she attained the age of 18, is premises which have provided care and accommodation wholly or mainly for children in that there were at one time several children resident there. It is currently “registered” as a children’s home pursuant to the Care Standards Act 2000 and regulations made under it.

 

 

 

  • I have been told today that as a matter of fact no other person (apart from staff) currently resides in those premises apart from the patient. So, on one view, currently it is not providing care and accommodation even “mainly for children”, as no child resides there at all. However, all parties have proceeded on the basis that, notwithstanding the fact that currently no children reside there, it remains a children’s home for the purposes of the Act and the regulations, and I will proceed on that basis and assumption.

 

 

 

  • Assuming the premises to be a children’s home, the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 SI [2001] No 3967 are in general terms engaged. Part III of those regulations is entitled “Conduct of Children’s Homes”. Chapter 1 of Part III is entitled “Welfare of Children”. Within Chapter 1, regulations 11 to 24 make a range of provisions with regard to the welfare of children, the food provided to children, communications with children, the protection of children, the behaviour, management and discipline of children, health needs, hazards and safety and other matters.

 

 

 

  • Of most relevance to the perceived problem in the present case is regulation 17A, which is entitled “Restraint”. Paragraph (1) provides as follows:

 

 

“(1) Subject to paragraph (2) a measure of restraint may only be used on a child accommodated in a children’s home for the purpose of-

(a) preventing injury to any person (including the child who is being restrained);

(b) preventing serious damage to the property of any person (including the child who is being restrained); and

(c) in the case of a child accommodated in a children’s home which is a secure children’s home, preventing the child from absconding from the home,

and then only where no alternative method of preventing the event specified in sub-paragraphs (a) to (c) is available.”

 

  • Just pausing there, whilst the regulation is prominent, it will be noted that throughout that part of that regulation the references are entirely to “a child”, that phrase being used five times in that short quotation.

 

 

 

  • The guidance that was issued on 12th February 2014 states at paragraph 3:

 

 

“3. The Court of Protection should be reminded by the parties of the regulations that apply to children’s homes and residential special schools. The Court of Protection does not have the jurisdiction to require any home or school to act in breach of such regulations or to authorise any such breach. Accordingly, the Court of Protection should not make an order authorising a plan for the care and supervision involving the detention of a person, where to do so would involve the children’s home or a residential special school breaching the regulations that apply to it. If compliance with an order of the Court of Protection would involve such a breach of the relevant Regulations it cannot be relied on to justify breach of the Regulations or enforced in a manner that would involve such a breach.”

 

  • Pausing there, that paragraph contains, if I may respectfully say so, no more than a legal truism. Regulations have the force of law, and no court, frankly, in any circumstances that I can readily think of, can authorise a person or body to act in a way that contravenes a regulation, or still less a statute, so as to be in breach of the regulation or statute. On a careful reading of that paragraph of the guidance, it ultimately says no more than that. The question, therefore, in any case is whether what the Court of Protection is otherwise being asked to authorise would amount to a “breach” of some regulation.

 

But one can see that the children’s home is authorised and approved to accommodate children, and in certain very narrow circumstances to restrict the liberty of children. The Act doesn’t give them as a children’s home, any right to restrain an adult or restrict the liberty of an adult.

 

 

  • he guidance continues at paragraph 4 as follows:

 

 

“4. All children’s homes must meet the Children’s Homes Regulations (2001). In this instance, the relevant regulations are:

Regulation 11 (Promotion of Welfare),

Regulation 17 (Behaviour, management and discipline) and

Regulation 17A (Restraint).

As restraint can only be used to prevent a child from leaving a secure children’s home, there is no purpose to be served in seeking an order of the Court of Protection authorising such restraint by a non-secure children’s home because the Court of Protection has no jurisdiction to order or authorise a breach of these regulations.”

 

  • Pausing there, it is possible (I put it no higher than that) that the accuracy of that part of the guidance is more debatable. It may beg the question of whether paragraph 17A(1)(c) of the regulations is a platform or a ceiling. But that is territory into which I simply should not and do not venture in the present case because paragraph 4 of the guidance is directed to “a child” and, as I have stressed, the patient in this case is not a child.

 

 

 

  • Finally, in a section that is avowedly headed “In Summary”, paragraph 13 of the guidance provides:

 

 

“13. Orders of the Court of Protection authorising a deprivation of liberty by non-secure children’s homes or residential special schools should not be sought or made and they should not be advanced or relied on to permit such homes and schools to act in breach of the regulations that apply to them.”

That, of course, is merely a summary, and the content of paragraph 13 is more fully elaborated in paragraphs 3 and 4 from which I have already quoted.

[The reason why this guidance is important is because it makes it plain – that might be too strong a description – it intends to make it plain – that the Court of Protection authorises deprivation of liberty for ADULTS, and the Family Court through s25 Children Act secure accommodation authorises the deprivation of liberty of CHILDREN. The idea is that the Court of Protection should not sidestep s25 Children Act – which has its own protections and safeguards by authorising the detention of children who lack capacity and using the Mental Capacity Act.  So, if SG was 17, the Court of Protection would not be able to tell the children’s home that it was okay to detain her.  And conversely, as she is 19, the Court of Protection can authorise her detention or restriction of her liberty under the MCA. But this person is betwixt. They are an adult in a children’s home. ]

The issue was, does all that guidance mean that the Court of Protection have to butt out (technical term there, but ‘accept that they have no jurisdiction’) for anyone whose liberty is being deprived in a children’s home, as para 13 says?  Or is it nonsense to suggest that para 13 applies to anyone other than CHILDREN?

Holman J takes the latter course, and now finally it all becomes clear (if by clear, you mean – gosh, my head hurts, I feel the need to lay down in a dark room and listen to soothing music)

  • The short and simple point is that the relevant parts of the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 simply do not apply at all in the case of a person who is no longer a child. It may often happen, as it has happened in this case, that the premises in which a person, now adult, resides or is detained happen also to be a children’s home. But it frankly makes no difference whether the premises themselves are a children’s home or are some dedicated premises that have been provided in the community under the kind of “supported living model” contemplated for this very patient in this very case.

 

  • In my view, the Court of Protection has undoubted power in the present case to make, if appropriate, an order authorising the deprivation of liberty. Further, it is the duty of the person or body, in this case the local authority, who is or are depriving the patient of his liberty, to apply to the court for an authorisation; and, indeed, the duty of the court to make such authorisation as in its discretion and on the fact and in the circumstances of the case it considers appropriate.

 

  • In the present case it is common ground, and there is abundant evidence to support the proposition, that this patient lacks capacity to litigate and to make decisions as to her care and residence, and that it is in her best interests to continue for the time being to reside in the premises which are a children’s home in which she has been residing for some time, and that the deprivation of her liberty which is involved should be authorised.

 

  • So for those reasons I, myself, answer the question posed in paragraph 2 above as “yes”, and there will be an order which records that the court does consider that neither the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 nor the joint guidance issued by the President of the Court of Protection and OFSTED dated 12th February 2014 prevent the Court of Protection from authorising under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that a person who is an adult (viz. over the age of 18) may be deprived of his liberty in premises which are a children’s home. There will be appropriate declarations as to the lack of capacity and best interests of the patient and authorising the deprivation of her liberty; and I now transfer this matter back to the Court of Protection sitting in Liverpool where future decision making will be resumed after an appropriate interval by the local district judge there.

 

 

If you thought that the recent case about whether a former head of state had immunity after their death for marrying someone and not paying them any money was (a) complex and (b) a set of circumstances so recherche that they would never arise again if we lived and litigated until the sun ran out of fuel and the stars went out, then this one probably matches it.

 

It does show that the litigation fallout from Cheshire West is the gift that keeps on giving. There was a theory I read once that crossword puzzles were designed by an enemy of Britain, to soak up the brainpower of our most able people so that they would waste time on solving those rather than inventing things to help the War effort. The same may be true of Cheshire West – it may all be a cunning ruse by Baroness Hale to keep all Mental Capacity Act lawyers embroiled in solving what appear to be intractable problems and getting them all to take their eye off something far bigger and more significant.

 

Proportionality and harm

 

Holman J has given judgment in an appeal, London Borough of Ealing v JM and Others 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1084.html

 

The appeal is not concluded (the Judge has asked for some more information about the placement proposals and family finding) and I hesitated a bit about writing at it whilst it is still ongoing, but the judgment was published, and it does raise one interesting aspect, which I don’t think we have seen the last of.

Now that the European jurisprudence about proportionality has been echoed by our Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, the underlying context to that is that when deciding whether adoption is proportionate one has to be looking to what would happen or be likely to happen to the children at home.

In this particular case, the mother tried unsuccessfully to run a “Kenneth Williams defence”   (Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me)

 

  • The sad and worrying part about this case is that, between her decision and judgment in mid July 2013 and the outcome hearing which began in late November 2013, the district judge had deliberately afforded a significant period of time within which there could, amongst other matters, be an assessment of the mother by an expert in order to try to find out why she had injured her two children in the ways described. Unfortunately, the mother did not cooperate with, or properly participate in, that assessment and therefore it is not possible to know whether she injured the children as a result of manageable stress or some other force of circumstances which could be recognised and managed in the future, or whether she did so out of, frankly, callousness or brutality. Unfortunately, the reaction of the mother to these proceedings and to the fact finding decision of the district judge in July has effectively been one of almost total denial. Instead of acknowledging and facing up to what she had done and seeking help about it, the mother adopted what the district judge was later to describe as a “conspiracy theory”. She has said and continued to say that the allegations had been fabricated; hospital documents, including photographs of the injuries, faked or forged; and she has said even that the examining doctor at the hospital is a non-existent person.

 

The part of the appeal that I am going to focus on relates to the findings of harm, and the case run by the parents that even if those findings were correct, this was not the sort of harm that justified adoption. (In effect that there are two separate thresholds – “significant harm” in the context of s31 of the Children Act,  but then the sort of significant harm which would make adoption a proportionate response).  Almost certainly what was in their mind was the finding of the original judge that the injuries to the children had been ‘relatively minor’

 

 

  • As I understand it from the judgment of the 7th January 2014, these children were living together with both their parents who were, and still are, themselves living together. In October 2012 the daughter, then aged three-and-a-quarter, said certain things at the children’s nursery which led to the children being examined first at the nursery and later at a nearby hospital. The hospital observed and recorded a number of scratches and other minor injuries on them, and the daughter gave what was described as “a vivid account” of how they had happened and blamed her mother. In the upshot, after the five-day hearing during June and July 2013, the judge concluded that the perpetrator of all the injuries was the mother. She concluded that the daughter had sustained nine minor injuries to her body, and the son had sustained five minor injuries to his body, all of which were caused non-accidentally. In other words, no less than 14 minor injuries, essentially scratches, had been deliberately caused to these two children by their mother. Additionally, and seemingly of even greater concern, the mother had caused two non-accidental -that is, deliberate – boot mark injuries to the shoulders of her daughter.

 

 

 

 

  • The district judge herself very clearly acknowledged and recognised, as had the children’s guardian, that the injuries themselves were not of a serious kind nor requiring any medical treatment. She said, at paragraph 122 of her outcome judgment of the 7th January 2014:

 

 

 

 

“The injuries … were not very serious. They were relatively minor.”

 

 

And this is how the parents developed that argument

 

As proposed ground 6 of the proposed appeal (namely at paragraph 41 of their skeleton argument for today) Mr and Mrs Haines have argued that:

 

 

“This placement order is made as a result of injuries to [the girl] which were very much on the lower end of the scale, to the extent that they did not even require any medical treatment, and it is submitted that a placement order is a disproportionate response to such injuries.” 

 

That is a point which Mrs Julie Haines further developed and submitted this afternoon. It does not, in my view, afford the slightest ground of appeal. First, as I have observed, the district judge herself was well aware that the injuries in question were not very serious and were relatively minor. Second, it is not actually correct to limit the injuries only to those to the daughter, for, as I have said, it clearly emerges from paragraph 9(1) of the outcome judgment that there were also five minor injuries to the son. So the picture here is of deliberate infliction of injury, albeit minor, to both children. Third, although overall the injuries may be described as “minor” they do include non-accidental, that is, deliberate, boot mark injuries to a girl who was at the material time aged about three. All this is evidence of a deliberately abusive attitude by a mother to both her young and vulnerable children.

 

And as you can see, Holman J, simply wasn’t convinced by that as a ground of appeal at all.   IF Re B ever gets to the European Court of Human Rights, this issue might be revisited. For the time being, crossing the threshold is sufficient, without needing a two tier significant harm test (one for orders that involve the child not being permanently separated, and one for orders that do)