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The Court’s Magical Sparkle Powers (TM) – can you take a DNA paternity test from a dead man?

In Spencer V Anderson 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/851.html

a Mr David Spencer, now 20 years old, wanted to establish whether the late William Anderson, who had died intestate (without making a will), was his father. William Anderson had provided tissue samples as part of his medical treatment. Could those tissue samples be used to extract DNA, and thus undertake a paternity test? And presumably establish a form of claim against Mr Anderson’s estate.

It is a judgment by Mr Justice Peter Jackson, so it is highly informative and elegant.

 

  • The application under s.55A was issued on 18 September 2015. His Honour Judge Duggan made a series of directions, giving the respondents and the hospital the opportunity to make representations, and listing the DNA testing issue for decision. He identified the following questions:

 

(1) Does the phrase “bodily samples” in section 20(1)(b) Family Law Reform Act 1969 extend to DNA material already extracted?

(2) Alternatively, does the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court extend beyond the ambit of the Family Law Reform Act 1969 to permit comparison of the DNA of an applicant with samples of DNA already extracted from bodily samples of the deceased and kept in storage?

(3) What is the legal basis of paragraph 66 of Mrs Justice Thirlwall’s judgment of Goncharova v Zolotova [2015] EWHC 3061 (QB)?

(4) Does the testing of the DNA already extracted from a deceased person require consent and if so from whom?

(5) Is the refusal of consent by the deceased’s estate capable of creating an adverse inference whether under the Family Law Reform Act 1969 or the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court?

 

  • I will consider each of these questions in the course of this judgment.

 

Damn good set of questions, those.

 

D FIRST ISSUE: DOES THE FLRA 1969 APPLY?

    • On behalf of Mr Spencer, Mr Kemp initially sought to argue that a direction might be given under the FLRA. However, in the course of the argument he conceded that this argument could not succeed. In my view, the concession was rightly made for the reasons analysed above, which can be summarised by saying that the FLRA:
  • governs the taking of samples from living people
  • makes no provision for samples being taken after death
  • does not contemplate separate directions for sampling and testing
  • does not provide for the testing of existing samples
  • does not provide for the testing of samples that had been taken for reasons other than establishing parentage
  • requires samples to be collected in accordance with regulations
  • does not provide for the testing of DNA itself.

 

  • Mr Kemp rightly described the difficulties as being insurmountable and accepted that in the circumstances of this case a direction under s.20 is not available to his client.
  • There being no other legislation in point, I therefore conclude that there is no statutory power to direct post-mortem scientific testing to establish a person’s biological relationships and consequently no statutory power to make a direction for the testing of Mr Anderson’s stored DNA

 

E SECOND ISSUE: DOES THE HIGH COURT HAVE AN INHERENT POWER TO ORDER TESTING?

 

  • On behalf of Mr Spencer, it is argued that there are two possible sources of such a power: Civil Procedure Rules r.25.1 (or its equivalent, Family Procedure Rules r.20.2) or the inherent jurisdiction.

 

(By “Inherent Jurisdiction” here, everyone means the Court’s “Magical Sparkle Power” (TM), which I have decided should be used from now on, to illustrate just how much of a legal sleight of hand the whole thing is)

The inherent jurisdiction

 

  • The inherent jurisdiction of the High Court is a description of the court’s common law powers insofar as they have not been removed or supplanted by statute. In the Court of Appeal in Re F (above) Lord Donaldson MR described the common law as

 

“… the great safety net which lies behind all statute law and is capable of filling gaps left by that law, if and insofar as those gaps have to be filled in the interests of society as a whole. This process of using the common law to fill gaps is one of the most important duties of the judges. It is not a legislative function or process – that is an alternative solution the initiation of which is the sole prerogative of Parliament. It is an essentially judicial process and, as such, it has to be undertaken in accordance with principle.”

 

  • The inherent jurisdiction is therefore a jurisdiction of long-standing that nowadays exists in a number of important contexts. With regard to children, it has been used in a wide variety of creative ways to supplement statutory powers, both through the medium of wardship and otherwise. As recorded in FPR PD 12D, the court can, for example, make orders to restrain publicity, to prevent an undesirable association, to endorse medical treatment, to protect children abducted from abroad and to recover children from abroad. These orders not only affect the individual family members but are also directed towards third parties, either as orders or requests.
  • More recently, the jurisdiction has been developed to provide remedies for the protection of vulnerable but not legally incapable adults. In Re SK [2004] EWHC 3202 (Fam), Singer J said:

 

“I believe that the inherent jurisdiction now, like wardship has been, is a sufficiently flexible remedy to evolve in accordance with social needs and social values.”

That manifestation of the jurisdiction was cemented by Munby J in Re SA [2005] EWHC 2942 (Fam) and the Court of Appeal has confirmed that it has survived the enactment of the Mental Capacity Act 2005: see DL v A Local Authority [2012] EWCA Civ 253.

 

  • These cases and others concerned the protection of vulnerable individuals at risk of coercion or abuse. At the other end of the scale, the inherent jurisdiction can relate to the court’s power to control its own procedures, as in Bremer Vulkan v. South India Shipping [1981] 1 AC 909, where Lord Diplock said this at 977:

 

“The High Court’s power to dismiss a pending action for want of prosecution is but an instance of a general power to control its own procedure so as to prevent its being used to achieve injustice. Such a power is inherent in its constitutional function as a court of justice. Every civilised system of government requires that the state should make available to all its citizens a means for the just and peaceful settlement of disputes between them as to their respective legal rights. … The power to dismiss a pending action for want of prosecution in cases where to allow the action to continue would involve a substantial risk that justice could not be done is thus properly described as an “inherent power” the exercise of which is within the “inherent jurisdiction” of the High Court. It would I think be conducive to legal clarity if the use of these two expressions were confined to the doing by the court of acts which it needs must have power to do in order to maintain its character as a court of justice.”

 

  • The inherent jurisdiction is plainly a valuable asset, mending holes in the legal fabric that would otherwise leave individuals bereft of a necessary remedy. The present case (DNA testing) might be said to fall between the above examples of the court’s inherent powers (protection of the vulnerable, striking out).
  • At the same time, the need for predictability in the law speaks for caution to be exercised before the inherent jurisdiction is deployed in new ways. The court is bound to be cautious, weighing up whether the existence of a remedy is imperative or merely desirable, and seeking to discern the wider consequences of any development in the law.

 

That is the problem with the Court’s Magical Sparkle Power – because it isn’t set down properly in statute what the powers are, and the limitations of those powers, and the constraints for using those powers, it ends up being built on with case after case – extending its reach outwards and upwards, and then each case thereafter says “Well, if Munby J was able to use the Court’s Magical Sparkle Powers to do X, then I can use them to do Y” and the next Judge says “Well, if Colombo J was able to use the Court’s Magical Sparkle Powers to do Y, then I can use them to do Z” and so it goes.

There’s a neat argument against the Court’s Magical Sparkle Power here, which rather appealed to me

Submissions on behalf of Mrs Anderson

 

  • Mr Mylonas QC and Ms Street advance the following propositions in relation to the existence of an inherent jurisdiction:

 

(1) The High Court does not have the power to make any order it wishes; see Hayden J in Redbridge London Borough Council v A [2015] Fam 335:

“The principle of separation of powers confers the remit of economic and social policy on the legislature and on the executive, not on the judiciary. It follows that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be regarded as a lawless void permitting judges to do whatever we consider to be right…”

(2) The court’s powers are limited by s.19(2) of the Senior Courts Act 1981:

“Subject to the provisions of this Act, there shall be exercisable by the High Court—

(a) all such jurisdiction (whether civil or criminal) as is conferred on it by this or any other Act; and

(b) all such other jurisdiction (whether civil or criminal) as was exercisable by it immediately before the commencement of this Act (including jurisdiction conferred on a judge of the High Court by any statutory provision).”

So, the applicant must, but cannot, show that there was jurisdiction to make an order of this kind before the coming into force of the Senior Courts Act.

(3) Paternity testing within litigation is regulated by Part III of the 1969 Act. Any power to make a direction for scientific testing to establish paternity under the inherent jurisdiction was ousted by the Act: Re O (A Minor)(Blood Tests: Constraint) [2000] Fam 139.

In that case, two men had each obtained directions for the testing of a child to establish paternity, but the mothers, with care and control of the child, refused to consent to the testing. Wall J accepted with reluctance that there was no power to compel the mothers to allow testing when the statute required their consent: this soon led to the enactment of s.21(3). At page 151, he stated:

“In my judgment, unattractive as the proposition remains, both the inherent jurisdiction to direct the testing of a child’s blood for the purpose of determining paternity and any consequential power to enforce that direction is entirely overridden by the statutory scheme under Part III of the Family Law Act 1969. If the remedy is to be provided it is, accordingly, for Parliament to provide it.”

It is said that the present position is on all fours with that facing the court in Re O. Although the decision was given nine months before the Human Rights Act came into effect in October 2000, the court showed itself well aware of the rights engaged on all sides.

(4) There are sound policy reasons for the absence of any statutory power to permit testing in the circumstances of this case. DNA testing is an interference of the highest order with the subject’s right to confidentiality and the privacy of their known family members whose genetic relationships will also be revealed by such testing. If the court allows post-mortem DNA testing in the absence of consent, this is likely to discourage patients from providing DNA during medical treatment and encourage those in Mr Spencer’s position to defer making applications until after the death of the alleged father so as to circumvent the absence of consent. If testing in a case such as the present were to be permitted, it ought to be by way of a scheme (i) devised following the kind of consideration, consultation and scrutiny which Parliament but not the High Court can carry out; (ii) which provides for regulation (eg guaranteeing the integrity of samples and testing); and (iii) which provides clear rules which can be easily understood by healthcare professionals, patients, their family members and those who seek testing.

(5) At present, the law is clear: you cannot test samples taken for one purpose for a different purpose without consent. That clarity would be lost if an inherent power was found to exist. The law must be accessible and sufficiently precise to enable the individual to understand its scope and foresee the consequences of his actions: R v Purdy [2010] AC 345 at 390. In the present case, Mr Anderson was deprived of the opportunity to require his samples to be destroyed or of making a will excluding Mr Spencer.

(6) The decision in CM v EJ does not take matters further forward. It was not a case about paternity testing, no arguments were made against the existence of an inherent jurisdiction, and the use of the jurisdiction was consistent with the relevant statutory scheme, not inconsistent with it.

(7) Re H and A is a case in which the power to order testing was not in question. Likewise, the decision in Jaggi concerned the failure to exercise a power that existed, not the question of whether a power existed in the first place.

(8) As Re O demonstrates, the interests of justice alone do not provide a basis for ordering testing where no power to do so has been identified.

(9) Similarly, a series of cases in the analogous field of assisted reproduction show the reluctance of the courts to subvert a carefully-devised statutory scheme.

 

I happen to agree with all of that, but good luck in ever persuading a Judge that they should make a decision limiting the use of Magical Sparkle Power. You may have picked up from time to time, that I don’t much like the Jedi hand-wave that is Magical Sparkle Power, with Judge’s deciding that they can conjure powers out of thin air to solve a problem. It doesn’t sit well with me in terms of checks and balances.

 

Anyway, the important thing is that Mr Justice Peter Jackson did not agree with me, or the estate of Mr Anderson (and I don’t think on the law as it stands that was a wrong decision – the problem is, as I alluded to earlier, that the law in relation to Magical Sparkle Power is developing as a series of stepping stone cases, each relying on the one before it to extend the power further, and with no real tackling of the foundations of the earliest stepping stones and whether the Courts were ever given quite the scope of Magical Sparkle Power that they are now using)

 

Conclusion as to inherent jurisdiction

 

  • In my view, the following features are relevant to the existence or non-existence of an inherent power:

 

(1) Statutory interpretation

Before the enactment of the FLRA, the preponderant judicial opinion was that there was power to direct the taking of blood to establish a child’s paternity, and such orders were on occasion made: see In re L (An Infant) [1968] P 119 and B (BR) v B (J) [1968] P 466.

The FLRA is the only statute concerned with testing for evidence of biological relationships. It is comprehensive in relation to cases falling within its scope: Re O. In that case, the issue that had arisen lay squarely within the scheme of the Act. It fell under what Wall J referred to at 150 as the “rug” of the legislation, or what Hale LJ referred to as the “footprint” in the Court of Appeal in Re R (see paragraph 39 of the House of Lords’ opinions). In contrast, the testing of DNA post-mortem falls distinctly outside the scope of the legislation. The FLRA cannot be read purposively or convention-compliantly so as to cover cases of the present kind. I therefore do not accept that a power to give directions for post-mortem DNA testing has been ousted by the Act.

Nor do I accept that the court’s powers are limited by s.19(2) Senior Courts Act 1981. This formal, descriptive subsection cannot be taken to have defined or circumscribed the powers of the High Court, or to have frozen them as at the date of the legislation. Were it otherwise, the vulnerable adult jurisdiction could not have existed.

There is a legislative void, both in relation to post-mortem paternity testing and in relation to paternity testing using extracted DNA. I accept that in an area of this kind, policy considerations arise which would be better regulated by Parliament than by individual decisions of the court. In one sense, this speaks for judicial reticence. However, there is no indication that Parliament has turned its attention to the situation that arises in the present case, or that it is likely to do so at any early date. This gives rise to the possibility of an indefinite period during which individuals would be left without a remedy.

(2) Consent

Both the FLRA and the HTA (and the HFEA 1990 and 2008, insofar as they may be analogous) regard consent as the central component of lawfulness.

It is necessary, when considering the availability of a remedy after death, to consider the situation that would have arisen in life. The person concerned would have had the right to decide whether or not to participate in paternity testing and to allow his human tissue to be used for that purpose.

Although neither the FLRA nor the HTA apply to extracted DNA as opposed to human tissue, the use of human tissue is a necessary forerunner to the extraction of DNA and similar considerations and sensitivities must apply when DNA testing is being considered.

If the issue related to the post-mortem testing of human tissue (as opposed to DNA), the terms of the HTA would apply. For testing to be lawful, there would have to have been consent from the individual in life or by a relative after death. Or there would have to be a court order.

(3) The public interest

An intervention of the kind suggested in this case might give rise to uncertainty and concern within the medical world and beyond at the possibility that such orders might be made in other cases, or that in effect the door was being opened to post-mortem paternity testing on demand. Although it does not arise in the present case, the prospect of applications for exhumation cannot be regarded as fanciful when one recalls the circumstances in Mortensen and Jaggi, or indeed those of Richard III.

Against this, there is no sign that the present application has caused alarm to the major hospital involved in the present case (indeed it appears to welcome the court’s assistance), or that applications of this kind are likely to be at all numerous, particularly if they could only be heard in the High Court, and thereby be subject to very close scrutiny. The prospect of this limited development in the law affecting the behaviour of the patient population as a whole is likely to be more imaginary than real.

(4) Identity

Knowledge of our biological identity is a central component of our existence. The issue can have consequences of the most far-reaching kind, perhaps above all for those who do not know or are not sure of their parentage. Within our lifetimes, DNA testing has made the truth available. At the same time, it has made all other kinds of evidence almost irrelevant. While it remains possible to reach a conclusion about paternity without scientific tests, the practical and psychological consequences are different. A declaration made without testing is a finding, while the result of a test is a fact.

The contrast can be found in the opinion of Lord Wilberforce in The Ampthill Peerage Case [1977] 1 AC 547 at 569:

“Any determination of disputable fact may, the law recognises, be imperfect: the law aims at providing the best and safest solution compatible with human fallibility and having reached that solution it closes the book.”

While at 573 he said:

“One need not perhaps, on this occasion, face the question whether, when technology or science makes an advance, so as to enable to be known with certainty that which previously was doubtful, such evidence ought to be admitted in order to destroy the binding force of a judgment or of a declaration with statutory force. It may be that within the limits within which a new trial may be ordered and, on the precedents, those limits are comparatively short, such evidence could be admitted for that purpose.”

The European Convention, as interpreted in Jaggi, underscores the importance of the opportunity to discover one’s parentage. Although the Convention cannot on its own create a remedy, it is desirable that our law is consistent with the approach taken in other jurisdictions if that is possible.

(5) The interests of others

It is a peculiar feature of genetic testing that it inescapably has the potential to affect not only the individual being tested but also those to whom he is closely related. Depending on the facts, the rights of surviving relatives may be engaged, but it is difficult to envisage a situation in which the establishment of the truth about biological relationships could amount to an unlawful interference with those rights; at the very least any interference may be necessary and proportionate. The rights of third parties certainly cannot represent an absolute bar to the existence of an inherent power.

(6) The interests of justice

When all is said and done, the court is faced with a civil dispute that must be resolved. In cases where a power exists, it has long been emphasised that the establishment of the truth is both a goal in itself and a process that serves the interests of justice. As noted above, where a court makes findings of fact based upon witness and documentary testimony, there is always the possibility of error. Evidence will be incomplete because (by definition in a case of the present kind) people will have died and memories may have faded. When dealing with matters as important as parentage, the need to reach the right conclusion is obvious. The prospect of a court trying to ascertain the truth to the best of its ability when the truth is in effect there for the asking is a troubling one. Account must also be taken of the needless waste of resources that would accompany a trial involving narrative evidence.

(7) The range of circumstances

The existence of a power cannot depend upon the circumstances of the particular case. What is relevant is the range of cases that might arise. It is possible to envisage opportunistic and unmeritorious applications, but there might equally be applications, perhaps concerning young children, where the need to know the truth about parentage is compelling. The answer cannot be that the court can consider an application in the second case but not in the first: jurisdiction cannot depend on merits.

 

  • Reflecting the complexity of the legal and ethical issues, the above features pull in a number of different directions. If the only considerations related to the interests of the deceased and the public interest, the arguments against the existence of an inherent power would surely prevail. However, the interests of the living and the interests of justice must also be brought into consideration.
  • Taking all these matters into account, my conclusion is that the High Court does possess an inherent jurisdiction that it can properly deploy to direct scientific testing to provide evidence of parentage in circumstances falling outside the scope of the FLRA. If the court was unable to obtain evidence of this kind, severe and avoidable injustice might result. Awareness of the implications of ordering testing without consent and of the wider public interest does not lead to the conclusion that the jurisdiction does not exist, but rather to the realisation that it should be exercised sparingly in cases where the absence of a remedy would lead to injustice.

 

This is not a surprising conclusion. Magical Sparkle Power continues to be most efficacious in evey case. The remedy for all ills.

 

Having established that the Court COULD use Magical Sparkle Power to compel a DNA test from a deceased person’s tissue samples, given for another reason, the Court then had to decide whether they SHOULD in this case.   (This of course raises the issue as to whether someone who is terminally ill should make legal arrangements for the destruction of any tissue samples on death, or whether that should be part of a formal consent procedure when the samples are taken, but that’s a bit beyond our scope)

 

F THIRD ISSUE: SHOULD TESTING BE DIRECTED IN THIS CASE?

 

  • The following factors are relied upon in support of testing:

 

(1) Mr Spencer’s natural desire/right to know his parentage.

(2) Combined with this, the value that knowledge of paternity will have in clarifying his medical status and the need (or not) for intrusive investigations.

(3) The interests of justice and the need for the best available evidence: cf Re H and A.

 

  • In response, it is said on behalf of Mrs Anderson that:

 

(1) An order for testing would be an unjustified interference with her own Art. 8 rights by compounding a distressing situation and creating a risk that a genetic relationship would be identified between herself and a person who has caused her stress and anxiety.

(2) Human DNA is intensely personal and very strong justification is therefore required if it is to be used for any purpose without that person’s consent. The sample was provided by Mr Anderson for his own benefit during the course of medical treatment. He was entitled to a high expectation of confidentiality.

(3) Testing could not have taken place in Mr Anderson’s lifetime without his consent. This statutory bar has been given greater weight than any other rights, including those of a supposed child. Mr Anderson’s option to consent or withhold consent during his lifetime (and to explain his decision) was circumvented by Mr Spencer’s choice not to raise the issue until after his death. It would be unjust if his extensive delay allowed Mr Spencer to achieve testing without consent.

(4) To allow testing in this case would be against the public interest by undermining patient confidence in the confidentiality of providing samples for medical treatment.

(5) Mr Spencer’s delay deprived Mr Anderson of the opportunity to make decisions about his private life and his property.

(6) Mr Spencer’s interest weighs less heavily in the balance than that of Mr Anderson, Mrs Anderson and the public interest because:

(i) His lack of interest in testing until after Mr Anderson’s death shows that he had no interest in testing for paternity in order to satisfy himself of that relationship for its own sake. The court is not obliged to take positive steps to uphold his rights in these circumstances.

(ii) If the request is now motivated by inheritance reasons, his delay denied the deceased the opportunity to manage his estate in the light of relevant knowledge.

(iii) If the request is now motivated by medical reasons, on Mr Spencer’s own case, a test would merely serve to confirm what he already believes to be the case; if no testing is carried out he will continue to benefit from low-risk screening which will reduce his chance of cancer.

(7) Making no order for testing in this case would not exclude the possibility of an order for testing of a DNA sample being made on different facts, for example, where national security or the life of a child was at stake.

 

  • Weighing these matters up with appropriate caution, and seeking to strike a fair balance between the competing private and public interests, I have reached the conclusion that scientific testing should take place to seek to establish the paternity of Mr Spencer by using the stored DNA sample of the late Mr Anderson. These are my reasons:

 

(1) If the application for a declaration of parentage had appeared to be speculative or opportunistic, the request for scientific testing would probably not have succeeded. However, the overall evidence here raises the real possibility that Mr Anderson was Mr Spencer’s father, he having undeniably been in a relationship with Mr Spencer’s mother at the time of conception.

(2) It is common ground between the parties that there is a significant medical issue that turns on the possibility of a biological relationship between Mr Anderson and Mr Spencer. It is of course possible for Mr Spencer to be tested periodically by colonoscopy, but that is only a partial solution because he is surely entitled to know the reason why he should undergo those procedures, or to be relieved of the need to do so. As recently as February 2015, Mrs Anderson regarded it as “essential” that Mr Spencer’s paternity should be established. It does not now lie easily in her mouth to say the opposite.

(3) Although it is possible that the late Mr Anderson (like the alleged father in Jaggi) might have refused to consent to testing during his lifetime, there is no particular reason to regard that as likely. Whether or not he would have welcomed the possibility that he was a father, it may not do justice to his memory to assume that he would have withheld his support from a young man who might have inherited a serious medical condition from him.

(4) The information, in the form of the DNA sample, is readily available and does not require physically intrusive investigations. In particular, it does not require exhumation, as to which particular considerations would undoubtedly arise.

(5) There is no objection on behalf of the hospital, which might be seen as being a nominal representative of the public interest in this case.

(6) The interests of third parties, and in particular those of Mrs Anderson to the extent that they may be engaged, are, with all respect, of lesser significance. There is no indication of any real risk of harm and the establishment of the truth carries greater weight than the question of whether it is palatable.

 

  • I accordingly find that Mr Spencer’s interest in knowing his biological parentage, the questions raised by the medical history, and the marked advantages of scientific testing as a means of resolving both issues, collectively carry more weight in the particular circumstances of this case than the counter-indicators to testing that undoubtedly exist. It is in the interests of justice that testing should take place, and it is a proper exercise of the court’s inherent jurisdiction to secure this outcome.
  • For completeness I would add that, had testing not been directed, the court would have heard the evidence in the normal way. Statutory inferences could not be drawn in a case where the statute did not apply, but this would not have prevented the court from drawing whatever inferences seemed proper from the evidence before it.
  • I pay tribute to the considerable help that I have received from counsel and invite them to submit a draft order that reflects this decision and replicates so far as possible the protections that would accompany a direction for testing under the FLRA.

 

Magical Sparkle Power, eh. Amazing. For me, it’s a bit like Superman. If you’re writing a Superman comic or film, you know the powers that Superman has been given. It’s a broad spectrum – he has super strength, he has flight, he has X-ray vision, he has heat rays, he has extraordinary speed. That’s a lot to work with, it should cover most of what you need in any given scenario. If you start adding to that with the power to kiss people and make them forget things, to peel his logo off his chest and throw it as a super weapon, to fly so fast round the earth backwards that he can turn back time, then you’re CHEATING.  Superman does have super powers, yes, but he has particular and specified superpowers. He can’t just suddenly produce claws out of his fists because Krypton, or have control over metal because “Superman”.  So “Magical Sparkle Power” is my little way of reminding myself and others that there are consequences to using the inherent jurisdiction to do wholly new and imaginative things that aren’t written down anywhere, because every time you do, it is stepping stone that others will stand on to go a little bit further.  Some of these stepping stones are now just floating in thin air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preacher and Cyanide

 

This was a Court of Appeal decision about whether a parent can be prevented from giving their children names of their choosing. In this case, the mother had chosen the names “Preacher” and “Cyanide” for her newborn twins.

Could she be prevented from officially registering these names?

Unlike France, where Registrars themselves have a right of veto, British Registrars can raise eyebrows and gently persuade, but they have no power to prevent a parent giving a name that they consider unsuitable.

Do the Courts have power to stop a parent doing so? Does a Local Authority?

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/374.html

The Court of Appeal ruled that the answer was yes, but that the correct route to follow was more complex than one might first think.

 

  1. The issue to be determined is whether there is power in this jurisdiction to prevent a parent with parental responsibility from registering a child with the forename of his or her choice. If the answer to that question is ‘Yes’, the second question (and one which rather unexpectedly requires a detailed consideration of somewhat labyrinthine technicalities) is by what procedural route the court should exercise that power.
  2. For reasons set out below I am entirely satisfied that the court has such a power. I am equally satisfied that it is a power which should be used only in the most extreme cases and only with the sanction of a High Court Judge.

 

Re C (Children) 2016

There were going to be care proceedings in any event, due to the mother’s background of mental health difficulties, and the Local Authority in this case applied to the Court under the Inherent Jurisdiction. The Judge at first instance said that they were wrong to do this, and ruled that if they had Interim Care Orders (which they did), then naming a child was a function of parental responsibility, and the LA could overrule this, using the powers in section 33 of the Children Act 1989.

The parent’s protection about the LA using this power of veto would be to make an application under the Human Rights Act that the power had been used disproportionately.

The Court of Appeal took the view that whilst this was technically correct, that blocking the parents choice of name was such an unusual and important decision that it was best for the matter to come before a Court, and thus that inherent jurisdiction actually was the right step.

 

  1. In my judgment:
    1. i) the choosing of a name (forename and surname) for a child by a parent with parental responsibility and

ii) thereafter the act of complying with the duty of the mother and the father to give to the registrar ” information of the particulars required to be registered concerning the birth, and in the presence of the registrar to sign the register” (section 2(1) BDRA 1953)

are each acts of parental responsibility.

  1. The route chosen in the present case by the judge – section 33(3)CA 1989 supported by an injunction under section 37 SCA 1981 – is superficially attractive, the more so, if Baker J is right, that the mother has a safety net in that she may apply for an injunction under section 8 HRA 1998 where : (i) the proposed course of action by a local authority falls foul of section 33(4) CA 1989, in failing to promote the welfare of the child in question and (ii) where it can be shown to be a unjustifiable interference with the family’s Article 8 rights.
  2. In my judgment, notwithstanding the possible availability of such ‘tit for tat’ injunctions, the use by a local authority of section 33 CA 1989 in relation to the registration or change of a child’s forename has at least two significant problems:
    1. i) if the judge is right and the inherent jurisdiction has no role in a case such as this because section 33 CA 1989 provides the complete answer, then, unless a local authority needs to apply for an injunction under section 37 SCA 1981, this comprehensive invasion of the mother’s Article 8 rights will require no prior sanction from the court.

ii) The matter came before the court only because an application was made under section 100 CA 1989 and not by way of an application under section 33 CA 1989. Section 33 CA 1989 provides for an application for leave to be made to the court with regards to the changing of a child’s surname. There is no similar provision in relation to a forename. There is therefore no procedural route within section 33(3) CA 1989 (or by way of a general “catch all” within the Act) whereby a local authority can bring before the court that exceptional case where the court’s guidance is needed as to the use by a local authority of its powers under section 33(3)(b)(i), in respect of the decision itself (as opposed to seeking the protection of the local authority’s powers by way of injunction).

  1. In my judgment notwithstanding that a local authority may have the statutory power under section 33(3)(b) CA 1989 to prevent the mother from calling the twins “Preacher” and “Cyanide”, the seriousness of the interference with the Article 8 rights of the mother consequent upon the local authority exercising that power, demands that the course of action it proposes be brought before and approved by the court.

(Whilst the provisions of s33(7) prevent the LA changing a child’s surname without permission of the Court, there is no such ban on forename)

It does seem that it must be right for such a serious step to be aired before a Court and debated properly, rather than a Local Authority using their powers under an ICO under s33 to change the name without the opportunity for the Court to properly consider it, and a parent trying to fix it after the event.

Inherent jurisdiction of course requires that the provisions of section 100 apply (that the desired outcome cannot be achieved by any other statutory order, and that significant harm will arise if inherent jurisdiction is not used)

  1. I am satisfied that the result which the local authority wish to achieve cannot be achieved either:
    1. i) through the making of an order to which section 100(5) CA 1989 applies in the absence of a provision (or requirement) in section 33 CA 1989 for the local authority to make an application in relation to the giving or changing of a forename of a child or

ii) by way of a prohibited steps order or a specific issue order.

  1. That leaves the question of “whether there is reasonable cause to believe that if the court’s inherent jurisdiction is not exercised with respect to the child he is likely to suffer significant harm”?
  2. The judge reached the conclusion that section 100(4)(b) CA 1989 was not satisfied; in his judgment, the giving to the babies of the names contemplated by the mother did not give the court “reasonable cause to believe that if the court’s inherent jurisdiction is not exercised” they would suffer significant harm. Further, the judge appeared to be of the view that a single issue relating to the naming of a child, is not, without more, capable of satisfying the section 31 CA 1989 threshold criteria. With respect I disagree; in my judgment, although it will only rarely be the case, the giving of a particular name to a child can give a court reasonable cause to believe that, absent its intervention, the child in question is likely to suffer significant emotional harm. In my judgment this is one such case and there is every reason to believe that if the court’s inherent jurisdiction is not invoked in order to prevent the girl child from being named ‘”Cyanide”, she is likely to suffer significant harm.
  3. In my judgment, the local authority took the correct procedural route when they made an application under section 100 CA 1989 seeking ” the intervention of the High Court in order to exercise its powers pursuant to section 100 Children Act (CA) 1989 and/or its Inherent Jurisdiction” (sic).

 

The significant harm issue is obviously tricky. The Court were satisfied here that the choice of the name “Cyanide” was such that would cause the child significant harm.

Let’s look at the mother’s reasoning

 

“6. I confirm that I believe it is my right to name the children the names that I have chosen as their mother and I believe it is my human right to exercise my right to choose their names and register my children’s names without the interference of the local authority.

7. I confirm that I have chosen Preacher for my boy child as it is a strong spiritual name. It is a name that suggests proclamation and advocacy and being able to communicate with a wide community.

8. I also consider that Preacher is a rather cool name which will stand my son well for the future and I do not consider that it will impact on his development, emotionally, physically or mentally.

9. I confirm that I have chosen the name Cyanide as I believe that it is a lovely pretty name.

10. I further confirm that the name is linked with flowers and plants, that elderberry, hydrangea, cherry laurel and roses all have compounds of Cyanide found in the leaves and the fruits.

11. I believe that Cyanide will be a strong name that will stand my daughter well for the future and that I believe that it is a poison that has been used since the ancient Egyptians and it is derived from the Greek meaning dark blue.

12. I also consider that Cyanide was responsible for killing Hitler and Goebbels and I consider that this was a good thing and therefore Cyanide can be considered as a positive name, reflecting positive action that destroyed very bad people in the war.

13. I do not accept that it will have an adverse impact on my daughter during her formative years or later in her life.”

 

 

The Court of Appeal said this about names generally

 

What is in a name?

  1. One of the first questions asked by friends and relatives following the birth of a child is ‘what is the baby’s name?’ It may be thought that any individual who has had the happy experience of debating with his or her partner possible forenames for their unborn child would be astonished at the proposition that the choice of the name of their child could be regarded as other than their right as the child’s parents, and their first act of parental responsibility. The name given to a child ordinarily evolves over the months of the pregnancy through a bundle of cultural, familial and taste influences. The forename finally chosen forms a critical part of his or her evolving identity. The sharing of a forename with a parent or grandparent or bearing a forename which readily identifies a child as belonging to his or her particular religious or cultural background, can be a source of great pride to a child and give him or her an important sense of ‘belonging’ which will be invaluable throughout his or her life.
  2. If a baby cannot be brought up by his or her parents, often the forename given to him or her by their mother is the only lasting gift they have from her. It may be the first, and only, act of parental responsibility by his or her mother. It is likely, therefore, to be of infinite value to that child as part of his or her identity. That remains the case, even if the name used in his or her new family and thereafter throughout their lives, is different from that given to him or her by their birth mother.
  3. The naming of a child is not however merely a right or privilege, but also a responsibility; people, and particularly children, are capable of great unkindness and often are not accepting of the unusual or bizarre. It does not need expert evidence or academic research to appreciate that a name which attracts ridicule, teasing, bullying or embarrassment will have a deleterious effect on a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence with potentially long term consequences for him or her. The burden of such a name can also cause that child to feel considerable resentment towards the parent who inflicted it upon him or her.
  4. The judge recognised both the importance of a forename, and the fact that, ordinarily a choice of name for a child, even one which many would regard as outlandish, would not provide a reason for the interference by the state in private family life. The judge said:
    1. “A name is a direct link with the parent who chose the name……A name is also a badge of association, sometimes reflecting cultural identity, nationality, tribal heritage or religion. Above all a name is a gift a parent gives to a child, reflective of personal wishes and traditionally unconstrained in its choosing by legal restriction.

Notwithstanding the above it is not unknown to those working in the Family Court to encounter children whose parents have chosen to give them forenames which can most kindly be described as unusual, idiosyncratic or even eccentric bordering on the bizarre and more accurately be regarded as an act of parental selfishness or thoughtlessness and wholly lacking in consideration of the impact upon the child.

The choice of such names may well be reflective of a general failure to adopt a child centred approach to their responsibilities in meeting the child’s welfare but in my experience that choice of name has never been in of itself a reason for the involvement of the state in private family life.”

  1. The judge went on to consider how taste and perception can change and that a name which “is considered by a child to be an embarrassment at one age on account of it being different or unusual may well, as they get older and begin to assert their individuality, become a badge of pride for those very same reasons.”
  2. The judge correctly identified the important issue in the context of the care proceedings before him as being “the extent to which the local authority can or should exercise its shared responsibility in order to determine the name that a child in their care should be given…”.

 

In relation to the possibility of names being given which could be harmful, and “Cyanide” particularly :-

 

Discussion

  1. I have reached the conclusion that there is a small category of cases where, notwithstanding the local authority’s powers under section 33(3)(b) CA 1989, the consequences of the exercise of a particular act of parental responsibility are so profound and have such an impact on either the child his or herself, and/or the Article 8 rights of those other parties who share parental responsibility with a local authority, that the matter must come before the court for its consideration and determination.
  2. It follows that I am also satisfied that there may be rare cases, where a local authority believes that the forename chosen by a parent, and by which he or she intends to register a child, goes beyond the unusual, bizarre, extreme or plain foolish, and instead gives the local authority reasonable cause to believe that by calling him or her that name he or she is likely to be caused significant harm. In those highly unusual circumstances, the proper route by which the local authority seek to ensure that the course it proposes is necessary and in the child’s interests is (as was held by Butler-Sloss LJ in Re D, L, and LA supra) by putting the matter before the High Court by way of an application to invoke its inherent jurisdiction.
  3. Cyanide
  4. The judge at first instance found that, even allowing for changes in taste or “developing individual perception”, the name “Cyanide” was not “obviously indicative of a parent who is acting so as to contribute or otherwise secure the welfare of her children” and made the order sought preventing the mother from calling her Cyanide or registering her birth in that name. As already recorded, the judge reached that decision notwithstanding that he had held that the issue of the naming of the children was not, in itself, capable of satisfying a court that the child in question was likely to suffer significant harm.
  5. As set out at paragraph 103 above, I disagree with the judge’s conclusion as to availability of the court’s inherent jurisdiction, although not with the ultimate decision he made. For myself, I cannot (at present) envisage any circumstances in which an order preventing a parent from giving its child the forename of its choice could, or should, be made absent the court being satisfied that failure to intervene is likely to cause the child in question significant harm.
  6. In my judgment, giving this child the name “Cyanide” as her forename is capable, without more, of giving the court reasonable cause to believe that she would be likely to suffer significant emotional harm:
    1. i) in relation to her sense of identity and self-worth, particularly here as a child who cannot be brought up by either of her own parents. It is hard to see how (regardless of what justification may be given to her by loving carers) the girl twin could regard being named after this deadly poison as other than a complete rejection of her by her birth mother; a rejection not replicated, in her eyes, in respect of her twin brother.

ii) to her in her day to day life as a child. Whilst teasing and ridicule are a natural part of childhood and, in moderation, help to develop resilience, such a name potentially exposes the girl twin to treatment which goes far beyond acceptable teasing. Further it would be wilful of the court to fail to factor into its consideration the power of social media and the very real danger that a child called “Cyanide” would soon be a victim of “cyber bullying”

  1. In my judgment this is one of those rare cases where the court, in the exercise of its inherent jurisdiction, should intervene to protect the girl twin from the emotional harm that I am satisfied she would suffer if called “Cyanide”.

 

That left “Preacher” – it would seem to me that if there had only been one child that “Preacher” comes under the category of unusual or idiosyncratic names, but could not be said to actually be capable of causing the child harm. The children’s Guardian in this case urged the Court to prohibit “Cyanide” but allow “Preacher”  (and I have to say that I tend to agree)

 

However, the Court of Appeal did not think that the Judge had been wrong to prohibit both names. In essence, they say that the female child, whatever she would be named, might later learn that her name was not given to her by her mother whilst her twin brother had got the name his mother had given him. As a result, she might find out (probably by googling “Boy named Preacher”) that her mother had wanted to call her Cyanide. The Court of Appeal felt that it would be better for both children to have names chosen by others, rather than one by their mother and one by the Local Authority

 

Preacher

  1. In her written submissions, the Guardian submitted that the interference in the mother’s right to name her child was only necessary and proportionate in respect of calling the female baby “Cyanide”. Her argument was that the two names fell on either side of the ‘significant harm’ threshold – “Cyanide” on one side of the threshold – that of being harmful, and “Preacher” on the other – unusual, but not harmful.
  2. The local authority’s application under section 100 CA 1989 was made in respect of both children. The Guardian’s approach whilst understandable, arguably places the twins in conflict, with the boy child growing up with the name chosen by his birth mother whilst his twin does not.
  3. In the case of Birmingham City Council v H (No 2) [1993] 1 FLR 883, Balcombe J described the balancing exercise to be carried out where a conflict arose between the separate interests and welfare of two children in one application in the following way:
    1. “You start with an evenly balanced pair of scales. Of course, when you start to put into the scales the matters relevant to each child – and in particular those listed in s 1(3) – the result may come down in favour of the one rather than the other, but that is a balancing exercise which the court is well used to conducting in cases concerning children.”

At 899E – G, Evans LJ put the matter like this:

“But the welfare of the two individuals cannot both be ‘paramount’ in the ordinary and natural meaning of that word. If that is the requirement of s 1(1) in the circumstances, then the Act presents the court with an impossible task. For this reason, I agree with Balcombe LJ that the requirement must be regarded as qualified, in the cases where the welfare of more than one child is involved, by the need to have regard to potential detriment for one in the light of potential benefit for the other. Only in this way, as it seems to me, can the subsection be applied and the manifest objects of the Act achieved.”

  1. In my judgment the potential benefit to the boy twin in having a forename chosen by his mother is more than outweighed by the potential detriment to the girl child of them having forenames names given to them from two different sources – namely their mother on the one hand and their half siblings on the other.
  2. It is not unusual for a child, with even the most commonplace name, to ask how his or her name was chosen. This is made more likely in the case of an unusual name, such as “Preacher” and in circumstances where the children concerned are not living with their natural parents. The only possible response that his carers would be able to make in response to such a question, would be to tell the boy twin that it was the name that his birth mother had chosen for him. This would lead to the inevitable question from the girl twin as to whether her name had also been chosen for her by her mother and, if not why not? She would undoubtedly ask what name her mother had given to her and why it had been changed. The outcome of such a predictable conversation would be to expose the girl twin to a significant part of the very harm the court seeks to prevent; she would know not only that her mother had chosen to call her “Cyanide”, but also to have to come to terms with the fact that she was to have been named after a notorious poison, whilst her twin brother was to be given the name of a respected member of society, “Preacher”.
  3. I accept the Guardian’s basic submission that the name “Preacher” in itself would probably not have led a court to conclude that he would be likely to suffer significant harm if that was the forename he was given. However, upon carrying out the BCC v H balancing exercise, and having put into the scales the matters relevant to each child, I have reached the conclusion that the girl twin’s welfare can only met by neither she nor her brother having the names chosen for them by their mother. I am reinforced in this view by the fact that, whilst “Preacher” in itself might not be an objectionable name, there is considerable benefit for the boy twin to be in the same position as his sister and for them each to grow up knowing that their half siblings, with whom they live, chose both of their names for them.
  4. I would not therefore conclude that the judge had erred in deciding that it was not in the best interests of the boy twin to be called “Preacher” although for rather different reasons.

 

It would be a very exceptional case where this occurs – even more so if the choice of name was the ONLY matter which went to threshold. Such cases would have to go to the High Court for determination.

 

[I’m sure that all lawyers working in this field have a string of very unusual names that have been given to children within care proceedings. I’m fairly sure that by now, someone will have had a “Hashtag”.  The test is much higher than just a whacky or idiosyncratic name, and into something which could be shown to be actually harmful ]

 

Mistaken identity

 

Readers may recall the case of Riaz , where Keehan J used the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court to make injunctions against a number of men, banning them from contact with any child under 18 and allowing them to be ‘named and shamed’ as people who may have sexually exploited or groomed children.  (They may also remember my doubts that the inherent jurisdiction, which is undoubtedly pretty elastic, stretched quite as far as Keehan J was deciding.   “I’m like a rubber band, until you pull too hard”, as Sia sings)

We then had the Redbridge case, in which Hayden J said just that, that the inherent jurisdiction could properly be used to protect a named child from harm from named individuals, but not to protect ALL children against such men.

Both of these Judges are High Court Judges, so the conflict between Riaz and Redbridge will have to be decided by a more senior Court if at all.

Birmingham City Council vand SK 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/310.html

In this case, however, Keehan J made a “Riaz” style injunction against a man, only to later have the Local Authority who asked for it to come back rather sheepishly to say that they had obtained such a serious injunction against the wrong man.

[Hopefully this time the “Riaz” injunction didn’t end up with the national or local press ‘outing’ this man as someone who exploits or grooms children. Am wondering what the remedy would be if so – you can’t sue for defamation for something that is said in Court so the LA telling the Judge that the man LG posed a sexual risk would be protected, a newspaper reporting the Court order would be protected.  I guess it would have to be a claim for negligence?]

  1. SK, from the age of 13, was absenting herself form the family home. It was discovered that she was keeping the company of much older men. She was beyond the control of her parents. Her case came to the attention of the local authority and of the police. Hence the care proceedings were issued and an application for an injunction was made against an individual, LG, who it was believed was sexually exploiting SK.
  2. There was a meeting of MASE on 5 October 2014 when he was mentioned as a possible perpetrator of child sexual exploitation against SK.
  3. The local authority thus made the application for a Birmingham City Council v Riaz and othrs [2014] EWHC 4247 (Fam) [2015] 2 FLR 763 (‘Riaz‘) style injunction against him. On the basis of the information then before me on 24 March, I granted the injunction as sought.
  4. Within days of making that order, however, it became evident that there had been a serious lack of communication and/or a misunderstanding between the police and the legal department of the local authority. It also became clear that LG had quite wrongly been identified as a possible perpetrator of a child sexual exploitation of SK at the multi agency meeting held on 20 January 2015.
  5. Quite properly the local authority immediately applied to me to discharge the injunction against LG. I granted the same but required a detailed explanation from the local authority and from the police as to how such a serious mistake had been made. I was promptly provided with an explanation which I accept. I do not propose to lengthen this judgment by reciting the same save that I accept it was a genuine and unintended error borne of lax and less than rigorous procedures.
  6. The local authority and the police, with the court’s approval, wrote an entirely suitable and regretful letter of apology to LG. The material passages of that letter are:

    “… The order had been granted by the High Court on the basis of evidence and information gathered by the local authority in the exercise of its safeguarding duties. The information that indicated that you might have involvement with the individual named in the order was provided to the local authority by West Midlands Police at a meeting on 23rd September 2014, again as part of safeguarding procedures….

    ….On the 27th March 2015 information was received by the local authority legal department from West Midlands Police. That information made clear that it was not thought that you were in fact involved with the child in question….

    ….The reason that Birmingham City Council sought an order against you was that information was received from West Midlands Police (WMP) at a social services meeting in September 2014, that there was a log connecting you to a relevant address and potentially to the child in question.

    However, a break down of safeguarding procedures within the local authority meant that this link with LG was considered to be accurate even after, at another safeguarding meeting on the 20th January this year, West Midlands Police made it clear that LG was not thought to be involved with the child.

    Prior to the hearing at court on the 24th March 2015 the local authority sought to ensure that the information it relied upon remained accurate. However, the steps taken failed to highlight that you were not involved with the child…..”

  7. The positive outcome of this most serious and unfortunate set of circumstances has been the creation of a Protocol devised by the local authority and the police. It is an extremely helpful document which is the result of many, many hours of discussion and debate between the various agencies engaged in the field of child sexual exploitation.

 

The misidentification of LG as a potential perpetrator of child sexual exploitation was, to put it mildly, extremely unfortunate. I am satisfied that the same resulted from a series of unintended errors and misunderstandings, of greater importance, however, for the conduct of future cases is the Protocol agreed between the local authority and the police. It provides a clear and detailed procedure for the steps to be taken in cases of actual or suspected child sexual exploitation. The protocol is the result of careful consideration over many months, by a number of agencies, with the benefit of counsels’ advice and drafting.

 

You can find the Protocol laid out in the judgment, if you are interested.

What is perturbing me, however, is how the Judge came to make the “Riaz” injunction without it coming to light that LG had been wrongly named as a sexual risk.  That suggests strongly to me that LG was not present at the application – since if he was, surely he would have been saying that there had been a terrible mistake. So did Keehan J make such a serious order ex parte?  (without LG being present to oppose it?)

We can’t be sure of that, since the judgment doesn’t explicitly say so, or set out what evidence was presented, but it is surely a lesson for the Courts as much as the LA?  In all other applications, there is clear guidance and case law as to the risks of a hearing taking place with only one side present and the very limited circumstances in which that can occur, the caution that the Court needs to take and often the very high evidential bar that the applicant needs to surmount before an order can be made.

Given the huge implications of a “Riaz” style injunction (let’s not forget that the subject would be barred from any contact with children, and might be placed in very awkward situations having to explain that they cannot visit family or friends who have children, let alone the publicity issue), surely the very high evidential bar that exists with say Emergency Protection Orders ought to be in place. Particularly given that there’s some doubt about the jurisdictional issue.

I could be wrong. Maybe LG WAS present at the injunction application and either didn’t say that this was mistaken identity or wasn’t believed.

On a broader issue, we do need the conflict between Riaz and Redbridge to be resolved. We all know that different Judges approach things in slightly different ways and as human beings bring their own experience to bear, but it cannot be right that a person like LG faced with an application of this kind would have some Judges who would absolutely not make the injunction and some who would, on exactly the same facts. That cannot be right or fair.

 

 

High Court expresses doubt that the inherent jurisdiction covers the ‘name and shame’ CSE cases

 

Readers will probably be familiar with the case of Riaz, where Keehan J was invited to use the inherent jurisdiction to make injunctions preventing a group of men who were believed to pose a sexual risk to children from associating with children, and also allowed them to be named in the national press.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/12/16/child-sexual-exploitation-birmingham-injunction-case/

 

At the time and still, I have mixed feelings about that case.  As a society, we do desperately want to do something to protect children from Child Sexual Exploitation, and we have to face the reality that criminal prosecutions often cannot get off the ground where the child does not want to make the complaint or give evidence. And at the moment, the only remedy to protect such children is Secure Accommodation – i.e locking them up for being victims, which doesn’t sit well with anyone.

 

Therefore, when Keehan J announced that he was using the inherent jurisdiction to make injunctions that would prevent men suspected of sexually exploiting children from spending time with children, in a ‘bold and innovative’ move, I was really hoping that it would be a robust mechanism that could be deployed by Local Authorities.

 

However, when I saw the judgment, I was concerned that it was placing a great deal of weight on the concept that inherent jurisdiction has theoretically limitless powers. I wondered whether it was robust enough if the men who were being subject to the orders sought to challenge the power to make them.

And so it has proven

 

London Borough of Redbridge v SNA 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2140.html

 

The London Borough made their application, before Hayden J, set out that they relied on the Riaz case as authority for making the application and no doubt confidently thought that if they could persuade the Judge to the civil standard of proof that these men were more likely than not to pose a risk to children, the order would be made. However, the power to make the order was challenged.

 

The limit that Hayden J draws is the one that myself and Martin Downs of counsel observed at the time – the inherent jurisdiction has powers to make orders to protect a particular named individual child from such men, but the Riaz order was drafted broadly to protect all children. Hayden J feels that this went too far.

 

 

  1. It is easy to see why the Local Authority has brought this application. Indeed, given the emphasis in Dr. Parsons’ report on the risk to adolescent females the Local Authority may very well have faced criticism for failing to act, given the apparent jurisdictional basis on which to do so highlighted in the Birmingham case. If I may say so Mr Lefteri has advised the Authority entirely properly and has prosecuted his case succinctly and effectively. In the course of exchanges however, he could identify no jurisdictional basis for the order he sought other than the Birmingham case.
  2. Mr Lefteri concludes his supplemental submissions thus:

    “It is respectfully submitted that the use of injunctive orders pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction should be perceived as a deterrent to dissuade abusive and exploitative practices of the perpetrators of sexual abuse, not to dissuade Local Authorities from adopting the “bold and innovative” approach of Birmingham City Council for the protection of children.

    The Local Authority does not suggest that the use of injunctive orders should be used as a substitute for the Police actively pursuing Sexual Risk Orders. Indeed, multi-agency cooperation and sharing of information should be strongly encouraged by this Court, irrespective of the outcome. It is respectfully suggested that as a matter of good practice, Courts in care proceedings (or indeed any other family proceedings) where findings of sexual abuse or harm are made, should immediately direct the disclosure of the Court’s judgment to the relevant Police department.

    The purpose of keeping the remedy open to the High Court is to provide potential relief to Local Authorities under the inherent jurisdiction in the future, to account for transitional protective arrangements or where Sexual Risk Orders are inappropriate, delayed or unavailable. The Court will undoubtedly consider each case on its facts and circumstances and consider the implications of such an order on the Convention Rights of each individual against whom such remedy is sought.”

  3. These are important issues and I reserved judgment to reflect on the arguments. The concept of the ‘inherent jurisdiction’ is by it’s nature illusive to definition. Certainly it is ‘amorphous’ (see paragraph 14 above) and, to the extent that the High Court has repeatedly been able to utilise it to make provision for children and vulnerable adults not otherwise protected by statute, can, I suppose be described as ‘pervasive’. But it is not ‘ubiquitous’ in the sense that it’s reach is all- pervasive or unlimited. Precisely because it’s powers are not based either in statute or in the common law it requires to be used sparingly and in a way that is faithful to its evolution. It is for this reason that any application by a Local Authority to invoke the inherent jurisdiction may not be made as of right but must surmount the hurdle of an application for leave pursuant to s100 (4) and meet the criteria there.
  4. The point is illuminated by considering the fetters that exist on the scope of the inherent jurisdiction in those cases where the needs of an individual child are in issue. In Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond Upon Thames London Borough Council [2009] UKHL 7 the House of Lords emphasised that a child who is a Ward of Court cannot be regarded as having special privileges, nor has the High Court any power to obtain access to resources for a Ward which would not be available otherwise. The same principle is reflected in the situation of the incapacitous adult see: Aintree University Hospitals Foundation Trust v James and Others [2013] UKSC 67.
  5. Not only is the scope of the inherent jurisdiction restricted but the interface between the Family Court or the Court of Protection and Public Authorities is subtle. Thus the High Court may try to persuade a Public Authority to act in a way which the court considers to be in the best interest of the child but it must not allow itself to be utilised to exert pressure on a public authority see: R v Secretary of State for Home Department ex p T [1995] 1 FLR 293.
  6. The development of Judicial Review, as illustrated by ex parte T (supra), has also served to curtail the exercise of the powers of the inherent jurisdiction. No power be it statutory, common law or under the prerogative is, in principle, unreviewable. The High Court’s inherent powers are limited both by the constitutional role of the court and by its institutional capacity. The principle of separation of powers confers the remit of economic and social policy on the legislature and on the executive, not on the Judiciary. It follows that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be regarded as a lawless void permitting judges to do whatever we consider to be right for children or the vulnerable, be that in a particular case or more generally (as contended for here) towards unspecified categories of children or vulnerable adults.
  7. Whilst sympathetic to the objectives of this Local Authority and indeed to those of Keehan J in the Birmingham case, I think Ms. Johnson is correct when she says that to extend the scope of the inherent jurisdiction to children who are neither known nor subject to any proceedings, is to go beyond the parameters of it’s reach. However well intentioned the ambition to prevent child sexual exploitation generally, this is ultimately to make a utilitarian calculation of social policy. The framework within which such children should be safeguarded and protected is for Parliament to create and for the Courts to enforce.
  8. Certainly, a survey of the case law reveals that however creatively the jurisdiction may have been implemented it has always been deployed to protect or promote the best interests of an identified child or vulnerable adult. The most recent consideration of the jurisdiction was by Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, in Re M (children) [2015] EWHC 1433 (Fam). In considering whether to grant leave pursuant to s100 (4) the President addressed the application in this way:

    “27. The local authority has turned to the court inviting its assistance and proposing recourse to the inherent jurisdiction, to wardship. That requires consideration of section 100 of the Children Act 1989. There was, in my judgment, reasonable cause to believe that, if the court’s inherent jurisdiction was not exercised, the children were likely to suffer significant harm, as that expression is defined in section 31 of the 1989 Act: see section 100(4)(b) of the Act. I had no doubt that this is a case in which I should give the local authority leave in accordance with section 100(3) of the Act. I was satisfied that each of the conditions in section 100(4) is met. Quite plainly I should exercise my powers under the inherent jurisdiction. The questions was, can I and if so how?”

  9. Answering the question posed in that final sentence, the President sets out his reasoning thus:

    “29. The Crown – I put the matter generally and without descending into detail or identifying any qualifications to what I am about to say – has a protective responsibility for its subjects wherever they may be, whether in this country or abroad. The correlative of this, as both Casement and Joyce ultimately discovered to their cost, is the subject’s duty of allegiance to the Crown wherever he may be, whether in this country or abroad: see The King v Casement [1917] 1 KB 98 and Joyce v Director of Public Prosecutions [1946] AC 347. As Darling J said in Casement (page 137), “the subjects of the King owe him allegiance, and the allegiance follows the person of the subject. He is the King’s liege wherever he may be”.”

    “30. Now the significance of this in the present case – I say nothing whatever of its significance (if any) in relation to the children’s parents – is that the Crown’s protective duty, as parens patriae, in relation to children extends, in the case of a child who is a British subject, to protect the child wherever he may be, whether in this country or abroad.”

  10. The emphasis in bold above is my own. What is plain is that the President is contemplating the inherent jurisdiction in the context of an individual child, casting his language in the terms of the Practice Direction 12 D (see para 17 above).
  11. In Al Habtoor v Fotheringham [2001] EWCA Civ 186, [2001] 1 FLR 951, Thorpe LJ made the following observations in relation to the scope of the inherent jurisdiction:

    “42. The first is that in my opinion the courts of this jurisdiction should be extremely circumspect in assuming any jurisdiction in relation to children physically present in some other jurisdiction founded only on the basis of nationality. Parens patriae jurisdiction has a fine resounding history. However its practical significance has been much diminished domestically since the codification of much child law within the Children Act 1989. In order to achieve essential collaboration internationally it has been necessary to relax reliance upon concepts understood only in common law circles. Thus our historic emphasis on the somewhat artificial concept of domicile has had to cede to an acknowledgement that the simpler fact based concept of habitual residence must be the currency of international exchange. The parens patriae concept must seem even more esoteric to other jurisdictions than the concept of domicile. If we are to look for reciprocal understanding and co-operation, so vital with the steady increase in mobility and mixed marriage together with an equal decrease in the significance of international frontiers, we must refrain from exorbitant jurisdictional claims founded on nationality. To make a declaration of unlawful detention in relation to a child of dual nationality cared for by a biological parent in a jurisdiction whose courts have sanctioned the arrangement by order is only to invite incomprehension, and perhaps even stronger reactions, in that other jurisdiction.”

  12. Later, Thorpe LJ reviewed the existing case law and observed:

    “I accept Mr Everall’s submission that the decision nearest in point is the judgment of Ward J in F v S (Wardship: Jurisdiction) [1991] 2 FLR 349. In that case Ward J held that where the court in wardship did not have jurisdiction under the Family Law Act 1986 to make an order in relation to a child’s care and control it should not assume inherent jurisdiction to make an order for the recovery of the child. In his judgement he categorised such an order as ‘a devious entry to the court by the back door where parliament has so firmly shut the front door’. Although his judgment was subsequently reversed on the facts, his conclusions on jurisdiction were not criticised. In my opinion by analogy there is equally no jurisdiction to make a declaration of wrongful detention in similar circumstances.”

 

 

He refutes any notion of sharp practice by Keehan J

 

I would wish to make it abundantly clear that I do not consider Mr. Lefteri’s application here to be ‘a devious entry to the court by the back door where parliament has so firmly shut the front door’. I most certainly do not suggest that of Keehan J either. I am, as I have been at pains to stress, entirely sympathetic to their respective objectives but as Thorpe LJ emphasises this is a jurisdiction that should be used with ‘extreme circumspection’ respectful of the role of Parliament.

 

 

But decides that use of the inherent jurisdiction to protect all children or a raft of children rather than individual named ones has finally found a limit to the inherent jurisdictions theoretically limitless powers

 

Cumulatively therefore, reviewing the relevant law, statute and practice directions, I have come to the clear conclusion, for the reasons I have set out above, that the injunctive relief sought on behalf the London Borough of Redbridge is outwith the scope of this Court’s powers. I recognise that in this and on this point only I disagree with the approach taken by Keehan J in the Birmingham case.

 

 

Hayden J also points out that at the time Riaz was decided, the Sexual Risk Orders hadn’t come into force  (they’d been in the statutory powers for nearly a year but hadn’t been implemented, and they now have). So from this point on, you can use the inherent jurisdiction to protect AN individual child from risky persons, but if you want to stop those risky persons being around children, you’ll need to use the criminal jurisdiction (which is going to be the police making these applications  – underlinign as ever, mine)

 

  1. Serendipitously, at least for the purposes of my analysis, Parliament has now amended parts 2 and 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Anti-social Crime and Policing Act 2014. Section 122 A provides for the making of ‘Sexual Risk Orders’ (SRO) and outlines the Grounds on which they may be obtained and their effect:

    Sexual risk orders (England and Wales)

    122A Sexual risk orders: applications, grounds and effect

    (1) A chief officer of police or the Director General of the National Crime Agency (“the Director General”) may by complaint to a magistrates’ court apply for an order under this section (a “sexual risk order”) in respect of a person (“the defendant”) if it appears to the chief officer or the Director General that the following condition is met.

    (2) The condition is that the defendant has, whether before or after the commencement of this Part, done an act of a sexual nature as a result of which there is reasonable cause to believe that it is necessary for a sexual risk order to be made.

    (3) A chief officer of police may make an application under subsection (1) only in respect of a person—

    (a) who resides in the chief officer’s police area, or

    (b) who the chief officer believes is in that area or is intending to come to it.

    (4) An application under subsection (1) may be made to any magistrates’ court acting for a local justice area that includes—

    (a) any part of a relevant police area, or

    (b) any place where it is alleged that the person acted in a way mentioned in subsection (2).

    (5) The Director General must as soon as practicable notify the chief officer of police for a relevant police area of any application that the Director has made under subsection (1).

    (6) On an application under subsection (1), the court may make a sexual risk order if it is satisfied that the defendant has, whether before or after the commencement of this Part, done an act of a sexual nature as a result of which it is necessary to make such an order for the purpose of—

    (a) protecting the public or any particular members of the public from harm from the defendant, or

    (b) protecting children or vulnerable adults generally, or any particular children or vulnerable adults, from harm from the defendant outside the United Kingdom.

    (7) Such an order—

    (a) prohibits the defendant from doing anything described in the order;

    (b) has effect for a fixed period (not less than 2 years) specified in the order or until further order.

    (8) A sexual risk order may specify different periods for different prohibitions.

    (9)The only prohibitions that may be imposed are those necessary for the purpose of—

    (a)protecting the public or any particular members of the public from harm from the defendant, or

    (b)protecting children or vulnerable adults generally, or any particular children or vulnerable adults, from harm from the defendant outside the United Kingdom.

    (10)Where a court makes a sexual risk order in relation to a person who is already subject to such an order (whether made by that court or another), the earlier order ceases to have effect.

  2. When Keehan J heard the arguments in the Birmingham case these provisions had not come into force and accordingly, the protection that they offer was, at that stage, not available. I have been told by Mr Lefteri that an application has been made to a Magistrate’s Court in respect of SNA it is believed that the conditions for the making of such an order are met. That will ultimately be a matter for the Magistrates Court. It would seem therefore, that the protection contemplated in this application may, in due course, be available. Recognising this from the outset Mr Lefteri sought orders in this Court in an attempt to ‘hold the ring’ until orders have been made in the criminal courts.
  3. There are sound reasons why the criminal courts are the correct venue to consider the making of these orders. Firstly, and most obviously, Parliament, after proper scrutiny, has carefully defined the scope and ambit of the provisions. Secondly, notwithstanding the considerable advancements made in achieving much greater levels of transparency in the Family Court, a judge sitting in this jurisdiction will invariably have to protect the identity of the child and in order to do so, preserve, by a side wind, the anonymity of a perpetrator. I do not believe any right minded person having read my short review of the facts of this case (above) would consider it appropriate to expose this young girl to the inevitable harm of publicity. The Press, in my experience, have been assiduous in their respect of this principle.
  4. In the Criminal Courts however, the focus is different. There is now, rightly, much greater emphasis on the ‘victim’ but that is wholly different to the range of the enquiry necessary in the Family Courts. In the Criminal Court, where the liberty of the individual is in issue, the public interest in the administration of the criminal justice system must always weigh heavily. The Criminal Courts are now, frequently, able to conduct trials entirely in the public domain whilst at the same time protecting the identity of the Complainant and, where necessary, his or her relationship to the Defendant. Certainly, where the Complainant is a minor, society recognises the necessity of this measure. The family justice system is unlikely to replicate this. Thirdly, the responsibility for the policing of such orders rest with the police who are far better equipped than social services to monitor compliance

 

 

 

Inherent jurisdiction – extending an injunction past 18th birthday

 

Regular readers will probably know that I feel uncomfortable about phrases like “the powers of the inherent jurisdiction are theoretically limitless” and that cases are developing which extend the previous usage of the inherent jurisdiction a bit further, and then those cases are relied on next time around to push it a little further still.  It is mission creep, and it makes me nervous.

In this case, Baker J  (who makes my Top Five Judge list, comfortably), had to decide on a mother’s application to extend an existing injunction that prevented a father contacting his daughter or coming near her, past the child’s 18th birthday. In effect, for the rest of her life.

Re SO (a Minor) 2015

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed145192

 

I am somewhat puzzled that the child was not represented in these proceedings, as the orders were all about her, and she was nearly 18 and thus presumably in a position to have a view even if it was felt unsuitable for her to attend Court.

The rationale behind wanting to protect the child was decent. The father had been convicted of offences of arranging to have the mother killed, and continued to deny those offences. One can see why the Court would want, while SO was a child to protect her from her father.  He is palpably not a nice man. I can absolutely see why the mother would be genuinely very fearful of him and genuinely want to protect herself and her child from him.

The issue for me, whilst not really having any sympathy for the father in this case, is whether the State, in the form of the Court should be making orders protecting SO from things as an adult on someone else’s request rather than SO making an application to the Court for protection.

 

The injunction sought (and made) was in these terms, and I think that these are orders that could easily have been made by way of SO making an application for a non-molestation order if she decided she wanted that protection.

“It is ordered that

(1) the respondent, whether by himself or instructing, inciting or encouraging any other person be restrained until further order from

(a) using or threatening violence or attempting the same against the applicant or S;

(b) intimidating, harassing or pestering the applicant or S;

(c) coming within a 50 miles radius of, entering or attempting to enter, any property at which he believes, knows or suspects the applicant or S to be present or living or of any educational establishment or place of work at which he believes, knows or suspects the applicant or S may attend or work;

(d) communicating or making contact with the applicant or S by letter, telephone, Skype, text message, email, any means of electronic communication, or through any social networking sights including Facebook, save through the offices of Messrs Thomson, Snell and Passmore, the applicant’s solicitors;

(2) any person on whom this order served, or who is aware of its terms, is restrained until further order from making disclosure to the respondent, or to any other person on his behalf, which would in any way identify the current whereabouts of the applicant or S, from identifying to the respondent the name or identity under which the applicant and S may be known or is currently living and/or registered;

(3) the applicant and/or her solicitors are authorised to disclose this order and any other information relating to these proceedings to:

(i) the police in the United Kingdom;

(ii) the Home Office, and any agency acting on its behalf, and any relevant government authority in Scotland;

(iii) the Department of Community Services in Australia and

(iv) the Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police Force and any other relevant police authority and state correctional services, whether publically funded or privately managed.

An obvious question arises about the Australian element, and that might be a reason why not to use the statutory power of a Non-Molestation Order – because there might be problems with enforcing that if the father was living in Australia.  But hold on, it appears that everyone involved was living in Australia

Meanwhile the mother and S, in respect of whom of a series of non-molestation injunctions have been made within the wardship proceedings dating back to an order of Black J (as she then was) dated 14th June 2000, themselves moved some years ago to Australia, living at an address which, it was assumed, was unknown to the father. S has flourished in her mother’s care in Australia and has now embarked upon tertiary education, following the conclusion of the schedule 1 proceedings in the course of which I made a substantial order for her financial provision. Nonetheless, both the mother and S have continued to live under the shadow of the threats by the father to the safety of the mother and, indirectly, S.

[I’m somewhat mystified as to why a High Court injunction in England is the best route to protect an 18 year old girl living in Australia. It is legally permissable because:-

(4) When, as here, the court has jurisdiction at the start of wardship proceedings on the grounds that the child is habitually resident in England and Wales, that jurisdiction continues until the conclusion of the proceedings, notwithstanding the fact that the ward has become habitually resident elsewhere. That is sufficient to provide jurisdiction in this case for the making of the orders sought by the applicant. In addition, the court may have jurisdiction on the grounds that the ward is a British national. In either case, the question is, as Baroness Hale observed in Re A whether it is appropriate to exercise the jurisdiction in the particular circumstances of the case. ]

You will note from the terms of the order, which the High Court made “until further order”  (i.e possibly for the rest of the lives of those involved) that it would prevent the father replying to any attempt by his daughter to contact him.  I’m not sure if she would ever want to, but it seems odd that if she initiated contact he would be unable to respond.  Actually, SO would be in breach of this order if she contacted her father and told him her address or new name…

As a matter of law, I think that Baker J was right to rule that he had the power to make such an injunction on an adult  (I just think that the law that has laid those foundations is wrong, and built on a gradual move away piece by piece from the spirit and intent of the inherent jurisdiction. All of the individual decisions have been the Court doing what they thought was best for a person, but autonomy means that where a person has capacity they and they alone have the right to decide what is best for them. )

Let’s look at, for example, the case that set the Inherent Jurisdiction for adults hare running in the first place.

Re SA 2006  http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed1678  when the issue of Forced Marriage was just becoming apparent and there was not yet a statutory mechanism to protect people from it. The inherent jurisdiction had been used to prevent a minor from being forcibly married, and in Re SA Munby J (as he then was) had to decide whether that protection could continue into adulthood.

“It would in my opinion be a sad failure were the law to determine that [the court] has no jurisdiction to investigate and, if necessary, to make declarations as to T’s best interests to ensure that the protection that she has received belatedly in her minority is not summarily withdrawn simply because she has attained the age of 18.””

But in the same judgment, this passage appears

“There is, however, in my judgment a common thread to all this. The inherent jurisdiction can be invoked wherever a vulnerable adult is, or is reasonably believed to be, for some reason deprived of the capacity to make the relevant decision, or disabled from making a free choice, or incapacitated or disabled from giving or expressing a real and genuine consent. The cause may be, but is not for this purpose limited to, mental disorder or mental illness. A vulnerable adult who does not suffer from any kind of mental incapacity may nonetheless be entitled to the protection of the inherent jurisdiction if he is, or is reasonably believed to be, incapacitated from making the relevant decision by reason of such things as constraint, coercion, undue influence or other vitiating factors.”

 

There’s no evidence here that SO lacks capacity to make decisions for herself about whether she wants to see her father or be contacted by him, or whether she might want to apply for legal orders to protect herself.  I am struggling to see why the Court should use its inherent jurisdiction to make an order that affects the rest of SO’s life when she has not applied for such an order.

 

{I can see why the desire to protect her from something that most people would just as being an unhealthy or unpleasant influence leads to the order being made, but it is not the job of the State to protect adults with capacity from unpleasant events. If SO wants to be left alone by her father and he is not likely to acquiesce to her wishes, then there’s a statutory remedy – non-molestation order. If she applies for it, the State in the form of the Court makes a decision about whether the order is justified. But here the State is deciding for someone who has capacity and is about to become 18 something that will have an impact on her life because it thinks that is what is best for her. I can also see why the mother and the Court felt that the father was so dangerous and toxic that they didn’t want to put SO through the risks of making her own application.  }

 

28. In my judgment, it is imperative that this court makes the order within the wardship jurisdiction, or alternatively under its inherent jurisdiction to protect vulnerable adults, extending the protection provided hitherto beyond S’s 18th birthday. In the circumstances of this case, it is essential that, in order to ensure the protection is extended for S, the mother is also kept within the ambit of the injunction.

 

There is nothing in the case to suggest that SO herself is  a vulnerable person, that there are any inherent characteristics in her that are vulnerable – the reason she is ‘vulnerable’ is because of external things not because she herself has any inherent vulnerability.  She is not a vulnerable person, she’s a person who happens to be vulnerable because of external factors. It might seem a trivial distinction, but I don’t think that it is.

What prevents that line of thinking becoming that the State has the power to forcibly remove a woman from a violent partner? She has capacity to decide that she wants to be with that awful man, but she is ‘vulnerable’ because of the risks that he poses, so  can the inherent jurisdiction  decide that it would be best for her to be protected from that man? The powers are theoretically limitless – if she is considered vulnerable….

A twenty year old decides to have a relationship with a fifty year old who has had some criminal convictions including drug use. Her relatives disapprove and think that she’s vulnerable to getting used and ending up being broken hearted. Is she vulnerable? Can the State be asked to make injunctions to protect her?

A sixty year old man with a large fortune falls in love with a twenty five year old. The family are worried that he is being taken for a ride and that this girl is a gold-digger. Is he vulnerable?

It isn’t problematic or unreasonable in this case to say that SO is vulnerable and needs protection, but the concern is that this case becomes cited in the next case along to make inherent jurisdiction orders about adults who have capacity to decide things for themselves, and then that next case gets cited in the one after that, and so on.  It feels like the classic slippery slope scenario.  As a matter of law now, the inherent jurisdiction is a theoretically limitless power, but should that be the case?

At the very least, when the Court is using such a theoretically limitless power, shouldn’t there be a very detailed analysis of proportionality and necessity, considering article 8 of the Human Rights Act?

ISIS and children being taken to Syria

I have to say, even after years and years of doing child protection law, I never actually thought I’d see cases in Court where parents were trying to get their children to become terrorists and fight in a war. But we are seeing these cases, and as I understand it, the reported cases are the tip of an iceberg.

If you are advising someone in this situation, or advising a Local Authority where such a thing is suspected, the President’s decision in Re M (Children) 2015 is going to be mandatory reading. It is particularly useful since it sets out in detail the orders made to protect the children and to recover them, and is an excellent route-map for future cases. Rather than drafting from scratch and having to invent what needs to be done  (and I’ve an inkling of just how hard that is in such cases), there’s now a source for how to assemble a workable order that will do the job.

 

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/re_m_20_5_152.pdf

There is one final point I must emphasise in this connection. It is the point made by Hayden J in the Tower Hamlets case (para 18(iv)):
“All involved must recognise that in this particular process it is the interest of the individual child that is paramount. This cannot be eclipsed by wider considerations of counter terrorism policy or operations, but it must be recognised that the decision the court is being asked to take can only be arrived at against an informed understanding of that wider canvas.”

There’s a very good summary by Marilyn Stowe here, and I recommend that also  http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2015/05/21/high-court-considers-family-who-vanished-with-their-children/

 

All agencies worked amazingly quickly and creatively to get these children back into the UK and save them from what would really be unthinkable, that they be pushed by their parents into taking up arms in a war zone.

Gilded cage – junior edition

 

Those of you who follow deprivation of liberty cases will be aware that the landscape is markedly different after the Supreme Court in Cheshire West.  Just how different remains to be seen, as individual cases come before the Courts and are tackled.

 

Keehan J was faced with a difficult concrete example of the uncertainty following Cheshire West in

 

Re D (A Child :Deprivation of liberty) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/922.html

 

This case involved a boy, not quite sixteen, with considerable difficulties.

D was born on 23 April 1999 and is 15 years of age. He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at the age of 4, with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 7 and with Tourette’s syndrome at the age of 8.

 

He had been admitted to hospital for psychiatric treatment as a result and is just about to be discharged into a residential care setting. He had been on a locked psychiatric ward for 15 months. This is obviously a very high-end example.

 

In this case, as a result of the Cheshire West decision, there was considerable dispute about whether D was being deprived of his liberty and whether his parents consent to this was sufficient to allow this or whether a DoLs authorisation was required.

The hospital trust considered that DoLS authorisation was required and that to conclude that D’s parents had the right to consent to D being deprived of his liberty was too broad a view of PR.

The Local Authority considered that D’s parents were consenting, and thus this was not a deprivation of liberty in the DoLS sense.

  1. The Applicant Trust submits that the circumstances in which D lives at Hospital B satisfy the first limb of the Cheshire West test namely:

    “the objective component of the confinement in a particular restricted place for a not negligible length of time.”

  2. Further the Trust submits that D’s parents cannot consent to his placement at Hospital B because such a decision, to consent to what would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty, falls outside the ‘zone of parental responsibility’.
  3. Accordingly, the Trust submits the appropriate course is to seek the court’s approval of D’s placement under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court.
  4. The local authority adopts a diametrically opposed stance. It submits that the circumstances of D’s placement do not amount to a deprivation of liberty. Further, it submits that the decision of D’s parents to consent to his placement at Hospital B falls within the proper exercise of parental responsibility. Accordingly what might otherwise constitute a deprivation of liberty does not do so because the second and third limbs of the test in Cheshire West are not satisfied namely:

    ” (b) the subjective component of lack of valid consent; and

    (c) the attribution of responsibility to the state”.

This has substantial implications – all disabled children who are receiving care from the State and whose liberty is being restricted (in order to keep them safe) on the Trust’s interpretation of Cheshire West would need to have that deprivation of liberty authorised – even if the parents were consenting. The real bad news there is that for people under 16, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 doesn’t cover them and such deprivation of liberty would have to be authorised under the Children Act 1989.  Which means, to spell it out, placing all of those disabled children in Secure Accommodation.

 

Which also means making Court applications. Which also means the residential homes that are caring for these disabled children needing to go through the registration process to qualify as Secure Units.

 

It is an interpretation of Cheshire West which does make logical sense from the judgment, but which has immensely worrying consequences. Not least that the Secure Accommodation provisions might well not be met for these children and the alternative would be that carers at the residential units would thus have no power to restrict the children’s movements  (for example, not being able to stop them from running into the road)

 

[I note that Keehan J in this case specifically rules that the High Court can authorise deprivation of liberty for children under the inherent jurisdiction. I’m really rather dubious about that. I know the inherent jurisdiction is a magic bullet for every situation with almost limitless powers, but to use it to sidestep s25 Secure Accommodation provisions seems to me to have real difficulties with s100 – particularly s100 (4) (a) which bars granting leave to a Local Authority to make an application under the inherent jurisdiction if there is a statutory order the LA could apply for instead, and s100 (4) (b) which says that leave can’t be granted unless the Court is satisfied that significant harm would result to the child otherwise. Would anyone ever appeal it? probably not. ]

 

Any Local Authority lawyer dealing with deprivation of liberty or disabled / disturbed children is really really nervous about how this case is going to turn out. It is a big test case.

Here’s the practical arrangements for D, to consider whether they amount to a deprivation of liberty

Dr K describes D’s life at Hospital B as follows:

“D is residing on X one of the two buildings which make up the adolescent service. Each building is a six-bedded unit. Each young person has their own bedroom, and shares bathroom and living areas with the other patients. There is a school room attached to each building, and all the students receive full time education provided from a special school outreach service.”

“D’s unit is staffed 24 hours a day.

It has a locked front door. D does not leave the ward without a staff member or his family accompanying him. He has been offered opportunity to undertake small tasks by himself, such as emptying the bins, but he says he is scared. Unescorted leave would be considered as part of his treatment package to see how he fares.

D has his own bedroom, which he can access whilst he is on the unit at his leisure. He shares a bathroom and residential areas within the building.

D is on general observations. This means that he is checked on every half an hour or so. However, D seeks out contact with staff more regularly within that time and this means that he is under direct observation on a much more regular basis. I am of the view that he is under constant supervision and control.

His school is integral to the building. He goes off site for all relevant school activities such as, to music sessions on site, and to activities which take place in the community, such as shopping and cafes. He leaves the unit on a daily basis, accompanied by staff.

He is independent in his self-care, and requires minimal support for this. He eats a varied diet independently, and is able to vocalise his preferences.

Attempts to engage him in more serious conversation unnerves him, and he will try to deflect the subject, or directly challenge the person, by telling them that he is not happy. I am of the view that this is reflected in the anxiety he has shown around his discharge. My team will need to manage this carefully within the discharge process.

When out in the community, D is supported one-to-one. He has stated that he would be anxious to go out on his own, and prefers to be accompanied by staff. On occasion he has to be reminded about his behaviour when out, as he might stare and pull faces at strangers. He has been encouraged to do some tasks independently, such as emptying the bins outside, but he has stated that he was too anxious to do it by himself and so he is accompanied when doing this.”

 

That does seem, from Cheshire West, to be deprivation of liberty, and indeed Keehan J found it to be so, and all parties accepted that those circumstances did amount to a deprivation of liberty following Cheshire West.

In the ultimate analysis counsel for the Trust and counsel for the local authority accepted that the circumstances in which D was accommodated amounted to a deprivation of liberty subject to the issue of consent to the placement.

On the facts of this case I am wholly satisfied that D lives in conditions which amount to a deprivation of his liberty. He is under constant supervision and control. The fact that D enjoys residing in the unit in Hospital B, that he is comfortable there and readily seeks out and engages with members of staff are irrelevant factors when considering whether there is a deprivation of liberty. So too are the facts that the arrangements have been made in his welfare best interests and have been, and are, to his benefit. A gilded cage is still a cage.

 

The issue then, was whether the parents could consent to D’s liberty being deprived in this way.

  1. Mr Cowen, on behalf of the local authority sought to contend that:

    i) Cheshire West did not apply to those cases where the young person concerned was under the age of 16 years;

    ii) in such a case the decision in Cheshire West, that the disability or mental disorder of the young person concerned was irrelevant to the question of whether there was a deprivation of liberty, did not apply; and

    iii) the court should prefer and apply the ‘relative normality’ test propounded by the Court of Appeal in P and Q.

  2. I do not accept any of those propositions. The protection of Article 5 of the Convention and the fundamental right to liberty applies to the whole of the human race; young or old and to those with disabilities just as much to those without. It may be those rights have sometimes to be limited or restricted because of the young age or disabilities of the individual but ‘the starting point should be the same as that for everyone else’, per Baroness Hale: Cheshire West at paragraph 45.
  3. The majority in Cheshire West decided that what it means to be deprived of liberty is the same for everyone, whether or not they have a physical or mental disability: per Baroness Hale in Cheshire West at paragraph 46.
  4. I accept the essential ratio of Cheshire West does not apply to the circumstances of this case. Nevertheless, in my view, the acid test definitions of a deprivation of liberty apply as much to D as they did to the subjects of the appeals in Cheshire West.
  5. In the premises I do not accept the local authority’s third submission that I should reject the approach of the Supreme Court in Cheshire West and apply the Court of Appeal’s test of ‘relative normality’. I do not understand the logic of the submission that I should hold that the decision of the Supreme Court does not apply to the facts of this case but then resurrect and apply the test propounded by the Court of Appeal which was expressly rejected by the majority of the Supreme Court.
  6. The essential issue in this case is whether D’s parents can, in the proper exercise of parental responsibility, consent to his accommodation in Hospital B and thus render what would otherwise be a deprivation of liberty not a deprivation of liberty (ie the 2nd limb in Cheshire West is not satisfied).

 

That’s quite dense, so I’ll walk you through it. The argument was that Cheshire West, being a Mental Capacity Act case, doesn’t strictly apply to minors. The Judge said that this was right, but that the Supreme Court’s acid test as to what sort of restrictions amounted to a deprivation of liberty DID apply also to children, and that the Local Authority’s argument that the restrictions in place for D were the sort of restrictions that a child like D would have (relative normality) was exactly the decision reached by the Court of Appeal in Cheshire West that had been rejected.

When considering whether D’s liberty had been deprived, his physical or mental disabilities were not a relevant factor  – they might well be relevant when later considering whether those restrictions were the right thing for him but not at the stage of considering whether they amounted to a deprivation of liberty.

The argument that children like D need these restrictions, so they aren’t a deprivation of liberty in the way that they would be for a child who didn’t have D’s issues was completely rejected by the High Court.

The sole issue was whether the parents could exercise parental responsibility to CONSENT to those restrictions, thus making the deprivation of liberty one that was effectively consented to, and thus not a breach of Article 5.  IF the parents could consent, then there would not NEED to be a court order or declaration to justify the article 5 breach, since the restrictions would be by consent and the breach would fall away.

 

Mr McKendrick for the Trust set out the arguments for why the Trust considered that the parents could NOT consent.  (I have to confess that in reading this, much as I want the LA to win this argument and so much rides on it, I was thinking that Mr McKendrick’s points were right)

48. Mr McKendrick reminds me that Dr K does not consider D to be Gillick competent to consent to his residence, treatment or care. He referred me to the provision of the new MHA Code of Practice which comes into effect on 1 April 2015. Paragraphs 19.47 – 19.48 provide:

      1. 19.47 An additional and significant factor when considering whether the proposed intervention in relation to a child or young person is a restriction of liberty or amounts to a deprivation of liberty is the role of parental control and supervision. Practitioners will need to determine whether the care regime for, and restrictions placed on, the child or young person accord with the degree of parenting control and supervision that would be expected for a child or young person of that age. For example, whereas it is usual for a child of under 12 years not to be allowed out unaccompanied without their parent’s permission, this would not usually be an acceptable restriction on a 17 year old. Account also needs to be taken of the particular experience of the child or young person. For example, a younger child who has been caring for their parent, including shopping for the household and/or accompanying their parent to medical appointments, might not be used to being prevented from going out unaccompanied.
      1. 19.48 Prior to the Supreme Court’s judgment in Cheshire West, case law had established that persons with parental responsibility cannot authorise a deprivation of liberty. Cheshire West clarified the elements establishing a deprivation of liberty, but did not expressly decide whether a person with parental responsibility could, and if so in what circumstances, consent to restrictions that would, without their consent, amount to a deprivation of liberty. In determining whether a person with parental responsibility can consent to the arrangements which would, without their consent, amount to a deprivation of liberty, practitioners will need to consider and apply developments in case law following Cheshire West. In determining the limits of parental responsibility, decision-makers must carefully consider and balance: (i) the child’s right to liberty under article 5, which should be informed by article 37 of the UNCRC, (ii) the parent’s right to respect for the right to family life under article 8, which includes the concept of parental responsibility for the care and custody of minor children, and (iii) the child’s right to autonomy which is also protected under article 8. Decision makers should seek their own legal advice in respect of cases before them. (Chapter 26 provides guidance on the use of restrictive interventions.)
  1. The Trust submitted that D’s parents cannot consent to a deprivation of his liberty in Hospital B for 11 reasons: i) D has the same Article 5 ECHR rights as an adult and the same definition of deprivation of liberty applies to him as it does to adults;

    ii) D has a mental disorder, he is deprived of his liberty pursuant to Article 5 (1) (e) – see Cheshire at paragraph 6, per Baroness Hale: “Article 5(1)(e) permits the lawful detention of persons of unsound mind, but that detention has to conform to the Convention standards of legality, and the doctrine of necessity did not provide HL with sufficient protection against arbitrary deprivation of his liberty. The court was struck by the difference between the careful machinery for authorising the detention and treatment of compulsory patients under the Mental Health Act and the complete lack of any such machinery for compliant incapacitated patients such as HL”;

    iii) D has been resident on a locked psychiatric ward for fifteen months;

    iv) D can only leave that ward with adult 1:1 supervision;

    v) whilst his parents consented to his placement, such consent much be seen in the context they could not accommodate him at their home;

    vi) he does not lead a life of relative normalcy;

    vii) D is fifteen and shortly will be afforded the protection of the MCA to authorise and review any deprivation of liberty occasioned by being deprived of his liberty at Hospital B (by way of application of s. 4A MCA, given Schedule A1 would not apply to him until he is 18);

    viii) to rely (effectively solely) on parental consent, when D’s parents cannot accommodate and care for him (and have no or other limited options for their son) is an insufficient safeguard to protect D’s Article 5 ECHR rights;

    ix) parental consent over a period of fifteen months, as means of review and safeguard, is not compliant with Article 5 (4);

    x) it is out with the reasonable zone of parental control to authorise the deprivation of liberty for such a prolonged period of time and is inconsistent with a child’s Article 5 ECHR right;

    xi) hospital clinicians remain uneasy about caring for and depriving a child of his liberty, given the length of time and given his age, with only authority provided by way of parental consent.

  2. The Trust concludes its submissions as follows:

    The applicant recognises there may be cases where parents can authorise the deprivation of liberty of a younger child for a shorter period of time, in a hospital setting. The applicants are not certain the concession approved by the court in RK is correct. Indeed it seems clear parents can authorise the first stage of the deprivation of liberty test (i.e. they can deprive, rather than just restrict, the liberty of their children, at home) but that such deprivation is not an Article 5 deprivation of liberty, because it is not attributable to the state. Each case ultimately must be considered on its facts (however unpalatable such an approach may be in respect of public resource considerations).

    Whilst the applicant (in many ways) would gratefully submit that D is not deprived of his liberty, it does not consider it is appropriate for a public body to interpret the law in a manner disadvantageous to the protection of a vulnerable child’s rights. Whilst the applicant would readily adopt a “pragmatic approach” as identified by Gross LK in RK, the applicant submits the preferred conclusion, on the facts of these proceedings, is that D is deprived of his liberty, such deprivation is attributable to the state and his parents cannot provide valid consent.

 

Powerful stuff.

Here comes the decision.

  1. When considering the exercise of parental responsibility in this case and whether a decision falls within the zone of parental responsibility, it is inevitable and necessary that I take into account D’s autism and his other diagnosed conditions. I do so because they are important and fundamental factors to take into account when considering his maturity and his ability to make decisions about his day to day life.
  2. An appropriate exercise of parental responsibility in respect of a 5 year old child will differ very considerably from what is or is not an appropriate exercise of parental responsibility in respect of a 15 year old young person.
  3. The decisions which might be said to come within the zone of parental responsibility for a 15 year old who did not suffer from the conditions with which D has been diagnosed will be of a wholly different order from those decisions which have to be taken by parents whose 15 year old son suffers with D’s disabilities. Thus a decision to keep such a 15 year old boy under constant supervision and control would undoubtedly be considered an inappropriate exercise of parental responsibility and would probably amount to ill treatment. The decision to keep an autistic 15 year old boy who has erratic, challenging and potentially harmful behaviours under constant supervision and control is a quite different matter; to do otherwise would be neglectful. In such a case I consider the decision to keep this young person under constant supervision and control is the proper exercise of parental responsibility.
  4. The parents of this young man are making decisions, of which he is incapable, in the welfare best interests of their son. It is necessary for them to do so to protect him and to provide him with the help and support he needs.
  5. I acknowledge that D is not now cared for at home nor ‘in a home setting’. His regime of care and treatment was advised by his treating clinicians and supported by his parents. They wanted to secure the best treatment support and help for their son. They have done so. It has proved extremely beneficial for D who is now ready to move to a new residential home out of a hospital setting. What other loving and caring parent would have done otherwise?
  6. Those arrangements are and were made on the advice of the treating clinicians. All professionals involved in his life and in reviewing his care and treatment are agreed that these arrangements are overwhelmingly in D’s best interests. On the facts of this case, why on public policy or human rights grounds should these parents be denied the ability to secure the best medical treatment and care for their son? Why should the state interfere in these parents’ role to make informed decisions about their son’s care and living arrangements?
  7. I can see no reasons or justifications for denying the parents that role or permitting the state to interfere in D’s life or that of his family.
  8. I accept the position might well be very different if the parents were acting contrary to medical advice or having consented to his placement at Hospital B, they simply abandoned him or took no interest or involvement in his life thereafter.
  9. The position could not be more different here. D’s parents have regular phone calls with him. They regularly visit him at the unit. Every weekend D has supported visits to the family home. He greatly enjoys spending time at home with his parents and his younger brother.
  10. In my judgment, on the facts of this case, it would be wholly disproportionate, and fly in the face of common sense, to rule that the decision of the parents to place D at Hospital B was not well within the zone of parental responsibility. Conclusions
  11. I am satisfied that the circumstances in which D is accommodated would amount to a deprivation of liberty but for his parents’ consent to his placement there.
  12. I am satisfied that, on the particular facts of this case, the consent of D’s parents to his placement at Hospital B, with all of the restrictions placed upon his life there, falls within the ‘zone of parental responsibility’. In the exercise of their parental responsibility for D, I am satisfied they have and are able to consent to his placement.

 

So whilst for D, a gilded cage is still a cage and one doesn’t take into account his disabilities, whether or not his parents are able to consent to him being in that cage is a decision that CAN take into account his disabilities.

 

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