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The LASPO safety net is a fig leaf

Oh, you’re going to like this one.

This decision from Mostyn J is quite involved, but significant. Even if you aren’t that interested in the very peculiar mechanics, what he had to say about LASPO (see title of the piece) is striking.

 

MG and JG v JF 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/564.html

 

To make it less alphabet soup, I’ll give people names (these are NOT their real names, I’ve made them up)

Jean Grey and Marie Grey were lesbian partners. They wanted to have a child and advertised for a man to provide gametes to make this happen. Jim Francis agreed to do this.

 

The child is born, and named John Fitzgerald Grey.

Jim Francis was having quite a lot of contact with little John, once or twice a month. This all changed when Marie Grey became pregnant with a second child (that donor thankfully isn’t involved in this case), and Marie and Jean stopped Jim’s contact.

 

Jim makes an application to court for contact. Jean and Marie learn that post LASPO they don’t qualify for legal aid. Jim on the other hand has some means and can pay privately.  [He could not be described as being wealthy – it is more comfortably middle class. His property is valued at £1.2 million and he earns £67,000 per year. Sufficient to pay his own legal fees – though probably not without a degree of wincing when he writes the cheques, but we are not in big money divorce territory here]

 

At some point, someone comes up with a cunning wheeze. An application can be made under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 for some of Jim’s capital to be released to the child, and those funds can be used to pay for Marie and Jean’s legal costs.

That sort of thing isn’t that unusual in big money divorce cases where one person holds all of the assets – the Court order that they release some of the disputed funds to the other party to cover their legal costs and when the money is all divvied up at the end, that can be taken into account.

 

But this is a contact application – there isn’t going to be a share out of money at the end.  And as we know, the law in children cases is that each side pays their own costs, unless one party has behaved terribly badly. No suggestion of that here.

So this is in a sense, an application that Jim Francis uses his own money to pay for the other side to fight his application, even though he has done nothing wrong.  Unusual.

 

Firstly then, why shouldn’t Marie and Jean represent themselves, as envisaged by LASPO?

In this case it is my firm view that it is impossible for MG and JG to be expected to represent themselves having regard to the factual and legal issues at large. There would be a gross inequality of arms, and arguably a violation of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 47 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. So even though it cannot be said that JF has behaved reprehensibly or unreasonably he is the only realistic source of costs funding, subject to whatever contribution MG and JG should make from their own very limited resources. Some may say (and have said) that this is grossly unjust; I myself refrain from comment.

 

[I’m not quite sure it is accurate that Mostyn J refrains from comment. He doesn’t make direct comment, but I think the next section gives you a pretty clear idea of his thinking]

 

We add to the complexity that Jean and MArie split up with a degree of acrimony, and that the case also involved disputed about whether the child should be vaccinated.

Mostyn J is scathing here about the changes and the lack of foresight in seeing that cases are inevitably going to emerge where a lack of legal aid causes huge difficulties and unfairness.  This is a breathtaking and masterful dissection of the disaster that LASPO has been for individuals.

 

  1. With very few changes the government’s proposals were enacted in LASPO. A safety net was included by section 10(3)(b) which gave the Director of the Legal Aid Agency the discretion to award legal aid where “it is appropriate to do so, in the particular circumstances of the case, having regard to any risk that failure to do so would be …a breach [of Convention or EU rights].” As the President explained in Q v Q (No. 2) [2014] EWFC 31 at paras 6 – 8 the Lord Chancellor issued guidance concerning section 10(3)(b) which stated that it should be confined to “rare” cases which are of the “highest priority”. But this guidance has been quashed as legally defective by Collins J in Gudanaviciene & Ors v Director of Legal Aid Casework & Anor [2014] EWHC 1840 (Admin). That decision is under appeal.
  2. As the President explained in Q v Q the number of annual cases where the safety net has been applied can be counted on the fingers of two hands. In the year to March 2014 there were 9. Indeed between December 2013 and March 2014 one solitary case was caught by the safety net. The President stated at para 14 “if the scheme is indeed working effectively, then it might be thought that the scheme is inadequate, for the proper demand is surely at a level very significantly greater than 8 or 9 cases a year.” Thus it would be perfectly reasonable to describe this “safety net” as a fig leaf. MG and JG have not applied for exceptional funding under section 10(3)(b), no doubt taking the realistic view that any such application would be rejected summarily.
  3. Since the reforms have taken effect there have been an appreciable number of cases which have demonstrated that the blithe assumption in the consultation paper (that the parties’ emotional involvement in the case will not necessarily mean that they are unable to present it themselves, and that there is no reason to believe that such cases will be routinely legally complex) is unfounded. This was entirely predictable. The cases are Kinderis v Kineriene [2013] EWHC 4139 (Fam) (18 December 2013, Holman J); Re B (a child) (private law fact finding – unrepresented father) [2014] EWHC 700 (Fam) (27 January 2014, Judge Wildblood QC); Q v Q [2014] EWFC 7 (21 May 2014, the President); Q v Q (No. 2) [2014] EWFC 31 (6 August 2014, the President); Re H [2014] EWFC B127 (14 August 2014, Judge Hallam); Re D (A Child) [2014] EWFC 39 (31 October 2014, the President); CD v ED [2014] EWFC B153 (14 November 2014, Judge Hudson); Re D (A Child) (No. 2) [2015] EWFC 2 (7 January 2015, the President); and Re K & H (Children: Unrepresented Father: Cross-Examination of Child) [2015] EWFC 1 (5 January 2015, Judge Bellamy). This is a formidable catalogue. Each case focussed on the gross unfairness meted out to a parent in private law proceedings by the denial of legal aid. I do not think it would be right to say that these were examples of the operation of the law of unintended consequences since, as I say, the problems were so entirely predictable.
  4. Also of relevance is JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ 656 (21 May 2014) where the Court of Appeal held that the refusal of the (then) Legal Services Commission (LSC) to meet the cost of an expert report was unlawful. A district judge had ordered that the legally aided child, who was a party to the proceedings, should pay for that report. The order recorded that “the cost of the report to be funded by the child, the court considering it to be a reasonable and necessary disbursement to be incurred under the terms of her public funding certificate.” In the face of a dogged refusal to comply with this order by the LSC the district judge later ordered that:

    “The cost[s] of the expert to be funded by the child the court considering them to be a reasonable and necessary disbursement under her certificate and the purpose of the report is solely to establish what arrangements are in her best interests. Furthermore, the court has carried out a means assessment of both parents and found that they are unable to afford any part of these fees. In reaching this conclusion the court considered the provisions of section 22(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999.”

    Notwithstanding this ruling the Legal Aid Agency (as the LSC had become) persisted in its refusal, and judicial review proceedings had to be commenced. The Legal Aid Agency actually succeeded at first instance but in the Court of Appeal, despite elaborate and trenchant argument by it and by the Lord Chancellor, who had intervened, its decision to refuse to comply with the order and to fund the report was held to be unlawful.

  5. In Lindner v Rawlins [2015] EWCA Civ 61 the Court of Appeal heard an appeal by an unrepresented husband against a refusal to order police disclosure in defended divorce proceedings. The wife was neither present nor represented. Aikens LJ observed that the appeal was technical and unusual and that the husband could not be expected to have mastered this area of the law in order to be able to present his appeal in a way that assisted the court. He bemoaned the lack of the legal assistance of counsel that the court should have.
  6. I need only cite a few of the judicial observations. In Kinderis v Kineriene Holman J described the position in which the unrepresented mother in Hague proceedings found herself as follows:

    “The present procedure operates in a way which is unjust, contrary to the welfare of particularly vulnerable children at a time of great upheaval in their lives, incompatible with the obligations of this state under Article 11(3) of the [B2R] regulation, and ultimately counter-productive in that it merely wastes taxpayers’ funds”

    In Re H Judge Hallam was dealing with an unrepresented mother with speech, hearing and learning difficulties. An official of the Legal Aid Agency stated that there would be no breach of convention rights were she to remain unfunded. Judge Hallam stated “I find that statement astounding”. In Re D the unrepresented father, who lacked capacity, had made an application to revoke a care order; the local authority had applied for a placement (for adoption) order. After heavy pressure from the President some legal aid was eventually awarded. At para 31(vi) of his first judgment the President stated:

    “Thus far the State has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the State itself has created – for the State has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession. This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the State leave it to private individuals to ensure that the State is not in breach of the State’s – the United Kingdom’s – obligations under the Convention?”

    At para 21 of his second judgment he stated that “the parents can be forgiven for thinking that they are trapped in a system which is neither compassionate nor even humane.”

  7. In Lindner v Rawlins at para 34 Aikens LJ stated:

    “Yet again, the court was without any legal assistance and had to spend time researching the law for itself then attempting to apply it to the relevant facts in order to arrive at the correct legal answer. To do the latter exercise meant that the court itself had to trawl through a large amount of documents in the file. All this involves an expensive use of judicial time, which is in short supply as it is. Money may have been saved from the legal aid funds, but an equal amount of expense, if not more, has been incurred in terms of the costs of judges’ and court time. The result is that there is, in fact, no economy at all. Worse, this way of dealing with cases runs the risk that a correct result will not be reached because the court does not have the legal assistance of counsel that it should have and the court has no other legal assistance available to it.”

  8. These are powerful criticisms. The President suggested that if the Legal Aid Agency would not award legal aid to an unrepresented parent facing serious allegations then the court might have to do so from its own budget. In Re K & H that was the course proposed. The Lord Chancellor instructed leading counsel who bravely argued that the President’s analysis of the existence of this power was “plainly wrong”. Judge Bellamy disagreed and awarded representation from the court budget. The Lord Chancellor is appealing that decision. It can safely be assumed that the criticisms I have recounted have fallen on deaf ears. Based on the decisions I have cited, including no fewer than four from the President himself, it can be said that in the field of private children law the principle of individual justice has had to be sacrificed on the altar of the public debt. And based on the observation of Aikens LJ, it can reasonably be predicted that the phenomenon of the massive increase in self-representation will give rise to the serious risk of the court reaching incorrect, and therefore unjust, decisions.

 

Just in case you missed it, yes, that was a High Court judge saying that in private family law, the principle of individual justice has been sacrificed on the altar of public debt. And that LASPO is likely to lead to incorrect and unjust decisions.

That noise you can hear just to your leftmy applause echoing.

So, with legal aid not being available, and it being unfair for Jean and Marie to act in person, that was really only leaving Jim Francis as a source of funding.

How much money were we looking at?

  1. Decision
  2. In my judgment JF should pay 80% of each of the claims of MG and JG. Therefore he will pay MG £12,202 and JG £8,394. In addition he will pay 80% of all future professional costs in respect of therapeutic work and MG and JG will each pay 10% of such costs.
  3. Thus MG will have to find £3,050 and JG £2,098 and they will each have to find 10% of the future costs of therapeutic work. In my judgment they cannot reasonably or realistically be expected to find more. By contrast, I am satisfied that JF can find, without undue hardship, the share with which I have shouldered him.
  4. It could be said that it is grossly unfair that JF should have to pay now £20,596 plus 80% of the future therapeutic costs up to the IRH. But that is where the government has left him. It is a sorry state of affairs.
  5. This leaves the costs of expert evidence which will come into being between now and the IRH. The consent order provides for the educational psychologist to answer further questions and for the psychologist to file an addendum report. In my judgment these should be paid for by JFG and in my opinion such fees are a reasonable charge on his legal aid certificate, for the following reasons.
  6. In JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors Black LJ explained at para 92 that when read with FPR rule 25.12(4)(a) (which provides that the court may give directions about the expert’s fees and expenses) rule 25.12(6) (which provides that provides that unless the court directs otherwise, the relevant parties are jointly and severally liable for the payment of the expert’s fees and expenses) is not intended to be prescriptive and merely establishes a default position for financial responsibility for the expert in the event that the court does not direct otherwise. She stated: “I do not see it as setting up a ‘normal rule’ that the cost is to be apportioned equally.”
  7. She further explained at para 93 that in order not to fall foul of section 22(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999 that:

    “It is necessary to ask what order the court would make in its discretion on the particular facts of that case, leaving aside any resources problems. The answer may not uncommonly be an order for equal apportionment of the costs but that cannot be assumed. It may be that a full consideration of the circumstances of the case produces the result that the publicly funded party should be paying a greater share of the costs in any event, quite irrespective of any financial difficulties that the other parties may have in sharing the cost of the expert. In such circumstances, section 22(4) does not prevent the court from making an order accordingly, because the order is in no way affected by the fact of public funding.”

  8. I do not think that the imaginary scenario that I have to address assumes that everyone is of means. Rather, it assumes the facts as they are with the sole exception that the child is not legally aided but is funded from another source, such as his own means or the means of a relative of substance. Were that the position I would have no hesitation in making an order that JFG bear the costs of these further reports given that MG and JG do not, on my findings, have the means to do so, and given the burdens that I have already imposed on JF. Further, and in any event, it is just and reasonable that JFG bears these costs whether or not he is legally aided because at the end of the day these fees are being incurred primarily for his benefit.

 

 

And again, you read that right, that is a High Court Judge making a decision and saying that some could describe that decision as being grossly unfair but that this is the position that the Government have put this man in.

I partially wondered whether Mostyn J made this decision with a view to it being appealed and having the Court of Appeal rule that it would instead be right for the public authority (the Court) to fund the costs – at the moment, we only have the President’s hints that this is a route and His Honour Judge Bellamy doing it.  A Court of Appeal authority would be much more powerful. I’m not so sure though – an appeal (particularly paying the other sides costs) would run to more than this sum of money, and I think it is unlikely that Jim Francis would be tempted into appealing.

It is, as Mostyn J has said, a sorry state of affairs.

 

It makes uncomfortable reading for donors, or in fact any party in private law proceedings who is earning that sort of money (£67,000 is a lot, but it is not the riches of Croesus; it could easily bite on people who would much rather not spend half of their gross annual income on one court case)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LASPO and article 6 – a huge case

The President has given his judgment in Q v Q, and it is a helluva read.

If you want the “Too Long: Didn’t Read” version – in a case where the Judge concludes that it is necessary for a party to be legally represented or to have the costs of an expert paid for and that failure to do so would be a breach of article 6, and the Legal Aid Agency refuse to use their power under s10 LASPO to grant exceptional funding,  the Court would be entitled to order that Her Majesty’s Court Service pay for the legal representation.

 

The original Q v Q I wrote about here :-  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/06/09/q-v-q-an-impasse/

 

The facts broadly are that a father was seeking contact with his child, an expert assessment as to future risk had been obtained, he disagreed with the conclusion and wanted to challenge it by way of cross-examination, but wasn’t in a position to do that himself, it was a task that would have been beyond him.  At the end of the judgment, the President floated the idea that if the Court considered that a party’s article 6 right to a fair trial was being breached, and the Legal Aid Agency wouldn’t pay for representation, then the Court Service might well have a duty to.  He didn’t finally determine that, giving the Ministry of Justice a chance to intervene and make representations as to why not  (they didn’t take that chance, because they are not the brightest crayon in the box)

 

The President also bundled up with Q v Q two private law cases where serious sexual offences were being alleged against the father and the Legal Aid Agency’s refusal to grant exceptional funding was going to place the Court in a position where the father might have to cross-examine in person the alleged victim. One of those,  D v K and B 2014   I wrote about here https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/03/14/equality-of-arms-d-v-k-and-b-2014/

 

The judgment in Q vQ 2014 is here

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/31.html

 

I have not been, over the last few years, the biggest flag-waver for the President – many of my grumbles are about his performance as a reforming administrator rather than a Judge; but he delivers for justice here.  And puts a target on his head, because this won’t be a popular decision in the Ministry of Justice, who are probably in a room now with a flip chart drawing up battle-plans and watching old episodes of  Judge John Deed to try to pick up some tips for when the MOJ are at war with a ‘rogue’ Judge.

 

Let’s have a quick look at why the MOJ, when placed on notice that the President was contemplating making a decision that would in effect be – “either the LAA write a cheque or HMCS write a cheque, but a cheque’s going to get written”, decided not to get involved

I decided to invite the Secretary of State for Justice (para 20) to:
 

“intervene in the proceedings to make such submissions as are appropriate in relation, in particular, to the argument that in a situation such as this the expenditure which is not available from the Legal Aid Agency but which, in the view of the court, if it be the view of the court, is necessary to be incurred to ensure proceedings which are just and fair, can be met either from the Legal Aid Agency by route of the other certificate, the mother’s certificate, or directly at the expense of the court.”
On 25 June 2014 I received a letter from Shailesh Vara MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice in the Ministry of Justice. After an opening paragraph the letter reads as follows:
 

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to intervene but the Ministry of Justice does not propose to do so in this case.
Ministers have no right or power to intervene in individual legal aid funding decisions made by the Director of Legal Aid Casework. The independence of the Director is an important statutory measure, which ensures impartiality in decision making. From the information recorded in your judgment, it is clear that the father in this case failed to satisfy the statutory merits criteria required to access funding. The merits test is a fundamental and long established part of the legal aid system, and ensures that limited public money is focussed on sufficiently meritorious cases and is not available in cases lacking sufficient merit. It is clearly established that it is legitimate for the Government to focus limited public resources through applying a merits test.
As you record in your judgment, there is expert evidence in the case (one report plus addenda commissioned by the father and one plus addendum commissioned jointly by the mother and the father) which set out unequivocally that the son would not be safe in his father’s presence and that at the moment there should be no contact between the father and the son. There have always been litigants in person in family proceedings, whether because individuals do not qualify for legal aid or choose to represent themselves, and the Courts have been able to resolve such proceedings justly and fairly.
I agree with you that further delay should be avoided in this case and, in the absence of a mechanism for funding the appearance of the experts or representation for the father, you will have to decide this issue in the absence of the cross examination you refer to in your judgment.”

 

So, we’re not coming, and if you can’t find a lawyer to do the cross-examination for free, then you’ll just have to decide the case without any cross-examination.

 

Do you remember in 1984 how Orwell talks about the Ministries in Airstrip One being named for the opposite of what they really do? So their Ministry of Peace was really a Ministry of War and so on?   Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Ministry of Justice.  Bravo, bravo.

 

The President goes through the various options, looking chiefly at the cases involving an allegation of rape in private law proceedings which is challenged and where the ‘accused’ has no lawyer.  In short they are ‘pro bono’,  the Guardian conducting the cross-examination, the father doing it in person or the Judge doing it and shows why each are insufficient and flawed.

 

He then establishes that as a result of European jurisprudence, notably  Airey v Ireland, and the Human Rights Act, the Court itself is bound by article 6 and fair trial and would itself be breaching the person’s right to a fair trial if it were to conduct the trial in a way that it considers to be unjust

 

46. The court is a public authority for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 and is therefore required, subject only to section 6(2), to act in a way which is compatible with Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention. So far as is material for present purposes Article 6(1) provides that “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations … , everyone is entitled to a fair … hearing within a reasonable time”. Article 8, which guarantees “the right to respect for … private and family life”, also affords significant procedural safeguards in relation to the court process. As the Strasbourg court said in McMichael v UK (1995) 20 EHRR 205, para 87, “the decision-making process leading to measures of interference must be fair and such as to afford due respect to the interests safeguarded by Article 8.”
 

47. It is necessary also to have regard to Article 47 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights:
 

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by the law of the Union are violated has the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal in compliance with the conditions laid down in this Article.
Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law. Everyone shall have the possibility of being advised, defended and represented.
Legal aid shall be made available to those who lack sufficient resources insofar as such aid is necessary to ensure effective access to justice.”
I do not take up time considering whether this is applicable in cases such as those before me. In any event, it is not clear that it creates any greater right than arises under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention: see Gudanaviciene and others v Director of Legal Aid Casework and another [2014] EWHC 1840 (Admin), paras 36-37.

48. Article 6 guarantees the right of “practical” and “effective” access to the court. In the case of a litigant in person, the question is whether, without the assistance of a lawyer, the litigant will be “able to present her case properly and satisfactorily”: Airey v Ireland (Application no 6289/73) (1979) 2 EHRR 305, para 24. In that particular case, the court held that Ireland was in breach of Mrs Airey’s Article 6 rights because it was not realistic in the court’s opinion to suppose that, in litigation of the type in which she was involved, she could effectively conduct her own case, despite the assistance which the judge would afford to parties acting in person. In DEB v Germany [2011] 2 CMLR 529, para 46, the CJEU summarised the Strasbourg jurisprudence in this way:
 

“Ruling on legal aid in the form of assistance by a lawyer, the ECtHR has held that the question whether the provision of legal aid is necessary for a fair hearing must be determined on the basis of the particular facts and circumstances of each case and will depend, inter alia, upon the importance of what is at stake for the applicant in the proceedings, the complexity of the relevant law and procedure and the applicant’s capacity to represent himself effectively.”

49. Mantovanelli v France (Application no 21497/93) (1997) 24 EHRR 370, indicates the significance of the right to an adversarial hearing guaranteed by Article 6 specifically in the context of an expert’s report which is “likely to have a preponderant influence on the assessment of the facts by [the] court.”

 

 

The President also looked at section 31 G (6) of the  amended Matrimonial and Famly Proceedings Act 1984

 

33….section 31G(6) of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, set out in Schedule 10 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which came into effect on 22 April 2014:
 

“Where in any proceedings in the family court it appears to the court that any party to the proceedings who is not legally represented is unable to examine or cross-examine a witness effectively, the court is to –
(a) ascertain from that party the matters about which the witness may be able to depose or on which the witness ought to be cross-examined, and
(b) put, or cause to be put, to the witness such questions in the interests of that party as may appear to the court to be proper.”

 

And in conclusion

 

75…does section 31G(6) operate to confer on a judge of the Family Court power to forbid a party who wishes to conduct his own case from examining or cross-examining a witness? Again I have heard no sustained argument, but my inclination is to think that the answer is, no it does not, for principle suggests that such an important right is only to be cut down by express words or necessary implication, and neither is very obviously to be found in section 31G(6): see again General Mediterranean Holdings SA v Patel and Another [2000] 1 WLR 272. As against that, I can see the argument that there may be cases where to expose the alleged victim to cross-examination by the alleged perpetrator might engage the alleged victim’s rights, whether under Article 8 or Article 3, in such a way as to impose on the court an obligation under the 1998 Act to prevent it, so that in such a case section 31G(6) has to be read as giving the court the appropriate power to do so.
 

76. The second thing which is unclear is this: what, in contrast to the word “put” in section 31G(6), do the words “cause to be put” mean? When section 31G(6) provides that in certain circumstances “the court is to … put” questions, that must mean questioning by the judge or magistrate. In some – probably many – cases that will be entirely unproblematic. But in cases where the issues are as grave and forensically challenging as in Re B and Re C, questioning by the judge may not be appropriate or, indeed, sufficient to ensure compliance with Articles 6 and 8. There is, in my judgment, very considerable force in what Roderic Wood J and Judge Wildblood said in the passages in their judgments (respectively, para 24 and paras 6(iii)-(v)) which I have already quoted.
 

77. The words “cause to be put” must, in contrast, contemplate questioning by someone other than the judge. Now that someone else might be an advocate whom the court has managed to persuade to act pro bono. It might be the guardian, if there is one, or the guardian’s advocate. But there are, as both Roderic Wood J and Judge Wildblood understandably pointed out, great difficulties in expecting the guardian or the guardian’s advocate to undertake this role – difficulties which were expounded also in the argument before me. I agree with what Judge Wildblood said (para 6(ix) quoted above). The point applies with equal force in the circumstances of both Re B and Re C.
 

78. What then is the court to do if the father is unable to pay for his own representation and “exceptional” legal aid is not available?
 

79. In the ultimate analysis, if the criteria in section 31G(6) are satisfied, and if the judge is satisfied that the essential requirements of a fair trial as required by FPR 1.1 and Articles 6 and 8 cannot otherwise be met, the effect of the words “cause to be put” in section 31G(6) is, in my judgment, to enable the judge to direct that appropriate representation is to be provided by – at the expense of – the court, that is, at the expense of HMCTS.

 

 

Now, some caveats  – the President is careful to say that these were cases with particular characteristics, each involving allegations of sexual offences and two involving allegations of rape, and that he had been looking at these cases in particular not s10 LASPO in general.   And also we need to bear in mind that  (a) the LAA might appeal this decision, as they are threatening to do with Gudanaviciene and others v Director of Legal Aid Casework and another [2014] EWHC 1840 (Admin),  and (b) hardly anyone at the LAA seems to have taken on board Gudanaviciene so far, as can be seen from the Smackdown judgment from HH Judge Bellamy I wrote about yesterday.     The criminal bar were all cock-a-hoop about the  Op Cotton judgment and the rug was pulled out from under them by the Court of Appeal.

 

Here are the President’s own caveats   (and if you are a Local Authority lawyer or budget-holder note the chilling implications of the LA funding intervenors or grandparents to litigate against them)

 

Three caveats

In this judgment I have been concerned only to consider the problems that may arise in private law cases. I have therefore not had occasion to consider any further the point I made in Q v Q (para 18), where I suggested that “In a public law case where the proceedings are brought by a local authority, one can see a possible argument that failing all else the local authority should have to pay.” That is a matter for another day.
 

I have concluded that there may be circumstances in which the court can properly direct that the cost of certain activities should be borne by HMCTS. I emphasise that (the provision of interpreters and translators apart) this is an order of last resort. No order of this sort should be made except by or having first consulted a High Court Judge or a Designated Family Judge.
 

I emphasise also that the allegation in each case is one of sexual assault, in two of the cases an allegation of rape. It may be that a similar approach is appropriate in cases of serious non-sexual assault. It may be that it will not be appropriate in less serious cases. I express no concluded views, beyond drawing attention to the trite observation that everything will, in the final analysis, depend upon the particular facts of the specific case.
 

Concluding observations

The Ministry of Justice, the LAA and HMCTS may wish to consider the implications. That is a matter for them. For my part I would urge the early attention of both the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group and the Family Procedure Rules Committee to those aspects of the various matters I have canvassed that fall within their respective remits.

 

In both of the live cases, the Judge gave the Legal Aid Agency one last chance to see sense and grant the funding under LASPO, but gave the clearest of indications that to proceed without representation would be an article 6 breach and that the Court would have to consider its own duty to fund such representation.

 

Injustice, the death penalty and… Cloppa Castle?

This post is by way of being a book review, unsolicited, for a non-fiction book called “Injustice”  by Clive Stafford Smith.

 

I’ve popped you an amazon link here, not because I get any money for doing so, but because I thought it might be helpful

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Injustice-Life-Death-Courtrooms-America/dp/1846556252/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357313233&sr=8-1

 

 

The book is written by a British lawyer who now practices criminal defence law in America, specifically death row appeals. 

 

It deals with one particular individual, who was convicted for the murder of two people, a man and his son, in cold blood in a hotel room. He knew the victim and had quarrelled with him, there was an eye witness who described everything, his prints were in the hotel room, and the ballistics expert testified that the bullets fired were compatible with the gun that the suspect had been found to possess by police officers who had stopped him months earlier. The defence called no witnesses, and even the suspect himself did not go into the witness box. He was duly convicted of the murders.

 

Chapter one sets all of that out, and you may, as I did, read all that and say “Well, none of this sounds like an injustice, he sounds bang to rights”

 

Mr Stafford Smith then picks up the case and the story at the point at which the defendant, found guilty and awaiting the death penalty, contacts him to launch an appeal, and the investigation he conducts.

 

More interesting though than the focus on the detail of the particular case (which is compelling in itself) is the analysis of each of the stages and participants in the process, and how Mr Stafford Smith shows that the system itself is inherently flawed.

 

For example, there’s the fact that the jury were told that the prosecution eye witness had passed a lie detector test showing that his testimony was true.  That’s not quite accurate, when full disclosure is obtained after the conviction, because it shows that :-

 

(a)   the eye witness passed some bits of a lie detector test

(b)   he failed other important bits in relation to the witness deposition he gave the prosecution

(c)   The prosecution (including the trial lawyers) knew this

(d)   The eye witness, with the help of the prosecution, then made further depositions, correcting the bits that he had obviously lied about, and to make his version of events fit better

 

 

It gets a lot worse than that, but that was the first bit where I dropped the book in horror and had to pick it back up and read it back to Ms SuesspiciousMinds.

 

 

The author looks at every part of the process – from the police officers who call Crime Hotlines to give ‘anonymous tips’ about people they are about to arrest so they can claim the reward, to the original defence attorney who had been given a flat fee and thus didn’t put sufficient hours into the case (and that if they actually do that on public defender rates the hourly rate they get works out to be about $2.50 per hour), to the jury, to the Judge (in this case, the trial Judge was arrested halfway through the trial for having taken bribes from other defendants in cases – this man’s defence lawyer knew that the defendant had been approached by another attorney who had suggested that if the defendant used them and paid them a large sum of money they would get a successful outcome from the Judge in question, but didn’t think that was worth raising), to the appeal process that essentially decides that you can win an appeal on a technicality but not on evidence that ought to have been put forward by your defence attorney  – i.e if you have a bad lawyer at trial, you get screwed both at trial and later at appeal if he just didn’t do his job.

 

He even shows why an innocent defendant can be the worst sort of client to have – this man knew he was innocent, so why spend money on your lawyer calling lots of witnesses to prove it, why give evidence and tell your side of the story, when of course you can’t be found guilty of murder if you didn’t do it?

 

The author explains that the jurors who get the long legal explanation about the arcane and complex tests don’t always understand them. After they have had the explanations of “aggravating factors and mitigating factors”  when tested, over 50% of jurors gave an explanation as to what mitigating factors were that showed that they thought that mitigating factors were the same thing as aggravating ones, when they are actually total opposites.

 

It is an excellent book and the structure of it makes me think that with the right case, one of the journalists who claim in hand-wringing style to be deeply worried about family justice (whilst their newspapers run pro Fast Adoption campaigns) could write.

 

It also seems to me that Al Alas Wray would be a good case to look at   – not that I am suggesting for a second that any of the professionals in that case were bent, or incompetent, or dumb in the way that some of them appear in “Injustice”  but rather looking at how the system can make well-intentioned, capable, reasonable and competent people get something badly wrong, and how Al Alas Wray might sadly represent the high waterline of British justice being able to get to the bottom of such a potential miscarriage of justice and fix it, whereas the changes coming our way seem to me to reduce the prospects of that in the future.

The bit that I found interesting was the chapter about prosecutors, and the suggestion that it is certain types of people, certain types of lawyer who choose to prosecute criminals.  They perhaps believe strongly in law and order, that the police are generally right, that justice prevails, that the system works, that the people who are convicted at trial were rightly convicted.

 

That did make me think, because of course, my job is sort of analogous to that – I do present cases to Court involving parents where part of my job is to present evidence as to the flaws of their parenting, and sometimes that involves persuading the Court that it is right that their children should no longer live with them.

 

I like to think, and maybe this is my own Prosecutor Bias, that my take on my job is to present the evidence fairly, to play with a straight bat, and that where such an awful decision is taken, it is because it is the right thing to do.  And ultimately, every decision that a child can’t be with his or her parents is a failure, of a kind. It is sometimes the least worst of all the options available on the picture at the time, but it is always a bad thing. I think that’s true of the colleagues I work with too.

 

Perhaps I am deceiving myself. I’m sure also that there are people who don’t approach the job that way. I know that because it wasn’t the way I approached the job when I started.

 

I was young, and idealistic, and believed that my job was child rescue and to protect children from wicked people who would mistreat them. When you come into the world of child protection, initially you do think that people who could abuse children must be wicked and dreadful – it is one of society’s great taboos, after all, the notion of parents harming their children.

 

As time goes on, and particularly with the benefit of having crossed the floor and represented parents against the State, you realise that most of those parents that initially seemed wicked are just scared, baffled, lonely, needy or damaged.

 

 

I used to think that my job was a bit like being on the battlements of a castle under siege, and that it was my job to keep the inside of the castle (the child) safe from the besiegers.

 

I now think that my job is much more like being outside the castle with the parents, and that it is my job to find an appropriate ladder that would be the right one to help them climb the walls and get over into good enough and safe parenting, so that they can be together with their children and the child will be safe and happy.  Sometimes it is also my job to help them up the first few rungs. Sometimes it is my job to realise that the ladder we thought would be right isn’t a good fit and to find another one.

 

Sometimes, sadly, it is my job to tell the Court that despite all of that, the parent got stuck halfway up the ladder and couldn’t get over the good enough or safe parenting wall. Sometimes that they got halfway up and climbed back down a few rungs. Sometimes that they looked at the ladder and decided they couldn’t do it at all, paralysed by vertigo, or influenced by people wanting them to stay on the ground with them.   Sometimes we argue about whether someone is halfway up, three quarters of the way up, or all the way up, or whether they should have another go with a different ladder. Sometimes we argue about whether the type of ladder they need can be found in time, or whether it costs far too much.

 

But it certainly isn’t my job to pour boiling oil on them as they try to climb up. I know some of the readers of the blog won’t believe that, and they are entitled to their belief.   They may well have had personal experience of Local Authority lawyers and social workers yanking the ladder away from under them, greasing the rungs, or pouring that boiling oil down.  That is something I feel bad about – I don’t deny that it happens, but I feel fervently that it shouldn’t.

 

I don’t think it harms any of us to reflect from time to time whether we have that balance right, are we defending the castle come what may, or are we trying to see if someone, given the right ladder can get over the wall and deserves to be inside the castle?

 

 

Anyway, here’s a picture from CloppaCastle, which the older readers may recall.  It had a very nice theme song, containing the words “Friendly enemy”  and maybe that is close to the role that my job comes down to.

 cloppa1

And here’s a link if you want to hear the theme song

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK90sLowzGk