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Tag Archives: justice hayden

Irn Brouhaha

 

I apologise to any readers north of the border for that dreadful gag.

 

Re M 2015 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2082.html

 

The quick summary on this was “mother applies to discharge care order and in the alternative for more contact” so I wasn’t expecting much out of the case when I opened it up. But then I saw four Silks in the case and I thought “oh hello”

 

In very brief summary, His Honour Judge Dowse made findings that a father (F1) had sexually abused a child. The mother’s resistance to accepting those findings and her continuance of a relationship with father led to a series of care proceedings, ending up with seven children being permanently placed away from the mother.  The oldest C1 is subject to a Freeing Order but has not been adopted, the next oldest C2 is placed with an aunt, C3-C7 have all been adopted.

 

And then there is child C8, who is presently living with mother and her new husband (F2) in Scotland, under no orders.

This is the Irn-Brouhaha  –  the Scottish equivalent of care proceedings was brought in Scotland in relation to child C8 and the Court there concluded that there had not been any sexual abuse, and thus no failure to protect.

That was all well and good for the mother and C8, but raised obvious questions of what should happen with child C1 and C2.  If a Court rules that there was no abuse and there is no risk, should they come home?

 

As you may know, I am no admirer of the 350 page limitation, so I had to smile at this particular line from Hayden J

So scrupulously have the documents been pared down for the application before me, in compliance with the President’s Guidance, that it is not possible to track the evolution of these proceedings clearly from the papers filed.

 

 

The big argument for the case was therefore – what legal status does the Scottish judgment on C8 and the sexual abuse allegations have on the English Courts dealing with C1 and C2?

 

  1. In the course of the proceedings in Scotland the Court was persuaded to re-open the findings of HHJ Dowse. At the conclusion of the Scottish hearing, before Sheriff O’Carroll, the court reached a very different conclusion. In his judgment of the 30th October 2013 the Sheriff found that he was unable, on the evidence before him, to find that the Reporter (whose status is similar to that of the Local Authority in England) had discharged the burden of proving, to the civil standard, that M and F1 had been involved in the sexual abuse of any of their children. The allegations, on this aspect of the case, had been placed before the Scottish Court in this way:

    “2. On various occasions between 22 February 1998 and 1 October 2005, at various addresses in the north of England, exact addresses meantime unknown, M and F1 caused C1, C3 and C4 (who were all under the age of thirteen at the relevant times) to participate in sexual activity and caused them to touch, with their hands or their mouths, the genitals, anus and breasts of M and the penis of F1.

    3. Statement of fact 2 demonstrates that M committed an act of lewd and libidinous practices and behaviour. This an offence specified in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.”

  2. In respect of these allegations the Sheriff stated in his judgment:

    “320. […] However, I am unable on the evidence before me to find that the reporter has discharged the burden of proving to the civil standard that statement of fact 2 is proved. It follows that SoF 3 is not proved.”

    By contrast Judge Dowse found:

    “Both parents were involved in explicit and inappropriate sexual behaviour with C1, C4 and C3 and neither protected the children from the other.”

     

 

It is always curious to see how wording differs in other countries – the ‘lewd and libidinous’ adds something here, I think.

 

Non lawyers may not be aware that Scotland has an entirely separate legal system to England and Wales – the statutes are different, the process is different and they have their own case law. The only time that the cases cross over is when the Supreme Court has to decide a case, when the Supreme Court (which is full of English Judges) has to apply Scottish law to the case and reach a decision.  This means establishing whether the Scottish judgment has any legal weight is not a simple task.

 

 

25. Mr Tyler and Mr Booth have drawn my attention to: Stare Decisis and Scottish Judicial Decisions, J.K. Bentil, [1972] Modern Law Review 537. They adopt the analysis of the legal status of Scottish judgments on the law in England and Wales set out in that paper:

    1. “Apart from the fact that some Scottish judicial decisions which go on appeal to the House of Lords may create binding precedents for the English Courts, the effect on English courts of certain Scottish judicial decisions in their own right appears to have received little or no attention this side of the border. Theory has it that generally Scottish judicial decisions are not binding on the English courts but have persuasive effect only. But in actual practice, the weight of authority on this side of the border tends to suggest that certain Scottish judicial decisions, notably those concerned with the interpretation of statutes of common application on both sides of the border, are indeed binding on English courts.”

The ultimate conclusion reached is as set out in paragraph 20 of their Skeleton Argument:

“Although we cannot assert the Sheriff’s judgment to have a formal (in the sense of automatically enforceable) status, it is clear that it has some status, or perhaps better worded, a ‘real significance’.”      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always dread to type the words Brussels II  in a blog post, but I have to.  (It always makes me think of Stephen Hawking’s publisher telling him that every equation in “A Brief History of Time” would cut sales in half. He only actually used one, in the final version)

Very briefly, if the Scottish judgment here had been in Lithuania, or France, or Portugal, the English Court would have to take it into account, and of course, mother could argue that under article 15 the case ought to be dealt with entirely by Scotland.  but Brussels II specifically does not apply to cases between England and Scotland.

In Re PC, YC & KM (Brussels II R: Jurisdiction Within the United Kingdom) [2014] 1 FLR 605 Baker J observed at para 16:

“It is widely recognised that the provisions governing conflicts of jurisdiction in children’s cases within the UK are, in the words of Thorpe LJ in Re W-B, supra, at paragraph 29, “difficult and complicated.” He was referring in particular to the provisions of the Family Law Act 1986, but as Miss Green has demonstrated, there is similar difficulty and uncertainty as to the applicability of BIIR to the allocation of jurisdiction within the UK.”

Nonetheless he went on to conclude at para 18:

“Given the clear view expressed emphatically by the Court of Appeal very recently in Re W-B, I reject Miss Green’s submissions and adopt the orthodox view that BIIR does not apply to jurisdictional disputes or issues arising between the different jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. Article 15 could not, therefore, be used to transfer these proceedings from England to Scotland.”

 

So the nutshell answer, after four QCs have sweated over it and a High Court Judge have looked at it is, “the Court don’t HAVE to consider it, but probably best not to just ignore it”

We then get into the law on re-opening cases.

Hayden J sets out all of that law very beautifully, but I think that I will cut to the chase, which is Lady Hale’s line In re B (Children: Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) (CAFCASS intervening) [2008] UKHL 35, [2009] 1 AC 11.”  about situations in which a party wants to challenge findings that had been made by an earlier Court.

“In such an event, it seems to me, the court may wish to be made aware, not only of the findings themselves, but also of the evidence upon which they were based. It is then for the court to decide whether or not to allow any issue of fact to be tried afresh.”

But also

    1. “(a) that there is a public interest in an end to litigation – the resources of the courts and everyone involved in these proceedings are already severely stretched and should not be employed in deciding the same matter twice unless there is good reason to do so; [1997] 1 FLR Hale J Re B (CA Proceedings) (Issue Estoppel) (FD) 295”
    1. (b) that any delay in determining the outcome of the case is likely to be prejudicial to the welfare of the individual child; but
    1. (c) that the welfare of any child is unlikely to be served by relying upon determinations of fact which turn out to have been erroneous; and
    1. (d) the court’s discretion, like the rules of issue estoppel, as pointed out by Lord Upjohn in Carl Zeiss Stiftung v Rayner & Keeler Ltd (No 2) [1967] 1 AC 853, 947, ‘must be applied so as to work justice and not injustice’.
  1. In a further passage that I find has particular resonance to the issues in this case Hale J observes:

    “(3) Above all, the court is bound to want to consider whether there is any reason to think that a rehearing of the issue will result in any different finding from that in the earlier trial. By this I mean something more than the mere fact that different judges might on occasions reach different conclusions upon the same evidence. No doubt we would all be reluctant to allow a matter to be relitigated on that basis alone.”

     

It is ultimately a matter of Court discretion to decide whether to re-open previous findings, but a Court is allowed to consider that there’s limited value in re-running the case unless there’s a decent chance of arriving at a different outcome.

Of course here, we have two judgments, in different countries, which reach diametrically opposite conclusions. That led to some of the barristers having to argue that the Scottish judgment was an exemplar model of the way these things should be done and that HH J Dowse’s judgment was so flawed it ought to have been appealed anyway  (so the Scottish judgment is so superior it establishes a reason for re-hearing) and others having to argue that they were merely Judges reaching different conclusions.

I myself rather liked Mr Howe QC’s approach for the Guardian  (but the Judge did not)

  1. Mr Howe QC, on behalf of the children, engages with these factors in a rather different way and comes to the following conclusion:

    “The Guardian has taken into account the impact on C1 of the court concluding that the allegations were not proved but on balance, and for the reasons given, it is submitted that the balance falls in favour of the court permitting some reconsideration of the findings made by HHJ Dowse on 17th October 2007.”

  2. Mr Howe also submits:

    “the weight to be attached to the Scottish judgment does not arise from any assessment of its merit as an expression of the forensic exercise undertaken. The weight of the Scottish judgment is in its effect. Looking at these circumstances from C1’s perspective, it would be incomprehensible to her that the English court did not ‘think again’ and reconsider, not necessarily overturn, but at least take another look at the allegations given what was found in the Scottish court and how the findings there have enabled a relationship between C8 and M and F2 that, on the evidence before this court, appears to be entirely appropriate and beneficial for him.”

  3. Finally, Mr Howe comments:

    “It is submitted that C2 has to be granted the possibility of some relationship with her sibling and mother by the court agreeing to reconsider the previous findings.”

     

I know that not everyone is fluent in Elegant, so to translate  “It is really important for these children to get to the truth, whatever that might be, and whichever of these judgments is right the fact that they directly contradict each other means that at the moment there is doubt, which can only be eradicated by a re-hearing”

[I  agree with Mr Howe QC here. But as I told you, the Judge did not.  And he was not shy about saying so]

  1. It is self-evident that the interests of neither child is served by an erroneous determination of fact. Such a statement is platitudinous out of context. More than that it can be a dangerous, siren call unless it is considered carefully alongside the other features identified by Hale J in Re B. It is important to recognise that the factors she there identifies are inevitably interrelated. Thus: the insidious dangers of delay have to be considered alongside the more obvious damage caused by erroneous findings of fact. These tensions are notoriously difficult to reconcile and are ever present in family law.
  2. As the President identifies in ZZ (supra), the court’s discretion has to be applied so as to work ‘justice and not injustice’ and so the starting point is, again as he identifies, whether there is ‘some real reason to believe that the earlier findings require revisiting’. That seems, to my mind, to resonate closely with the observations of Hale J: ‘whether there is any new evidence or information casting doubt on the original findings’ (Re B supra). With respect to the Guardian, her views as to the value to C2 of ‘having another look’ lose focus on these important principles and fail to give sufficient weight to the real impact on these children of once again re-opening litigation, which itself may fail to resolve the present situation.
  3. Moreover, I am not prepared to draw the inference, suggested by Mr Howe, that because C1 instigated a further interview, following the Scottish Judgment, she therefore should be taken as signaling a willingness to participate in further litigation. She does not know, for example, what the reach of further litigation might be, nor does she yet have the maturity to understand what its impact on her could be. Before concluding that an issue should be reheard there must really be a substantial reason to believe that further litigation will achieve some clarity. In the light of my view of the validity of each of the respective judgments and finding myself un-persuaded that there are any other solid grounds for believing that a rehearing will result in any clarification of the present position , I can see no basis upon which to grant the application for a rehearing of the English proceedings.

 

[There is a lot in the judgment about a factual comparison between the judgments, and the basis on which the Scottish courts reached a different conclusion. I’m afraid that you would need to read that to fully grasp why on the facts the Judge felt that a re-hearing of the allegations was unlikely to reach a different result.  In very brief terms there were two major issues – that the Scottish Courts had relied on an expert doing something like a ‘veracity’ assessment which is out of favour here and the issues that came up in it were things that HH Judge Dowse had taken into account anyway, and that reliance had been placed on the children saying different things in an ABE interview done years later and the Court felt that this was not unexpected.   I wouldn’t say that I end up wholly agreeing with the conclusions, but because the decision here is largely fact-specific, you do need to read those sections to form your own conclusion about whether the Judge here was right. ]

And finally – wider interest

    1. Finally, I very much regret the delay involved in delivering this judgment. The case provides a powerful reminder of the consequences that ensue when the advocates fail to allow sufficient time in their estimates of hearing for a judge to write and deliver a judgment. The provision of one day to write this judgment is, I hope, self evidently inadequate. All counsel must regard it as a professional obligation to factor time for the judge to write and deliver a judgment into their time estimates. This is a professional duty which should be seen as a facet of the requirement to avoid delay in proceedings concerning the welfare of a child. I take the opportunity here to highlight a pervasive problem which requires to be addressed more widely.

 

It must certainly be the case that a judgment which requires a Judge to look at the intersection of Scottish and English law, Brussels II and all the law on issue estoppel was foreseeably going to take more than a day to write.   I wonder how in a more normal case, counsel are to arrive at a time estimate for a Judge to write the judgment, presumably at IRH so that time can be allocated within the Court listing for the final hearing    (Those advocates who feel the case is a slam-dunk are likely to be estimating 2-3 hours, those who are hoping to persuade the Court that the case is finely balanced before tipping in their favour are likely to be estimating 2 days so that the Court can see that this is a really tricky case which will need very long thought)

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A whole heap of trouble (secure accommodation)

You don’t often get secure accommodation judgments published, largely because they are usually decided by Justices rather than Judges so don’t fall into the publication scheme, but this one was decided by Mr Justice Hayden and throws up some interesting philosophical issues.

London Borough of Barking and Dagenham 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4436.html

 

There’s an exercise in philosophy where one starts putting individual pebbles on a table. You add one at a time, every few seconds. At some point, what you have is a heap or a pile of pebbles. But if you are adding them one at a time, it is difficult to see the point at which you go from “non-heap” to “heap”.  Equally, once you have a heap of pebbles and start removing one at a time, finding that precise point at which you’ve removed the pebble that turns it from “heap” to “non-heap” happens.  Obviously we can all agree that 3 pebbles aren’t a heap, and that 300 are, but where that precise boundary line happens is much more fuzzy.

 

In this case, the heap issue arises in part on the legal test for making a Secure Accommodation Order (which, lets not forget, is an order that allows a family Court to sanction a child being locked up not as punishment for a criminal offence but for their own good)

“Use of accommodation for restricting liberty

(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, a child who is being looked after by a local authority may not be placed, and, if placed, may not be kept, in accommodation provided for the purpose of restricting liberty (‘secure accommodation’) unless it appears –

(a) that –

(i) he has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and

(ii) if he absconds, he is likely to suffer significant harm; or

(b) that if he is kept in any other description of accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons.”

 

They are alternate tests – either (a) OR (b),  you don’t have to satisfy both  (though in many such applications, both limbs are satisfied).

Now, for ground (a) it all flows from “has a history of absconding”, so how many incidents of absconding amount to a history. One incident isn’t a history, fifty clear is. But at what point do the number of incidents crystallise into a “history”

For the purposes of this application, I find that SS has absconded on two occasions. I doubt whether that can truly be said to be a history of absconding and it is, as I said, significant that, on the second occasion, it was she who sought to return to the foster carer. I am, however, entirely satisfied that she is likely to abscond in the future, if not in secure accommodation, in the sense that there is a real possibility of her absconding. I am absolutely sure that she is at risk of significant emotional and/or physical harm were she to do so.

This was one of those cases where the child was the victim of Child Sexual Exploitation by unsavoury adults, but because of the difficulty in prosecuting such adults for their criminal behaviour, the child is locked up instead, a state of affairs which post the Rochdale child grooming debacle, is happening more and more.

  1. It scarcely needs to be said that restricting the liberty of a child is an extremely serious step, especially where the child has not committed any criminal offence, nor is alleged to have committed any criminal offence. It is for this reason that the process is tightly regulated by the Children Act 1989 in the way I have set out, but also in the Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991 and the Children (Secure Accommodation No.2) Regulations 1991. The use of s.25 will very rarely be appropriate and it must always remain a measure of last resort. By this I mean not merely that the conventional options for a child in care must have been exhausted but so too must the ‘unconventional’, i.e. the creative alternative packages of support that resourceful social workers can devise when given time, space and, of course, finances to do so. Nor should the fact that a particular type of placement may not have worked well for the child in the past mean that it should not be tried again. Locking a child up (I make no apology for the bluntness of the language, for that is how these young people see it and, ultimately, that is what is involved) is corrosive of a young persons spirit. It sends a subliminal and unintended message that the child has done wrong which all too often will compound his problems rather than form part of a solution.
  2. The courts have seen a number of cases in recent years where vulnerable young girls have been exploited in a variety of ways by groups of predatory men. That so many of these men escape prosecution and continue to enjoy their liberty whilst the young girls they exploit are locked up (for their own protection) sends very confusing messages to the girls themselves, to the distorted minds of the men who prey on them and to society more generally.
  3. I have heard something of the regime the unit in which SS has been resident. I have no reason to believe that it is any different to any other of the welfare-based units. I equally have no doubt that those who run and work in them and the variety of disciplines which support such units are all highly motivated to help. There will be circumstances where young people have to be incarcerated to protect them, ultimately, from themselves.
  4. That said, I heard that this unit has what is referred to as an “air-locked security system”; that is to say that only one room can be left open at any stage. There is no computer access. There is a reward system by which privileges are both earned, and taken away. It is difficult not to see, from the eyes of the young people concerned, a custodial complexion to this environment. It has the most profound disadvantage in the case of SS in that it must surely reinforce her own already overactive sense of having done wrong.
  5. I do not criticise the structure or regime of this, or, indeed the other units. I recognise, as I have already stated, that they have a place in the panoply of strategies required to safeguard vulnerable children, but I was not satisfied that such a regime was a proportionate interference in SS’s life and so, to investigate it further, I asked Ms. Lewis, counsel on behalf of the Local Authority, whether she could contact senior officials within the unit so that I could have some closer idea both of the nature of the regime in operation and the philosophy which underpins it. At very short notice, the deputy principal was able to make herself available. She told me that, for young women in the situation of SS, such units could only really try and achieve one objective and that was to keep the young people concerned safe in a time of crisis “only long enough to find them somewhere more suitable”. That seems to me to crystallise the very limited scope of this provision.

 

There’s a peculiar wrinkle with the law on Secure Accommodation, which I was always surprised survived the Human Rights Act but still stands. It is this – unlike any other order in the Children Act which is subject to the “no order” principle and the “welfare paramountcy” principle, orders under s25 are MANDATORY if the Court find that the criteria are made out.

The role of the Court on secure accommodation applications is not, as with any other Children Act application, to decide on both the facts and what to do with those facts for the child’s best interests, but to simply decide whether factually the grounds for the order are made out, and if so  to make the order.

The provision goes on, at subsection (3), to provide that:

“It shall be the duty of a court hearing an application under this section to determine whether any relevant criteria for keeping a child in secure accommodation are satisfied (inaudible)”

And (4):

“If a court determines that any such criteria are satisfied, it shall make an order authorising the child to be kept in secure accommodation and specifying the maximum period for which he may be so kept.”

 

This doesn’t always sit entirely comfortably with the suggestions and recommendations that a Secure Accommodation Order ought to be a last resort.

 

What is a Court to do where it considers that the s25 threshold is met, but that the making of a Secure Accommodation Order is not proportionate? (It surely HAS to consider whether it is proportionate, because it is an article 8 interference with the child’s right to private and family life)    i.e, the LA consider that the case has reached that “last resort” stage, but the Court think that more could be done?

If the case is being brought on the second limb

(b) that if he is kept in any other description of accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons

then the Court COULD conclude that really an attempt should be made to place the child in another form of accommodation with different resources and safeguards as one last try, and so the criteria is not made out.

 

What about the first limb?

(a) that –

(i) he has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and

(ii) if he absconds, he is likely to suffer significant harm;

 

That’s probably harder to resist – if factually there IS, a history of accommodation and if factually there IS a likelihood of significant harm if the child absconds again  (and that likelihood is the ‘risk that cannot sensibly be ignored’ provided that there’s some factual basis for thinking that that risk exists), it is hard for the Court to avoid making the order, even if they don’t consider that Secure Accommodation is the right order for the child.

So you can see that the issue of what amounts to a history of absconding can be important as to whether the Court are in charge of the order, or whether they are just there to factually determine that the criteria are made out.

 

[This judgment is also a good go-to resource for the law on secure accommodation, as the Judge gives a very punchy summary of the key issues, in part because not all of the parties in the case had quite grasped the rather unusual nature of s25]