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My cousin Vinny – or a model for how, in a better world, we could do things

 

I’m going to take the unusual step of publishing a judgment in full, because, well, you will see why.  It is written by Mr Justice Peter Jackson, who I think is as absolutely good as it gets.   (there’s a short preamble that explains that this was a private law hearing, both parents representing themselves, and that the young person met with the Judge before the decision was made)

 

There’s a lot that is wrong with family law, and I write about that all of the time. And people write comments telling me other things that are wrong with family law, and sometimes they are right.  Family law hurts. If you have a decision in family law that doesn’t go your way, it hurts you, for a long long time – maybe even forever, and that’s genuinely an awful thing.  We forget that, sometimes. Or perhaps we have got good at pretending that all that matters is that the Judge makes the right decision (forgetting that there are real people on the wrong side of those decisions, even when we think they are right)

Every family law case involves people who are hurting and being hurt, and this one is no exception. But this is one of those better times when I get to say that this, right here,  is something right about family law, and it is how it could be.

 

Re A (Letter to a Young Person) 2017

13 July 2017

Dear Sam,

It was a pleasure to meet you on Monday and I hope your camp this week went well.

This case is about you and your future, so I writing this letter as a way of giving my decision to you and to your parents.

When a case like this comes before the court, the judge has to apply the law as found in the Children Act 1989, and particularly in Section 1. You may have looked at this already, but if you Google it, you will see that when making my decision, your welfare is my paramount consideration – more important than anything else. If you look at s.1(3), there is also a list of factors I have to consider, to make sure that everything is taken into account.

The information I have comes from a variety of sources. There are the papers from the old proceedings years ago. There are more papers from the proceedings this year, especially your own statements, your mum and Paul’s statements, your dad’s statements, and the report of Gemma, the Cafcass officer. Then there is the evidence each of you gave at court. I have taken all this into account.

When I was appointed as a judge, I took the oath that every judge takes to apply the law in a way that is fair to everybody. Some people will say that this or that decision isn’t fair, but that’s usually their way of saying that they don’t like the decision. People who like decisions don’t usually say they are unfair. Here, your father loudly says that Cafcass is biased against fathers and during the hearing it became clear that he doesn’t have much confidence in me either. He is entitled to his view, but I can tell you that I found no sign of bias on Gemma’s part; on the contrary, I found her someone who had thought very carefully about you and your situation and used her professional experience of many, many family cases to reach an honest view of what would be for the best.

The decisions that I have to take are these: (1) should you go and live in Scandinavia? (2) should you become a citizen there? (3) if all your parents are living in England, should you spend more time with your dad? (4) if your dad goes to Scandinavia, and you stay here, how often should you see him?

Here are the main matters that I take into account:

 

  • Your stated views. You told me that you have long wanted to live in Scandinavia and that you could see yourself living there with your dad. If that doesn’t happen, you want to go back to having week on/week off. It worked in the past and you enjoyed it. You feel that your father helps you more with your education. If your dad goes to Scandinavia without you, you would be extremely unhappy. Your mum and Paul are very against you seeing more of your dad.
  • I believe that your feelings are that you love everyone in your family very much, just as they love you. The fact that your parents don’t agree is naturally very stressful for you, and indeed for them. Gemma could see that when she met you, and so could I when you briefly gave evidence. Normally, even when parents are separated, they manage to agree on the best arrangements for their children. If they can’t, the court is there as a last resort. Unfortunately, in your case, there have been court orders since you were one year old: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010 – and now again in 2017. What this shows is how very difficult your parents have found it to reach agreements. This is unusual, but it how you have grown up. The danger is you get used to it.
  • I was impressed with the way you gave evidence. You are of an age where your views carry a lot of weight with me, and I consider them in the light of your understanding of what has made things as they are. As to that, I don’t think anyone of your age in your situation could understand it better than you do, but nor could they fully understand the influences that you are under and the effect that has on you.
  • Your parents have very different personalities. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s one of the joys of life that people are different. One of your homes is quite conventional, the other very unconventional. There’s nothing wrong with that either. What is of concern to me is this. I see your mother and Paul as being content with the life they lead, but I don’t see that in your father. He is a man with some great qualities. When he is relaxed, he has charm and intelligence. But underneath that, I see someone who is troubled, not happy. He has not achieved his goals in life – apart of course from having you. Because of his personality style, and the love you feel for him, he has a lot of influence over you. All fathers influence their sons, but your father goes a lot further than that. I’m quite clear that if he was happy with the present arrangements, you probably would be too. Because he isn’t, you aren’t.
  • So I have a view on the question of whether the idea of these proceedings comes from you or from your dad. My view is that you brought the proceedings mainly as a way of showing your dad how much you love him. It was mainly to meet his needs, and not yours. I have seen the self-centred way that he behaves, even in the courtroom, and how he makes sure everybody knows how little respect he has for anybody who disagrees with him. Even as a judge, I found it hard work stopping him from insulting the other witnesses. Your mother certainly finds his behaviour difficult, so difficult that she avoids contact with him whenever possible. I don’t think you yet realise the influence that your father has over you. It leads you to side with him and praise him whenever you can. You don’t do the same for your mother. Why is that? Is it because you sense that he needs it and she doesn’t? Also, I may be wrong, but when you gave your evidence I didn’t get the feeling that you actually see your future in Scandinavia at all. Instead, what I saw was you doing your duty by your dad while trying not to be too unfair to your mum. But you still felt you had to boost your dad wherever you could. That’s how subtle and not-so-subtle pressure works. So I respect your views, but I don’t take them at face value because I think they are significantly formed by your loyalty to your father.
  • And it is not just that. I believe your father has in some ways lost sight of what is best for you. He told me that he felt absolutely no responsibility for the state of the relationship between him and your mother. Nor did he satisfy me about his decision to emigrate without you (something he first mentioned in May), and why he would want do something that would so obviously cause you such unhappiness. On Monday, he told me it was 95% likely that he would go alone. On Wednesday, he told me it was 100% certain. Today, Thursday, he said it was 99.9997% certain but in his closing remarks a short while ago he said “If I go to Scandinavia…” before correcting “if” to “when”. My conclusion about all this, I’m afraid, is that, whether he knows it or not, your father has a manipulative side. I don’t believe he has any real idea whether he will go to Scandinavia or not, so nor do I. I can see that for him personally, Scandinavia may have some attractions, but I don’t believe he will find it at all easy to stop seeing you. I very much hope he will stay for your sake, even if it is at a cost to himself.
  • Sam, the evidence shows that you are doing well in life at the moment. You have your school, your friends, your music, and two homes. You’ve lived in England all your life. All your friends and most of your family are here. I have to consider the effect of any change in the arrangements and any harm that might come from it. In any case where parents don’t agree about a move overseas, the parent wanting to move has at least to show that they have a realistic plan. That plan can then be compared with other plans to see which is best. That has not been possible here. You will remember that at the earlier hearing in May, I made very clear to your father that if he was going to seriously put forward a move to Scandinavia, he had to give the court proper information about where you would be living and going to school, where the money would be coming from, and what the arrangements would be for you to keep in touch with family and friends in England. At this hearing, no information at all has been given. Your father described the move to Scandinavia as an adventure and said that once the court had given the green light, he would arrange everything. That is not good enough. In over 30 years of doing family law cases, I have never come across a parent who thought it might be, and no court could possibly accept it. What it means is that I have no confidence at all that a move to Scandinavia would work. Your dad thinks he would find a good life and good work there, but I have seen nothing to back that up – he hasn’t made a single enquiry about houses, schools or jobs. You don’t speak the language and you haven’t been there since before you were 5. Even your dad hasn’t been there for over 10 years. I also doubt his ability to provide you with a secure home and a reasonable standard of living if you lived with him full-time. I would worry about how it would be for you if things started to go wrong. I think you would find it exciting at first, but when reality set in, you might become sad and isolated. I also don’t think it is good for you to be with your father 24/7. In some ways, he would expand your vision of the world, but in many more ways he would narrow it, because he holds such very strong views himself, and because I believe that (maybe sincerely and without realising it) he needs you to fall in with his way of thinking. I also think it would be very harmful to be living so far away from your mum, from young Edward (who needs you too), and from Paul.
  • So I very much see you completing your schooling here. If, when you finish your A levels, you want to move to Scandinavia, you will be 18 and an adult – it will be up to you. Until then, I agree with Gemma, and with your mum and Paul, that you should make the most of the many opportunities that life here has to offer you. Although your dad is not that impressed with your school, most kids across the country would give a lot to have the life chances you already have. You don’t need more chances, or changes, but rather to make to most of what you have already.
  • As you will not be living in Scandinavia, I also don’t think that it would be in your interests to apply for citizenship there at this stage. I agree with Gemma that it would be a distraction. If you decide to do that when you’re 18, all well and good.
  • I have thought carefully about your request to spend more time with your father. I’m afraid that I think that the idea of spending week on/week off would be disastrous. It may have worked, with some difficulty, when you were a primary school, but it will not help your development to share your time between two homes with such different philosophies. In the end, not without some hesitation, and only if your father decides to remain living in England, I’m going to follow something like the arrangement that Gemma recommends. It will give you some more time with your dad, and more independence in getting to and from school. It won’t surprise you to hear that your dad told me that any outcome like this would be totally unacceptable to him and to you: can I suggest that you do your own thinking and don’t let his views drown out yours?
  • There needs to be an end to proceedings of this sort. They have been extremely stressful for everyone. This is the fifth case there has been about you and, unless something pretty extraordinary happens, it should be the last.

 

So, coming to the orders I am going to make:

A. I dismiss your dad’s applications to take you to live in Scandinavia and for you to apply for citizenship there.

B. You will have a holiday of a week in the second half of August this year with your dad, to be spent at his home unless he and your mother agree that it is going to be spent somewhere else.

C. I shall direct your father to write to your mother no later than 1 September to inform her whether or not he will be moving to Scandinavia and, if so, when.

D. If he writes that he is going to be moving (or does not write at all), contact will remain as it is: i.e. alternate weekends from Friday evening to Sunday evening. After he goes, contact (face-to-face and by phone/Skype etc) will be as agreed between your parents.

E. If your father writes to your mother that he is not going to be moving, contact will take place as follows: From the beginning of September, alternate weekends from Friday direct from school to Monday direct to school, until the end of the year. From the beginning of 2018, it will be alternate weekends from Thursday direct from school to Monday direct to school. I have not followed Gemma’s suggestion exactly because I think it is harder on you going backwards and forwards between the two homes every week. I think it would be better if you did that once a fortnight and that the increase is phased in.

F. I will make an order under s.91(14) of the Children Act that no further applications concerning you can be brought before the court by anyone, including yourself, without the Designated Family Judge giving permission. This order will run until 1 September 2019, so after your GCSEs. I do not think it need run for longer than that. The court will always give permission if someone wants to bring a reasonable application, but it gives the court control before any fresh proceedings are started.

Sam, I realise that this order is not the one that you said you wanted me to make, but I am confident that it is the right order for you in the long run. Whatever each of your parents might think about it, I hope they have the dignity not to impose their views on you, so that you can work things out for yourself. I know that as you get older, you will do this increasingly and I hope that you will come to see why I have made these decisions. I wish you every success with your future and if you want to reply to this letter, I know that your solicitor will make sure that your reply reaches me.

Lastly, I wanted to tell you that your dad and I enjoyed finding out that we both love the film My Cousin Vinny, even if it might be for different reasons. He mentioned it as an example of a miscarriage of justice, while I remember it for the best courtroom scenes in any film, and the fact that justice was done in the end.

Kind regards

Picture 1

Mr Justice Peter Jackson

 

 

 

Cryogenics and the Courts

 

 

 

This case has attracted a lot of Press attention, and as ever, not all of it is terribly accurate reporting. Most of the headlines have been along the theme of “girl wins right to be frozen after death”

 

If you haven’t heard yet, this is a High Court case where a decision was taken about a girl who had terminal cancer and who wanted to be cryogenically frozen after her death so that if there was a chance in the future of her being cured that this could happen. And the conclusion of the Court was that steps could be taken after her death to comply with her wishes.

As this is a Justice Peter Jackson judgment, it is very clear and readable, and tells you lots of things that you didn’t previously know. So well worth a read.  Justice Peter Jackson is on the sort of roll that the Beatles were on between Rubber Soul and Sergeant Pepper, his entire output is extraordinary in its quality.

Re JS (Disposal of Body) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2859.html

 

I think I’ll start with the very simple steer he gave to the Press which they ignored

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

25.The first thing to note is that much of the current problem arises from the fact that JS is a child, albeit a legally competent one. If she was 18, she would be able to make a will, appointing her mother as her executor, and it would then be for the mother to make arrangements for the disposal of JS’s body, no doubt in accordance with her wishes. However, children cannot make wills. My approach is therefore to try to remove the disadvantage that JS is under as result of her age. I do not intend to go further than that, as JS cannot be in a better legal position than she would be if she was an adult.

 

 

 

26.Next, it is important to approach a problem of this kind on the basis of a real situation as opposed to theoretical possibilities. When the application first came before the court, it was not clear that JS’s wishes could be carried out, because there was no information from the hospital or from the US authorities. Now that this and other information has been gathered, there is a practical plan that can be considered.

 

 

 

27.Thirdly, the court is not making orders against third parties. The position of the various organisations and authorities has been set out above. All the court is doing is to provide a means of resolving the dispute between the parents.

 

 

 

28.Fourthly, this case does not set a precedent for other cases. If another health trust was ever to be faced with a similar situation, it would be entitled to make its own judgment about what was acceptable in respect of a patient in its care, and it might very well reach a different conclusion, as might another court. There are clearly a number of serious ethical issues, and I have received information about procedures performed on the body after death that would be disturbing to many people.

 

 

 

29.Fifthly, I am acutely aware that this case gives rise to a large number of issues that cannot be investigated in the course of a hearing of this kind. If regulation is required, there would need to be consultation with a wide range of interested parties. That is a matter for others. This court is faced with a situation that needs immediate determination on the basis of the best available information. For the future, I shall direct that the papers in this case shall be released to the HTA on the basis that the identity of the family and the hospital trust will remain confidential.

 

30.Lastly, I cannot emphasise enough what this case is not about. It is not about whether cryonic preservation has any scientific basis or whether it is right or wrong. The court is not approving or encouraging cryonics, still less ordering that JS’s body should be cryonically preserved.

 

31.Nor is this case about whether JS’s wishes are sensible or not. We are all entitled to our feelings and beliefs about our own life and death, and none of us has the right to tell anyone else – least of all a young person in JS’s position – what they must think.

 

32.All this case is about is providing a means by which the uncertainty about what can happen during JS’s lifetime and after her death can be resolved so far as possible. JS cannot expect automatic acceptance of her wishes, but she is entitled to know whether or not they can be acted upon by those who will be responsible for her estate after her death. It would be unacceptable in principle for the law to withhold its answer until after she had died. Also, as a matter of practicality, argument about the preservation issue cannot be delayed until after death as the process has to be started immediately if it is to happen at all.

 

 

It is also important to know that whilst JS was a pivotal part of the case and the way it was resolved, the actual legal structure here is a dispute between her parents.  When I was hearing the case reported on the radio and TV this morning, without having read the judgment, it made no sense to talk of the child winning this ‘right’ because of course someone has to pay for the cryogenic freezing. This was a dispute between the mother who was supporting JS’s wishes, and the father who was not.

The Court was therefore resolving which of the parents’ views should prevail.  {The father’s position was quite nuanced and it is overly simplistic to just say that he was against it – after a lot of thinking, the dispute really came down to a desire to see his daughter’s body after she died, which doesn’t sound that unreasonable – but in the context of their relationship having completely broken down, it is understandable that the case couldn’t quite come to a settlement by agreement, which is a shame}

 

6.Over recent months, JS has used the internet to investigate cryonics: the freezing of a dead body in the hope that resuscitation and a cure may be possible in the distant future.

 

 

 

7.The scientific theory underlying cryonics is speculative and controversial, and there is considerable debate about its ethical implications. On the other hand, cryopreservation, the preservation of cells and tissues by freezing, is now a well-known process in certain branches of medicine, for example the preservation of sperm and embryos as part of fertility treatment. Cryonics is cryopreservation taken to its extreme.

 

 

 

8.Since the first cryonic preservation in the 1960s, the process has been performed on very few individuals, numbering in the low hundreds. There are apparently two commercial organisations in the United States and one in Russia. The costs are high, or very high, depending on the level of research into the subject’s case that is promised. The most basic arrangement (which has been chosen here) simply involves the freezing of the body in perpetuity. Even that will cost in the region of £37,000, according to the evidence in this case – about ten times as much as an average funeral. Although JS’s family is not well-off, her maternal grandparents have raised the necessary funds.

 

 

 

9.There is no doubt that JS has the capacity to bring this application. She is described by her experienced solicitor as a bright, intelligent young person who is able to articulate strongly held views on her current situation. Her social worker says that she has pursued her investigations with determination, even though a number of people have tried to dissuade her, and that she has not been coerced or steered by her family or anyone else.

 

 

 

10.JS has written this: “I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo-preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time. I don’t want to be buried underground. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish.”

 

 

The Court had to look first at whether cryogenic freezing was actually legal in the UK, and as the storage would be in America, whether there were legal problems with shipping a frozen person to America.

 

 

 

 

 

16.I have also been taken to the old authorities on the unlawful treatment of dead bodies (see Archbold 2017 at 31.54 onwards) but it does not appear that an offence would be committed in this case; in other words, what JS wants does not seem to be illegal.

 

 

 

17.Enquiries have now been made of the United States authorities, who have confirmed that there is no prohibition on human remains being shipped to the US for cryonic preservation provided that the UK funeral director and the US commercial organisation are in communication to guarantee that local, state and federal requirements are complied with.

 

Having been quite interested in cryogenics in my younger days, I’m aware that there are considerable schools of thought that the process works better if the person undergoes the procedure whilst they are still alive, but I think that’s going to be a step too far for the Family Courts.

 

 

 

 

 

23.It is no surprise that this application is the only one of its kind to have come before the courts in this country, and probably anywhere else. It is an example of the new questions that science poses to the law, perhaps most of all to family law. Faced with such a tragic combination of childhood illness and family conflict, the court must remember that hard cases make bad law, and that natural sympathy does not alter the need for the application to be decided in accordance with established principle, or with principle correctly established.

 

 

I’m disappointed that nobody took the Judge to a comparable, if opposite case from India in 2014, which is about whether a man who has been in a freezer for several years is in fact dead or whether he is instead in ‘deep meditation’  – because his family want his remains released so they can cremate them, but the followers of this guru say he is still alive. The fact that if he is alive, the followers retain control of his $170 million fortune plays no part in that, of course.

According to one of his aides, who asked not to be named, “Maharaj has been in deep meditation. He has spent many years meditating in sub-zero temperatures in the Himalayas, there is nothing unusual in it. He will return to life as soon as he feels [ready] and we will ensure his body is preserved until then,” he said.

 

Court to Decide Whether Guru Is Dead or Just “In Deep Meditation”

 

Frozen Guru Update II

 

Sorry, sidetracked.  I’m fairly sure there has been a case this century in English law involving parents who were in dispute as to whether their son’s remains should be kept in the UK or taken to the River Ganges to be scattered, but I can’t find it. I have a strong recollection of it. Maybe it will emerge and I can add it in.  No luck so far, though there’s this sticky piece of litigation where a man took Newcastle to Court for refusing to allow open air funeral pyres http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2009/978.html

 

It turns out that a person cannot control what happens to their body after their death – because a dead body is not property, so you can’t state in a will what is to happen to it.  Williams v Williams 1882.  The wishes of the deceased may be relevant, but they don’t bind third parties.  So if you, like me, were thinking of putting in your will that you want your ashes blown into Bono’s eyes after your death, your Executors can just smile wryly and stick your ashes  in a cookie jar with a picture of Ian Rush on it, despite this being wholly against your wishes. It will be your Executors who make the arrangements for your burial/cremation/cryogenic/being shot into space like Ken Kesey.  Now, an adult can make a will and appoint someone they trust as Executor, and if JS was 18, that’s what she would have done, made a will and appointed her mother as Executor, leaving clear instructions. But as established earlier, a child can’t make a will (not even if they are Richie Rich or Mustafa Millions out of Cheeky), so that option was not available.

Thus, the mechanism here is that a person, such as a minor, who dies without a will, is that someone will apply for Letter of Administration, which then lets that person make decisions, including about arrangements for the body.

 

What the Judge did here (simplifying it as much as possible) is to make a Specific Issue Order that in relation to the dispute between the mother and father as to arrangements for JS that the mother can carry out her proposal, and that she is to have the Letters of Administration and that the father cannot apply for them, so that in effect means that JS’s wishes will happen.

 

There’s a rather sad and shabby postscript to the whole affair.

 

 

Postscript

 

65.On 7 October, the day after the hearing, I received a message from JS through her solicitor saying that she would like to meet the judge who had decided her case. I visited her in hospital that evening in the presence of her mother and we had a good discussion. I was moved by the valiant way in which she was facing her predicament.

 

 

 

66.On 17 October, JS died.

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3 – 10 November 2016

 

67.On 8 November, I received a detailed note from the solicitors for the hospital trust in which the events surrounding JS’s death are described from the point of view of the hospital. It records that JS died peacefully in the knowledge that her body would be preserved in the way she wished.

 

 

 

68.However, the note makes unhappy reading in other ways. The Trust expresses very real misgivings about what occurred on the day of JS’s death. In brief and understated summary:

 

 

 

 

(1) On JS’s last day, her mother is said to have been preoccupied with the post-mortem arrangements at the expense of being fully available to JS.

 

 

(2) The voluntary organisation is said to have been under-equipped and disorganised, resulting in pressure being placed on the hospital to allow procedures that had not been agreed. Although the preparation of JS’s body for cryogenic preservation was completed, the way in which the process was handled caused real concern to the medical and mortuary staff.

 

69.These proceedings have come to an end and I make no findings about the above matters, on which I have in any event not heard other views. I nonetheless approve the intention of the Trust to send a copy of the note and its accompanying documents to the Human Tissue Authority. It may be thought that the events in this case suggest the need for proper regulation of cryonic preservation in this country if it is to happen in future.

Bugs, bunny

M v F (Covert Recording of children) 2016

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/29.html

Mr Justice Peter Jackson, in the High Court, dealing with a case where a parent in a custody dispute made clandestine recordings of the child – and because the father wanted to know what the child was saying during meetings with the social worker and Guardian, he placed bugs on the child’s clothing.

 

It is almost always likely to be wrong for a recording device to be placed on a child for the purpose of gathering evidence in family proceedings, whether or not the child is aware of its presence. This should hardly need saying, but nowadays it is all too easy for individuals to record other people without their knowledge. Advances in technology empower anyone with a mobile phone or a tablet to make recordings that would be the envy of yesterday’’s spies. This judgment describes the serious consequences that have arisen for one family after a parent covertly recorded a child in this way.

 

Let us have a look at the recording that was done

 

 

  • The dispute between the parents was bad enough for the local authority to have become involved and for the court to have appointed a Children’’s Guardian for Tara. All in all, the proceedings ran for 18 months and during that time there were a number of meetings between Tara and her social worker, a family support worker and the Guardian. Unfortunately, the father and his partner were determined to know what the child was saying at these meetings and also to record what the professionals were saying. As a result they embarked on a plan of action described in this extract from the original judgment:

 

“”The father’’s recordings19. At a core group meeting with the social workers in late January 2016, the father disclosed that he had been making covert recordings since the end of 2014. In a statement dated 21 February, he produced a number of transcripts dating back to November 2014.

20. At the outset of the hearing, I was asked to rule on whether the father’’s recordings should be admitted in evidence.

21. The first task was to establish the facts, and I heard from the father in evidence on this point specifically. Having done so, it emerges that the facts are these:

(1) The father produces transcripts of 16 conversations running to over a hundred pages(2) All but one of these are conversations involving Tara

(3) The exception was a local authority pre-proceedings meeting (see below)

(4) A significant number of recordings have not been transcribed or produced

(5) The first recording was made in November 2014, the last in March 2016

(6) The proceedings had been ongoing for well over a year before the existence of the recordings was revealed

(7) At least four devices were used

(8) At least two of these were small recording devices (bluntly, bugs – the one I was shown was no larger than 3 x 1.5 cm and can be bought on the internet for a few pounds)

(9) The other devices were iPhones or iPads belonging to the father and his partner

(10) The bugs were bought by the partner

(11) She sewed them into to a false bottom to the breast pocket of Tara’’s school blazer

(12) On some occasions a second bug was sewn into Tara’’s school raincoat and used at the same time to maximise the chance of picking up conversations

(13) On a day when a meeting was happening, the partner sewed the bug(s) into Tara’’s clothing just before she left for school – any earlier and the battery would have run out by the time a meeting took place at the end of the school day

(14) The bug would therefore be running all day, recording everything that Tara did

(15) Tara was therefore recorded at school, when with her teachers and friends, and at the contact centre when she went to meet her mother or speak to her on FaceTime

(16) Recordings were also made at home, when the social workers and Guardian visited

(17) At the end of the day, the bug(s) would be removed from the clothing so the contents could be downloaded

(18) The partner would make transcripts of what she and the father regarded as relevant conversations

(19) Other conversations were recorded by the father using his iPhone as a recording device

(20) He would leave it running in the breast pocket of his shirt or hold it, apparently innocently, in his hand

(21) At other times, when professionals were visiting the home, the father or his partner would leave an iPad or iPhone running in the top of the partner’’s handbag in the room where the conversation was likely to occur

(22) In February 2016, the father attended a pre-proceedings meeting with the social workers. They challenged him about his recently revealed use of recordings and he turned his phone off. He did not tell them that he had a second device running, with which he continued to record the meeting.

(23) Importantly, the father and his partner state that Tara has never been aware that she has been bugged

22. The father said that he had done all this to protect his daughter, but had not considered the consequences. Initially, he had not intended to disclose the fact that he had been making the recordings. His motivation was to find out about abuse and to hear Tara saying things to social workers that she might not say to him. He and his partner wanted to know what she was saying to them. They wanted to understand why she was so reluctant to see her mother. As matters developed, he wanted to be able to show that Tara was saying things to professionals that they were not reporting or acting on. Although the partner took most of the practical steps, it was planned together and he was responsible.

23. The father accepted that at an earlier stage he had carried out surveillance on the mother, including by using a private detective and by monitoring the in-car tracker device. He gave “”no comment”” answers to questions about accessing her private emails or iPad location service, but he admitted to accessing and making a screenshot of her private Facebook page when it was open on Tara’’s iPad. He had also taken hundreds of photographs in and of her home during the financial proceedings in order to substantiate his claim that she had a live-in boyfriend.

24. Having heard the father’’s evidence, I ruled that the recordings should be admitted and deferred explanation until now, so that the possible relevance of these actions to Tara’’s welfare could be considered in the wider context.

25. The mother did not oppose the admission of the recordings. Counsel on behalf of Tara drew attention to the court’’s powers under FPR 22.1 to control the evidence it receives. This includes the power to exclude evidence that would otherwise be admissible. She urged that as a matter of public policy conduct of this kind should be discouraged and that the resulting evidence should only be admitted in exceptional circumstances. Moreover, the material that the father wished to file was selective. If the court did not exclude the evidence obtained in this way, it would send the wrong message to other parents. At the same time, she contended that the fact that the recordings were made is in itself relevant and, indeed, important when considering Tara’’s welfare. She submitted that the recordings were not unlawful and do not constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 because they fall within the ‘’domestic purposes’’ exemption provided by s.36:

 

36 Domestic purposes.

Personal data processed by an individual only for the purposes of that individual’’s personal, family or household affairs (including recreational purposes) are exempt from the data protection principles and the provisions of Parts II and III.

26. I have not heard further argument about this, and it is unnecessary to determine whether the father’’s actions were illegal. That said, I believe that there may be good arguments for saying that the covert recording of individuals, and particularly children, for the purpose of evidence-gathering in family proceedings would not benefit from the domestic purposes exemption. Uneducated, I would assume that the exemption is intended to protect normal domestic use, which this is not.

27. In this case, I am in no doubt that the recordings were rightly admitted. The manner in which they were made is directly relevant to an assessment of the parenting offered by the father and his partner. They are so extensive that it would be unreal to exclude them, particularly after I had heard evidence from the father about their creation. It would be theoretically possible for the court to receive evidence of the making of the recordings but not their contents, but this would risk unbalancing the evidence if the contents were in fact of any value.

28. This case is a striking example of the acute difficulties that can be caused by adults recording children for the purposes of litigation. From the time the recording programme was revealed, everyone involved in these proceedings, except the father and his partner, immediately realised that it was wrong. The mother, rightly in my view, described it as “”unbelievable””. Even so, the full extent of the deeply concerning ramifications for Tara’’s welfare only became apparent as the hearing progressed. By the final day, even the father appeared to be beginning to understand the difficulties that he had created not just for his case but for his child.

29. This issue has also meant that the difficult question of whether Tara should be told that she has been recorded must be faced. It has also compounded the costs of the proceedings.””

 

 

Moving on, were the recordings useful to the Court?

 

 

  • The main reason for changing Tara’’s home base was the conclusion that the father and his partner could not meet her emotional needs as main carers. The recording programme was not the only indicator of this, but it was a prominent one. The mother was entitled to say that she objected to her daughter being brought up by someone who sewed recording devices into her clothing, something she described as “”really disturbing””.
  • Next to consider are the consequences for the proceedings of a large mass of material being produced at a late stage. The recordings put forward were selective and were not at first professionally transcribed. In the end, the issue increased the length and cost of the hearing, yet it did not produce a single piece of useful information. Instead:

 

i) It further damaged relationships between the adults in Tara’’s life.ii) It showed the father’’s inability to trust professionals.

iii) It created a secret that may well affect Tara’’s relationship with her father and step-mother when she comes to understand what has happened. As I said:

“”She is also at risk of harm arising from the recordings. I accept the Guardian’’s compelling assessment that it would be extremely damaging for Tara if the information comes to her in future in some uncontrolled way, something that is likely to cause her confusion or distress and seriously affect her ability to trust people.

I also accept the Guardian’’s analysis that the safer course is for Tara to be informed of the facts in a sensitive way in the relatively near future, once the immediate aftermath of this hearing has passed. There then needs to be a concerted effort by the family and the professionals to make sure that the information is contained within the group of people who will need to know it in order to carry out their statutory responsibilities. The consequences for Tara and her whole family of the father’’s behaviour coming to wider knowledge could be very serious, with unpredictable social and legal outcomes. However, the alternative – a conspiracy between those in court and the court itself to keep the matter secret from Tara and everyone else – is unacceptable in principle and unworkable in practice. It is a problem that needs to be faced and that is best done at a time when Tara is surrounded by professionals who know her situation and are well placed to help her make sense of it.””

iv) As indicated, the family’’s standing in the community has been put at risk. It is not hard to imagine the reaction of other parents at the school if they learn that their children were being recorded as a result of talking to Tara or even being near her, and the consequences of that for the father and most of all for Tara.

v) It involved an enormous waste of time on the part of the father and his partner in setting up the recordings and in transcribing them.

vi) It significantly escalated the cost of the proceedings. The father had to pay to have the recordings transcribed (£1,500) and on top of that I ordered him to pay the proportion of the mother’’s costs attributable to time spent on the recordings (£9,240). At the same time, there is an issue about whether the family can afford to pay Tara’’s school fees.

 

  • Anyone who is considering doing something similar should therefore first think carefully about the consequences.

 

Given that for large parts of Tara’s school day, every single thing she said (and was said to her) was recorded, these actions have invaded the privacy of every other child that she came into contact with. If the parents of those children learn that father did this, I should imagine they’d take an exceptionally dim view of it.

The Judge made some general observations about clandestine recording

 

 

  • This judgment does not relate to the practice of recording adults covertly for the purposes of family proceedings, or of recording children in other ways. Experience suggests that such activities normally say more about the recorder than the recorded (as in Re C [2015] EWCA Civ 1096), but there are so many possible circumstances that it is not possible to generalise. I note that the Cafcass Operating Framework (at 2.27) says that its officers should have nothing to fear from covert recording, but should bring it to the court’’s attention if they become aware of it, and ensure that it is dealt with methodically. That is no encouragement to the production of recordings, merely a reflection of situations that sometimes arise.
  • The Cafcass framework also mentions (at 2.29) that one form of covert recording may be the concealing of a device on a child, but makes no comment about that. In my view, that scenario does deserve comment of the kind that appears in the first sentence of this judgment.

 

The judgment is NOT authority for parents not being able to openly request to tape meetings with social workers – this is about covert recording of the child.

 

 

 

 

Poppi Worthington – the Judge publishes his decision about what happened to her

 

I think I’ve written nearly as many blog posts about Poppi Worthington’s case as I have about Re D, yesterday’s case.

The most recent Poppi Worthington piece is here

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/11/26/poppi-worthington-the-long-awaited-judgment/

 

For those who don’t know, Poppi died in December 2012.  The Judge in care proceedings made findings about the causation of her injuries, and what also raised media attention was the Guardian’s list of lessons that ought to be learned or failings by professionals.  Those were all finally aired in the judgment above.  The Coroner  considered the case  in October 2014 and left the causes of the child’s death blank. The police decided not to charge anyone. Father as a result of some of the medical evidence obtained in the police investigation asked the family Court to reopen their findings and look at it again.  And all the way through this, the Press have been asking to be able to publish the judgments, and have had to wait until this.

I have to say that the November judgment contained a peculiar line, that the police took a forensic swab from father’s penis, which led to some obvious worries about what it might have been suspected had happened to poor Poppi, but I didn’t want to speculate about it given that the family were going through a re-run of the family Court fact finding hearing.

The father had obviously hoped and believed that the re-run of the finding of fact hearing would clear his name.

I’m afraid that for me, the detail of the case is too grim for me to want to rake over here. For those who want to read it, it is here.

F v Cumbria County Council and M (fact-finding no 2) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/14.html

 

The conclusion of the fact finding was this:-

  1. For the court to conduct a further hearing in a case of this kind is highly unusual. It does not do so simply because others hold different views to those of a witness whose evidence has been accepted. This further hearing took place because it was asserted that there was evidence capable of establishing an alternative plausible hypothesis for the bleeding, namely that it may have come from congested blood vessels that had been affected by a viral infection. But even before the hearing began, that assertion had vanished like frost in May.
  2. In conclusion, stepping back and reviewing the evidence as a whole, I arrive at the same view as I expressed at paragraph 142 of the previous judgment: Shorn to its essentials, the situation is one in which a healthy child with no medical condition or illness was put to bed by her mother one evening and brought downstairs eight hours later by her father in a lifeless state and with troubling injuries, most obviously significant bleeding from the anus. Careful assessment of the meticulous pathological and paediatric evidence has clearly established that the injuries were the result of trauma from outside the body.
  3. My finding at paragraph 152 was that the father perpetrated a penetrative anal assault on Poppi, either using his penis or some other unidentified object. That remains my conclusion. Some witnesses at this hearing have expressed the view that penetration with a penis would have been expected to cause more obvious injuries. That may be so, but the evidence does not exclude any one of a number of distressing possibilities. As I said before, it is not possible to reconstruct the exact sequence of events that led to Poppi’s collapse without a truthful account from the father.

 

Reporting restrictions still apply on naming Poppi’s siblings. The Press access to this particular hearing was unprecedented, giving them access to documents and reports and even allowing for daily reporting and tweeting about the ongoing case provided it was done after the end of the Court day. The Judge thanked the Press for their responsible behaviour.

 

  1. The ability of the media to report a hearing of this kind on a day-to-day basis is unusual and the arrangements here are probably unprecedented. At the outset, ground rules were discussed and established, as follows:

    1. The reporting restriction order made on 11 July 2014 and varied on 14 January 2015 remains in effect. Copies have been provided.

    2. The hearing is taking place in private. Accredited media representatives may attend and are asked to sign in on a daily basis.

    3. Any media representative who attends will be provided with the full 2014 judgment, the medical reports, the minutes of the experts’ meetings, the schedules of agreement and disagreement and the summary of medical evidence. These documents are for information, to assist with understanding the course of the hearing, and they are not for publication. They can be removed from court but they are to be kept safe and are not to be copied or given to others.

    4. The media may report daily on the proceedings on these conditions:

    (1) Such reporting is subject to any further directions given by the court concerning what can and cannot be published if an issue arises during the course of the hearing.

    (2) Reporting (whether by live reporting, Twitter or otherwise) may not take place until after the court proceedings have concluded on any given day, so that the court has had an opportunity to consider whether any additional directions are required.

    (3) Until the publication of the final judgment, nothing is to be reported that might directly or indirectly indicate the findings that the court made in March 2014.

    5. The final judgment, when available, will be published. At that point the full 2014 judgment will also be published.

    6. Any queries about the ground rules should be addressed to court staff who will consult with the parties and with the court as necessary.

  2. A copy of these rules was placed in the civil jury box where, as it happens, the media sat during the hearing. On the first two days, eight media representatives attended, with the number reducing on subsequent days. On a few occasions, issues about what could or could not be published were raised by a party or a journalist, and these were easily resolved. The opening of the hearing was extensively reported, with less coverage thereafter.
  3. I repeat what I said at the outset of the hearing:“I would like to emphasise that the unusual package of arrangements for this hearing arises from the application of existing law to the exceptionally unusual circumstances of this case. These arrangements do not establish new law or practice in the Family Court and they are not intended to set a precedent for other family cases.”
  4. I nonetheless record that the conduct of the journalists in court was entirely professional and their presence did not adversely affect the hearing; on the contrary, their attendance may be said to have reflected the seriousness of the occasion. The media’s ability to observe the court going about its work in this particular case, and to report and comment on the outcome and the process, has in my view been a valid exercise.

 

Where does that leave things (assuming there’s no appeal)?  Well, almost all of the national press are reporting that the Judge found that Poppi died having been molested in a vile way, and that the person who molested her was her father.

The police have made a decision not to prosecute  (that could potentially be reviewed by the CPS  – though given the press reporting, there might be issues of fair trial now, and of course there are the flaws identified in the last judgment about the process. ).

This particular father, because the child’s full and real  name is in the public domain and the Press took such an interest in the case, is probably now known to everyone in his local community and all of them will have a view about the case, yet he has not been convicted in a criminal court or even charged.  His name is actually within the judgment and naming him is not prohibited.

It is hard, of course, to have any sympathy for someone found to have done what this father was found to have done. It is a very tough test of transparency though – it does feel right that the Press were able to dig into this case and report it accurately and properly, but we do end up with a father who the police did not think it was right to charge being named and shamed in the Press as having done something that every person reading it would think was truly monstrous.

 

The Reporting Restriction Order is plain, and will apply to this blog and commentators. Don’t put anything in your comments that would breach it.

A REPORTING RESTRICTION ORDER IS IN FORCE. IT PROHIBITS THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE SURVIVING CHILDREN OR THE MOTHER, OR THEIR HOMES, SCHOOLS OR NURSERIES. IT DOES NOT PREVENT THE NAMING OF POPPI, OR HER FATHER, OR THE REPORTING OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HER DEATH. THE JUDGE HAS GIVEN PERMISSION FOR THE JUDGMENT (AND ANY OF THE FACTS AND MATTERS CONTAINED IN IT) TO BE PUBLISHED ON CONDITION THAT ALL PERSONS, INCLUDING REPRESENTATIVES OF THE MEDIA, MUST ENSURE THAT THE REPORTING RESTRICTION ORDER IS STRICTLY COMPLIED WITH. FAILURE TO DO SO MAY BE A CONTEMPT OF COURT.

 

Judge describes police investigation as “cack-handed”

 

The High Court  (Justice Peter Jackson) has just published a judgment (one that was actually delivered a year ago) which has some significant lessons for practitioners.

Wigan Council v M and Others 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/6.html

 

The opening is as clear and cogent a distillation of the pernicious nature of sexual abuse that I’ve ever seen.

 

  • The perpetrators of sexual abuse are inadequate individuals who control weaker people, often children, for their own gratification. Their behaviour is always an abuse of power and usually a breach of trust. They destroy families and blight childhoods. They create dread in their victims by convincing them that the consequences of speaking out will be worse than the consequences of silence. They create guilt in their victims by persuading them that they have somehow willingly participated in their own abuse. They burden their victims with secrets. They poison normal relationships, trade on feelings of affection, drive a wedge between their victims and others, and make family and friends take sides. They count on the failure or inability of responsible adults, both relatives and professionals, to protect and support the victims. Faced with exposure, they commonly turn on their victims, try to assassinate their characters, and get others to do the same. Most often, their selfishness is so deep-rooted that they ignore other people’s feelings and are only capable of feeling pity for themselves.
  • The effects of sexual abuse on the victim can be lifelong, but because of the way perpetrators operate, most abuse goes undetected. It takes courage to ask for help. Victims are beset by feelings of shame, guilt and fear. They should be able to have confidence that their accounts will be adequately investigated and that they will be appropriately supported. Instead, experience shows that the abuse is often compounded by sceptical or inadequate reactions within the family and beyond. It is not always possible to establish where the truth lies, but where it is possible to investigate, there must be a good reason not to do so. The position of a complainant whose allegation is described as ‘unsubstantiated’ is extraordinarily difficult, but sometimes ‘unsubstantiated’ is no more than a euphemism for ‘uninvestigated’.

 

In this particular case, G was 15 years old and made very serious allegations of sexual abuse against her step-father, Mr C.  Although these were reported to the police and social workers, what actually happened was that G was removed from the family home and Mr C remained there with other children, who we now sadly know he went on to abuse.  Dreadfully, one of the siblings that had been abused, B, had been very outspoken during the investigation into G’s allegations that G was lying.

 

 

  • In this case, a 15-year-old girl (who I will call G) told the police and social services that she had been subject to years of gross sexual and physical abuse by her stepfather, who I will call Mr C. Having done this, she was promptly banished from the family home by her mother and forbidden from having any contact with her four younger siblings. She then found a home with a kindly neighbour who looked after her for a year, largely at her own expense. Although the investigating police officer and the girl’s social worker regarded her allegation as credible, she was treated as a child in need and no child protection procedures were invoked; instead, after five months’ absence, it was Mr C who returned to the family home, while G herself remained outside the family. It might well be asked: what was in it for this young person to confide in the authorities if these were to be the consequences?
  • Two months after Mr C’s return, the second child in the family, a now 15-year-old boy who I will call B, told the police and social services that he too had been the victim of exactly the same kind of sexual and physical abuse (though during the earlier investigation he had denied it). He now corroborated his sister’s account and added that Mr C had also made him engage in extreme sexual activity with her, something she then confirmed. High among the distressing aspects of the matter, B described how the abuse continued after Mr C was allowed back into the home.

 

I won’t go into the details of what happened to the children, because it is too distressing and unpalatable for most readers. The judgment is very clear as to why the children’s allegations were true and why Mr C had been proven to have done these dreadful things, and of the failures of the mother to react properly (though she did accept by the time of the hearing that Mr C had abused the children).

Instead, I’ll focus on some of the issues that the Judge identified as failings in the investigative process.

 

 

After the ABE and medical examination of G  (she having alleged that C had been abusing her physically and sexually in unspeakable ways)

 

 

  • On 4 October, a Child and Family Assessment undertaken by the social worker, Ms W, concluded with the decision that the family would be supported via a Child In Need Plan pending the outcome of the police investigation. As part of the assessment G was spoken to, as were the other children. G said that she felt happy and safe living with Mrs D. B said that there was no truth in G’s allegations. The younger children were also spoken to and at a series of meetings work was done to understand their wishes and feelings and to give them keep-safe work.
  • During this period, B wrote a number of fulsome tributes about and to Mr C: for example “I love you more than the world”. In answer to a question “What is the worst thing about my family?”, he wrote “Nothing. Having [G] near him [Mr C] makes me feel uncomfortable in case she says anything else in relation to rumours/allegations about any of my family.” At the same time, B told the social workers that G was a liar and that she was “sick in the head and needs to see a doctor.”
  • The mother told the social workers that G was a liar. She flatly denied that G had told her that Mr C was sexually abusing her or that she had ever seen him hit any of the children.
  • During the preparation of the local authority’s assessment, a meeting took place on 3 October, attended by the mother and by G and B. G was confronted by her mother and brother calling her a liar, while she insisted that she had told the truth. She was very distressed.
  • On 5 November, the police concluded their investigation and determined that no further action would be taken. They did not refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service. Mr C’s bail conditions were rescinded and he gradually returned to live with the mother and the younger four children in December after the keep-safe work had been completed.
  • On 20 December, the local authority closed the case. It referred G to its lowest level of support: Gateway Services. She was not even considered to be a child in need.

 

It is almost impossible to read this and not conclude that a decision had been taken that G was a liar and had made up the allegations, which awfully we now know not to be the case. She was telling the truth and if she had been believed, her siblings could have escaped further abuse and harm.

 

It was only really when B made serious allegations of the same sort, and importantly that some photographic evidence was found, that things actually moved forward.

Amazingly, it was not until 13 March 2014 — some nine months after G’s initial allegations — that the local authority lawyers were consulted. Even then, it took another eight weeks for proceedings to be started. There were then a large number of case management hearings, largely directed to extracting information from the police. I agree with the conclusion reached by the local authority and the officer in the case that there should have been an early meeting between the local authority lawyers and the police so that the latter’s files could be inspected. As it was, police disclosure was still arriving on the eve of the hearing.

 

 

These conclusions are tragic and also contain some recommendations as to best practice.

 

 

  • (4) Despite clear warning signs, the statutory agencies did not protect these children. Further significant harm thereby came to G by being excluded from the home and to B by remaining there.
  • The following is a non-exclusive list of the practice issues raised by the evidence:

 

(i) The actions of the police in August 2011 and on 1 June 2013 can only be described as cack-handed. By twice being confronted unexpectedly in the presence of the adults, G was effectively dropped in it. Instead of protecting her, these actions made her situation at home even worse and made it even harder for her to speak about what was happening to her.(ii) Against a background of chronic concerns and previous sexual abuse allegations, the social work assessment of the allegations that G made in July 2013 was superficial and inadequate. As a result, the decision to treat these children as children in need, and subsequently to downgrade their status even further, was plainly wrong. There was no risk assessment whatever. There was no analysis of the issues, merely a recital of facts with no conclusions being drawn – see C270. There was no thinking. There was clear evidence in the form of G’s allegations and the family’s striking response that demanded the invocation of child protection procedures. Instead, G’s emotional needs were forgotten while Mr C returned to the home and in the mother’s telling words “everything settled down”. Had a Child Protection Case Conference been called, it would have been an opportunity for an experienced multidisciplinary assessment of this abnormal situation. Proper consideration could have been given to the real needs of this sibling group. G’s anomalous situation in living without contact with her family in an unregulated private fostering arrangement could have been improved. B could have been protected.

(iii) It is disturbing to consider G’s situation at meetings such as the one that took place on 3 October 2013, where she was made to face the hostility of her family. It is no wonder that she was so distressed.

(iv) It is entirely unsatisfactory that no social worker viewed any of the ABE interviews until October 2014. It is a serious imposition on children to record them speaking about such sensitive matters. The least that they can expect is that their social worker will watch and listen to what they have had to say. If crucial evidence of this kind is not absorbed, it is not surprising if misjudgments follow.

(v) The social workers should certainly have asked for legal advice in 2013, well before the case was closed.

(vi) Although Ms H became the children’s social worker back in October 2013, I am in no way critical of the way that she has carried out her responsibilities. This demanding case was the first to be allocated to her as a newly qualified social worker. She was entitled to rely on her manager for supervision and guidance. The local authority has had the opportunity to present evidence showing what that amounted to, but it has not done so. Having heard Ms H give evidence, the first time that she has done so in any case, I was impressed by her grasp of the issues and her willingness to learn from experience. She inherited a case that had already taken the wrong path and she is not personally or professionally responsible for the consequences.

 

 

 

 

 

Poppi Worthington – the long-awaited judgment

Poppi was a little girl, aged 13 months, who died in December 2012.

 

Within care proceedings relating to Poppi’s siblings, a finding of fact hearing took place as to what caused her death and whether it meant any risk for those siblings. That took place in March 2014 and has not been published until this week. An inquest also took place and the Coroner described her death as “unusual and strange”.  Part of the reporting of the inquest discussed the existence of the finding of fact hearing and in particular that the Guardian in the case had prepared a schedule of professional failings.

 

Of course the Press and public would be very interested in those failings, and if there are lessons to be learned, one would want to learn from them.

The police decided in March 2015 not to charge the father with any criminal offences as a result of Poppi’s death (it taking 2 1/2 years to get that decision) and as a result, the father sought to overturn the finding of fact hearing.

The Judge therefore decided that whilst allowing a re-hearing of the finding of fact hearing, it would be potentially prejudicial to publish the results of the March 2014 hearing and have the Press comment on it. A decision was made that part of it would be published in the Winter of 2015.

 

(All of that is discussed here)

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/04/27/poppi-worthington/

 

And the (heavily redacted) fact finding judgment is now published

 

Cumbria County Council v M and F 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4886.html

 

The redactions really remove any scope for discussion of what happened to Poppi and why the father came under suspicion and what conclusions were made in March.  But it does outline the professional failing identified by the Guardian and endorsed by the Court.

 

What there ISN’T, at least within the published judgment, is any evidence or claim that social workers had failed to protect Poppi before her death or should have seen it coming. The criticisms are instead about the failings of various agencies to properly investigate it and whether the siblings had not been properly protected. Still very important, but at this stage, there’s nothing within the judgment that suggests that Poppi is another Baby P or Daniel Pelka (where professionals ought to have foreseen the risk to her and failed to act to keep her safe).   Until P’s death, none of the other children was subject to statutory intervention by the local authority and the mother cared for them all satisfactorily. There were no concerns reported by health, education or social agencies. 

 

What were the professional failings afterwards though?

 

  • 85. The observations below are made in the context of these good practice protocols and regulations, which appear to have had no effect in this case:

    The national multi-agency protocol: Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI), known as ‘the Kennedy Protocol’. This provides a framework for the collaborative investigation of all unexpected deaths in infants and children up to the age of 2 years. The emphasis is on finding the cause of an infant’s death, incorporating both medical and forensic investigation. Responsibility for oversight of the operation of the protocol rests with the Local Safeguarding Children Board.

    • Cumbria LSCB’s own complementary protocol at the time of P’s death: Sudden and Unexpected Deaths in Children and Young Persons. This guidance, since updated, applied to the sudden and unexpected death of a child under the age of 18 years.
  • The Local Safeguarding Children Boards Regulations 2006, which set out the criteria for holding serious case reviews.
  • 86.Cumbria Constabulary
  • It can come as no surprise that, well over a year since the death of this child, no decision has been taken about a criminal prosecution. As a result of the police view that Dr Armour may have jumped to conclusions, a decision was then taken by senior officers not to investigate until her report was received. Due to the extreme delay in that process, there was no real investigation into P’s death for nine months. Such minimal investigation as thereafter took place was inevitably affected by the delay and by actions not taken at an earlier stage. Instances may include:
    • Items at hospital not preserved for forensic analysis: ambulance sheet, paramedic’s gloves, hospital stretcher sheet.
    • Items at home not preserved for forensic analysis: P’s pillow, her clothing (pyjama bottoms if any), the parents’ sheet, any possibly penetrative item, the father’s computer.
    • Scene not secured: loss of P’s last nappy despite the presence of police officers.
    • Decision by DI S and DCI F not to visit the home, despite it being nearby. According to the national protocol, a senior officer should immediately attend the home to take charge of the investigation and ensure that evidence is intelligently preserved.
    • No reconstruction with the parents at home, so that their accounts could be understood and investigations focused.
    • No forensic medical examination at the time of death. Swabs were not taken until post-mortem. Under the Cumbria protocol, police are entitled to take anal swabs automatically. Delay in taking swabs may prejudice the forensic analysis.
    • No engagement of a paediatrician with specialist knowledge of investigating sexual abuse, in order for there to be a physical examination of the child, a viewing of the home and a report for the pathologist.
    • Dr Armour’s initial views were not clearly passed on to the local authority for safeguarding purposes.
    • The parents were not interviewed formally until August 2013.
    • No analysis of either parent’s mobile telephone or Facebook accounts.
  • Samples were not sent for analysis until after receipt of Dr Armour’s report. For example, the swabs from the father’s penis, taken on 12 December 2012, were not sent for analysis until 2 August 2013.
  • No statements taken from any witnesses (paramedics, nurses, doctors, family members) until September 2013, at which point three statements were taken (from the ambulance crew and from Dr B).
  1. Many of these matters were canvassed during the evidence of DI S, who led the enquiry at the outset, and she was driven with evident reluctance to accept a number of failings in the inquiry. Evidence was not taken from DCI F, the senior officer with overall responsibility for the investigation. He may therefore have further information to provide.Cumbria County Council
  2. Given the history, it can likewise come as no surprise that, well over a year after P’s death, the family still awaits a decision about the future of the other children.
    1. At the outset of the proceedings, the local authority was directed to file a statement explaining its actions. This led to a full account from the Assistant Director of Children’s Services. In it, she accepts that
    • Legal advice should have been taken at the outset, and certainly before the family returned home. In fact, the first time that legal advice was taken in this troubling and extremely serious case was on 30 August 2013. Even this was reactive (to the parents’ arrest) and even then there was no decision to issue proceedings for another eight weeks.
  • Proceedings should have been initiated as soon as it became clear that P had suffered injury prior to her death. Had that happened, the court would have been able to get a grip on the matter and ensure that proper investigations were carried out much nearer to the time of P’s death. The local authority shares responsibility with the police for the fact that this did not happen.
  • Even when legal advice was given on 23 September that care proceedings should be issued, a decision of the Legal and Placement Panel two days later rejected this advice. Another month passed before proceedings were issued in reaction to the mother’s rejection of supervision.
  1. I would add that the children should have immediately been medically examined and that in S’s case, a skeletal survey should have been performed. Furthermore, the local authority’s expectation that the mother should supervise the father in relation to this number of children was in my view wholly unrealistic, not to say unfair to her.
  2. In the result, the children were returned home without any effective child protection measures being taken. Fortunately there is no evidence of them suffering harm in the ten month period before they were removed from the parents’ care. The Coronial investigation
  3. It is not clear, and I have not asked, how HM Coroner proceeded in this matter. Concern has rightly been raised about the gross delay in production of the pathology reports. Cumbria’s protocol expects that within 48 hours of the post-mortem, the pathologist will provide preliminary findings to the Coroner. In this case, Dr Armour said that she wanted to have every piece of information before she committed herself. In particular, she was awaiting the results of routine histology on the leg bones. She did not accept the suggestion that the delay was unacceptable. Bearing in mind the interests of the surviving children, that was not a practical approach, though she was not to know that the consequence of her silence was that no other investigation was taking place.
  4. I have no information about the decision of the coroner to release for burial the body of a child who died in unexplained and possibly suspicious circumstances when a pathology report had not been received, a decision precluding the possibility of a second post-mortem. The NHS Trust
  5. In the light of the expert evidence, and having heard from the paramedics, doctors and nurses who were present on 12 December, it is apparent that they did everything they possibly could to resuscitate P. It is sadly likely that by the time she came into their hands she had already died.
  6. Unfortunately, Dr B, the locum paediatrician, had only been employed at the hospital for less than three weeks. He was not aware of either the national or local protocols for infant deaths. He was therefore unable to lead the forensic medical investigation in an appropriate manner.
  7. Neither Dr B nor, more pertinently, Dr W, completed the workbook provided as part of the Cumbria protocol. This would have ensured a methodical examination at the time of death and the timely taking of swabs.The Local Safeguarding Children Board
  8. Regulation 5 of the Local Safeguarding Children Boards Regulations 2006 sets out the functions of LSCBs. This includes the requirement to undertake reviews of serious cases in specified circumstances. Regulation 5 provides that a review must be held where abuse or neglect of a child is known or suspected and the child has died. This is mandatory: see page 66 of the statutory guidance in “Working together to safeguard children” (March 2013). Moreover, a review may be held even when the mandatory requirement does not apply.
  9. A sub-group of the Cumbria Local Safeguarding Children Board met on 4 February 2014. The meeting took place at police headquarters and was attended by six persons. The minutes show that DCI F, the principal investigating officer, played a prominent part, although he invited another member to lead the discussion. The conclusion was that the criteria for a serious case review were not met, although the matter would be reviewed in six months following the outcome of the family proceedings and any criminal proceedings.
  10. It will certainly be appropriate for the conclusion of the subgroup of the LSCB to be independently reviewed as it would appear to conflict with the regulations. Collective responsibility
  11. While I reach no conclusions, consideration by others of the above matters may lead to the view that P’s death did not receive the professional response to which she and her family were entitled.

 

 

The re-hearing has either just finished or is currently before the Court. With that in mind, no speculation please about what might have happened to Poppi or who may have been responsible if anyone.  The Court will reach and publish those conclusions and the Court is in possession of all of the facts, whereas we only have a sliver of them.

Winding your way down on Baker Street

The Court of Protection, in Aidiniantz v Riley 2015 were dealing with a high level of conflict between family members relating to the affairs of an 88 year old woman who lacked capacity to manage her own finances and other matters as to where she should live.

 

The family had been the creators of the Sherlock Holmes museum in Baker Street, which one imagines does quite well and probably has been doing even better in recent years as both Hollywood, US television and the BBC have each had their very own popular version of the character.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/65.html

 

At the hearing, the Judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, found that the press were in attendance. It emerged that the press had been sent a press release about the case – that press release was not a neutral one approved by the Court but a partial, tendentious and sensationalised one.

 

  1. A preliminary point arises about the extent to which the proceedings can be reported. They were heard in private, in accordance with the Rules, at a hearing at which members of the press were in attendance. Two questions now arise: should the press be allowed to report the hearing, and should there be a public judgment naming the parties? Submissions have been made by the parties and by David Barrett and Mario Ledwith, journalists representing the Telegraph Media Group and Associated Newspapers respectively.
  2. It is relevant that on 25 September a media alert was issued by a PR company, notifying members of the media that this hearing would be taking place. The alert is in highly partisan terms, and includes lengthy quotations attributed to Stephen. It was this that brought the journalists to court.
  3. The respondents, having initially denied that they were responsible for the arrival of the press, were then faced with the press alert. They say that it was issued on the instructions of Mr Siddiqi and that the quotes from Stephen are not genuine but were invented by Mr Siddiqi to convey Stephen’s views. They say that they did not know what Mr Siddiqi had done until the hearing was under way.
  4. I have not heard evidence about this aspect of the matter and it is unnecessary to reach a conclusion about it. Mr Siddiqi is described by the respondents as “a long-time friend/associate of the family who has closely followed and advised the family on their affairs.” I am, to say the least, sceptical that he was acting without the knowledge and approval of the respondents, but it makes no difference. Even if Mr Siddiqi did not tell them what he was doing, he knows them well enough to know that he was doing what they wanted. Indeed, Linda made all the points that appear in the media alert when giving evidence.
  5. The relevance of this is that it alerts the court to the risk that the proceedings will be used as a platform to publicise unproven allegations.

 

 

The Press were very candid that their interest in the story was not in the arrangements to be made about Grace Aidiniantz, but in the quarrel that was going on between the family – it was the fight that they were interested in.

 

The Judge had to balance those competing interests – privacy and freedom of the press, our old friends article 8 and article 10 who have been arm-wrestling one another ever since the Human Rights Act was passed.

 

 

In the film "Over the Top", the role of Article 10 is played by Mr Stallone

In the film “Over the Top”, the role of Article 10 is played by Mr Stallone

 

[Hey, if I HAD a google image of Johnny Lee Miller arm-wrestling Benedict Cumberbatch whilst both dressed as Sherlock Holmes, I would have gone with that. I have to work with what I have. Oh, wait…]

 

 

This is them just BEFORE the match. Referee out of picture saying "We want a good clean fight"

This is them just BEFORE the match. Referee out of picture saying “We want a good clean fight”

 

  1. As to the issue of publication of this judgment and the naming of the parties, Mr Tyler QC submits that:

    (1) Real weight should be given to the general rule that the hearing should be in private: Independent News Media Ltd. v A [2009] EWHC 2858.

    (2) There is scant genuine public interest in publication of the current proceedings. The press is avowedly not interested in the issues about Mrs Aidiniantz’s care, but in the family dispute.

    (3) Mrs Aidiniantz’s privacy and dignity should be protected, even though she is incapacitated.

    (4) John has brought these proceedings in good faith, and should not thereby be exposed to vilification by the respondents. His wife and children would also be affected by publicity, as might employees of the family business.

    (5) Litigants generally should not be deterred from approaching the Court of Protection by the fear of consequent publicity.

    (6) Public identification of the parties to this “private family dispute” is unlikely to bring reconciliation closer and is likely to fuel conflict.

  2. The position taken by the journalists is that: (1) This is the latest in a long line of public disagreements between the parties that have been extensively reported in the press, evidenced by news reports from 2013 onwards.

    (2) The disagreement about Mrs Aidiniantz’s health is not in itself of public interest but is the current forum for the ongoing family dispute, which is of public interest, particularly given the family’s business interests.

    (3) Anonymisation of the judgment would make it impossible for the press to report this latest chapter in the very public disagreements between the parties.

    (4) Blanket reporting restrictions are not required to protect Mrs Aidiniantz’s privacy and dignity. There is no intention to report details of her care arrangements or medical condition, beyond saying that she is aged and infirm.

  3. There is in my view good reason for the court to publish its judgment in this case in a form that names the individuals involved:(1) Happily, very few families descend to the level of mutual acrimony that exists in this family. It is in the public interest for the public, if it is interested, to see the consequences. It is in the public interest to know how the court process operates in a recognizable case. It is in the public interest to know what it all costs: in the past year this family has spent £270,000 on this branch of its litigation alone. It is not in the public interest to suppress all that information: on the contrary, knowledge of how one family has behaved may deter another family from behaving likewise.

    (2) In this case, publication of an anonymised judgment would be futile. So much information is already in the public domain that any anonymised judgment would inevitably be linked to the family. The press would be placed in an impossible situation in knowing what it could and could not report.

    (3) It is undesirable that there should be any greater difference of approach than is necessary between two courts dealing with different but related aspects of the same dispute. As recently as 4 June 2015, an extensive public judgment in relation to financial issues was given in the Chancery Division.

    (4) This is not just “a private family dispute”. These parties have repeatedly chosen to air their differences in the courts. There is little likelihood of reconciliation. A public judgment will not make matters any worse for Mrs Aidiniantz than they already are. The parties might even reflect on their future conduct if they know that it may come to public attention.

    (5) Mrs Aidiniantz’s right to privacy and dignity is undoubtedly an important consideration. Even though she herself will not be aware of publicity, her reputation is affected by it being known that she is at the heart of the family discord. However, in the overall circumstances, I do not consider that the publication of this judgment amounts to a significant further intrusion into her privacy. It contains little personal information and makes no criticism of Mrs Aidiniantz: on the contrary, any fair-minded reader would be bound to feel sympathy for an elderly parent in her situation.

  4. The contents of this judgment can therefore be published, but there will be no other reporting of the hearing.

 

 

The Judge sets out all of the background, for those who are interested. He then gives his decision, saying that unusually this is a case where in determining what is in Grace’s interests he can give no weight to the views of the family

 

  1. Discussion
  2. It is not disputed that Mrs Aidiniantz lacks capacity to make decisions about the matters in issue within the meaning of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and I so find. I also consider that as a result of her circumstances she is a vulnerable person in need of the protection of the court.
    1. It therefore falls to the court to make decisions in Mrs Aidiniantz’s best interests, applying the provisions of s.4 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. In doing so, it must consider all the relevant circumstances and, in particular, take the following steps:
    • Consider whether it is likely that Mrs Aidiniantz will at some time have capacity in relation to the matter in question.
    • So far as reasonably practicable, permit and encourage her to participate as fully as possible in the decisions affecting her.
    • Consider Mrs Aidiniantz’s past and present wishes and feelings, the beliefs and values that would be likely to influence her if she had capacity, and the other factors that she would be likely to consider if she were able to do so.
  • Take into account the views of anyone engaged in caring for Mrs Aidiniantz or interested in her welfare as to what would be in her best interests.
    1. As to the first three of these matters:
    • While it is possible that if Mrs Aidiniantz’s physical health improves she may recover some degree of decision-making capacity, this is not foreseeable at the present time.
    • Mrs Aidiniantz has participated as fully as possible in the decision-making process by means of the involvement of Mr Gillman-Smith, Ms G and Ms Gieve.
  • Mrs Aidiniantz is someone with strong family values, whose already much-reduced ability to assert herself has long been overborne by the ferocity of the family conflict. She would want to be at home if it were possible. She would want to have normal, easy relations with all her children if it were possible.
  1. The obligation to take into account the views of those caring for Mrs Aidiniantz or interested in her welfare takes me to the heart of the difficulty in this case. I am aware of the views of her four adult children and have set them out above.
  2. Having done that, I have concluded, uniquely, that I should attach no weight at all to their views about their mother’s welfare. These children have, in my view, forfeited the right to have their views taken seriously on the question of what is in their mother’s best interests. They have no insight into her obvious longing for peace. The evidence of John and Linda showed only bitterness and contempt for each other. Neither side sees how important the other is to their mother. None of them reflects on their own behaviour. Instead, every action is dictated by the wish to get the better of the other. I have referred to John’s aggressive efforts to get Stephen and Ruth out of 1 Parkgate Road and his willingness to put his mother in a home he knows nothing about. I have referred to the respondents’ blatant attempts to obstruct John’s contact. As soon as Mrs Aidiniantz’s voice was heard by outsiders, however faintly, they physically removed her; in 2014 it was to Linda’s home, and a year later to the day it was to Florida. That trip was a blatant defiance of the court’s intentions and it is a measure of their lack of insight that the respondents imagine that it would be seen in any other way.
  3. Nor can I attach weight to the views of Ms AH. Normally the views of a professional carer in the midst of a family dispute will be of value, but she has become too emotionally involved and partisan to see where Mrs Aidiniantz’s best interests lie.
  4. I have some sympathy for Mrs Aidiniantz’s sister Ruth, but she is in the same camp as Linda, Stephen and Jennifer and has not been able to moderate their behaviour.Decision
  5. Turning to the issues and taking account of all the circumstances, I conclude that it would not be in Mrs Aidiniantz’s interests to return to 1 Parkgate Road. In the first place, I accept the evidence of Ms G that she needs the care package that is on offer at the nursing home. Two medically qualified staff are needed at all times. Ms AH and those she enlists to help her are unqualified and unsuited to demonstrating the necessary professional standards. Secondly, and more decisively, it is impossible to approve an arrangement that returns Mrs Aidiniantz to her home when her children have turned it into a warzone. If John took over 1 Parkgate Road, things would be no better. Mrs Aidiniantz needs a safe haven from her children’s activities, and that is what she has found in the nursing home. She would not have this respite in a setting that was controlled by either camp.
  6. The family collectively has the means to pay for Mrs Aidiniantz’s care in the nursing home. When promoting their preferred options, both John and Linda said that they would pay for them if necessary but would expect a contribution from the other. Now that the identity of the placement has been resolved, the family should act in accordance with that principle.
  7. As to contact, I will adopt the plan supported by the nursing home and the Official Solicitor for separate daily visiting by both sides of the family. Outings that are acceptable to the home on medical grounds can take place, but I suggest that visits to 1 Parkgate Road are approached with caution.
  8. Each side of the family can bring whoever they want with them during their contact times, provided the home is content with this. There is no more reason to prevent John from bringing his family than to prevent Jennifer from bringing hers. If she is invited by the respondents, Ms AH can visit from time to time, but she will not be resuming her role as a carer. If anyone thinks it is a good idea for Mr Siddiqi to visit, they can share their time with him.
  9. I note that the Official Solicitor proposes that visiting should be restricted to family members and that contact with others can take place on trips outside the home. He expresses concern about the role played by Ms AH and Mr Siddiqi. There is in fact no sign of any harm having come from their few visits to date and, given the way in which the family members themselves behave, I cannot share the view that the exclusion of other partisans would allow Mrs Aidiniantz to feel “free of influence”. The management of the home should be left to manage these issues.
  10. While Mrs Aidiniantz resides at the care home, there is no need for a welfare deputy. The management of the home will protect her day-to-day interests.
  11. Finally, I shall not appoint a property or affairs deputy, nor require the Official Solicitor to carry out further financial inquiries into Mrs Aidiniantz’s affairs. I agree with the Official Solicitor that any financial abuse of the elderly is a serious matter, but that here a third party investigation would be complicated, expensive and unlikely to be of benefit to Mrs Aidiniantz, whose needs are currently being met. I will make the appropriate orders for the reception of her modest pensions. Other disputes about money, property and shares can be pursued by her children elsewhere if that is their choice.Costs
  12. The parties can make submissions on costs, and I will consider them on their merits. I will nonetheless indicate my current thinking in an attempt to foreshorten matters and save further expense.
  13. The parties’ costs are, broadly: John £104,000

    Respondents £110,000

    Official Solicitor £57,000

    The Official Solicitor has been given security from the parties equally for the full amount of his costs. There is no reason why the public should bear any of those and I expect to order that the Official Solicitor’s costs will be met equally by the parties.

  14. As to costs as between the parties, the normal rule is that there should be no order. Each side rightly cautions the court against assuming that because there are so many allegations and counter-allegations it is a case of “six of one and half a dozen of the other”. I make no such assumption but nevertheless reach the conclusion that there is little to choose between these parties in regard to their litigation conduct and their conduct towards their mother. While the respondents’ conduct during these proceedings has been even worse than the applicant’s, it would be unrealistic to separate these matters from the overall history. Any departure from the ‘no order’ principle would probably be in the form of an order that each side should pay the other side’s costs as a mark of the court’s indignation.

 

 

 

 

"Benedict! HEY Benedict, you bum! What happened to the good clean fight I asked for? That ain't ARM wrestling"

“Benedict! HEY Benedict, you bum! What happened to the good clean fight I asked for? That ain’t ARM wrestling”