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Making Special Guardianship Order before child has lived with prospective carers

This Court of Appeal decision raises a number of interesting and important issues.

(It doesn’t have anything amusing in it or any 80s references, but you can’t have it all.  If you want, you can momentarily imagine that this is some litigation involving Barry Chuckle and Jimmy Krankie having a dispute as to who gets custody of a tiny hedgehog in a hat and that the key pieces of evidence involve (i) Jean Claude Van Damme doing the splits in the witness box (ii) how many ferrets Fred Dineage can pop down his trousers and (iii) the enduring mystery of exactly how much smack Zammo Maguire hoped to obtain by stealing and pawning Roland Browning’s alarm clock, thus making Roland late for an exam.  It  has none of this.  I remain on the lookout for such a case)

 

P-S (Children) [2018] EWCA Civ 1407 (18 June 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/1407.html

 

Essentially, the Court at first instance, was invited by the LA and the Guardian to make Special Guardianship Orders to grandparents for two children – S aged 2 and P aged 5. The parents were seeking the return of the children to their care – it had been a FDAC (Family Drug and Alcohol Court) case and the parents had withdrawn from that process – the judgment does not deal much with the parents case, as it was not the subject of the appeal.

 

[The parents had withdrawn from the Court process, thus at final hearing it was only the Local Authority and the Guardian playing an active part, both of whom supported the making of SGOs]

 

The Court declined to make Special Guardianship Orders, in part relying on a letter circulated by Keehan J to Judges on the Midlands Circuit to the effect that

“a special guardianship order should not be made, absent compelling and cogent reasons, until the child has lived for an appreciable period with the prospective special guardians.”

 

The Court instead made a full Care Order – in effect deciding that the Local Authority, in consultation with the grandparents, should decide the point at which the case should come back before the Court with an application for a Special Guardianship Order. That also, in effect, envisaged the Care Order being a short-term order, rather than the permanent or long-term order that it is commonly viewed as.

 

The Court of Appeal judgment deals with a number of issues :-

 

  1. The need for solid evidence-based research about whether SGOs being made before a trial placement are a beneficial or adverse approach
  2. The status of the guidance given by Keehan J – and the representations made to the effect that it was being followed by the Courts in the Midlands circuit as though it were binding upon them
  3. What role prospective Special Guardians should play in the Court process
  4. What approach the Court should take, where potential suitable carers come forward late in the process.

 

All of this is useful.

 

 

 

  1. There are three strands to the errors that all represented parties before this court identify in the family court’s decision: a) the lack of any adequate reasoning for making care orders rather than interim care orders or special guardianship orders, b) the reliance of the judge on informal guidance that was neither approved guidance nor peer reviewed research capable of being scrutinised or challenged by the parties and c) procedural unfairness. I shall take each in turn. The court is mindful of the fact that each of the represented parties before it (except S’s father) have taken the same position in respect of each issue and accordingly the court has tested with the interveners each of the propositions in respect of which they would otherwise have reached a consensus.

 

 

 

  1. The propositions about which there is a large measure of agreement are as follows:

 

 

 

 

  1. The judge was wrong to make care orders: no party who was present supported the making of the same and on the merits and in particular having regard to the un-contradicted special guardianship assessments, the care orders were disproportionate;

 

  1. b. The judge’s characterisation of the care orders that were made as ‘short term care orders’ was wrong in principle given that there is no statutory mechanism for the making of time limited care orders or orders that will be discharged on the happening of an event, including the expiration of time;

 

  1. The judge was wrong to rely upon the extra-judicial guidance of Keehan J to the effect that children should live with proposed special guardians for a period of time before a court entertains an application for an SGO;

 

  1. The judge was wrong not to make provision for effective access to justice for the grandparents by their joinder, the disclosure of documents to them, time for advice to be taken by them, the facility for them to take a proper part in the proceedings, an adjournment or otherwise.

 

  1. It is helpful to trace the judge’s reasoning by setting out how he came to his conclusion in his judgment. The following extracts are sufficient:

 

 

 

 

 

“1….It is not a case in which I must consider rival realistic options in terms of the children’s future placements. Instead, the main question for me to resolve is the appropriate legal order which should govern a placement with the children’s respective paternal grandparents……

 

 

7.…the local authority and the Guardian contend that the children’s placements should take place under special guardianship orders………During the trial it has largely been left to me to raise concerns as to whether special guardianship orders in favour of the two sets of grandparents would be premature…….

 

 

  1. In this case the children might be placed with the paternal grandparents under either a care order, a special guardianship order, or a child arrangements order. These are very different orders. A care order creates parental responsibility in the local authority which, under section 33(4) of the Act may be exercised by the local authority if they are “satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare”…….

 

 

  1. Section 14A provides for those who may make an application for a special guardianship order…….the grandparents come within the definition of those who may apply for a special guardianship order.

 

 

  1. There is also a power for a court to make a special guardianship order of the court’s own motion. That power is found at section 14A(6)(b).

 

 

  1. ……It suffices to say that during my time as designated family judge here at the Central Family Court I must have made upwards of 30 special guardianship orders. I have, however, yet to encounter an application for such an order. On every occasion I have been invited by the local authority, whether opposed by another party or unopposed, to make the order of my own motion. That is not just the default position, but it appears to be the universal practice amongst authorities who use this court centre. This is the largest family court centre in England…….My purely personal impression is that the practice has changed in recent times.

 

 

  1. Whilst I do not suggest that these children should be the subject of care orders for their minority, the real balance in the case is in my judgment between special guardianship orders now and care orders (although not interim orders). The care plan under such care orders would be that if all goes well, then applications for special guardianship orders should follow in due course. By the expression ‘in due course’ I mean ‘when the new placements are regarded as settled and working well for the children’. In this case that might perhaps be in about a year from now…….

 

 

  1. ……both sets of grandparents have been assessed in accordance with the Statute and the accompanying Regulations. The assessments are positive……

 

 

  1. My first concern is, however, that neither child is currently living with the proposed special guardians. During the course of argument, I mentioned that, last year, a letter had been written to interested parties by Keehan J, the Family Division Liaison Judge for the Midlands Circuit. It discussed the use of special guardianship orders. The view promulgated by Keehan J, as a result of a meeting with the chairs of the Circuit’s Local Family Justice Boards, was that “a special guardianship order should not be made, absent compelling and cogent reasons, until the child has lived for an appreciable period with the prospective special guardians.” Such guidance is not, of course, binding upon me but in passing I observe, with some deference, that it appears to amount to sound common sense……

 

 

  1. All this leads me to believe that someone has to be in charge of a process which oversees not just the move of the children to a new home, and their settling in, but also the implementation and progression of a closely controlled contact regime in circumstances where it is unclear what the parents’ reaction will be to the children’s move and equally unclear as to how they will handle time with the children in the very different circumstances which would apply……

 

 

  1. 30. The next matter which concerns me is the position of the grandparents – within these proceedings as well as towards the children. As I listened to the case being developed, I did so in the complete absence of the grandparents – of the proposed special guardians. They were not parties. They were not represented. They were not present. They were not intended to be witnesses. Had an application been made – properly sponsored by the local authority which after all is the prime mover in this change to the children’s lives – then the grandparents would have been parties, represented, present and witnesses……

 

 

31 ….I have had the conduct of this case since the IRH on 3 February 2017. I could then have (i) made the grandparents parties (although that would not necessarily have secured representation for them); (ii) asked them to file a statement; (iii) invited them to give evidence; (iv) encouraged a special guardianship application at that stage. I did not take any of these steps, nor was I invited to do so……In truth, however, with the exception of my concerns surrounding their lack of participation in the process, the grounds on which I propose to reject the local authority case for special guardianship orders would have remained whatever step had been taken at the IRH. I know a great deal about the grandparents. I am not making special guardianship orders, but it is not because I lack information about the proposed special guardians.

 

 

  1. I invited the grandparents into court before they spoke to the professionals (all of whom were of course advocating special guardianship) so that at least they could hear the guardian, the representatives and myself debating the issues as the guardian gave evidence. They spoke with professionals afterwards. The result of this exercise was that they confirmed their wish to be special guardians immediately and for the children not to be subject to care orders…….I remain concerned, however, as to the process here. I am not convinced that the grandparents have been sufficiently involved. It is stating the obvious to observe that the effect of making an application to a court is to involve the applicants closely in the process.

 

 

  1. A short-term care order meets many of the concerns expressed in the previous paragraphs…..It is common ground that the transfer of the children to the grandparents, which is happening as I write this judgment, will not be delayed for want of special guardianship orders, or by any further assessment process.

 

 

  1. ……There would remain untested placements.

 

 

  1. ……the Guardian…….emphasised that “there was enough of a relationship that it is not an impediment to a special guardianship order…….”

 

 

The Court of Appeal considered this carefully

 

 

 

16.It is evident that the judge recognised that the only realistic placement options that he had were with the paternal grandparents. His concern was the viability of those placements: not because they were unassessed but because they were untested in the specific context of the possible interference with them by the children’s mother and the father of S. It was in that context that on the merits the judge wanted to be assured that the control and parental responsibility which vests in special guardians would be sufficient to manage the relationship with the parents. The alternative was control and parental responsibility being vested in the local authority through care orders. The problem to be solved was whether the relationships and capabilities of the grandparents were strong enough or needed to be supported and tested before SGOs were made.

 

 

 

  1. The solution to the problem was in the choice of order: SGO, care order or interim care order and an adjournment. The route to the solution lay in an evaluation of the evidence including oral evidence from professional witnesses, the parents and the proposed carers i.e. the paternal grandparents. It is clear from the judgment and from a transcript of the judge’s discussions with the advocates during the hearing that the judge had the problem and the solutions in mind. What was missing was a route to the preferred solution. Having identified the problem and the range of solutions the judge did not go on to evaluate that evidence. That necessarily meant that the propositions advanced in the discussion and the conclusions reached in the judgment take the form of assumptions that were not reasoned and which are now challenged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. As I remarked at [16] and [17] it was the absence of any testing of the assumptions raised in discussion which created the problem with which this court now has to grapple. The judge was concerned about the relationship between the grandparents and each of the children in the context of continuing discord with the mother and the father of S. It is also right to note that it was not until the commencement of the appeal before this court that the special guardianship support plans were agreed between the local authority and the grandparents. The judge identified what were potentially adverse factors to balance against the positive factors in the special guardianship assessments which might lead to the conclusion that a trial placement of the children was required before vesting parental responsibility and control in the grandparents. That deserved more than a cursory analysis not least because the local authority and the children’s guardian had come to a clear and agreed contrary opinion on the basis of rigorous assessment material that apparently demonstrated that the positives outweighed the negatives.

 

 

 

  1. In order to test the assumptions the judge had described in his discussion with the advocates, he could have heard evidence about them and from that drawn conclusions. The judge records in his judgment that he heard some oral evidence but it is plain from his judgment that such evidence as there was either did not touch on the issues that he was raising or was unhelpful. That may be unsurprising given that the local authority and the children’s guardian disagreed with the judge and were agreed among themselves and also that no advocate was pursuing the issues the judge wanted to pursue. In that circumstance, as inquisitorial tribunals know, there must be an enhanced caution in a judge not to ‘simply’ rely on his or her own pre-conceptions or opinions and to ensure that as provisional conclusions are formed in judgment they are adequately tested so that they are soundly based on evidential conclusions.

 

 

 

  1. It would also have been legitimate, if properly reasoned, for the judge to conclude that he needed more evidence with the consequence that the time for the proceedings might need to have been extended. In order to come to either conclusion the judge needed to identify the risk that he sought to protect the children against and reason the options that were open to him on the evidence. He ought to have tested his own assumptions and the opinions of the professional witnesses in oral evidence and by hearing evidence from the paternal grandparents. He would have been assisted by evidence from the mother and the father of S but, as has sadly been the case more than once in these proceedings, they had absented themselves and the judge was left with a history from which only inferences could be drawn. Had the judge reasoned his concerns on the evidence he would have had a proper basis for conducting an evaluation of the benefits and detriments of each order that was available to him.

 

 

 

  1. In that context, it is not surprising that the judge’s evaluation of the merits of each option and the available orders was incomplete. The judge agreed with the parties that a child arrangements order was not in the interests of either child and he was right to do so on the merits. No-one pursues that option before this court. That left SGOs, full care orders and interim care orders with an adjournment.

 

 

 

  1. I agree with the paternal grandparents of S that if and in so far as the judge needed more time to ensure that the relationship of the grandparents with the child and the parents was such that it was in the interests of each child to make an SGO, that could, if reasoned, have been an appropriate basis upon which to adjourn the proceedings

 

 

 

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Local Authority unlawfully caring for child for four years (section 20 abuse)

 

Herefordshire Council v AB 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/10.html

 

This is the case referred to in my earlier blog posts, and in this news story in the Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/16/council-kept-boy-9-in-care-for-whole-of-his-life-judge-reveals?CMP=share_btn_link

 

The Guardian piece is not overselling it.

 

  This judgment concerns two unconnected young people who have been accommodated pursuant to the provisions of The Children Act 1989, section 20 (the 1989 Act) for a very considerable period of time.  Their treatment by Herefordshire Council (‘the local authority’) represents two of the most egregious abuses of section 20 accommodation it has yet been my misfortune to encounter as a judge.

May as well open with the key bit

 

In the case of one of the 42 children accommodated by the local authority referred to above, the mother withdrew her consent for her child to be accommodated in 2013.  The local authority not only did not return the child to her mother’s care, it effectively did nothing in terms of care planning for the child.  Thus, for four years the local authority unlawfully had care of this child. 

 

That wasn’t the only example.

 

On 28 March 2010 CD’s mother gave formal written notice to the council of the withdrawal of her consent to CD being accommodated.  In response, the local authority (1) did not return CD to her care, but (2) advised her to seek legal advice if she wished CD to be returned to her care.  The director has acknowledged that this was a misuse of the local authority’s powers and it should have made immediate arrangements to return CD to his mother’s care.  It is, however, far worse than being a misuse of powers.  The local authority acted unlawfully and unlawfully retained care of CD until at least February 2013 when it appears from the chronology that the mother was engaging with the local authority and agreeing to CD remaining in care. 

 

The Judge, Keehan J, made orders that the Director of Children’s Services file statements explaining what had gone wrong with these two children and to set out all of the children that were in section 20 accommodation with details.

 

  1. I required the Director of Children’s Services to file and serve (i) a statement explaining the events and lack of planning in respect of CD and GH, and (ii) a statement detailing the circumstances of each and every child accommodated by this local authority pursuant to the provisions of section 20.
  2. The latter document made very grim reading.  Excepting CD, GH and three other children who are now the subject of public law proceedings, the local authority is accommodating 42 children.  Of these 42 children, the local authority have now recognised that 14 have wrongly and abusively been the subject of section 20 accommodation for a wholly inappropriate lengthy period of time and/or should have been the subject of legal planning meetings and/or care proceedings at a much earlier time.

 

My mathematical skills are not perfect, but that’s about a third of the children that they were accommodating that were being wrongly and abusively accommodated.

 

Gulp.

 

  1. Mr Chris Baird was appointed the permanent Director for Children’s Wellbeing for this local authority (otherwise known as the Director of Children’s Services and hereafter referred to the as ‘the Director’) on 10 November 2017.  It is right that I record at an early stage in the judgment that he (a) has readily and timeously complied with all directions made by this court for the filing and serving of statements and letters (b) has been completely frank and open about the past failings of this local authority (c) has provided a ready explanation of the steps he has taken or will take to remedy past mistakes, and (d) has chosen to attend court hearings in person.
  2. Later in this judgment, I will be roundly critical of egregious failings of this local authority in relation to CD and GH but also in relation to the 14 children to whom I have referred above.  Nevertheless, it is important for me to recognise and acknowledge that Mr Baird and the new senior management team at this local authority have taken and will take steps to ensure that such dreadful failures in the care of and planning for children and young people in its care will not occur in the future.  I have every confidence in the sincerity and commitment of this director to improve very significantly the planning for and provision of services to the children and young people for whom it is responsible.

 

 

Very decent of Mr Baird not to throw his predecessor under the bus.

 

(I also note with pleasure the use of the word ‘timeously’ which I was naming to a friend as one of my favourite words just last week)

 

  1. In February 2017, I sent a letter to the Director of Children’s Services of each of the 22 local authorities on the Midlands circuit with the consent and approval of all of the circuits’ designated family judges and of the chairs of the circuits’ ten local family justice boards.  One of the principal topics addressed was the use of section 20 accommodation.  I offered the following guidance:

“The use of section 20 by a local authority to provide accommodation to children and young people is perfectly legitimate if deployed in appropriate circumstances.  It is a useful tool available to local authorities.  I offer the following as examples of the appropriate use of section 20 but I emphasise these are examples only and not an exhaustive list: (a) a young person where his or her parents have requested their child’s accommodation because of behavioural problems and where the parents and social care are working co-operatively together to resolve the issues and to secure a return home in early course; (b) children or young people where the parent or parents have suffered an unexpected domestic crisis and require support from social care to accommodate the children or young people for a short period of time; (c) an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child or young person requires accommodation in circumstances where there are no grounds to believe the threshold criteria of section 31 of the Children Act 1989 are satisfied; (d) the children or young people who suffer from a medical condition or disability and the parent or parents seek respite care for a short period of time; or (e) a shared care arrangement between the family and local authority where the threshold of section 31 care is not met yet, where supported, this intensive level is needed periodically throughout a childhood or part of a childhood. 

“In all of the foregoing, it is likely the threshold criteria of section 31 of the Children Act 1989 are not or will not be satisfied and/or it would be either disproportionate or unnecessary to issue public law proceedings.  It is wholly inappropriate and an abuse of section 20 to accommodate children or young people as an alternative to the issue of public law proceedings or to provide accommodation and to delay the issue of public law proceedings.  Where children and young people who are believed to be at risk of suffering significant harm are removed from the care of their parent or parents, whether under a police protection and emergency protection order or by consent pursuant to section 20, it is imperative that care proceedings are issued without any delay.”

 

  1. This guidance, which was given by me in my role as the Family Division Liaison Judge of  the Midland Circuit, has neither legal effect nor greater significance than, as was intended to be, helpful advice to the respective directors, their senior staff, their social workers and the local authority’s child care solicitors. 

 

 

We shall see whether the Supreme Court agree with that formulation – they might well do.

 

CD was accommodated on 14th October 2009.

 

On 28 March 2010, the mother wrote to the local authority formally to withdraw her consent to CD remaining accommodated by the local authority pursuant to the provisions of section 20.  The local authority did not act on this withdrawal of consent and, instead, advised the mother to seek legal advice if they wished CD to be returned to their care.  I shall return to this issue later in the judgment. 

 

 

To make it absolutely plain, once mother does that, the LA have to return the child to her care or obtain an order from the Court authorising them not to do so.  They can’t just pretend she didn’t say it.  It is particularly rich to suggest to the mother that she seeks legal advice, when the LA obviously weren’t doing that themselves, or at least weren’t following it.

 

If the LA had asked me at that point what the legal status of the child was, I would have sent them this image

 

And, if you want to make provision for the damages claim that’s about to follow, you may want to locate “Treasure Island”

 

  1. A further LAC review was held on 29 April 2010.  That review recommended that the local authority should take steps to address CD’s legal security and permanence.  A legal planning meeting was held on 4 August 2010.  The legal advice given was to issue care proceedings to gain greater clarity around the parties’ views and timescales to secure permanence for CD as early as possible and for CD to have a voice in the proceedings through his guardian and solicitor.  Nothing was done.
  2. A further LAC review held on 18 November 2010, during which CD’s independent reviewing officer raised concerns about the delay in achieving permanence for CD and reiterated that the legal advice given needed to be followed.  Nothing was done.
  3. Two further legal planning meetings were held on 16 February 2011 and, following the completion of an updated assessment of CD’s needs again, on 30 March 2011, there was agreement at that latter meeting to initiate care proceedings.  At a further LAC review on 6 April 2011, no further recommendations were made as a clear decision had been made on 30 March. 
  4. On 5 May 2011, the decision to initiate care proceedings was retracted by the then Assistant Director of Children’s Services who stated she was not, “agreeing to issuing proceedings and considered that seeking a care order would not make a significant difference to CD’s care given he had been accommodated for some time”. 
  5. This decision was fundamentally misconceived and fundamentally wrong.
  1. The next LAC review was held on 28 February 2013 where it was agreed that CD should remain looked after until his 18th birthday.  There had been a query about his legal status.  The decision was made that he remained accommodated pursuant to section 20, noting that CD’s mother was engaging well with the arrangements.  A further LAC review was held on 16 July 2013.  No changes were recommended to CD’s care plan.  The same approach was taken at the next LAC review on 9 December 2013 but there were discussions about the possibility of CD’s foster carers applying for a special guardianship order. 

 

There are a string of further LAC reviews, all thinking that the section 20 was okay  (basing that presumably on the Feb 2013 view that “Mother was engaging well with the arrangements”), then

 

There was a further LAC review on 3 April 2017.  On 5 September 2017, legal advice was sought at a legal gateway meeting.  It was recognised that CD had been accommodated under section 20 since 2009.  Somewhat surprisingly, the section 20 accommodation arrangement was deemed appropriate.  Thereafter, the decision was made to issue these public law proceedings. 

 

GH was accommodated on 9th July 2008 – the LA relying on the purported consent given by his mother, who was fourteen.

 

  1. At a LAC review held on 4 March 2014, there was a change of plan by the local authority.  The local authority decided to take GH’s case to a legal planning meeting.
  1. It was decided at the legal planning meeting that care proceedings should be instigated. The care plan of the same date stated that the local authority is considering the need to obtain a full care order. Nothing, however, was done

Well, at least they decided after nearly six years to issue care proceedings. Job done.

 

  1. In June 2016 a comprehensive review was undertaken of all section 20 accommodation cases by this local authority.  A LAC review was then held in respect of GH on 8 December 2016 where it was reported that legal advice regarding the continuing use of section 20 had been sought.  The decision was made that (i) an application for a care order needed to be initiated, and (ii) the local authority needed to gain parental responsibility due to GH’s complex health needs and the fact that he might need to move to a new placement in the near future. Nothing was done.

 

Okay, so having decided after six years that they needed to do something, they didn’t do anything for a further two years, then reviewed it and realised that they needed to do something. Then did nothing.

 

A further legal gateway meeting took place in March 2017.  The case was escalated by the independent reviewing officer to the Children with Disabilities Team at regular intervals between May and July 2017.  The independent reviewing officer then raised the matter with the Head of Service for Safeguarding and Review, who in turn escalated it to the relevant Head of Service in July.  It was not until 22 September 2017 that this application for a care order was in fact made. 

 

 

Oh boy.

 

  1. I have never before encountered two cases where a local authority has so seriously and serially failed to address the needs of the children in its care and so seriously misused, indeed abused, the provisions of section 20 of the Children Act 1989.  By happenchance alone, as it appears to me, both children have remained in the care of quite extraordinary and superlative carers who have met their respective needs extremely well.  I offer the warmest of thanks and congratulations to CD’s foster carers and to GH’s foster carer.  For periods of at least eight years they have each cared for the two boys without any parental responsibility for either of them.  Both sets of foster carers have in many ways been failed by this local authority, but their commitment to CD and GH respectively has been undaunted and unfailing. 
  2. Nevertheless, serious and long lasting damage has resulted.  Contact between CD and his mother had never properly been considered nor promoted.  The mother is not without blame on this issue.  It led however to an extremely unfortunate event recently where the mother and CD inadvertently came across each other in public and the mother did not recognise her son.  CD was dramatically affected.  What child could reasonably cope with their mother or father not recognising them?
  3. In respect of GH, his mother was so young when he was born that she needed the greatest possible advice, support and consideration.  She was not given any of the foregoing.  The local authority, as referred to above, did not even consider whether she was capable of consenting to GH’s accommodation.  Thereafter she was frankly side-lined.  As she grew older and matured, little, if any, consideration was given as to whether she could then care for GH or whether she could and should play a greater role in his life.  I have a very real sense that her role as his mother, albeit, or perhaps because, she was so very young, was simply overlooked and ignored.  Fortunately, with the issuing of these proceedings it has been possible to secure the placement of both children.  In respect of CD with his current carers as special guardians.  In respect of GH, to secure his placement with ZA but then to consider where his interests lie in a future long-term placement.  It has also enabled CD’s foster carers to be invested with parental responsibility for him.
  4. I have been seriously critical of the actions and inactions of this local authority.  I do not, despite the explanations offered, understand how or why this local authority failed these two children so very badly.  Nevertheless, I am satisfied that the appointment of a new director and a new management team, who are alive to the past failings in these and in other cases, will lead to an improved service for the children and young people who are now or hence forward will be placed in the care of this local authority.

 

 

The Local Authority argued that they should not be named in this judgment.  Given that the title of the case is Herefordshire Council v AB 2018,  how do you think that application went?

 

Publicity

  1. I have indicated to the parties at earlier hearings that I was minded to give a public judgment in respect of both cases.  It was submitted on behalf of the local authority that I should anonymise the names of all parties, including the local authority, because the adverse publicity would be damaging to the council.  I subsequently received a letter from the director bringing to my attention Hereford’s struggle to recruit solicitors and social workers and that “adverse publicity for the local authority does count in the minds of some prospective employees and it would be unfortunate if our historic failings were to turn people away.”  The contents of this letter, which had been disclosed to all of the other parties, caused me to consider once more whether it was necessary for me to name the local authority in this case.  After long and careful reflection I have concluded that it is.  I decided that a public judgment which named the local authority was necessary for the following reasons: (a) the President has repeatedly emphasised the importance of transparency and openness in the conduct of cases in the Family Division and in the Family Court; (b) the public have a real and legitimate interest in knowing what public bodies do, or, as in these cases, do not do in their name and on their behalf; (c) the failure to plan and take action in both of these cases is extremely serious.  There were repeated flagrant breaches of guidance from the judges of the division and of standard good practice; (d) it is evident that this case emanates from the Midlands Circuit.  Not to identify the relevant local authority would unfairly run the risk of other authorities on this circuit coming under suspicion; and (e) the President and the judges of the division have always previously taken a robust approach on the identification of local authorities, experts and professionals whose approach or working practices are found to be below an acceptable standard. 
  2. The director is understandably concerned about the potential adverse consequences of a public judgment.  I fully understand those concerns, but, for the reasons I have given above, I do not consider these concerns should lead me to anonymise the local authority.  In my view these concerns are addressed, or at least ameliorated, by the court making it clear, as I do in paragraphs 11 and 12 above and in the paragraphs below, that the criticisms set out in this judgment relate to the past actions of this local authority and that there is now a new director and leadership team in place who are committed to change and to improve the care and provision of services to the children and young people in its care.

 

To be fair, even as someone who practised law for ten years in the Midlands, I had no idea that Hereford was considered to be in the Midlands circuit, so it wouldn’t have been on my suspect list had the Court just said “a Local Authority in the Midlands”

Geography is not my strong suit.  I have yet to establish what my strong suit is, other than snark.

 

Hereford will now be waiting to see what the Supreme Court decide in Hackney about human rights claims arising from section 20 misuse.  These are very bad ones.  If HRA claims are still going after Hackney, expect this to break all records.

Guardian and Child’s Solicitor get strong (and justified) bashing from High Court

This is a Keehan J decision in the High Court.

It is pretty rare for a Judge to criticise a Guardian, and I can’t recall a case before where a Child’s Solicitor was criticised in a judgment. This is full on judicial dissection. And in my humble opinion, utterly warranted.

The case involved a child who was 13 and had learning difficulties. There was also a sibling, Y. There were serious allegations of abuse made by the child against the father. Achieving Best Evidence interviews had been conducted.

Most of the case is very fact specific, so I won’t go into it, (and the hearing lasted 20 days, so there was a LOT of it) but the part that has wider application is what happened towards the end of the case.

The father, understandably, made an application for the child X to give evidence. The Court set down a Re W hearing to decide whether the child should or should not give evidence. The Court directed the Guardian to meet with the child and to provide a report to the Court as to her view as to whether the child should or should not give evidence.

What actually happened was that the Guardian allowed the child’s solicitor to take the lead during that visit and that rather than exploring the Re W issues, the child’s solicitor actually cross examined the child AT LENGTH about the detail of the disclosures, leading her, challenging her, contradicting her. (In fact it also appears that some of the disclosures made were fresh disclosures not previously made, so it was not only emotionally abusive to the child but contaminated the evidence, and neither the Guardian nor the solicitor made referrals to the social work team about the fresh allegations)
(I’ve used ‘disclosures’ here as a synonym for ‘allegations’ and have rightly been corrected. We should all use allegations for things that are yet to be proved, and disclosures afterwards. Fixxored in edit)

None of this should have happened. Reading the case it appears that the Guardian is the subject of internal disciplinary proceedings through CAFCASS and that there is to be a hearing to decide whether this case should be referred to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. It will be a very difficult thing for either of them to come back from, professionally. Readers can make up their own mind how sympathetic they are about that.

Wolverhampton City Council v JA and another 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/62.html

The Former Children’s Guardian and the Former Solicitor for the Children
172.On 30 August 2016 the then children’s guardian, AB, and the children’s solicitor, Ms Noel, visited X in her foster placement for the purpose of speaking with her, ostensibly to gain her wishes and feelings about giving evidence at this hearing.

173.During the course of this interview X is recorded as having made a number of disclosures relating to her having been sexually abused.

174.On 6 September 2016 AB and Ms Noel paid a similar visit to Y.

175.At an advocates’ meeting the disclosures made by X in her interview on 30 August were revealed. It became apparent that no referral in respect of those disclosures had been made to the local authority nor to the police. The advocates’ meeting was immediately terminated and an urgent directions hearing was sought before the then allocated judge.

I’ve done at least a thousand advocates meetings and they are universally very dull. This one, however, wasn’t. There must have been an utterly deathly silence as this information came to light.

176.The children’s guardian and the children’s solicitor were ordered to disclose their notes on both interviews with the children and to file and serve witness statements.


177.On 30 September 2016 the appointment of the children’s guardian and the children’s solicitor were terminated and a new guardian and solicitor were appointed for the children. I am, understandably, asked to make clear in this judgment that the current children’s guardian, the current children’s solicitor and counsel instructed by him at this hearing had no part and no involvement, whatsoever, in the events of 30 August or 6 September 2016.

So a whole new team was appointed to represent the child, and that new team were untainted by these failures.

178.The guardian and solicitor’s interview of Y on 6 September 2016 could be the subject of considerable criticism, however, for the purposes of this judgment I focus on the interview with X on 30 August where the most egregious errors occurred.

179.X was subjected to an almost two hour cross examination conducted principally, if not exclusively, by Ms Noel: I stop short of categorising it as an interrogation. I have never seen the like of it before and I hope never to see a repetition of it again. X was asked leading questions on innumerable occasion, she was contradicted repeatedly by Ms Noel and when X denied a particular treatment or abuse by her father the question was put again and again, effectively denying the child the opportunity of being heard.

180.A particularly egregious question was asked by Ms Noel when she asked ‘Did your dad ever push the sponge or his fingers inside your private?’ X replied ‘no I don’t think so but it was painful’. The question was repeated and the answer was the same save hurt replaced painful. Ms Noel then asked ‘did dad ever get into bed with you’. Answer no. Prior to this interview and prior to these questions X had never asserted that the father had inserted his fingers into her vagina nor that he got into bed with her.

When you have a High Court Judge driven to say “I have never seen the like of it before and I hope never to see a repetition of it again” things are really bad. This is painful to read.

181.Prior to this ‘interview’ X had not said that she had told her mother of the father’s alleged sexual abuse of her.

182.At the time of both X’s and Y’s interviews the children’s guardian and the children’s solicitor knew that there was an ongoing police investigation into these allegations of sexual abuse and ongoing enquiries by the local authority.

183.Both AB and Ms Noel accepted their respective contemporaneous notes of the two interviews were not a verbatim transcript of the interviews. As the lead questioner Ms Noel’s notes were more comprehensive than AB’s but neither recorded all questions asked nor all the answers given.

The impact on the Guardian of these failings was so pronounced that the Judge was actually very concerned about her well-being when giving evidence.

184.AB is a very experienced children’s guardian of longstanding. I was very concerned about her welfare and well being when she came to give evidence.

185.My order of 6 December 2016 was received by Cafcass. She was the subject of internal disciplinary procedures of which it is not necessary for the purposes of this judgment to say any more. She has since been reinstated.

186.The guardian had just returned from holiday. She knew the purpose of the visit was at my request to establish X’s views about giving evidence. She met Ms Noel outside the foster carer’s home and there was a limited discussion about how the interview should proceed. She told me, and I accept, she agreed Ms Noel should take the lead in asking questions as she had not been present at the last court hearing. It was she said, and I accept, the one and only time she had allowed a children’s solicitor to take the lead in asking questions of a child. She had not, at that time, viewed the children’s ABE interviews nor had Ms Noel.

187.When asked why she had not referred the disclosures made by X to the police, she said Ms Noel advised her that she needed to consult with counsel then instructed on behalf of the children.

188.AB conceded her note taking of the interview was not as thorough as it should have been. She readily acknowledged that she should have stopped the questioning as soon as disclosures had been made. She candidly told me that X wanted to talk and because AB believed the children had not been listened to she was open to let X, and then Y on 6 September, talk. She said she was uneasy at some of the questions the girls were asked by Ms Noel and now realised she should have stopped it.

189.It was immediately obvious from the moment AB stepped into the witness box that she was racked with guilt and remorse. Only a few minutes into her evidence she became distressed and I adjourned for a short period to enable her to compose herself. She readily acknowledged the grave and serious professional errors she had committed in allowing these interviews to progress as they did – most especially in respect of X – and for not terminating them at an early stage.

190.I accept the guardian’s errors and professional misjudgement in this case were grave and serious. Nevertheless I accept her regret and remorse at her actions and omission are entirely genuine and sincere.

It is obviously very dreadful that a children’s solicitor would cross-examine a child with learning difficulties about sexual abuse allegations for 2 hours – that’s made worse still when you realise that she had not even seen the ABE interviews – so effectively cross-examining without properly looking at the source material.

If you think things were bad for the Guardian, they are about to get very much worse

191.I only wish I could make the same observations in respect of Ms Noel: I regret I cannot.

192.Ms Noel has been a solicitor for 11 years. She has been on the Children’s Panel for 6 years but this was the first case of sexual abuse in which she had acted for the children. I do not understand why a solicitor so inexperienced in acting for children should have come to be appointed in as complex and serious case as this one.

193.I was moved to comment during the course of Ms Noel’s evidence that by her actions during the interview with X she had run a coach and horses through 20 years plus of child abuse inquiries and of the approach to interviewing children in cases of alleged sexual abuse. I see no reason, on reflection, to withdraw those comments.

194.At the conclusion of Ms Noel’s evidence, in very marked contrast to that of the former children’s guardian, I had no sense that Ms Noel had any real appreciation of what she had done or of the extremely serious professional errors she had committed. She appeared to be almost a naïve innocent who had little or no idea of what she had done.

That’s the stuff of anxiety nightmares, having that sort of thing said about you.

195.It is right that I set out with particularity her evidence, most especially to highlight those matters which cause me to make the foregoing observations.


196.Ms Noel told me that her visit to X was the first time she had met X.
She said that the language she used when asking questions of X and the length of the interview – some 2 hours – was “possibly” inappropriate for a child with learning difficulties. On repeated occasion Ms Noel had told X how brave she was being in answering the questions. On reflection, she said, such comments could have been seen by X as a clue as to what she was expected to say and to talk about. She said that ‘it may appear but was not my intention.’

197.Ms Noel had had no training in how to speak with children involved in court proceedings. She knew X had made disclosures to the police and to her foster carers. Why, therefore, she was asked did she embark on this lengthy questioning of X? She replied that at the time she wanted to clarify what X was saying. With the benefit of hindsight, she accepted she should not have done so and should have stopped asking questions. She said she did not know she had asked X directed or leading questions. When it was put to her that she was cross examining X, Ms Noel replied ‘I suppose so, yes’.

Now, perhaps it is an omission of Children Panel training that she did not have training in how to ask children questions, but as an ADVOCATE you really should know whether or not you are asking someone directed or leading questions – that’s a catastrophic failing to admit that you didn’t know whether you were or not. And note that this 2 hour cross-examination was the first time she had ever met the child.


198.She confirmed her notes were not a verbatim record and that she had not noted X’s demeanour during the course of the interview. She accepted she had probably got some questions and answers missing from her notes and in that sense her notes could be misleading.


199.Ms Noel asserted she had only seen the DVDs of the girls’ interviews after she had seen X on 30 August and Y on 6 September. She had not reported X’s disclosures to the local authority because counsel then instructed by her had advised her to wait until after counsel had met with her and the guardian in conference.

(The Judge doesn’t pass any comment as to whether counsel was right or wrong there. I might have my own view, but the Judge had all of the facts and was in a far better position to say so if there was fault)

200.Ms Noel accepted that in acting as she did she had badly let the children down. She accepted there was a risk of the children, especially X, being ‘set up’ to make fake allegations. She accepted there were not insignificant differences between her contemporaneous notes of her meetings with X and with Y and those set out in her statement which she had prepared and signed in December.


201.Ms Noel was specifically asked if she had approved and authorised the contents of a position statement provided to the court for hearing on 16 September 2016. She said she could not remember. When reminded that she had emailed the same to the court, she replied ‘I would have read it’. The position baldly states that in the interview with the guardian and the solicitor X had made disclosures of a sexual nature against her father and had made disclosures in relation to the state of knowledge of the mother and the maternal grandmother. At no point is any reference made to the circumstances in which X said these things, namely that she had been subjected to an intense and prolonged period of cross examination.


202.I am sorry to observe that Ms Noel’s many acknowledgments of error and of professional misjudgement were made, in my judgment, very begrudgingly.


203.In conclusion I find that in relation to interview undertaken with X on 30 August 2016:

a) she was inappropriately questioned by Ms Noel;

b) the interview lasted for a wholly excessive length of time;

c) the conduct of the interview took no account that X suffered from learning difficulties;

d) she was repeatedly asked leading questions;

e) frequently leading questions were repeated even after X had answered in the negative to the proposition implicit in the question;

f) there was absolutely no justification for embarking on this sustained questioning of X;

g) the exercise was wholly detrimental to X’s welfare and seriously imperilled a police investigation;

h) the conduct of the interview led to a real possibility that X would be led into making false allegations;

i) the conduct of the interview was wholly contrary to the intended purpose of the visit, namely to establish X’s wishes and feelings about giving evidence in this fact finding hearing; and

j) the record keeping of AB and Ms Noel was very poor. Not all questions and answers were recorded or accurately recorded. No reference is made to X’s demeanour during the interview or to any perceived change in her demeanour.

204.The breaches of good practice were so legion in the interview conducted with X that I have concluded that it would be unwise and unsafe for me to rely on any comments made by X
. I will have to consider later in this judgment the extent, if at all, to which this interview with X on 30 August tainted the subsequent ABE interview undertaken by the police with X on 30 September 2016.


205.One of the worst examples of these very poorly conducted interviews arose in Y’s interview on 6 September. She alleged for the very first time that she told her grandmother of the sexual abuse she had suffered. For the reasons I have given in relation to X’s interview, I pay no regard to this comment at all. To the extent that I find, if at all, that the grandmother knew about the sexual abuse of both girls, I shall rely on the other evidence before me.


206.The issues of whether I should name Ms Noel in this judgment and/or she should be referred to her professional disciplinary body is to be determined at separate hearing. None of the parties to these proceedings wish to be heard on these issues: the matter is left to the court. I will, however, hear submissions on behalf of Ms Noel at that hearing. At the hearing on 18 August I read and heard submissions from counsel on behalf of Ms Noel. I was asked to show compassion to Ms Noel and not name her in the judgment. A number of personal and professional reasons were advanced. I do not propose to set them out in this judgment. I took account of all those submissions but concluded that the public interest and the need for transparency overwhelmingly required me to name Ms Noel. Accordingly her name appears in the published version of this judgment.

Keehan as mustard ? Costs order against Lord Chancellor

 

Just when you think you’ve seen it all regarding Human Rights damages claims tacked onto care proceedings and costs, Keehan J delivers this curveball.

 

Re H (A minor) v Northamptonshire CC 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/282.html

 

And we’re now seeing two High Court Judges waving to each other from opposite sides of the Grand Canyon on this. On one side, Keehan J is doing everything possible to make sure that the parents get their damages un-gulped up by the Legal Aid Agency and the stat charge, and on the other, Cobb J is saying that Parliament set up the stat charge in this way and if they’d intended to make an exception for the stat charge applying on care proceedings so that all the damages got swallowed up, they’d have done that. And that damages aren’t always the answer anyhow.

(Keehan J is playing a Lord Denning type role here, in manipulating and coaxing the law into shapes like a Venetian glassblower to get to the morally right outcome. I think myself that Cobb J is right in law, but who knows until the Court of Appeal tell us?)

 

The stat charge is tricky to understand here, so here’s an analogy.

Larry goes to a restaurant. As he is leaving, he steps on a woman’s foot. He shouldn’t have done it, he was being careless. He apologises, and offers to buy the woman a drink. She’s happy with that solution. The restaurant manager, however, says  “This woman ate a 3 course meal here for free tonight because she had a voucher, but that cost me money. So if you want to pay for a drink for her, that’s fine, but you have to give me all of the money that her food would have cost. If you don’t want to do that, you can just give me the money for the drink, but she get no drink and no money”

 

(Parents get free legal aid in care proceedings, even if they are millionaires. But if they win any money from a ‘connected’ case – even if that is damages for being badly treated, that money goes FIRST to pay back the legal aid agency not just in the case where they won the money but ANY legal aid they’ve had. Even though it was ‘free’. Only if there’s anything left does the parent get anything.  Because the legal costs in the care proceedings will usually dwarf the damages (just as a 3 course meal is more expensive than a drink), the only way that the parent can get any money is if the costs are paid too. And that’s tricky, because the law on costs is very clear that there are limited circumstances in which that is possible.

 

(The Kirklees blog spells all of that out, but I thought people might welcome an easier solution)

 

In this case, the parents had encountered a breach of their human rights, relating to section 20 abuse (but even this now, may be overtaken by the Court of Appeal guidance in the Hackney case where they suggest that failure to follow the guidance on s20 isn’t automatically a human rights breach). The LA made an offer to settle, and the parents lawyers understandably wanted to know, before they accepted or refused it, whether the parents would get that money, or whether it would be swallowed up by the Legal Aid Agency.

The LAA initially told them that the stat charge would bite and gobble up all of the damages. They then changed their mind, faced with being told that they’d be joined as a party to the High Court proceedings to fight that out.

It was submitted by the Lord Chancellor that HRA damages should be assessed without regard to the fact that the claimant is legally aided. I agree and accept that the assessment of the quantum of damages in a HRA claim should be made without regard to the fact that the claimant is legally aided. Where I part company with the Lord Chancellor is in respect of the submission that the impact of the statutory charge on the extent to which the claimant will receive any part of the damages awarded is irrelevant to a court assessing damages and then considering whether to make consequential orders for costs. I emphatically disagree.

 

(This is the exact opposite of Cobb J’s conclusion in the Kirklees case)

A very cunning scheme was devised, making use of CPR  rule 46.2  (That noise you hear is every family lawyer in the country shuddering at the mention of the Civil Procedure Rules. It gives us the same visceral reaction as the idea of standing up and addressing the Stade Francais in our schoolboy/girl French)

 

“46.2.— Costs orders in favour of or against non-parties

(1) Where the court is considering whether to exercise its power under section 51 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (costs are in the discretion of the court) to make a costs order in favour of or against a person who is not a party to proceedings, that person must—

(a) be added as a party to the proceedings for the purposes of costs only; and

(b) be given a reasonable opportunity to attend a hearing at which the court will consider the matter further.

(2) This rule does not apply—

(a) where the court is considering whether to—

(i) make an order against the Lord Chancellor in proceedings in which the Lord Chancellor has provided legal aid to a party to the proceedings;

(ii) make a wasted costs order (as defined in rule 46.8); and

(b) in proceedings to which rule 46.1 applies (pre-commencement disclosure and orders for disclosure against a person who is not a party).”

 

 

And the scheme here was complex (and I don’t think anyone will ever get away with it again, so I’m not going to spell it out in detail) –  the parents get the damages, the LA pay the costs. The Court then ordered the Lord Chancellor to pay MOST of the LA’s costs, to compensate them for the fact that it is only the Lord Chancellor failing to waive the stat charge in this case (which she has the statutory power to do) that led to the LA having to pay the costs.

There’s very little in law that I enjoy more than the Lord Chancellor losing in Court – a pleasure I did not get tired of during Chris Grayling’s wondrous tenure, and though Liz Truss hasn’t been in post long, she hasn’t really done herself any favours, so this is a fun read (though very very technical)

But I don’t think it is an entirely safe decision.

 

Firstly,

 

  • The local authority is forcibly critical of the second email sent on behalf of the LAA by Mr Rimer on 22 December. Mr Tyler submitted that the position of the LAA as set out in that email, namely that the statutory charge would apply to any damages awarded to H in respect of costs incurred under his public funding certificate in respect of the care proceedings, was clear and unequivocal. In his and Mr Mansfield’s skeleton argument it is asserted:

 

“48. The LAA has inappropriately – almost certainly unlawfully – sought to recoup the cost of the provision of the ‘non-means, non-merits’ legal aid available for the claimant from the award of damages to which he is entitled due to the breaches of his human rights.

49. Only at the eleventh hour – and when faced with the prospect of a High Court trial on the issue – has it adopted an approach which is correct in law.

50. In so doing, it has caused the unnecessary attenuation of both the HRA and the care proceedings.”

 

 

Okay, those are submissions and not the judgment, but I don’t think you can properly conclude that the LAA was unlawful in following the LASPO provisions. The provisions are stupid and ugly and unkind and mean-spirited, but they are lawful provisions. There isn’t (yet) a section 6 challenge that the LASPO provisions in this regard are themselves incompatible with the HRA. It would be interesting to see the outcome if someone takes it that far – LASPO is far from beloved as a piece of legislation.

The point, I presume is making use of Keehan J’s previous side-step of the stat charge by claiming that the HRA proceedings ‘are not connected’ to the care proceedings.  I am afraid that I am with Cobb J on that – there may be occasions when the damages case is genuinely ‘not connected’ to the care proceedings, but these clearly were.

 

Glad you're back George

Glad you’re back George

 

 

But more importantly

 

  • Ms Stout’s principal submission was that the court had no power, on the facts of this case, to make an order for costs. She relied upon the provision of the CLA(C)R 2013 and in particular on Part 3 and regulations 9(1), 9(2) and 10. In a case where one party is legally aided (i.e. the claimant) and one party is not legally aided (i.e. the local authority) she contended that the effect of regulation 9(2) was that an order for costs could only be made against the Lord Chancellor if all the conditions set out in regulation 10 are satisfied.
  • It is common ground between the parties that the conditions of this regulation are not satisfied in this case.

 

So not possible to make the costs order against the Lord Chancellor, because the power to do so sets out a condition that has to apply and the condition doesn’t.

That wasn’t the end of it though

  • I regret I do not accept the submission that the court does not have the power to make a costs order against the Lord Chancellor in this case. I so decide for the following reasons.
  • The provisions of s.26 LASPO only apply where costs have been awarded against a legally aided party. In these circumstances the order for costs “must not exceed the amount (if any) which it is reasonable for the individual to pay having regard to all the circumstances …”: s.26(1) LASPO. A s.26(1) costs order “means a costs order against a legally aided party where cost protection applies”: reg.2(1) CLA(C)R 2013. The phrase ‘cost protection’ means “the limit on costs awarded against a legally aided party in relevant civil proceedings, set out in section 26(1) and (2) of the Act: reg.2(1) CLA(C)R 2013. All of these provisions are based on a costs order having been made against a legally aided party. In this case, of course, no order for costs has been or will be made against the claimant.
  • The only possible basis on which the Lord Chancellor’s submissions on this issue could succeed is if I interpret s.26 LASPO and the CLA(C)R 2013 to mean that it applies if there is the ‘potential’ for a costs order being made against a legally aided party. The clear wording of the section and the regulations simply do not permit such an interpretation.
  • Regulation 9 of CLA(C)R 2013 is headed ‘Effect of this Part’. Regulation 9(1) provides that ‘This Part applies where cost protection applies’. If I insert the clause set out in Reg 2(1) for the definition of ‘cost protection’, reg.9(1) would read ‘This Part applies where the limit on costs awarded against a legally aided party in relevant civil proceedings set out in section 26(1) and (2) of [LASPO] applies’. Cost protection does not apply in this case and thus the provisions of Part 3 of the CLA(C)R 2013 do not apply in this case, most especially regulation 9(2).
  • It is plain that regulations 9 and 10 apply in respect of the Lord Chancellor as the funder of legal aid to a party to civil proceedings. Reg.10 only applies where ‘proceedings are finally decided in favour of a non-legally aided party’. It is designed to provide recompense to that party, in specified and limited circumstances, where there is a shortfall between the costs incurred by that party and the limited costs which the legally aided party is ordered to pay, in consequence of which the non legally aided party will suffer financial hardship. Once again those circumstances do not arise in this case.
  • I am completely satisfied that

 

(a) the CLA(C)R 2013 has no application or relevance to this case; and(b) they do not preclude the court from making a costs order against the Lord Chancellor in appropriate circumstances, still less do they provide the Lord Chancellor with a ‘blanket immunity’ against an order for costs as a third party or otherwise.

 

 

Keehan J summoned up the spirit of JPR Williams and  David Duckham and jinks and weaves to make his side-steps work. It is beautiful to watch.  But I think there’s a forward pass in there somewhere.

 

 

Human Rights claims and statutory charge – an answer? Sort of

In the words of Erik B and Rakim

 

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’ta left you, without a strong rhyme to step to

 

But now, to paraphrase the one-hit wonder gangster rapper from Leicester,  “Return of the Pack – oh my god, Return of the Pack, here I am, Return of the Pack, once again, Return of the Pack, Pump up the world”

 

Which is a more heavy rap-related intro than intended, but basically, now I’m back, to show you…

 

P v a Local Authority 2016

High Court y’all.  Keehan J in da House.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2779.html

This one is actually a Keehan J shout out to the old skool, if by old skool, you mean (and I do),  the return of a case from March 2016

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/03/11/child-in-care-wanting-parents-to-have-no-information-or-involvement/

 

That was the case where the young person did not want his adoptive parents to know anything about the process of gender reassignment, and the LA went to Court to ascertain whether that was in conflict with their duties under the Children Act 1989 to consult with parents when they are looking after a child.

Unfortunately, this happened

 

Background

 

  • In September 2015 P moved to a local authority unit for semi-independent living. Although there were concerns about his mental well being and general welfare, P settled in to this accommodation. He was and is a vulnerable young person with a history of repeated episodes of self harm, taking overdoses and extremely poor mental health.
  • On 11 January 2016 an employee of the local authority disclosed personal information about P, including his forename and transgender status, to third parties who are friends of P’s adoptive parents. P was originally told that the address of the unit where he was living had also been disclosed: this later appears not to have been the case.
  • The impact of this wrongful disclosure on P was immediate and dramatic. He felt unsafe at the unit and left. He first stayed with his girlfriend and then at a number of residential units provided by the local authority. P’s mental health was very severely compromised: he made a number of suicide attempts and there were several episodes of self harm.
  • In more recent months P’s mental health has stabilised. I was very pleased that he was well enough to attend the last court hearing on 26 August 2016.
  • Although the local authority promptly told P of the disclosure of his personal information, I regret that it was slow in (a) giving P a full account of what had happened and (b) giving P a full and unreserved apology. In February the then Director of Children and Family Services wrote a letter of apology to P and offered to meet with him to answer any questions he may have had. P did not take up the offer of a meeting.
  • The member of staff who made the wrongful disclosure was suspended by the local authority and a formal investigation was undertaken pursuant to the council’s disciplinary policy. I do not know the outcome of that process.
  • Regrettably, and notwithstanding that P is a ward of this court, the local authority did not bring this breach of P’s privacy to the attention of this court. The matter was raised with the court by P’s lawyers.
  • The local authority, very sensible and rightly, decided to concede it had, by the inexcusable actions of one of its employees, breached P’s Article 8 rights to respect for his family and private life. They agreed to pay P damages in the sum of £4750. I am satisfied that in light of the very considerable distress suffered by P and the immediate adverse impact on his mental health, this appears to be an appropriate level of damages to be awarded to P.

 

That all seems straightforward. The LA messed up, and they agreed a sum of compensation to pay to P and P was content with that sum, and the Judge felt it was the right amount.

So why is this even a thing?

Well, it is because the Legal Aid Agency (having by the way refused to give P funding to make a claim for damages) wanted to take that £4750 and use it to repay the legal aid that P had had in the original wardship proceedings. This is called the Statutory Charge, and it comes up most often in divorce cases about money. The point there is that if you get legal aid (or ‘free’ legal representation paid by the taxpayer and you win money out of the case, you have to pay the legal aid back out of that money. ) That makes sense with divorce. It doesn’t make a lot of sense here.

It was P’s legal rights that were breached, and the £4,750 is compensation for that breach. Obviously he should get the money.

 

But no, the statutory charge bites on the compensation and P would get nothing.

That’s because of our dear old friend LASPO, the Statute that keeps on giving (if by giving you mean stealing pennies from the eyes of corpses)

 

  • Its current statutory basis is set out in s. 25 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’) which provides:

 

“Charges on property in connection with civil legal services

(1) Where civil legal services are made available to an individual under this Part, the amounts described in subsection (2) are to constitute a first charge on—

(a) any property recovered or preserved by the individual in proceedings, or in any compromise or settlement of a dispute, in connection with which the services were provided (whether the property is recovered or preserved for the individual or another person), and

(b) any costs payable to the individual by another person in connection with such proceedings or such a dispute.

 

And the killer words her are “in connection with”  – basically the Legal Aid Agency position is that the statutory charge bites (and thus they can take the compensation and take all of the legal aid costs spent on other stuff and P just gets anything left over) if there’s a connection between the cases at all.

There’s one exception in the LASPO Act (none of which apply to compensation from Human Rights claims) and the Lord Chancellor has power to exempt the statutory charge in certain cases

 

 

  • The Lord Chancellor has authority to waive the statutory charge, in whole or in part, where she considers it equitable to do so and two conditions are met.

 

Those conditions are:

(a) the Director was satisfied, in determining that a legally aided party qualified for legal representation, that the proceedings had a significant wider public interest; and

(b) the Director in making the determination took into account that there were other claimants or potential claimants who might benefit from the proceedings:

see regulation 9 of the CLA(SC)R 2013.

 

  • The phrase ‘significant wider public interest’ is defined as being a case where the Director of the LAA is satisfied that the case is an appropriate case to realise real benefits to the public at large, other than those which normally flow from cases of the type in question, and benefits to an identifiable class of individuals, other than the individual to whom civil legal services may be provided or members of that individual’s family: see regulation 6 of the Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulation 2013 (the ‘LA(MC)R 2013’).
  • The LAA asserts that the two conditions set out in regulation 9 of the CLA(SC)R 2013 must be satisfied at the time the application for funding is made and the Director makes the determination that the application qualifies for funding. The purpose of the waiver is to allow legal aid to be granted for a single test case without disadvantaging the applicant should he or she fail to secure damages and/or all of their costs.

 

 

The Lord Chancellor and the Legal Aid Agency were both represented in these proceedings and were clear that Reg 9 had not been sought at the time the application for funding was made (of course it hadn’t, because the breach hadn’t happened at that point)  and so it couldn’t now be applied.

Their very reasonable solution was that P would get his damages, provided that his solicitors, silk and junior counsel agreed to waive all of their fees from the wardship case (i.e having represented P in a very complex and legally difficult case and got everything that he wanted and advanced the law in a way that will help others in similar circumstances, they should not get paid for any of it)

 

 

  • In taking a broad and pragmatic approach leading counsel for the local authority submits that the adverse consequence of the statutory charge, that P will receive not a penny in damages, is unfair and makes no sense. I have a very considerable degree of sympathy with those sentiments.
  • In this context I deprecate the stance taken by the LAA that the issue of P receiving any of the awarded HRA damages would be alleviated if his leading counsel, junior counsel and solicitor simply waived their professional fees for acting in this matter.

 

 

The Judge mooted the idea that if there was a break between the two cases (this is my solution so I’m interested in it)  i.e

  1. The solicitors and counsel deal with the wardship or care proceedings on legal aid

2. Separately and without charging for it, they write to the LA about human rights breach and ask for compensation

3. LA settles the HRA claim (and possibly pays the costs of step 2 into the bargain)

 

Then why is the money recovered as a result of step 2 ‘in connection with’ step 1?  And why should the LAA get their money back from step 1 if step 2 is nothing to do with it, and no legal aid money was spent in getting step 2 achieved?

I think this is a damn good point (immodestly, because I’ve been saying it for ages). The LAA unsurprisingly disagree

 

 

  • The principal supplementary submissions of the LAA may be distilled into the following 10 points:

 

(a) it was common ground between the parties at the hearing on 26 August 2016 that any damages recovered in relation to the breach of P’s Article 8 rights (the ‘HRA claim’) would be damages recovered in the wardship proceedings;(b) the creation of new proceedings avowedly for the purpose of avoiding the statutory charge would not be an appropriate use of the court’s powers. It would be wrong to seek to bring about the disapplication of the statutory charge by changing the previously contemplated approach to the scope of this judgment or disapplying certain rules of civil procedure.

(c) The issues raised by the court about the application of the statutory charge cannot be resolved in a factual vacuum.

(d) Even if P’s damages were awarded in freestanding proceedings which were not funded by the LAA, the statutory charge would still apply to those damages if they were recovered in “proceedings in connection with which the [civil legal] services were provided.” The language of ‘in connection with’ is obviously very wide. I was referred to the case of Cassidy v. Stephenson [2009] EWHC 1562 (QB) where Holman J. held that money recovered from the settlement of professional negligence proceedings brought as a result of a failed clinical negligence (which was funded) was not property recovered in a dispute “in connection with which” the legal services for the clinical negligence claims were provided.

(e) The propositions set out in paragraphs 7 to 10 of the email of 20 October 2016 are correct, save that the LAA is not privy to the full background to this case (eg the local authority’s response to P’s letter before action).

(f) The HRA claim cannot be said to be ‘wholly unconnected’ to the subject matter of the wardship proceedings. The LAA asserts that:

“As the LAA understands the position, the Court considered P’s circumstances and the extent to which information about him and his whereabouts should be disclosed in the inherent jurisdiction proceedings. The HRA Claim arose, as the LAA understands it, as a result of conduct by the LCC that was not consistent with the way in which that issue was resolved, with the Court’s assistance, in these proceedings. It was therefore reliant on matters determined in RA’s favour in the wardship proceedings, for which funding for civil legal services was provided.

Civil legal services were provided for the wardship proceedings, in which RA was made a ward of the Court, and restrictions were imposed on disclosure of information in relation to RA. It was the fact that LCC acted contrary to the resolved position that has given rise to the HRA Claim. The LAA funded the wardship proceedings, including for a declaration that there had been a breach of the injunction imposed by the Court. “

(g) It would be artificial to say than any recovery of damages was not made in the wardship proceedings.

(h) Even if the award of damages was made or approved outwith the wardship proceedings, the damages were still recovered in proceedings in connection with which “legal services were provided” (i.e. the wardship proceedings). The LAA relies on the assertion by P’s counsel that the authorities state that HRA claims should be brought within wardship proceedings viz. Re L(Care Proceedings: Human Rights Claims) [2003] 2 FLR 160.

(i) The answer to the question posed in paragraph 15 of the email of 20 October 2016 is “yes” there are reasons why the court should not permit the issue of a freestanding HRA claim. Such a device would be inappropriate and would not result in the disapplication of the statutory charge because, as asserted above, the damages would be recovered in (unfunded) proceedings which were “in connection with” the (funded) wardship proceedings.

 

 

The Judge decided otherwise and ruled that in this case steps 1 and 2 were not ‘connected with’ each other and the statutory charge did not arise on the compensation payable to P. Hooray!

 

 

 

  • It is appropriate for me to deal with each of those points in turn. First, the court is neither bound nor fettered in its determination of the legal issues or the factual matrix of a case by the submission of counsel. In any event counsel were afforded the opportunity to agree or disagree with the alternative analysis proposed by the court and to make submissions. P and the local authority have decided to agree with my propositions and questions. The LAA have had a full opportunity to respond and I can discern no procedural or substantive unfairness in the course I have adopted.
  • Second, to characterise the alternative analysis the court has suggested is ‘avowedly for the purpose of avoiding the statutory charge’ is quite wrong. Rather my objective is to secure, if at all possible, by any legitimate and lawful route P’s receipt of the damages he maybe awarded for the breach of his Article 8 Rights by an organ of the state.
  • Third the factual matrix of this case should be well known to all parties including the LAA. The same is comprehensively set out in the parties’ written submissions and in a detailed chronology prepared on behalf of P. I do not accept the court is considering the legal issues in this case in a factual vacuum.
  • Fourth, with reference to paragraph 64(d) above, I accept the phrase “in connection with which the [civil legal] services were provided” can be given a very wide interpretation. I was not referred to any authority to support a submission that I must give it a very wide interpretation.
  • Fifth, with reference to paragraph 64(e) above, I do not understand the submission that the “LAA is not privy to the full background to this case.” For the purposes of this judgment I have not taken account of nor have I been furnished with material not available to all counsel, save perhaps for one matter which I refer to in the next paragraph.
  • Sixth, with reference to paragraphs 64(f) and (g) above, the LAA appears to have proceeded and proceeds on the basis of a fundamental misunderstanding of the order I made in August 2015: see paragraph 46 above. I did not make an injunction or other order prohibiting the local authority from disclosing personal or private details about P to other persons, save against the local authority disclosing information to P’s adoptive parents: see paragraph 8 above. I made a declaratory order that the local authority was relieved of its statutory duty to give information about P to or to consult with P’s adoptive parents about P or his welfare. The LAA has proceeded and proceeds on the following assumptions:

 

(a) that I made an injunctive order against the local authority;(b) that the employee of the local authority breached the terms of that injunction;

(c) and that P’s claim against the local authority was based on a breach of that injunction.

None of the foregoing assumptions are factually correct. The LAA’s mistake does explain the funding decision of 8 February 2016, set out at paragraph 38 above, to permit P to bring a claim for a declaration for breach of an injunction.

 

  • P’s claim is and was always based upon his Art. 8 Convention right to respect for his private and family life. The claim had nothing to do with the declaratory relief granted to P in the wardship proceedings. This court was not notified of that alleged breach (now admitted) by an employee of the local authority which it should have been because P is a ward of this court and because of the adverse consequences of the wrongful disclosure on P. Furthermore the wrongful disclosure, insofar as it is relevant, was made to third parties and not to P’s adoptive parents. The local authority asserts that the third parties did not, in fact, pass on the disclosed information to P’s adoptive parents.
  • Seventh, with reference to paragraphs 64(h) and (i) above, in light of the correct factual matrix set out above I am not satisfied that the (unfunded) HRA claim in which damages are sought could be said to be “recovered in proceedings in connection with which legal services were provided” (i.e. the funded wardship proceedings). I go further, I am wholly satisfied that the damages resulting from the HRA claim are not “recovered in proceedings in connection with which legal services were provided”. There is no legal or factual connection between the wardship proceedings and P’s HRA claim.
  • The mere fact that P’s counsel in submission referred to the case of Re L(Care Proceedings: Human Rights Claims) [2003] 2 FLR 160 which advises that HRA claims may or should be made in existing proceedings, does not require this court to conclude that P must or may only make a HRA claim in ongoing wardship proceedings. No claim form was issued. The HRA claim and the quantum of damages were settled before a claim was issued. As referred to in paragraphs 58 and 59 above, rr. 21.10 and 8 of the CPR set out the appropriate procedure when a settlement is reached concerning a child or young person prior to the issue of proceedings.
  • I can discern no legal impediment or other reason why I should not permit P by his solicitor to issue a claim form as required by r. 8.2 of the CPR and upon that basis, in due course, proceed to approve the agreed award of damages to P in respect of his HRA claim in those proceedings. The approval of damages can be submitted by email and be dealt on the papers without the need for a hearing. I am confident that the local authority would agree to pay the costs of that process incurred by P’s legal team.

 

Conclusions

 

  • I am bound to find that the Lord Chancellor, by the director of the LAA, has no discretion or power to waive the statutory charge, if applicable, in this case. The preconditions set out in regulation 9 of the CLA(SC)R 2013 must be satisfied at the time the determination of funding is made and a decision to waive the statutory charge must be made at the same time. That did not happen in this case and thus the preconditions are not satisfied.
  • I do not understand why the CLA(SC)R 2013 regulations placed that limitation on the time when a decision whether to waive the statutory charge must be made. I am not aware of any public interest or policy reasons for the same. It is regrettable that the discretion to waive the statutory charge is so fettered.
  • The manner in which the LAA has made determinations on public funding in these proceedings is extremely unfortunate. In some aspects the decisions are plainly wrong and/or unreasonable and in others the reasoning of the LAA is difficult to understand, if not incomprehensible.
  • In my view it would be extremely regrettable if P were to be denied the benefit of the damages awarded to him as a result of the considerable emotional distress and harm to his mental well being he has suffered as a result of the wrongful conduct of an organ of the state.
  • In light of the fact, however, that the LAA refused to fund a HRA claim for damages it appears me that the damages to be awarded to P under the Part 8 procedure were recovered in a claim that did not have the benefit of a public funding certificate. Further I am wholly satisfied that any damages awarded to P in Part 8 proceedings were not recovered “in proceedings in connection with which [civil legal] services were provided.” Accordingly, however erroneous or muddled the LAA’s decision making was on this issue, in my view, for the reasons I have given above the statutory charge is not and cannot be applicable to P’s award of damages.

 

 

Is this the end of it? Not really. Whilst the Judge here paints a route-map for others to follow, there are two major differences from other HRA cases notably the s20 damages cases.

 

  1. The HRA breach happened AFTER the Court hearing and not really in connection with the Court hearing at all. P’s rights would have been breached by what the rogue member of staff did, whether or not there had been a Court hearing. (The Court hearing made it sharper and more vivid and allowed P to easily tap into legal advice from his legal team whom he already knew, but the breach was a breach regardless. It was  a breach of his article 8 rights, NOT as the LAA mistakenly thought a breach of a Court injunction)
  2. The LAA had been asked to fund a damages claim and had refused. That is a material factor in the Judge being able to rule that there was no connection between the two cases.

 

(On the plus side for children and parents, this case probably makes it more likely that the LAA will STOP refusing to fund such damages cases, since if they do, they leave the door open to not being able to recover their original costs out of any winnings, but that in turn means that they will argue that this case doesn’t have broader application)

 

I suspect this is an issue that only the Court of Appeal or Parliament can resolve. It simply can’t be right that where a child or parent has their human rights breached by the State and compensation is paid that they will not get a penny of it. Equally it can’t be right that where the HRA claim is accepted and settled swiftly, that the LA get hit with costs of care proceedings which would be massively more than the legal costs of dealing with the HRA claim itself (and that is a collision course with Supreme Court decisions in Re S and Re T about where costs orders can be made in care proceedings)

Not for the first or last time, the answer is that LASPO is badly drafted and poorly constructed and unfair to real people, and it needs to be reworked.

 

Suspended sentence for woman who saw her son “too often”

 

I read this story on ITV news way back in December 2015, and it took 20 seconds of googling to suggest that there might be more to it than the headline suggested.

http://www.itv.com/news/2015-12-15/suspended-sentence-for-woman-who-saw-her-son-too-often/

 

Because the woman in question had a previous history in the family Courts, that history being that she turned up with a report from a psychologist that she had in fact forged, by writing it herself and the named psychologist knew nothing about it. And that she went to prison for perverting the course of justice. That’s pretty unusual, even in the circles of contentious private law proceedings.

 

This matter has a very long and very sad history with continual court proceedings stretching over almost the entirety of X’s life. The mother was made the subject of a previous s.91(14) order at the conclusion of proceedings before Mrs. Justice Macur, as she then was. After that order had been made, the mother sought permission from Mrs. Justice Macur to make an application in respect of X. In support of that application, she filed what purported to be a report from a psychologist. When it was checked, it was discovered that that document was a forgery and the psychologist named denied any knowledge of ever writing any such report. Criminal proceedings were instituted against the mother for perverting the course of justice, during the course of which she was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of nine months. That was in or about October 2012. The mother was still serving that sentence when the matter came before me in May 2013.

 

That of course doesn’t mean that she wasn’t the victim of injustice THIS time around, but it does mean that you might be somewhat cautious about taking her word for it.

Anyway, the committal judgment is now finally up.

Y v Najmudin 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/3924.html

 

The contact order provided for supervised contact, seven times a year.

Having heard evidence over a number of days both from the parties, from the children’s guardian and expert evidence, I concluded that it was in the welfare best interests of X that his contact with his mother was very restricted, that it should take place, as I have set out, seven times per year in a contact centre, and it had to be professionally supervised. That was because I was satisfied that the mother had lied to me throughout the course of the hearing in 2013 and that she had and would, if permitted to have unsupervised contact, cause emotional and psychological damage to her son.  

 

The mother breached that order by making her own arrangements to see her son, clandestinely and without the knowledge of the father. She was not taking up her sessions at the contact centre, because she was making her own arrangements.

Evidence

  1. The mother in her evidence asserts matters have changed. X is more mature and he is older and he is old enough to make decisions for himself. That may be the case, but the fact that this mother chose to tell this child about this hearing and talked in detail about the evidence, in my judgment amply demonstrates that the circumstances that I found in my judgment in 2013 have changed not one jot.
  2. She may no doubt love her son, but it appears, in my judgment, that she remains incapable of assessing and putting his welfare best interest first. In addition, she did not at any time, despite regular email communication with the father, either (a) tell him that she was meeting X; or (b) ask his permission to see X. At no time, the mother concedes, did the father in fact agree to change the contact arrangements as set out in the order of 3 May. In her evidence, the mother tells me that she could not remember the terms of the order made in May 2013; that she did not know that by seeing X as she did in the street that she was acting in breach of my order. I, without any hesitation, entirely reject that account from the mother. I am satisfied so that I am sure that she knew full well what I had ordered and what were the restrictions on her contact, but she has chosen, in my judgment, deliberately once more to flout the court’s order and to ignore it.
  3. She takes the view that X is old enough to make his decisions and if he asks to see her, then whatever there may be in a court order is completely irrelevant. Well, she is wrong. She, by taking the actions that she has, has put X in an immensely difficult position. The father tells me, and I accept that X has said to him that he loves his mother and he would like to see his mother, but he would like to see her in the supervised contact centre. The mother tells me that when she sees X he is pleased to see her. I have no doubt being a loving child that he would do that. But the father tells me that by the time he gets home, it is plain that X feels uncomfortable, worried and concerned about these chance meetings, knowing that they are not taking place as the court has ordered; knowing that they have not taken place as he would wish. The mother, in my judgment, has put X in an extremely difficult position. She has quite deliberately chosen not to tell Mr. Y about these meetings, nor to seek his permission. All of those facts demonstrate to me that the mother knew precisely what it was that she could and could not do by the court order, but she chose to breach it.
  4. Furthermore, I am reinforced in coming to that view in terms of the adverse effect on X because I accept the evidence from Mr. Y that X has taken now to taking different routes home from school in order that he may try and avoid seeing his mother in those haphazard meetings in public. I accept that evidence. I am also concerned to hear it because it demonstrates very eloquently the conflict that this young man feels about the circumstances that his mother has caused him to be in.
  5. On the totality of all the evidence that I have heard, I am satisfied so that I am sure that the mother has breached the order of 3 May 2013 and, in particular, para.6, on each of the occasions set out in the schedule of findings sought by Mr. Y. In respect of those matters, where the mother was either not sure whether she had seen X on a particular date, or said that it was in fact her partner, Mr. Z, for example, who went to the father’s home on Wednesday, 15 April, I unhesitatingly reject those explanations and I find as a fact that the mother has met with X as set out in that schedule.
  6. Accordingly, I am entirely satisfied that the mother is in breach of that order and she is in contempt of court and she now falls to be punished for that contempt. I will consider what punishment I should impose at 2 o’clock after I have heard anything Dr. Najmudin may want to say in mitigation of her breaches of the order as I have found.

 

Child in care wanting parents to have no information or involvement

 

This issue has to be one of the most Frequently asked questions that I get as a Local Authority lawyer  – “Little Frank is in care and he doesn’t want his mum to know X,  do I respect Frank’s wishes, or respect the duty in the Act that parents are to be consulted with about major issues?”

 

[Very often this comes up in relation to contraception, pregnancy etc, but also sometimes just that the young person wants no information about themselves to be communicated by the Local Authority to their parent]

 

In this case, PD v SD & Another 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/4103.html

 

Keehan J was faced with a child who had been born a girl, named HD, who had changed her name to PD and wished to change her identity to male.  He was 16 years old, and had been adopted at the age of 6. Things had become difficult and unworkable, and PD was in voluntary care under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.   PD was going on to have assessment and assistance from the Tavistock about his gender identity. He did not want his adoptive parents to be involved or given any information.

It became as stark as this :-

So strongly held are his views that Ms. Morgan QC told me he would even wish his parents not to be notified if he were required to receive emergency medical treatment. The depths of his wishes are conveyed by his view that if he suffered a serious accident and underwent emergency surgery he would not want to wake and find his parents at his bedside.

 

Meanwhile, his parents were still hopeful of a reconciliation and wanted to be involved in PD’s life in some capacity.

 

  1. THE LAW
  2. It is agreed by all parties that I have a jurisdiction to grant the declaratory relief sought by P.
  3. By virtue of s.8(3) of the Family Law Reform Act, P, now aged 16, can give valid consent to medical and surgical treatment.
  4. If P was not provided with accommodation by the local authority and was not a looked after child, the local authority would not be obliged to consult with or give information to P’s parents.
  5. Since he is a child looked after by the local authority, it is obliged by s.22 and s.26 of the Children Act 1989 to consult with and give information to the parents. Section 22 provides:

    “Before making any decision with respect to a child whom they are looking after or proposing to look after the local authority shall, so far as it is reasonably practicable, ascertain the wishes of-

    (a) the child;

    (b) his parents;

    (c) any person who is not a parent of his but who has had parental responsibility for him; and

    (d) any other person whose wishes and feelings the authority consider to be relevant regarding the matter to be decided.”

    There are further obligations in a similar vein imposed by the provisions of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010.

  6. The Article 8 Convention rights of P and of his parents are engaged. I take particular account of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Yousef v Netherlands [2003] 1 FLR 210, that where there is a tension between the Article 8 rights of the child, on the one hand, and the parents, on the other, the rights of the child prevail.
  7. In the case of Re C (Care: Consultation with Parents not in Child’s Best Interests) [2006] 2 FLR 787, Coleridge J decided it was not in the best interests of the subject child for the local authority to consult with or give information to the father. In his judgment he expressed the view that it was only in very exceptional circumstances that such an order would be appropriate. The factual matrix of that case was very different from the circumstances of this case.
  8. In my view, rather than considering whether the facts of the case are very exceptional, although in my judgment the facts of this case are very exceptional; I should instead focus on the competing Article 8 rights of P and of his parents.

 

 

There were three major relevant pieces of caselaw – it won’t surprise anyone to know that one was Gillick. The second was Naomi Campbell’s privacy case, setting out that a person’s medical records and medical treatment is private. The third is one precisely on point as to when a young person acquires the right for their medical treatment to be kept confidential from a parent.

 

  1. In the case of Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority [1986] 1 AC 112 Lord Scarman said, at 185(e):

    “The rights of a parent exist primarily to enable the parent to discharge his duty of maintenance, protection and education until he reaches such an age as to be able to look after himself and make his own decisions.”

  2. Baroness Hale, in the case of Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers Limited [2004] 2 AC 457 said at p.499:

    “It has always been accepted that information about a person’s health and treatment for ill-health is both private and confidential. This stems not only from the confidentiality of the doctor/patient relationship but from the nature of the information itself. As the European Court of Human Rights put it in Z v Finland [1997] 25 EHRR 371:

    “Respecting the confidentiality of health data is a vital principle in the legal system with all the Contracting State parties to the Convention. It is crucial not only to respect the sense of privacy of a patient but also to preserve his or her confidence in the medical profession and in health services generally. Without such protection those in need of medical assistance may be deterred from revealing such information of a person and intimidate nature as may be necessary in order to receive appropriate treatment and even from seeking such assistance, thereby endangering their own health and, in the case of transmittable diseases, that of the community.””

  3. I was referred to the case of Regina on the Application of Sue Axon v Secretary of State for Health [2006] EWHC 37 (Admin). During the course of judgment Silber J said, at para.64:

    “It is appropriate to bear in mind that the European Court of Human Rights attaches great value to the rights of children. Furthermore, the ratification by the United Kingdom of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in November 1989 was significantly showing a desire to give children greater rights. The ECHR and the UNC show why the duty of confidence owed by a medical professional to a competent young person is a high one and which therefore should not be overridden except for a very powerful reason. In my view, although family factors are significant and cogent, they should not override the duty of confidentiality owed to the child. It must not be forgotten that this duty was described in Z v Finland as a vital principle in the legal system of all Contracting Parties to the Convention.”

    Then at para.127 he said:

    “I am unable to accept Mr Havers’ contention that by permitting a medical professional to withhold information relating to advice or treatment of a young person on sexual matters, the Article 8 rights of the parents of the young person were thereby infringed. In considering this issue, it must always be remembered first, that in Z v Finland the European Court emphasised the significance and compelling nature of a patient’s Article 8(1) right to confidentiality of health information as explained in paragraph 63 above. A similar approach was adopted in MS v Sweden, in which it is said at page 337 in paragraph 41 “respecting the confidentiality of health data is a vital principle in the legal systems of all Contracting Parties to the Convention”. Although these cases deal with the position of an adult there is no good reason why they could not apply to protect the confidentiality of health information concerning a young person, especially because, as I have explained, that a duty of confidentiality is owed to a young person by medical professionals.”

    Finally, at para.130 to para.132 he said:

    As a matter of principle it is difficult to see why a parent should still retain an Article 8 right to parental authority relating to a medical decision where the young person concerned understands the advice provided by the medical professionals and its implications. Indeed, any right under Article 8 of a parent to be notified of advice or treatment of a sexual matter as part of the right claimed by Mr. Havers must depend on a number of factors, such as the age and understanding of their offspring. A parent would not be able to claim such an Article 8 right to be notified if their son or daughter was, say, 18 years of age and had sought medical advice on sexual matters, because in that case the young person is able to consent without parental knowledge or consent for the reasons set out in paragraph 1 above. The reason why the parent could not claim such a right is that their right to participate in decision making as part of the right claimed by Mr. Havers would only exist while the child was so immature that his parent had the right of control as was made clear in Gillick. In my view, any Article 8 right of the kind advocated by Mr. Havers must be seen in that light so that once the child is sufficiently mature in this way the parent only retains such rights to family life and to be notified about medical treatment if, but only if, the young person so wishes. Indeed, whether there is family life and hence a right to family life of a particular family is a question of fact. The European Commission on Human Rights has explained the existence of family ties depends upon the real existence and practice of close family ties. It is not clear why the parent should have an Article 8 right to a family life where first the offspring is almost 16 years of age and does not wish it, second where the parent no longer has a right to control the child for the reasons set out in the last paragraph and third where the young person, in Lord Scarman’s words, “has sufficient understanding of what is involved to give a consent valid in law”. There is nothing in the Strasbourg jurisprudence which persuades me that any parental right or power of control under Article 8 is wider than in domestic law. Parental right to family life does not continue after the time when the child is able to make his own decisions. So parents do not have Article 8 rights to be notified of any advice of the medical profession after the young person is able to look after himself or herself and make his or her own decisions.”

  4. I respectfully agree with Silver J’s analysis of the law and of the relevant legal principles.

 

There were therefore two competing Article 8 rights to balance, and the Court considered that they were to be balanced in favour of the young person, who was 16 and capacitious and understood the issues involved and had made his decision that he did not want his parents to be given that information.  [I think there’s an argument that this rather reverses Coleridge J’s decision in Re C – rather than becoming exceptional that a Local Authority respect a child’s wishes not to share information with a parent, it seems to become the norm if the child is capacitious and expressing a view not to share the information – though this was, and is, of course an exceptional case]

 

  1. DISCUSSION
  2. The situation in which P and the parents find themselves is extremely difficult for each party. The parents struggle to understand P’s position, feelings and his decision about his gender. He struggles to understand their complete lack of support and understanding. The upshot is that he, at 16 years of age, has decided to completely disengage from family life with them.
  3. On the basis of the authorities I have referred to above, that is a decision he is perfectly entitled to reach and is one which this court must respect.
  4. There is no issue that P should be afforded privacy in respect of his medical treatment. In any event, I am entirely satisfied that he is entitled to respect of his privacy on these matters as a matter of law.
  5. I am pleased to learn that the parents, having expressed a willingness to engage with the Tavistock Centre throughout, will continue to seek guidance and support from the same. I am sure that will be extremely helpful for them. It may well help them to come to an understanding of why P finds it so distressing when they have referred to him as H.
  6. Like the parents, I very much hope the time will come when a reconciliation is effected between P and the parents. In my judgment, however, the surest way of seeking to secure that outcome, is to respect P’s current wishes and feelings.
  7. When balancing P’s Article 8 rights against those of the parents I am entirely satisfied the balance falls decisively in favour of P’s Article 8 rights. At the age of 16, having decided to disengage from his family in the very sad circumstances of this case, it is for P to decide what, if and when any details about his life are given to his parents. I have taken particular account of the genuine and sincere conviction with which P has expressed his views and wishes. It would, in my judgment, be wholly contrary to (a) his welfare best interests, (b) his Article 8 rights and (c) any hope of a reconciliation being effected for the court to override his views and permit or require the local authority to provide information about P to his parents.
  8. Accordingly, I propose to grant declaratory relief as sought by P.
  9. I know that this decision will be a source of real disappointment and distress to the parents. I hope, however, they will understand the reasons for my decision in the fullness of time.

 

[Another way of looking at it, not considered within this judgment, is whether the LA are capable of complying with the section 22 duty to consult with a parent where the young person is Gillick competent and objects, because of the provisions of the Data Protection Act and that the subject has rights about how their information, particularly sensitive personal information such as this is processed]

 

Very sad case, where you have to feel for everyone involved, and just hope that for all of them what must be extremely difficult and painful now may result in less pain and hardship in the future.