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Legal aid, Court of Protection and ‘contrivance’

 

This is a Court of Protection case, and it is a Charles J judgment, which means that although it is important, it is complicated and challenging. If you aren’t working in the COP field, you can probably skip most of it and just go to the bits where Charles J is erm direct in his views about the Legal Aid Agency and the Secretary of State, who were both joined as parties.  That’s towards the bottom – and it is good stuff so worth a read purely for schadenfreude about those two massively popular bodies being taken down a peg or two.

The case involved a man who as a result of a road traffic accident in July 2015 had been unconscious since that time, and whether he should continue to have Clinically Assisted Nutrition and Hydration (CANH)

Clearly the man lacked capacity, so an argument about this would have to be dealt with under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and in the Court of Protection. There’s absolutely and undoubtedly a valid argument to be had about whether the continuation of this treatment is in his best interests or not.

The case isn’t really about THAT argument, it is about a preliminary argument.

Is the application before the Court for :-

 

(a) section 5 and section 16 of the MCA  which allows the Court to consider all of the welfare issues set out in the MCA and make a best interests declaration ;

 

or

(b)  A challenge under s21A of the MCA – which relates to the Court’s powers to consider any aspect of P’s life or plans or arrangements for P if his liberty is being deprived.  I.e is it a DOLS case?

 

That seems to be sterile and academic, but actually it isn’t.  Because answer (b) can potentially attract non-means legal aid and answer (a) cannot.  So if the Legal Aid Agency granted legal aid on the basis of (b) it would be free to P’s wife to make the challenge and be represented in Court, and if they granted it on the basis of (a)  she would have to make a contribution, and in this case the level of those contributions would be at a level where she could not afford it and thus have to represent herself in proceedings about whether in effect her husband should be allowed to die.  (P’s wife and his family would like the CANH to be withdrawn and P provided with palliative care, the hospital would wish to continue the feeding treatment)

 

I have to say that my immediate view on this was that whilst P is not free to get up and leave the hospital, and he does not enjoy the same liberty as you and I, it is EXTREMELY hard to argue that the restrictions on his liberty is imposed on him by the State. They are surely a natural consequence of his medical condition.

Briggs v Briggs and Others 2016  EWCOP 48

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2016/48.html

Charles J says this:-

 

 

  • The case has been argued before me on the premise that:

 

i) applying the decision of the Supreme Court in P (By His Litigation Friend the Official Solicitor) v Cheshire West and Chester Council and Another; P and Q (By Their Litigation Friend the Official Solicitor) v Surrey County Council [2014] UKSC 19; [2014] AC 896 (“Cheshire West”) Mr Briggs is being deprived of his liberty at the Walton Centre, andii) the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (the DOLS) apply to Mr Briggs (and so the point referred to in paragraph 101 of my judgment in LF v HM Coroner [2015] EWHC 2990 (Admin); [2016] WLR 2385 was not advanced).

One of the reasons for this was that the LF case is listed to be heard in the Court of Appeal before Christmas.

 

  • In any event, if I am right in AM v South London & Maudsley NHS & Secretary of State for Health [2013] UKUT 365 (AAC); [2013] COPLR 510 the DOLS may well continue to apply for some time to the circumstances in which Mr Briggs finds himself in the hospital (and on any move to another hospital) on the basis that he may be being deprived of his liberty.
  • I accept that this approach is a sensible one but record that it was made for and limited to the preliminary issue before me in this case. At least one of the parties indicated that it was not accepted that Mr Briggs was being deprived of his liberty and all parties reserved their right to argue that one or both of the underlying premises is incorrect.
  • I also make the general comments that:

 

i) the circumstances in which Mr Briggs finds himself flow inexorably from his accident, the damage that caused to his brain and body and the package of care and treatment that damage necessitated on and after his admission to hospital, and soii) to my mind, it follows that it cannot be said that his deprivation of liberty in hospital is imposed by others as, for example might be said in respect of the consequence of decisions made to admit and detain a person in hospital under s. 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

 

 

  • A standard authorisation under the DOLS in respect of Mr Briggs has been granted by the relevant supervisory body at the request of the Walton Centre. It expires in December.

 

I will cut to the chase – Charles J did decide to treat this case as a s21A case, and thus has found that Mr Briggs (P) is being deprived of his liberty and is entitled to make use (through his family) of the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.

 

  • 74. So if the result of the CANH issue is that it should be part of Mr Briggs’ treatment, I consider that:

 

i) pending a move to a rehabilitation centre, the authorisation of his deprivation of liberty at the hospital should no longer be governed by the standard authorisation (continued if necessary by the COP) but by the welfare order made by the COP although a continuation of a DOLS authorisation is a possibility,ii) so (unless there is an automatic termination) the existing DOLS authorisation should be terminated under s. 21A(3) as a direct consequence of the best interests CANH decision,

iii) the making of orders under s. 21A (6) and (7) may need to be considered, and

iv) how the deprivation of liberty at the rehabilitation centre is to be authorised should be addressed by the COP and it may be that any court order should end on the transfer and that reliance should then be placed on s. 5 of the MCA and a DOLS authorisation.

 

  • 75. Alternatively, if the conclusion of the COP on the CANH issue is that it should not be part of Mr Briggs’ treatment I consider that:

 

i) the position relating to Mr Briggs’ deprivation of liberty pending a move to another placement where Mr Briggs receives palliative care should be covered by a court order although if the treating team change their position authorisation under a continuation of a DOLS authorisation is a possibility,ii) so (unless there is an automatic termination) the existing DOLS authorisation should be terminated under s. 21A(3) as a direct result of the best interests decision as a direct consequence of the best interests CANH decision,

iii) the making of orders under s. 21A(6) and (7) will need to be considered, and

iv) how the deprivation of liberty at the new placement (probably a hospice) is to be authorised should be addressed by the COP.

 

  •  So I agree that the determinative or central issue is whether CANH is in Mr Briggs’ best interests and the conclusion on it should found an order under s. 16(2). But, in my view the consequences set out in the last two paragraphs mean that the determination of that issue by the COP founds and so is directly relevant to its consideration of its exercise of its functions under s. 21A (which it can exercise whether or not proceedings above have been issued under s. 21A).

 

 

{I’m very glad that I don’t work in a hospital legal department, because it is now very unclear to me whether every patient they have in an unconscious state or coma requires a DOLS authorisation. It is certainly a possible interpretation of this case}

 

Mrs Briggs argued in the case that s21A did apply . The Official Solicitor, the Secretary of State and the Legal Aid Agency argued that it didn’t, and that even if this WERE a DOLS case, there should be one non-means certificate to deal specifically with the issue of whether P’s liberty should be deprived, and another to deal with best interests decision about his care plan and treatment. The Hospital Trust were entirely neutral. It seems rather odd to me that nobody argued before the Court that the s21A issue is a contrivance using complicated legal finesse to attract non-means public funding to a situation where it doesn’t really apply.  (Perhaps they didn’t argue it because it appears that the idea emerged from decisions made by Charles J himself in other cases…)

 

 

  • It was not argued the proceedings issued by Mrs Briggs were an abuse or a contrivance. Indeed it was accepted that:

 

i) they were not,ii) the COP can grant relief under other sections of the MCA (and so under ss. 15 and 16) in an application under s. 21A (see Re UF [2013] 4289 at paragraph 11 and CC v KK [2012] EWHC 2136 (COP)), and so

iii) the COP could have granted relief in this case under ss. 15 and 16 if the only application before it had been that made by Mrs Briggs in reliance on s. 21A, and it could do this without directing that a further application be made,

iv) Practice Direction 9E, and no other Rule or provision, provided that an application “relating to” a best interests decision about serious medical treatment should be commenced in any particular way,

v) there was no difficulty in complying with Practice Direction 9E in proceedings issued in reliance on s. 21A and, in any event, Rule 26 of the COP Rules 2007 enables the COP to depart from it,

vi) whatever the result on the CANH issue Mr Briggs will continue to be deprived of his liberty and so when the COP determines that issue it will need to address how that deprivation of liberty is authorised, and

vii) on the approach taken in Re UF the authorisation under the DOLS (or a replacement) would remain in existence until the COP had decided the CANH issue and a decision about it under ss. 21A (3), (6) and (7) would or may be needed.

 

  • The points listed in the last paragraph are important because they mean that:

 

i) Mrs Briggs’ proceedings are proceedings under s. 21A and that applying Re UF until this case is decided by the COP an authorisation under the DOLS will remain in existence and so on any view those proceedings have an authorisation to bite on, and in my viewii) the COP can grant relief under s. 21A in an application brought for orders under ss. 15 and 16 of the MCA (the mirror image of Re UF and CC v KK).

 

  • Re UF addressed the same Legal Aid Regulation and identified a route (accepted by the LAA) that:

 

i) continued eligibility for non means tested legal aid although the COP (rather than the supervisory body) took the relevant decisions, andii) meant that what happened to that authorisation was a live issue at the end of the case.

 

  • My understanding is that the approach set out in Re UF has been applied in a number of proceedings brought under s. 21A which have turned on a detailed assessment of the relevant package of care, support and treatment, possible alternatives and which of them the COP has concluded will best promote P’s best interests.
  • So Re UF identified a route that the LAA accepted was not a contrivance by which non means tested legal aid was available albeit that the COP took over all decision making and could make decisions under ss. 15, 16 and 21A. Here Mrs Briggs’ proceedings came first and in Re UF separate proceedings seeking a welfare order and/or declarations had not been issued. Whether proceedings under s. 21A could be issued second to trigger eligibility to non means tested legal aid was not argued before me, but it would be surprising if the order of issue affected the application of Re UF and so the availability of non means tested legal aid. Also, it was not argued before me whether applying Regulation 5 non means tested legal aid could be given to both P and an RPR or only to one of them. I expressed the preliminary view that it could be given to both.
  • Experience indicates that many if not most cases brought under s. 21A in respect of a DOLS authorisation turn on the best interests assessment made by the COP and many lead to changes in the package of care, support and treatment to make it less restrictive rather than a change of circumstances that result in P no longer being deprived of his physical liberty and that these are implemented by or reflected in orders made under s. 21A varying the DOLS authorisation directly or by reference to the care plan it is based on or imposing conditions as a direct result of the best interests conclusion reached by the COP.

 

Charles J had THIS to say about the legal aid agency

 

 

  • The positions of the Secretary of State, the LAA and the Official Solicitor varied on the availability of non means tested legal aid for representation to present arguments on issues relating to the care, support or treatment of a P and so his care plan and needs assessment, and so on what the COP could properly consider and grant relief in respect of under or applying s. 21A:

 

i) the Official Solicitor submitted that non means tested funding for such representation was not available for any of such issues because they all related to the conditions of a detention and so were outside the ambit of the DOLS and s. 21A,ii) the Secretary of State submitted that such funding was available for representation on such issues if they related to “physical liberty”. As I understand the Secretary of State’s position that includes an examination of less restrictive conditions relating to physical liberty even though they also create a deprivation of liberty within Article 5 in the same or a different placement (e.g. a change from locked doors to door sensors and greater freedom of movement within a Care Home). But if that understanding is wrong, it is clear that the Secretary of State distinguishes between conditions that relate to physical liberty and those that do not – which, in the context of alternative regimes at the only available Care Home, it was submitted include the availability of en suite bathrooms or food choices or things of that nature. That distinction flows from the way in which the Secretary of State advanced his argument by reference to what is and is not covered by and so justiciable under Article 5, and

iii) although at the hearing it adopted the arguments of the Secretary of State on the meaning and effect of s. 21A and Regulation 5, the LAA was not prepared to commit to any circumstances in which it accepted that such funding was available for representation on such issues.

 

  • That stance of the LAA and experience of its general approach founds the conclusion that there is a real risk that:

 

i) it will seek to advance any point it considers to be arguable to avoid paying legal aid on a non means tested basis in respect of issues relevant to the circumstances of a P who is the subject of a DOLS authorisation,ii) in doing so, it will change its existing approach in such cases and so challenge Re UF and/or change the stance it adopted in that case,

iii) in doing so, it will adopt the position of the Official Solicitor and not that of the Secretary of State set out in paragraph 36 (i) and (ii) respectively.

 

  • After the hearing I was helpfully provided with further information by counsel for the LAA about its approach in the past and the future. This refers to the reliance placed on what the LAA is told and indicates that the approach in Re UF is being and will continue to be accepted and applied with the result that if the COP continues the DOLS authorisation non means tested legal aid will continue to be available in respect of applications about it. But it asserts that non means tested legal aid is (and has only been made) available in respect of matters that “relate directly to the discharge or variation of the standard or urgent authorisation” and that providers should always apply for a separate certificate to carry out non means tested services as and when these arise alongside a non means tested matter. This does not fully accord with the understanding of the solicitors acting for Mrs Briggs on the existing approach of the LAA and, more importantly it does not explain:

 

i) what matters the LAA says are directly related to the discharge or variation of a continuing DOLS authorisation, andii) whether it adopts the position of the Secretary of State or the Official Solicitor.

To my mind, although it seems to show that Re UF will continue to be applied this further information perpetuates uncertainty and so compounds the risk that the approach of the LAA will give rise to serious and possibly insurmountable hurdles being put in the way of challenges being made by Ps and/or their RPRs to a DOLS authorisation, and so the lawfulness of P’s deprivation of liberty, with the benefit of representation or at all because of the difficulties they would face in respect of contributions and as litigants in person.

 

 

Charles J also had this to say about the Secretary of State and the failure to provide proper scheme for legal representation in the avalanche of DOLS cases since the Supreme Court’s decision in Cheshire West opened the scope of such cases far wider than they had historically been.

 

 

  • The representation of P has been an issue in a line cases that do not fall within the DOLS but in which, applying Cheshire West, P is being deprived of his liberty and so that detention should be authorised by an order made by the COP. The last in the line is Re JM [2016] EWCOP 15. Those cases show the limitations on the availability of legal aid in such cases if they are not disputed. After the JM case, the Secretary of State has acknowledged in correspondence that, contrary to his stance in that case, a resource of people and/or of resources to provide people to act as representatives for Ps who are deprived of their liberty in such cases is not readily available. This means that:

 

i) in that type of case the COP cannot lawfully authorise the deprivations of liberty, and soii) such cases are being stayed, and

iii) many (probably in the thousands rather than the hundreds) of such cases are not being brought in part because they will be stayed and the costs of issuing them can be better spent.

 

  • We are all only too aware of problems flowing from austerity. But assessed through my eyes as Vice President of the Court of Protection the stance being taken by the Secretary of State in this case, and in and after Re JM, demonstrates the existence of a continuing failure by the Secretary of State to address an urgent need to take steps to provide resources that would enable the COP to deal with cases relating to probably thousands of Ps in a lawful way, and so in accordance with the procedural requirements of Article 5 and the requirements of Article 6. The result of this sorry state of affairs is that in probably thousands of cases not covered by the DOLS deprivations of liberty are not being authorised under the amendments made to the MCA by the MHA 2007 to comply with Article 5.

 

I think that most people practising in this area of work know that this is what is happening on the ground, but damn, it is nice to see the Secretary of State being told it in such clear terms.

 

For my part, I think legally that this is a pure device to get around the much loathed LASPO and it is a contrivance; but that it is surely the right outcome in terms of fairness. If anyone found themselves in the dreadful position that Mrs Briggs was in, surely they should have legal representation to help with the Court’s decision as to whether her husband should be fed via artificial means to keep him alive or whether he should be allowed to die with dignity in accordance with his family’s wishes.  Whatever stance you take on the right to die issue, surely it is unacceptable for the State to expect someone to have those difficult arguments without the benefit of legal representation.

 

 

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Crisis in infinite Courts

 

The President has published his 15th View from the President’s Chambers, and it is a doozy. We waited a long long time for the 14th, but the 15th came soon after it.

 

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/15th-view-from-the-president-s-chambers-care-cases-the-looming-crisis#.V-I-7jU1Ouc

 

It has been pretty apparent for a long while that the number of care proceedings has just continued to climb from the post Baby P figures, which at the time everyone thought was a temporary surge in caution and new referrals and would eventually settle down.  (Back then it went from just over 6,000 per year, to around 8,000 per year.) It didn’t. There was a very short period when the numbers dipped, but those were clearly attributable to the issue of the brand new Public Law Outline and professionals getting to grips with the new model of doing things.  Over the last 8 years, care proceedings have just continued to climb, year on year, the only thing that differed was by how much.

But then over the last two years, the rate of increase dramatically shot up.

As the President observes in his View, we’re going to be pretty close to 15,000 sets of care proceedings this year, and are likely to pass that next year. He gloomily predicts that we are heading for 20,000 a year over the next few years (I’m not sure that I agree, and I’ll explain why later)

The critical thing, of course, is that this increase of between 200 and 300 % in the volume of care proceedings over the last ten years has not been matched by a 200-300% increase in the number of Judges or Court sitting days.  Nor by the number of social workers, or Guardians, or care lawyers.  And vitally important for the Crisis that even the President says is looming, is that there has ABSOLUTELY not been a 200-300% increase in the legal aid budget for care cases – in fact there’s not only not been increases in line with inflation, but actual cuts.

At the moment, each care case has a fixed fee in terms of solicitors (they can cost a bit more if the case takes twice as much work as the average) , so when care cases increase, the number of those fixed fees increase. When, as at the moment the increase in volume is about 23% on last year, which was in turn 20% on the year before, you can see that the portion of the Legal Aid budget that deals with fixed fees for solicitors, which has had NO INCREASE AT ALL is under huge pressure.

The other costs in terms of legal aid are – counsel’s fees, and the more cases that are in Court, the higher those will go – particularly as solicitors have more volume of cases to run in the office and are able to go to Court less, those costs will go up. And experts fees – there had been a considerable reduction in the use of experts since the 2014 law changes which meant that before the Court could agree an expert they had to be satisfied that it was NECESSARY rather than just helpful or useful.  But, that was all working on the basis that social workers would be doing more and more of the assessments, and if their volume of work has gone up like that, that’s less possible.

My best case scenario is that the legal aid budget for care proceedings is around 40% overspent from 2 years ago (it takes time for all the payments to filter through, but we could be in for that experience again where the Legal Aid Agency write no cheques at all in February and March, because they’ve got no money – it happened about 6 years ago, I think. If that happens now, firms will go under).  I think the overspend might be far worse than that, in reality.

 

So I agree entirely with the President when he says :-

 

Following implementation of the recommendations of the Family Justice Review, the average duration of care cases fell rapidly month by month – the graph, accordingly, showing a constant falling line. Over the last year or so the graph has ‘flat-lined’. That it has not, as yet, begun to climb must be a matter for congratulation to everyone involved in making the system work. To keep the line level as the caseload increased by 14% is an astonishing achievement. I hope I turn out to be wrong but I do not believe that this level of achievement can be maintained as caseloads continue to rise. The fact is that, on the ground, the system is – the people who make the system work are – at full stretch. We cannot, and I have for some time now been making clear that I will not, ask people to work harder. Everyone – everyone – is working as hard as they can.

We must, accordingly, assume that the line on the graph will start to go up – to move in the wrong direction. We are facing a crisis and, truth be told, we have no very clear strategy for meeting the crisis.

 

That’s brave and honest language from the man in charge of the system, and he is to be commended for it. Every time I’ve looked at the CAFCASS care demand stats, which are published each month, I’ve thought ‘either these numbers take a sharp dive over the next few months, or we’re all f***ed.’   And far from taking a dive, they’ve just ramped up higher and higher.

There IS no more money, there is not going to BE any more money.  So, either the Government and Legal Aid Agency work out a way of cutting VOLUMES, or COST PER CASE, or they just simply don’t pay nearly half the bills that come in, with no prospect of being able to pay them next year either.

 

As the President says
There are, in principle, three possible causes for the increase:

  1. that the amount of child abuse/neglect is increasing;
  2. that local authorities are becoming more adept at identifying child abuse/neglect and taking action to deal with it;
  3. that local authorities are setting more demanding standards – in other words, lowering the threshold for intervention.

I do not believe that child abuse/neglect is rising by 14% let alone 20% a year. So this cannot be the sole explanation. It follows that changes in local authority behaviour must be playing a significant role.

 

I think that there are fairly clear correlations between poverty in our society and neglect, and between poverty and substance and alcohol abuse (that’s not for a SECOND to say that all abuse is perpetuated by poor people, or that poor people are child abusers – just that as the level of poverty increases in the country, you’ll see a corresponding increase in the levels of neglect and alcohol misuse and substance misuse).  So I think there’s going to be an ongoing underlying increase until this country’s economic fortunes turn round.

 

Equally, I think that cuts to services that support and help families – which have happened and continue to happen, inevitably mean that some families without those services will fall into care proceedings.

My guess is that those two factors account for some of the underlying increase year on year – that 6-10% annual increase.  But the massive spikes – I don’t think that they are that, and there’s not the clear “Baby P” fear factor that we all thought accounted for the increases since 2008  (incidentally, the timing of the big increase and continued increases rather than care proceedings being roughly stable each year corresponds with the 2008 financial crisis and austerity since that time, disporportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable in society. With the benefit of hindsight, it wasn’t so much a Baby P factor as a ‘sub-prime mortgage’ factor)

 

The spike , my thinking is, is largely a result of the set of decisions within care proceedings that meant that Local Authorities who had children in care under s20 with parents not objecting to that were getting hammered by Judges for not having gone to Court earlier and being made to pay damages and costs.   Now, this is difficult, because I think that s20 drift (particularly with parents whose capacity to consent was compromised) was a genuine problem and a real issue and it needed to be tackled.  So I welcome those cases (though I think the damages figures are rather plucked out of the air in comparison to personal injury damages quantum), but you simply can’t get away from this :-

 

Judges told Local Authorities that if they held on to s20 cases and didn’t issue, they’d be told off, made to pay compensation, made to pay costs, and be in published judgments, so local and national press could report on them getting a judicial kicking.

Local Authorities issued way more proceedings.

 

 

Do I think s20 drift is an issue that needs addressing? Hell yes.

Do I think it is such an important issue that it is worth risking either – LAA not paying cheques for 3-4 months of the year and solicitors firms going out of business?  OR the alternative which is clearly attractive to the Legal Aid Agency – remove representation of children by lawyers, save 33% of the budget in one simple move?

I’m afraid that I don’t.

 

So, quick hotfix

 

  1. HRA damages claims about s20 drift or delay should be issued in the civil courts, as a civil case with the pre-action protocols.
  2. And not done within care proceedings or within care proceeding legal aid certificates.

 

Does this make it harder to get those HRA claims? Absolutely. Does it mean that s20 drift won’t be tackled as rigorously by the Courts as it is at present? Absolutely. Will it reduce the number of proceedings being issued. Hell yes.

 

 

I’m also afraid that from what I have heard about the effectivness of settlement conferences in avoiding final hearings in the pilot authorities, these are INEVITABLY  going to be rolled out, despite reservations that the Association of Lawyers for Children rightly have about them

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/07/06/settlement-conferences/

 

The biggest resource cost in care proceedings is the final hearing – that takes up Court time, Judge time, counsel fees, expert attendance fees.  So a scheme which in the pilots has changed the proportion of cases that settle before final hearing from about 30% to 90% is going to be massively attractive to the MOJ and the Legal Aid Agency.  Particularly in this climate. I can’t see how they won’t be rolled out nationally if the pilot when it reports even says that the proportion of cases that settle went from 30% to 50%.

 

Here is another idea of mine which would save money at final hearings but without being as queasy as the Settlement Conferences scheme.

 

At an IRH, if the parents are presenting as a couple and there are no issues which REQUIRE them to be separately represented by counsel at the final hearing, there will be a rebuttable presumption that they would have one counsel.  That will be a decision for the Judge to decide at IRH, having heard representations. Obviously if it is a case with allegations of domestic violence or coercive control, it won’t be appropriate for one counsel to represent the other, likewise if there is a disputed injury or sexual allegation where one party might have to implicate the other or decide on separation.  But I have lost count of the number of final hearings I’ve done where the Legal Aid Agency and hence the taxpayer, is paying for counsel to represent the mother and counsel to represent the father, and you could not slip a cigarette paper between their case and their submissions.  It adds to time, it adds to cost, and with a looming 40% budget overspend, it is a luxury we can’t afford.

To be honest, this is something which ought to be addressed at IRH’s anyway, but I’ve never heard parents counsel asked the question at any IRH – what is the need for parents to be separately represented here?

[In those cases where there’s an answer to that, then of course they should be separately represented, but too often it is just done without any thought or consideration, other than mum has her own team and dad has his own team.  It’s not going to save 40% of the budget, but it would be a start, and much better than robbing the child of a voice in the proceedings]

 

I think that the President places a lot of stock in shorter documents solving some of the problems of time and cost per case.  In my experience, shorter documents give less space for setting out the facts and the arguments clearly, and result in greater disputes.  To draw up a threshold which provides the factual allegations, the specific examples for which findings are sought AND contains the Re A analysis, is a constant battle to get into 2 pages, and LA’s are ALWAYS drawing them up with one hand tied behind their back. Something has to give, and if it is the choice between two lines where I can put in a significant allegation or dropping that allegation for a Re A analysis, I’ll drop the Re A every time. Sorry, but that’s how it is.   I think it was right to stop thresholds being so sprawling, but when Re A came in, the limit should have been made to 3 pages – 5 in exceptional cases.    (Try doing an FII threshold in 2 pages….)

Shorter social work statements – well yes, we’d all like to get rid of the waffle and duplication and jargon (not sure that the standard SWET model does absolutely anything in that regard) and a large chunk of the documents are now spent on the Re B-S analysis, so we can’t get rid of that.   Shorter statements, in space restrictions might also lead to less balance – if you have to squeeze everything in, isn’t there a tendency to focus on the stuff that helps your case, rather than provide the balanced accounts of the positive things that the parents have done. To write about the truly awful session of contact on 4th February but not make room for some of the positive feedback about other sessions?

 

In my experience, the most common question I hear posed to social workers in the witness box is :-

 

“But why isn’t this in your statement?”

 

So shorter statements might well be a mixed blessing. Less for people to read, but missing some of the facts, context, analysis and rigour that might lead to less need to call live evidence and to have final hearings.

 

I’m all for the President’s suggestion of research – let us perhaps start with a comparison of those authorities who are using SWET and whose Courts are hardline on page restrictions versus those who aren’t.  Does it affect number of proceedings, number of hearings, number of contested final hearings, time taken to conclude cases…

Funding of intermediaries

[See last blog]

 

An email came to me suggesting that it could be argued that rather than the Legal Aid Agency paying for the intermediary, it could come from HMCTS. I.e the Court pays.

Thinking of it in that way, it occurred to me that the President had floated in Q v Q the idea that HMCTS paying for a lawyer for an unrepresented person was analogous to HMCTS paying for interpreters or intermediaries. But I knew that the final conclusion in Q v Q was appealed when HH J Bellamy made such an order in Re K and H. So, does perhaps the Court of Appeal decision in Re K and H 2015 give us an answer on this?

I think that it does.

 

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed145039

 

  1. As we have seen, in reaching his conclusion, the judge was influenced by the fact that HMCTS meets the cost of interpreters, intermediaries and the preparation of court bundles under the Financial Resources Regulations. He said that these are “aspects” of “representation” within the meaning of section 42 of LASPO. Section 42 defines “representation” as meaning “representation for the purposes of proceedings” and includes “the advice and assistance which is usually given by a representative in the steps preliminary or incidental to proceedings”. He considered that by analogy, HMCTS has the power to meet the cost of legal representation.

 

  1. I do not accept that interpreters or intermediaries are “representatives” within the meaning of section 42, still less that they provide the services of a legal representative. In In the Matter of D (a child) (No 2) [2015] EWFC 2, Sir James Munby said at para 17:

 

“The cost of funding an intermediary in court properly falls on Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service because, as the LAA has correctly pointed out, an intermediary is not a form of ‘representation’ but a mechanism to enable the litigant to communicate effectively with the court, and thus analogous to translation, so should therefore be funded by the court: see Re X, para 37 and C v Sevenoaks Youth Court [2009] EWHC 3088 (Admin), [2010] 1 All ER 735, paras 26-27.”

 

  1. I agree with this. Nor do I see how the fact that HMCTS funds the preparation of court bundles from time to time sheds any light on whether the court has power to require HMCTS to fund the cost of legal representation.

 

 

For me, that seems to settle it. The LAA should not be asked to fund an intermediary, but instead it should fall on HMCTS. Re D is binding on most Courts as a High Court authority, and given that the Court of Appeal looked at it in Re K and H and agreed, it binds just about everyone.    The Court of Appeal specifically AGREED that the cost of funding an intermediary in Court properly falls on HMCTS.

 

So having identified a problem, I’ve accidentally solved it.

What I don’t yet know is whether the Court has a duty to provide the intermediary once a recommendation is made or whether the Court could press on without one. (remembering that whilst an expert recommends something, it is ultimately a matter for the Judge whether to accept that recommendation).

I don’t think that a Judge could say “I agree with Dr Nolan that an intermediary is required, but I am not going to order one because of X”  but that a Judge COULD say “Dr Nolan says that an intermediary is required – I have decided that it is not required because of X”.     It always makes me a bit uncomfortable the notion that a Judge (who is ultimately employed by HMCTS and to some extent accountable to them) has to decide whether HMCTS should incur expenditure.

 

 

Intermediary, fair trial and Legal Aid Agency

 

The High Court case of West Sussex CC v H and Others 2015 throws up an interesting issue.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2439.html

 

This was a fact finding hearing, where the central allegation was that either mother or her boyfriend W, had caused a brain injury to a child who was two years old. The injury had at the time been life-threatening.

 

This is one of the most serious sorts of cases that come before the family Court. A finding that mother had caused that injury or failed to protect the child would have serious consequences for this mother’s prospects of keeping the children and possibly of any future children she might have. Also, the process itself would involve a lot of documents, some complicated issues and really forensic dissection of the events that happened that night, in a lot of detail.

The mother had undergone a cognitive assessment by Dr Nigel North, and he had concluded that she would need the assistance of an intermediary when giving evidence.

Intermediaries are used in criminal proceedings, and they play a very important part in making sure that a vulnerable witness can give the best evidence that they are able to.

 

The Registered Intermediary, having taken the intermediary oath, assists during the giving of evidence. They sit alongside the witness in the live link room (or stand next to them if they are giving evidence in court) in order to monitor communication. They intervene during questioning when appropriate and as often as appropriate in accordance with the ground rules and the recommendations in their report.   [taken from http://www.theadvocatesgateway.org/intermediaries ]

 

However, though that was a clear recommendation and not challenged by anyone, she had to give evidence without an intermediary as the Legal Aid Agency had refused to fund one.

 

  1. The case was before me for case management on the 24th April 2015 and following the orders made on that day it was listed to be heard in July 2015. In addition to the complexity of the medical evidence there were concerns about the ability of M to fully participate in, and understand the proceedings because of a report by Dr Nigel North (a psychologist) dated the 6th March 2015 which recommended the use of an intermediary. The solicitors for M had applied for public funding for an intermediary assessment which was refused by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). There followed attempts by the solicitors to appeal against this decision which were unsuccessful. By the time the solicitors approached the court for approval for funding an intermediary without a further assessment to support M during the trial in July there were none available to come to court.
  2. Given her history, which was never in dispute, it is not clear to me why it was considered necessary to have a further assessment by qualified intermediary except that Dr North is not an intermediary himself; the stance of the LAA did not assist when coupled with the insistence by Communicourt that they carry out an assessment separately from supporting Y at court. This led to the refusal of funding for that initial assessment. There is undoubtedly a pressing need for clear guidance and rules similar to those in criminal proceedings when it comes to the treatment of vulnerable witnesses. It is to be hoped that the proposed addition to the Family Procedure rules will come in to force sooner rather than later.

 

There would not have been a problem obtaining an intermediary in a criminal court*, but in a family court if the Legal Aid Agency say no, that’s the end of it.  [*I’m not a criminal lawyer, so I might be utterly wrong here and if someone more knowledgeable tells me otherwise, I’ll amend.  Of course in a criminal case, the Judge could throw the trial out for abuse of process if the LAA refused to provide an intermediary where one was necessary, and that’s a bit more difficult in family proceedings. You don’t want to decide family cases and the safety and future of children on a ‘technicality’]

 

Those involved in the case worked with the Judge, Russell J,  to come up with the fairest solution that they could.

 

  1. On the first day of the fact finding trial I heard a ground rules hearing to decide how the case could progress without the assistance of an intermediary taking into account the recommendations which had been made by Dr North. It was agreed that the trial could go ahead with frequent breaks to allow M to have time to consider the evidence broken up into shorter more manageable sections. There were to be breaks every 30 minutes or more often if needed. M’s evidence was to be similarly divided; she was to be asked short questions and cross-examined by one counsel only, who would agree the area of questioning with other counsel. Counsel for the local authority undertook this task with the assistance of the guidance provide by the ATC in their toolkit for family proceedings. As there were seven files of evidence the documents that M was to be referred to during her evidence were placed in one file; in addition it was agreed that she would be supported by someone she knew from her solicitor’s firm to find pages or if she needed any other assistance.
  2. M’s own mother L is a respondent to these proceedings as she had originally been named as a possible perpetrator and is closely concerned with the local authority’s future plans for the care of Y and X. She was able to offer M additional support throughout the hearing.

 

 

[The outcome of the case was that the Judge found that mother’s boyfriend W, had caused the injury but more out of carelessness or recklessness than by any intention to hurt the child  :-   I do not consider that there is evidence to support any suggestion that the impact was deliberately inflicted and consider it more likely that it was a reckless and foolish action taken by a young man who has no experience as a parent, primary or main carer of a child who is still very young.   There was no finding that the mother had done anything wrong  M’s conduct since that night has been congruent with a parent seeking an answer to what has happened to her child and has not been self-serving or defensive. ]

 

 

Lost in translation

This is a decision by a Circuit Judge, so informative rather than binding.

 

Re R (translation of documents in proceedings) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B112.html

 

You may be thinking, as I initially did  – “but the President has already ruled on that!”

Indeed he did, and ruled that it was deeply unfair for a parent who doesn’t speak English not to have the documents translated into their own language, but not all of the documents, and not every bit of the documents. In fact, the parent in the President’s case got the generous amount of 51 pages translated (from a bundle of 591 pages) – thus less than 10%, and it was one of the President’s many rages about 350 page bundles, so even assuming a 350 page bundle, he’d have been getting about 15% of the documents.

So why is this even a case?

Well, because in the Presidents case  Re L 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/15.html

 

There was no dispute about WHO would pay for the translation, everyone agreed that it would be the parent’s legal aid certificate, but rather about how much should be translated. The estimate was £38 per page, so translating everything would have been £23,000.

 

In this case, there was a dispute about whether the legal aid agency would, or should, pay at all, or whether someone else should pay.  I don’t know why the LAA didn’t raise that as an issue before the President  (or rather, I do, it is because they knew they’d lose) but it wasn’t settled by Re L.

And of course, there’s absolutely no clarity in the LAA guidance, and no consistency around the country. So this issue is going to crop up over and over.

Her Honour Judge Roberts dealt with it in this way, which I think is very sensible

 
1. The LA are responsible for translating the pre-proceedings documents, and the initial statement and care plan, since at that point, the parties don’t have lawyers who have a public funding certificate.

2. After that point, the Legal Aid Agency are responsible for the costs of translating other documents, and it is the decision of the parent’s solicitors which documents they feel the parents need to have translated.

 

Very pragmatically, if you were making the Local Authority pay for the translation in category 2, that would involve them in a decision about which documents the parents needed to see, and that just doesn’t feel right at all.

 

I’m afraid that this is only binding in Suffolk courts (or until the Legal Aid Agency persuade the Minister to give them a get out of jail card in the form of some new regulations about it), but it might be helpful when the issue arises.

 

Without being all Nigel Farage about it, this is a real issue. When I started in family law, a case with a foreign parent happened once or twice per year, now it is about a third of my case load. Translation costs are considerable, and it is of course vital that a parent properly understands the allegations that are being made against them and sees the proper detail that they need to fight the case.

 

If you think that the title of the piece was just a cheap excuse for me to crowbar in a picture of Scarlet Johansson then, how right you are.

If Ms Johansson ever does get offered a part as a family lawyer and wants to shadow anyone for the role, I am available

 

If Ms Johansson ever does get offered an acting role  as a family lawyer and wants to shadow anyone for the role, I am available. *

 

 

*On consultation with my wife, it turns out that I’m not.

 

 

 

 

 

Re D (part 2) a damp squid

 

 

The President’s judgment in Re D  (part 2) is up.  The blog post about part 1 is here:-

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/11/03/everyone-really-ought-to-read-re-d/

Re D is the case in which parents had a care order at home, the LA removed under the Care order, there was no legal aid to challenge that decision despite father lacking capacity to instruct a solicitor. Then the LA lodged an application for a Placement Order, and as it was not joined up with care proceedings, there was no legal aid for THAT either.

Father’s legal team were not only acting for free, but they had to write the Official Solicitor an indemnity that if a costs order was made against the O/S they would pay it. Which is above and beyond.

So Part 2 is all about whether Legal Aid would be granted for the father under s10 LASPO (exceptional circumstances) and if not, what would happen.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/2.html

 

Annoyingly, as keeps happening before the President, the Legal Aid Agency eventually blinked and granted funding, thus avoiding a judgment that might declare that s10 LASPO as being practiced is incompatible with article 6.  So we don’t get a valuable precedent because there was no live issue to try. Grrrr.

 

However, note that the public funding granted here is still subject to an ongoing merits review  (that’s NOT what happens in care proceedings – even if your case looks hopeless you are still entitled to have a lawyer fight it for you)

 

The next hearing took place on 2 December 2014. As can be seen from the Annex, the final piece of the legal aid jigsaw had fallen into place the day before. My order recited the position as follows:

“The Father has a substantive funding certificate to cover all work undertaken to date and up to a final hearing in both the s.39 CA 1989 and s.21 ACA 2002 applications. The Official Solicitor will, in the usual manner, conduct an ongoing review as to the merits of the case and this may effect whether the funding certificate will remain in place.

The Mother has a substantive certificate to cover the period up to the exchange of final evidence in respect of both the s.39 CA 1989 and s.21 ACA 2002 applications, whereupon it will be subject to a merits review and report to the LAA which will determine whether the certificate will be extended to cover the final hearing.”

 

So it could be that if all of the professional evidence is against the parents, they will have no legal aid to have lawyers to challenge and test that evidence at a final hearing, although what is at stake is adoption.

 

The President has strong views about this (though note that parents routinely don’t get lawyers to help them on applications for leave to oppose the making of adoption orders, which also feels pretty shabby to me)

I have set out the parents’ legal aid position in paragraph 14 above. It will be noticed that there is, as yet, no assurance that legal aid will be in place for the final hearing. This causes me some disquiet. Whatever view may be taken as to their prospects of success at the final hearing, a matter on which I express no views whatever, though recognising, as I have earlier noted (Re D, para 9), that the report of the independent social worker is unfavourable to the parents, I would view with the very gravest concern any suggestion that they should be denied legal aid on ‘merits’ grounds. Given the extreme gravity of the issues at stake and their various problems and difficulties, it is, as I said before (Re D, paras 3, 31), unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. I repeat what I said in my earlier judgment:

“To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention; it would be a denial of justice.”

A parent facing the permanent removal of their child must be entitled to put their case to the court, however seemingly forlorn, and that must surely be as much the right of a parent with learning disabilities (as in the case of the mother) or a parent who lacks capacity (as in the case of the father) as of any other parent. It is one of the oldest principles of our law – it goes back over 400 centuries to the earliest years of the seventeenth century – that no-one is to be condemned unheard. I trust that all involved will bear this in mind.

 

The really sad thing about this case is encapsulated by the mother

  1. This is a case about three human beings. It is a case which raises the most profound issues for each of these three people. The outcome will affect each of them for the rest of their lives. Even those of us who spend our lives in the family courts can have but a dim awareness of the agony these parents must be going through as they wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, to learn whether or not their child is to be returned to them. Yet for much of the time since their son was taken from them – for far too much of that time – the focus of the proceedings has had to be on the issue of funding, which has indeed been the primary focus of the last three hearings. The parents can be forgiven for thinking that they are trapped in a system which is neither compassionate nor even humane.
  2. I leave the last word to the mother, who, together with her husband, was present at the hearing on 2 December 2014 as at previous hearings. In an up-dating note dated 8 December 2014, her counsel, Ms Sarah Morgan QC and Ms Lucy Sprinz, said this:

    “The mother was distressed following the last hearing that the child had not, as far as she had heard it, even been mentioned during the course of the submissions and discussions between Counsel (including her own) and the Court. It doesn’t, she remarked afterwards, seem right that so much time has to be taken up about the legal aid when it should be about D.”

    They added, “Clearly she is right about that.” For my own part I merely pose this question: Is this really the best we can do?

 

Hear hear.

Equally, it can’t be a decent solution to this situation that we have to get a case before the President before the Legal Aid Agency will blink and see sense. He can’t hear all of them.

The annexe is shocking- it has taken nine months of wrangling to sort out legal aid for something that most people would assume was automatic.

I completely agree with the position of the ALC (Association of Lawyers for Children) and ADCS  (Association of Directors of Childrens Services)  – parents facing an application for a placement order should get non-means, non-merits public funding regardless of when the application takes place.

 

…the ALC makes these two assertions:

    1. “Section 10 of LASPO is not being implemented so as to provide the safety net for the most vulnerable.
    1. Placement orders in particular should be included in those proceedings for which non-means-tested and non-merits-tested public funding is provided.”
  1. I draw attention to two of the points made by the ADCS. The first is that:

    “From the perspective of a child on a journey to a permanent placement, ADCS would argue that the impact of a care order and a placement order are effectively equivalent; the same is true of their impact on the child’s parents. ADCS would therefore argue that equivalent checks and balances are required before either order is made. There appears to be no logic to support treating the orders differently simply because they have become decoupled in complex proceedings

    In this case it would appear to ADCS that the application of the current legal aid rules has led to an injustice and could create a detrimental impact on the child in question. We would agree with the court that the State has created a problem by introducing these rules and should therefore find a means of resolving the problem.”

     

    [For the benefit of pedants, yes, I know it is ‘squib’, but I like that particular eggcorn. Actually, this case isn’t quite as damp as it appeared when I first read it, because there’s a rap over the knuckles for LASPO here, although it doesn’t end up being the declaration of incompatibility that many were hoping for]

if legal aid is being refused to people such as this mother I am satisfied that injustices will occur

This is a report of a short judgment from Her Honour Judge Hallam sitting in Middlesbrough, building on a decision from District Judge Reed in the same Court. Huge credit to both of them for calling out the Legal Aid Agency on this dreadful state of affairs   (the LAA in turn are just doing what they are told to do by our Lord  Chancellor)

 

Re H 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B127.html

 

 

This was a private law case, between a mother and a father. The father had legal aid, because the child was known to social services and they were supporting him. The mother did not.   [One could make far more sense of it if it were the other way around – the father had a lesser need of representation because his case was being supported]

 

At a hearing in May 2014, the Court picked up that this mother was not someone who was going to be able to represent herself – there was an assessment of her cognitive abilities that assisted with that

 

She is not sufficiently disadvantaged to say that she does not have capacity to litigate. She has capacity to litigate but in my judgment that is only with the assistance of a solicitor. She has difficulties in hearing, in speech and intellectual difficulties. She is unable to read or write. They are not fanciful difficulties. In previous public law proceedings there has been a report from Dr Cooper, who is a psychologist, informing the court of the mother’s cognitive difficulties and learning difficulties. Having seen the mother in court, I am satisfied that she would not have been able to represent herself in a case as complex as this and therefore, in my judgment, she was, to all intents and purposes, prevented from having access to this court

 

 

At that hearing, D J Reed gave these directions

 

The matter came before District Judge Reed in May of this year, on 19th May. As I say, it was apparent at that stage that the mother opposed the father’s application. Furthermore, it was apparent that the local authority supported the father in his application. There was a recommendation about contact. When the matter came before District Judge Reed, the local authority, Middlesbrough Council, were made a party to the proceedings. At that stage the mother was self-representing and the judge was clearly concerned about that and there is a lengthy preamble to the order that he made in May. That preamble recorded that the attendance of GHu in court to support the mother was not appropriate, given the issue in the case. He recorded that:

 

 

 

‘In the absence of legal aid to secure representation of the mother, it is inevitable that her article 6 and her article 8 ECHR rights will be at risk of being violated, given her evident speech, hearing and learning difficulties, if the case proceeds without further representation.’

 

 

That could not have been a clearer indication of the judge’s opinion and consideration of this matter and therefore he also said that:

 

 

 

‘On its facts and having regard to the surrounding circumstances and, in particular, the recent party status of Middlesbrough local authority, the criteria for assessing an exceptional grant of legal aid are likely to be made out.’

 

 

He went further and said that the local authority involvement in the current proceedings is based largely on public law and child protection issues relating to the respondent mother’s fifth child, subject to public law proceedings which concluded in 2014, resulting in both care and placement orders. He said there is considerable similarity and overlap in the issues which present in both sets of proceedings. That part of the preamble continues with:

 

 

 

‘Furthermore, in the circumstances of this particular case and those of the respondent mother, it would be unrealistic and potentially unjust to expect the respondent mother to be a self-representing person.’

 

 

Therefore he adjourned what was to be a final hearing on that occasion in order for a further application to be made to the legal aid authorities.

 

 

You might think that you could not have a clearer indication (particularly in light of Q v Q) that the State would be breaching mother’s article 6 and article 8 human rights by not allowing her to have free legal representation.

 

You will, however, not be surprised to know that the Legal Aid Agency did not grant her exceptional funding under s10 LASPO. Of course they didn’t. As part of that decision, they considered that there was no risk of article 6 or article 8 breach. Of course they are in a far better position to assess that than the Judge who is seized of all the facts and knows the stakes. Of course they are.

 

The second matter that I am told that Mr Keegan relied upon was that there would be no breach of Convention rights. I find that statement astounding. A district judge had already found, having seen the mother, that undoubtedly her article 6 and article 8 rights would be breached. When I pause to consider the article 6 first of all, which is to ensure that people have fair trials in the courts of this country, and in order to do that should have equality of arms, I cannot see how anyone can come to the conclusion that this mother’s article 6 rights were not in jeopardy. I repeat again the father has the support of a legal representative. The local authority, who are advancing a case contrary to that of the mother’s, has legal representation. Without legal aid, therefore, the mother, on her own, would be facing two advocates pursuing a case against her. On any basis that cannot be equality of arms. She is the party with the least ability, the greatest vulnerability and she should have had the benefit of legal representation. She is faced with the father, who has the greater ability and the support of social services; as I say, both being legally represented. In effect, this vulnerable mother is faced with two advocates running a case against her and she does not even have one. I cannot think of a clearer breach of article 6. Article 8 – this matter is clearly about family life and the mother’s right to family life, whether the children should be in her care or not and what contact she should have. Again, I cannot see any conclusion other than that her article 8 rights were engaged, as the district judge said, in my view, properly, in the court below.

 

 

Fortunately for this woman, someone stepped in to represent her pro bono, but that doesn’t get away from the fact that we simply don’t have a system where s10 LASPO is the safety net that the MOJ claimed that it was when they were getting this awful legislation through Parliament.

 

If a Judge says that a person’s article 6 rights will be breached without representation, that’s a really really really good indicator that they would be. Judges don’t say these things for fun.

 

Ithas been fortunate that she has had the assistance of someone today because this matter has reached agreement. However, it is not right that legal professionals should have to attend a hearing, as complex as this one, without remuneration. The mother still has concerns about the father’s care for the children and many of those concerns are shared by the local authority, so she has not been running a fanciful case. The matter has resolved; it has resolved with an order and a very detailed working agreement. Again, I cannot see how this mother could have entered into that working agreement which has resolved this case without the assistance of Mr Nixon here to help her understand it, consider whether it was right and ultimately agree to it. Therefore, I have given this judgment because I am satisfied that this mother should have had legal aid and should have been represented. Mothers in her situation should have proper and full access to the court with the assistance of legal advice. As I have said, I am going to order a transcript of this judgment, both for the Legal Aid Board and also because I feel that it should be shown to the President of the Family Division to show what is happening in these courts. I am told that since April 2013 there have been only eight or nine cases where exceptional legal aid has been granted. I do not know if that is correct, but if legal aid is being refused to people such as this mother I am satisfied that injustices will occur. Had this matter proceeded without the assistance of Mr Nixon to a fully contested hearing, this court would have been put in an impossible situation. Having said that, I approve the order. I am grateful to everybody for the time they have spent and I am also, as I keep saying, very grateful to Mr Nixon for having attended today.