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Child refugees – section 20? Care proceedings? Either?

This is a case in which Mr Justice Peter Jackson was asked to decide whether to make a Care Order for two children aged 9 and 10 who had come to England as refugees from Afghanistan due to actions of the Taliban in their own country.
The Judge was also asked to give indications as to whether care proceedings or s20 were the right approach for other children and other Local Authorities.

Re J (child refugees) 2017
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/44.html

On the critical issue of threshold (which has given me disquiet for a while, because the Act requires that the significant harm is as a result of the parents behaviour not being what it would be REASONABLE to expect a parent to provide, and if you are a parent in a war-torn country such as Syria and you can get your child to a place of safety can that really be said to be unreasonable?) the Judge decided this :-

15.The question first arises as to whether such children can properly be accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act, or whether the Local Authority is under an obligation to bring care proceedings. In this case, the threshold criteria have undoubtedly been crossed because the children have certainly faced the risk of significant harm and have, indeed, suffered significant harm at the time the proceedings were brought as a result of being sent across the world without any parental protection. Whether the children are to be described as abandoned or just sent out into the world makes no difference. It also seems to me that the fact that the children may have been sent out of Afghanistan for their own benefit does not prevent the threshold for care proceedings being met. That was a decision that was taken either by the parents or the parents were not in a position to exercise parental responsibility so that it was taken by others. The fact that the children might have suffered worse harm by staying does not mean they have not suffered significant harm and risked suffering significant harm by going.

(For my own part, I think that rather weakens the concept of a parent acting unreasonably from the statutory test, but we now have our pragmatic answer that sending a child overseas to become a child refugee is, in and of itself, sufficient to meet threshold. I can understand, however, why a Court would want to find threshold proven in this sort of situation, and why the formulation above was arrived at)

On the issue of whether or not care proceedings should always be preferred to s20 or vice versa, the Judge decided that it was a case specific decision rather than there being a universal preference. He helpfully outlined some of the factors to take into account when a Local Authority was making such a decision

18.Turning finally to the issue that faces many Local Authorities who are taking up responsibility for unaccompanied children, the submission made by Mr Jones is that the question of whether it is appropriate to apply for a care order will depend upon the facts of the individual case. I agree with that. This relatively short application is not the occasion to define when applications should be made to the court or not, to define the limits of accommodation under section 20, or to try to identify where the dividing line might fall. This is a case in which the Local Authority’s decision to take proceedings for the protection of children as young as ten and nine with no relatives whatever in this country so far as it was obviously correct. There may be many other cases, however, in which much older children fall into the hands of Local Authorities where accommodation under section 20 would be perfectly appropriate, because the arrangements in place for their support are relatively straightforward and need no oversight from the court or input from a litigation friend or children’s guardian.

19.I will, however, take advantage of the thought that has gone into the presentation of this case by referring to a schedule of the advantages and disadvantages of section 20 accommodation and care orders in so far as they might apply in cases of this sort. I do so in case, firstly, to carry forward the work and in case it should be useful to others.

20.Starting with accommodation under section 20, I the benefits that flow are: firstly, the provision of accommodation; secondly, the possibility of a child in need plan; thirdly, the availability of support under the leaving care legislation when the child reaches maturity; and fourthly the availability of looked after child reviews and an independent reviewing officer.

21.Turning then to the benefits that may arise under a care order, they are these: firstly, as above, the provision of accommodation; secondly, by distinction, support under a formal care plan that has been approved or at least considered by a children’s guardian and by a court; thirdly, again, the children would be entitled to leaving care legislation and support; fourthly, they would be entitled again to looked after reviews; fifthly, the children would have priority in relation to the obtaining of specialist therapy or medical care. They would undoubtedly be a first call on the Local Authority’s resources if subject to a care order and, depending upon the education legislation, quality for priority in the allegation of educational resources. Next, the Local Authority will have parental responsibility for the children, allowing it to make and carry through decisions about care, medical treatment, education and so forth. Next, if the children were to leave their placement, the Local Authority would be under a duty to find them with whatever measures were to hand. Next, the Local Authority holding a care order would be obliged to take an active role in relation to the asylum applications of such children, and finally, a care order would be most likely to provide the children with a plan for a permanent and established family life. Considering the benefits, it will easily be seen that the advantages of a care order may particularly apply to younger children or to children with unusual or particular needs.

22.The disadvantages of each option are to some degree the other sides of the coin of advantage, firstly as to section 20: (1) no one has parental responsibility or is able to exercise it; (2) there is a risk that the children will fall down the queue for such services as may be available; (3) although section 20 can be used in cases where children have been abandoned, that is not its core function; (4) living under section 20 throughout one’s middle and later childhood may lead to a lack of purpose in planning for the future and looser responsibilities should the children, for example, abscond. Without a care order or the presence of just section 20 accommodation, there may be more uncertainties than need be.

23.As against that, the disadvantages of a care order are few. It may potentially stigmatise the children to be accompanied by such an apparatus, and secondly, as a matter of principle it is a more interventionalist order that accordingly needs to be justified.

24.That is the balance sheet collected by Mr Jones, to whom I am grateful.

25.It will be apparent that cases of this kind, however, cannot be read alongside the very different class of case where Local Authorities harbour children under section 20 where they have, in effect, removed them from their parents for child protection purposes and where the parents are at hand and, in many cases, wanting the children back. In those cases, the instances of judicial and other guidance in favour of bringing care proceedings without delay are numerous, but they do not, I think, apply in circumstances of this kind. It is neither in the interests of individual children, nor, I think, in the wider public interest for Local Authorities to feel that they have to bring care proceedings to no good purpose, as would be the case if every unaccompanied asylum-seeking child was to be brought within care proceedings.

The last sentence is very significant, so I’ll repeat it

It is neither in the interests of individual children, nor, I think, in the wider public interest for Local Authorities to feel that they have to bring care proceedings to no good purpose, as would be the case if every unaccompanied asylum-seeking child was to be brought within care proceedings.

So a Local Authority, and the IRO, should be weighing up with such children which of the two options is the better option for the child, but the law is not that section 20 is always wrong or always right. There needs to be individual analysis of what’s best for that particular child.

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LIP Service

 

Important High Court authority that states that where a case involves both a Litigant in Person AND a lawyer, the lawyer has to ensure that any case management documents and case law is provided to the litigant in person at least THREE WORKING DAYS before a contested hearing.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2365.html

 

This, when you see it in black and white is of course fair. In this case, the litigant in person was handed counsel’s position statement and case law relied upon at the first morning of the final hearing, 114 pages of fresh information, much of it quite dense. That can’t be fair.

It will though necessitate a change in working practice. The reason the documents aren’t provided three days in advance generally is that they just don’t exist at that point. We have got used to a “Just in Time” pace, where the substantial prep for a hearing is done closer and closer to the actual hearing; in part just as a result of volumes of work and in part because with so many cases the position three days before a hearing bears little relationship to the position AT the hearing.

 

This is going to apply to a lot of private law cases, but also care proceedings where there’s an unrepresented Intervenor or party such as grandparents. It will also apply to adoption and leave to oppose adoption cases where it is very rare for the parents to obtain free legal representation.

 

The Judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson also reminds us of the Practice Direction Rules which state that a bundle must be provided to counsel not less than 3 working days prior to the hearing.

 

The Rules

    • PD 27A is concerned with court bundles in the Family Division and the Family Court. It sets out the basic requirements, but importantly it makes clear at 2.1 that these are subject to specific directions in any particular case. Under paragraph 6:
  • The party preparing the bundle must provide a paginated index to all other parties not less than 4 working days before the hearing
  • Where counsel is instructed, s/he must have a paginated bundle not less than 3 working days before the hearing
  • The bundle (with the exception of the preliminary documents, known as Practice Direction documents) must be lodged with the court not less than 2 working days before the hearing
  • The PD documents must be lodged with the court no later than 11 am on the day before the hearing. The rule does not provide for service on the other parties, but the implication must be that the document will be sent to them no later than that

 

 

Hands up anyone who is regularly experiencing that.

 

Ah, I see Ms Azim of counsel is rising to her feet. To agree that she always receives bundles three working days before the hearing in accordance with PD27A ?  Not quite

 

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/this-lawyer-s-life-ping-goes-the-practice#.V_ixssk1Ouc

Snug as a bug in a rug

 

Well, you write up one case about bugging, and then another one comes along. If I get a third, it is going to have to be entitled “Mind the bugs don’t bite”  (which is what my parents used to say to me when I was a tiny tot before I went to sleep. I’m sure there weren’t actually bugs… They used to say ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ if I was tucked up in bed under the covers.  Perhaps my father had been Gregor Samsa before changing his name)

 

 

"As Gregor SAMOSA awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, HE found that he was very delicious, but that his bedsheets were somewhat greasy"

“As Gregor SAMOSA awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, HE found that he was very delicious, but that his bedsheets were somewhat greasy”

 

You see, here you can get updates about the law, literary references, and information about tasty snacks. It is a one-stop shop for those things.

This case is actually the same Judge, who is probably being very careful about what he says on the telephone at the moment, but this time it is the police doing the bugging of parents, not a parent bugging their child.

 

Cumbria County Council v M and Others 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/27.html

 

In this case, the police were investigating the death of a baby. There were also care proceedings about the baby’s siblings, and the family Court had to consider how that baby had died and whether either of the parents were responsible and whether there were any risks to the siblings. Within the care proceedings, as is usual, there was an order that the police provide ALL of the material from their investigation.

The police provided material, confiming that they had sent everything. That hadn’t gone that smoothly, a witness summons was issued and a representative of the police had to come to Court and confirm that everything had been provided.

Within the care proceedings, a finding of fact hearing took place and the family Court ruled that the father was responsible. The police later charged the father with manslaughter. As part of the criminal proceedings, it emerged that the police had bugged the family home, hoping to hear conversations between father and mother which might incriminate either one of them.

When the Guardian learned of this, they went back to the family Court to inform the Court that there was potentially valuable evidence that had not been disclosed into the family Court case.

 

 

  • his is the second and final published judgment in these family proceedings. The first is reported at [2014] EWFC 18.
  • The proceedings, which concern child A, were thought to have ended in July 2014 when this court determined that her father was responsible for the death of her baby brother K. However, in January 2016, the matter was rightly restored for further consideration by A’s Children’s Guardian in the circumstances described below.
  • This was necessary because of the admitted failure of Cumbria Constabulary to comply fully with orders requiring the disclosure of all material arising from the police investigation into K’s death. A great deal of material was in fact supplied in late 2013 and early 2014, albeit the process was not as smooth as it ought to have been. On one occasion, the second most senior investigating officer attended a hearing before me with a legal adviser and on a later occasion a witness summons had to be issued to ensure that (so it was then thought) all information had been supplied.
  • However one piece of information had not been supplied and did not come to the attention of the parties to these proceedings until September 2015. This was a covert recording made by the police in the parents’ home on 27/28 September 2013, immediately after their release on bail following their arrest. The recording had been authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It is of poor quality but it includes a conversation involving the mother that on one interpretation might conceivably have been relevant to the accounts given by the parents about K’s death.
  • After the 2014 family court hearing, the police reinvestigated and the father was charged with manslaughter. It was only at an advanced stage in the criminal disclosure process that the Crown Prosecution Service, having itself become aware of the recording, advised that it should be disclosed to the defence. Prosecution counsel also appreciated that it should have been disclosed to this court in 2013 and so advised. At that point the parties to the family proceedings and the court were informed and in due course the Guardian made his application.
  • In November 2015, the father stood trial and, having exercised his right not to give evidence, was acquitted by the jury. In the meantime, the 2014 judgment had not been published so as to avoid prejudicing the criminal trial and, latterly, to await the resolution of the issues surrounding the recording.
  • The Guardian’s application has had three purposes: to make the court aware of what had occurred; to raise the possibility that this court’s findings may need to be reopened; and to establish whether there were any safeguarding issues affecting A.
  • Directions were given, joining the police as a party and directing the filing of evidence by it and by the local authority. In response the Constabulary has filed a full account of events from seven witnesses: two officers involved in the 2013 investigation (including the senior officer who appeared before me), two officers who were respectively concerned with the quality of the covert recording and with record-keeping, one very senior officer who was responsible for the reinvestigation, and two legal advisers.

 

 

There were two issues in the case – firstly, did anything from the tape recording within the home justify re-opening the finding of fact hearing or considering amending those findings? And secondly the practice issues of something so important having been kept back from the family Court despite assurances that EVERYTHING had been provided.

 

 

 

  • The first issue is whether the findings of the family court should be revisited in light of the disclosure of the recording. The threshold for reopening is that there is a real reason, based on solid grounds, for believing that a different outcome might result. Having studied the issue closely, none of the parties applies for this to happen. For my own part, I am independently satisfied that the further information falls far short of crossing the threshold for reopening the case. In particular, the confused and partially audible recording does not cast significant doubt upon the mother’s evidence or supply any plausible alternative explanation for K’s injuries. True it is that the father has not been convicted of any offence and continues to deny responsibility for K’s death, but that is no reason for this court to reconsider its conclusions.
  • There will therefore be no further hearing in this court in relation to these matters.

 

 

Practice issues

  1. Turning to the non-disclosure, I find that the nub of the matter is as follows. The existence of the recording was known to the three investigating officers in 2013, but they did not consider that it had any evidential value. It should have been obvious, in particular to the officer who appeared before me just four weeks after the recording was made, that it had to be disclosed, but it was not. Because of its special status, it was not held on the case file. The Constabulary’s lawyers and the officers who were not involved in the investigation process were therefore not aware of its existence until a much later stage.
  2. The efficient process of disclosure between the criminal and family jurisdictions is essential to the proper administration of justice. It is governed by protocols and on occasions reinforced by court orders. The criminal and family courts must be able to rely on assurances that all relevant material has been disclosed, though in some cases they may have to resolve claims of public interest immunity.
  3. In this case, the process took place against a background where concerns had already been expressed about the investigation into K’s death. Moreover, there was an unusually drawn-out sequence of events surrounding police disclosure. In those circumstances, the failure of Cumbria Constabulary to disclose the recording was particularly regrettable. It has led to further anxiety for the mother and significant extra expense for the public.
  4. However, it is important to record that there is no evidence to suggest that the recording was withheld from the court deliberately or that there was any bad faith on the part of the officers who were responsible. I also note the expression of regret made on behalf of the Chief Constable, reflected in the attendance of the Assistant Chief Constable at this hearing, and the assurances that lessons have been learned from this unhappy episode. In the circumstances, there is in my view nothing to be gained from any further action by the family court. These proceedings are accordingly concluded.

 

 

The lesson may be that simple acceptance of an assurance that all documentation has been provided might not be sufficient – there may be a need to go back with particularised questions “Do the police have X?” “Did the police carry out Y?”

 

 

Bugs, bunny

M v F (Covert Recording of children) 2016

 

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

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

 

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

 

Let us have a look at the recording that was done

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(7) At least four devices were used

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

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

(10) The bugs were bought by the partner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

36 Domestic purposes.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Moving on, were the recordings useful to the Court?

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

The Judge made some general observations about clandestine recording

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Court’s Magical Sparkle Powers (TM) – can you take a DNA paternity test from a dead man?

In Spencer V Anderson 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/851.html

a Mr David Spencer, now 20 years old, wanted to establish whether the late William Anderson, who had died intestate (without making a will), was his father. William Anderson had provided tissue samples as part of his medical treatment. Could those tissue samples be used to extract DNA, and thus undertake a paternity test? And presumably establish a form of claim against Mr Anderson’s estate.

It is a judgment by Mr Justice Peter Jackson, so it is highly informative and elegant.

 

  • The application under s.55A was issued on 18 September 2015. His Honour Judge Duggan made a series of directions, giving the respondents and the hospital the opportunity to make representations, and listing the DNA testing issue for decision. He identified the following questions:

 

(1) Does the phrase “bodily samples” in section 20(1)(b) Family Law Reform Act 1969 extend to DNA material already extracted?

(2) Alternatively, does the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court extend beyond the ambit of the Family Law Reform Act 1969 to permit comparison of the DNA of an applicant with samples of DNA already extracted from bodily samples of the deceased and kept in storage?

(3) What is the legal basis of paragraph 66 of Mrs Justice Thirlwall’s judgment of Goncharova v Zolotova [2015] EWHC 3061 (QB)?

(4) Does the testing of the DNA already extracted from a deceased person require consent and if so from whom?

(5) Is the refusal of consent by the deceased’s estate capable of creating an adverse inference whether under the Family Law Reform Act 1969 or the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court?

 

  • I will consider each of these questions in the course of this judgment.

 

Damn good set of questions, those.

 

D FIRST ISSUE: DOES THE FLRA 1969 APPLY?

    • On behalf of Mr Spencer, Mr Kemp initially sought to argue that a direction might be given under the FLRA. However, in the course of the argument he conceded that this argument could not succeed. In my view, the concession was rightly made for the reasons analysed above, which can be summarised by saying that the FLRA:
  • governs the taking of samples from living people
  • makes no provision for samples being taken after death
  • does not contemplate separate directions for sampling and testing
  • does not provide for the testing of existing samples
  • does not provide for the testing of samples that had been taken for reasons other than establishing parentage
  • requires samples to be collected in accordance with regulations
  • does not provide for the testing of DNA itself.

 

  • Mr Kemp rightly described the difficulties as being insurmountable and accepted that in the circumstances of this case a direction under s.20 is not available to his client.
  • There being no other legislation in point, I therefore conclude that there is no statutory power to direct post-mortem scientific testing to establish a person’s biological relationships and consequently no statutory power to make a direction for the testing of Mr Anderson’s stored DNA

 

E SECOND ISSUE: DOES THE HIGH COURT HAVE AN INHERENT POWER TO ORDER TESTING?

 

  • On behalf of Mr Spencer, it is argued that there are two possible sources of such a power: Civil Procedure Rules r.25.1 (or its equivalent, Family Procedure Rules r.20.2) or the inherent jurisdiction.

 

(By “Inherent Jurisdiction” here, everyone means the Court’s “Magical Sparkle Power” (TM), which I have decided should be used from now on, to illustrate just how much of a legal sleight of hand the whole thing is)

The inherent jurisdiction

 

  • The inherent jurisdiction of the High Court is a description of the court’s common law powers insofar as they have not been removed or supplanted by statute. In the Court of Appeal in Re F (above) Lord Donaldson MR described the common law as

 

“… the great safety net which lies behind all statute law and is capable of filling gaps left by that law, if and insofar as those gaps have to be filled in the interests of society as a whole. This process of using the common law to fill gaps is one of the most important duties of the judges. It is not a legislative function or process – that is an alternative solution the initiation of which is the sole prerogative of Parliament. It is an essentially judicial process and, as such, it has to be undertaken in accordance with principle.”

 

  • The inherent jurisdiction is therefore a jurisdiction of long-standing that nowadays exists in a number of important contexts. With regard to children, it has been used in a wide variety of creative ways to supplement statutory powers, both through the medium of wardship and otherwise. As recorded in FPR PD 12D, the court can, for example, make orders to restrain publicity, to prevent an undesirable association, to endorse medical treatment, to protect children abducted from abroad and to recover children from abroad. These orders not only affect the individual family members but are also directed towards third parties, either as orders or requests.
  • More recently, the jurisdiction has been developed to provide remedies for the protection of vulnerable but not legally incapable adults. In Re SK [2004] EWHC 3202 (Fam), Singer J said:

 

“I believe that the inherent jurisdiction now, like wardship has been, is a sufficiently flexible remedy to evolve in accordance with social needs and social values.”

That manifestation of the jurisdiction was cemented by Munby J in Re SA [2005] EWHC 2942 (Fam) and the Court of Appeal has confirmed that it has survived the enactment of the Mental Capacity Act 2005: see DL v A Local Authority [2012] EWCA Civ 253.

 

  • These cases and others concerned the protection of vulnerable individuals at risk of coercion or abuse. At the other end of the scale, the inherent jurisdiction can relate to the court’s power to control its own procedures, as in Bremer Vulkan v. South India Shipping [1981] 1 AC 909, where Lord Diplock said this at 977:

 

“The High Court’s power to dismiss a pending action for want of prosecution is but an instance of a general power to control its own procedure so as to prevent its being used to achieve injustice. Such a power is inherent in its constitutional function as a court of justice. Every civilised system of government requires that the state should make available to all its citizens a means for the just and peaceful settlement of disputes between them as to their respective legal rights. … The power to dismiss a pending action for want of prosecution in cases where to allow the action to continue would involve a substantial risk that justice could not be done is thus properly described as an “inherent power” the exercise of which is within the “inherent jurisdiction” of the High Court. It would I think be conducive to legal clarity if the use of these two expressions were confined to the doing by the court of acts which it needs must have power to do in order to maintain its character as a court of justice.”

 

  • The inherent jurisdiction is plainly a valuable asset, mending holes in the legal fabric that would otherwise leave individuals bereft of a necessary remedy. The present case (DNA testing) might be said to fall between the above examples of the court’s inherent powers (protection of the vulnerable, striking out).
  • At the same time, the need for predictability in the law speaks for caution to be exercised before the inherent jurisdiction is deployed in new ways. The court is bound to be cautious, weighing up whether the existence of a remedy is imperative or merely desirable, and seeking to discern the wider consequences of any development in the law.

 

That is the problem with the Court’s Magical Sparkle Power – because it isn’t set down properly in statute what the powers are, and the limitations of those powers, and the constraints for using those powers, it ends up being built on with case after case – extending its reach outwards and upwards, and then each case thereafter says “Well, if Munby J was able to use the Court’s Magical Sparkle Powers to do X, then I can use them to do Y” and the next Judge says “Well, if Colombo J was able to use the Court’s Magical Sparkle Powers to do Y, then I can use them to do Z” and so it goes.

There’s a neat argument against the Court’s Magical Sparkle Power here, which rather appealed to me

Submissions on behalf of Mrs Anderson

 

  • Mr Mylonas QC and Ms Street advance the following propositions in relation to the existence of an inherent jurisdiction:

 

(1) The High Court does not have the power to make any order it wishes; see Hayden J in Redbridge London Borough Council v A [2015] Fam 335:

“The principle of separation of powers confers the remit of economic and social policy on the legislature and on the executive, not on the judiciary. It follows that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be regarded as a lawless void permitting judges to do whatever we consider to be right…”

(2) The court’s powers are limited by s.19(2) of the Senior Courts Act 1981:

“Subject to the provisions of this Act, there shall be exercisable by the High Court—

(a) all such jurisdiction (whether civil or criminal) as is conferred on it by this or any other Act; and

(b) all such other jurisdiction (whether civil or criminal) as was exercisable by it immediately before the commencement of this Act (including jurisdiction conferred on a judge of the High Court by any statutory provision).”

So, the applicant must, but cannot, show that there was jurisdiction to make an order of this kind before the coming into force of the Senior Courts Act.

(3) Paternity testing within litigation is regulated by Part III of the 1969 Act. Any power to make a direction for scientific testing to establish paternity under the inherent jurisdiction was ousted by the Act: Re O (A Minor)(Blood Tests: Constraint) [2000] Fam 139.

In that case, two men had each obtained directions for the testing of a child to establish paternity, but the mothers, with care and control of the child, refused to consent to the testing. Wall J accepted with reluctance that there was no power to compel the mothers to allow testing when the statute required their consent: this soon led to the enactment of s.21(3). At page 151, he stated:

“In my judgment, unattractive as the proposition remains, both the inherent jurisdiction to direct the testing of a child’s blood for the purpose of determining paternity and any consequential power to enforce that direction is entirely overridden by the statutory scheme under Part III of the Family Law Act 1969. If the remedy is to be provided it is, accordingly, for Parliament to provide it.”

It is said that the present position is on all fours with that facing the court in Re O. Although the decision was given nine months before the Human Rights Act came into effect in October 2000, the court showed itself well aware of the rights engaged on all sides.

(4) There are sound policy reasons for the absence of any statutory power to permit testing in the circumstances of this case. DNA testing is an interference of the highest order with the subject’s right to confidentiality and the privacy of their known family members whose genetic relationships will also be revealed by such testing. If the court allows post-mortem DNA testing in the absence of consent, this is likely to discourage patients from providing DNA during medical treatment and encourage those in Mr Spencer’s position to defer making applications until after the death of the alleged father so as to circumvent the absence of consent. If testing in a case such as the present were to be permitted, it ought to be by way of a scheme (i) devised following the kind of consideration, consultation and scrutiny which Parliament but not the High Court can carry out; (ii) which provides for regulation (eg guaranteeing the integrity of samples and testing); and (iii) which provides clear rules which can be easily understood by healthcare professionals, patients, their family members and those who seek testing.

(5) At present, the law is clear: you cannot test samples taken for one purpose for a different purpose without consent. That clarity would be lost if an inherent power was found to exist. The law must be accessible and sufficiently precise to enable the individual to understand its scope and foresee the consequences of his actions: R v Purdy [2010] AC 345 at 390. In the present case, Mr Anderson was deprived of the opportunity to require his samples to be destroyed or of making a will excluding Mr Spencer.

(6) The decision in CM v EJ does not take matters further forward. It was not a case about paternity testing, no arguments were made against the existence of an inherent jurisdiction, and the use of the jurisdiction was consistent with the relevant statutory scheme, not inconsistent with it.

(7) Re H and A is a case in which the power to order testing was not in question. Likewise, the decision in Jaggi concerned the failure to exercise a power that existed, not the question of whether a power existed in the first place.

(8) As Re O demonstrates, the interests of justice alone do not provide a basis for ordering testing where no power to do so has been identified.

(9) Similarly, a series of cases in the analogous field of assisted reproduction show the reluctance of the courts to subvert a carefully-devised statutory scheme.

 

I happen to agree with all of that, but good luck in ever persuading a Judge that they should make a decision limiting the use of Magical Sparkle Power. You may have picked up from time to time, that I don’t much like the Jedi hand-wave that is Magical Sparkle Power, with Judge’s deciding that they can conjure powers out of thin air to solve a problem. It doesn’t sit well with me in terms of checks and balances.

 

Anyway, the important thing is that Mr Justice Peter Jackson did not agree with me, or the estate of Mr Anderson (and I don’t think on the law as it stands that was a wrong decision – the problem is, as I alluded to earlier, that the law in relation to Magical Sparkle Power is developing as a series of stepping stone cases, each relying on the one before it to extend the power further, and with no real tackling of the foundations of the earliest stepping stones and whether the Courts were ever given quite the scope of Magical Sparkle Power that they are now using)

 

Conclusion as to inherent jurisdiction

 

  • In my view, the following features are relevant to the existence or non-existence of an inherent power:

 

(1) Statutory interpretation

Before the enactment of the FLRA, the preponderant judicial opinion was that there was power to direct the taking of blood to establish a child’s paternity, and such orders were on occasion made: see In re L (An Infant) [1968] P 119 and B (BR) v B (J) [1968] P 466.

The FLRA is the only statute concerned with testing for evidence of biological relationships. It is comprehensive in relation to cases falling within its scope: Re O. In that case, the issue that had arisen lay squarely within the scheme of the Act. It fell under what Wall J referred to at 150 as the “rug” of the legislation, or what Hale LJ referred to as the “footprint” in the Court of Appeal in Re R (see paragraph 39 of the House of Lords’ opinions). In contrast, the testing of DNA post-mortem falls distinctly outside the scope of the legislation. The FLRA cannot be read purposively or convention-compliantly so as to cover cases of the present kind. I therefore do not accept that a power to give directions for post-mortem DNA testing has been ousted by the Act.

Nor do I accept that the court’s powers are limited by s.19(2) Senior Courts Act 1981. This formal, descriptive subsection cannot be taken to have defined or circumscribed the powers of the High Court, or to have frozen them as at the date of the legislation. Were it otherwise, the vulnerable adult jurisdiction could not have existed.

There is a legislative void, both in relation to post-mortem paternity testing and in relation to paternity testing using extracted DNA. I accept that in an area of this kind, policy considerations arise which would be better regulated by Parliament than by individual decisions of the court. In one sense, this speaks for judicial reticence. However, there is no indication that Parliament has turned its attention to the situation that arises in the present case, or that it is likely to do so at any early date. This gives rise to the possibility of an indefinite period during which individuals would be left without a remedy.

(2) Consent

Both the FLRA and the HTA (and the HFEA 1990 and 2008, insofar as they may be analogous) regard consent as the central component of lawfulness.

It is necessary, when considering the availability of a remedy after death, to consider the situation that would have arisen in life. The person concerned would have had the right to decide whether or not to participate in paternity testing and to allow his human tissue to be used for that purpose.

Although neither the FLRA nor the HTA apply to extracted DNA as opposed to human tissue, the use of human tissue is a necessary forerunner to the extraction of DNA and similar considerations and sensitivities must apply when DNA testing is being considered.

If the issue related to the post-mortem testing of human tissue (as opposed to DNA), the terms of the HTA would apply. For testing to be lawful, there would have to have been consent from the individual in life or by a relative after death. Or there would have to be a court order.

(3) The public interest

An intervention of the kind suggested in this case might give rise to uncertainty and concern within the medical world and beyond at the possibility that such orders might be made in other cases, or that in effect the door was being opened to post-mortem paternity testing on demand. Although it does not arise in the present case, the prospect of applications for exhumation cannot be regarded as fanciful when one recalls the circumstances in Mortensen and Jaggi, or indeed those of Richard III.

Against this, there is no sign that the present application has caused alarm to the major hospital involved in the present case (indeed it appears to welcome the court’s assistance), or that applications of this kind are likely to be at all numerous, particularly if they could only be heard in the High Court, and thereby be subject to very close scrutiny. The prospect of this limited development in the law affecting the behaviour of the patient population as a whole is likely to be more imaginary than real.

(4) Identity

Knowledge of our biological identity is a central component of our existence. The issue can have consequences of the most far-reaching kind, perhaps above all for those who do not know or are not sure of their parentage. Within our lifetimes, DNA testing has made the truth available. At the same time, it has made all other kinds of evidence almost irrelevant. While it remains possible to reach a conclusion about paternity without scientific tests, the practical and psychological consequences are different. A declaration made without testing is a finding, while the result of a test is a fact.

The contrast can be found in the opinion of Lord Wilberforce in The Ampthill Peerage Case [1977] 1 AC 547 at 569:

“Any determination of disputable fact may, the law recognises, be imperfect: the law aims at providing the best and safest solution compatible with human fallibility and having reached that solution it closes the book.”

While at 573 he said:

“One need not perhaps, on this occasion, face the question whether, when technology or science makes an advance, so as to enable to be known with certainty that which previously was doubtful, such evidence ought to be admitted in order to destroy the binding force of a judgment or of a declaration with statutory force. It may be that within the limits within which a new trial may be ordered and, on the precedents, those limits are comparatively short, such evidence could be admitted for that purpose.”

The European Convention, as interpreted in Jaggi, underscores the importance of the opportunity to discover one’s parentage. Although the Convention cannot on its own create a remedy, it is desirable that our law is consistent with the approach taken in other jurisdictions if that is possible.

(5) The interests of others

It is a peculiar feature of genetic testing that it inescapably has the potential to affect not only the individual being tested but also those to whom he is closely related. Depending on the facts, the rights of surviving relatives may be engaged, but it is difficult to envisage a situation in which the establishment of the truth about biological relationships could amount to an unlawful interference with those rights; at the very least any interference may be necessary and proportionate. The rights of third parties certainly cannot represent an absolute bar to the existence of an inherent power.

(6) The interests of justice

When all is said and done, the court is faced with a civil dispute that must be resolved. In cases where a power exists, it has long been emphasised that the establishment of the truth is both a goal in itself and a process that serves the interests of justice. As noted above, where a court makes findings of fact based upon witness and documentary testimony, there is always the possibility of error. Evidence will be incomplete because (by definition in a case of the present kind) people will have died and memories may have faded. When dealing with matters as important as parentage, the need to reach the right conclusion is obvious. The prospect of a court trying to ascertain the truth to the best of its ability when the truth is in effect there for the asking is a troubling one. Account must also be taken of the needless waste of resources that would accompany a trial involving narrative evidence.

(7) The range of circumstances

The existence of a power cannot depend upon the circumstances of the particular case. What is relevant is the range of cases that might arise. It is possible to envisage opportunistic and unmeritorious applications, but there might equally be applications, perhaps concerning young children, where the need to know the truth about parentage is compelling. The answer cannot be that the court can consider an application in the second case but not in the first: jurisdiction cannot depend on merits.

 

  • Reflecting the complexity of the legal and ethical issues, the above features pull in a number of different directions. If the only considerations related to the interests of the deceased and the public interest, the arguments against the existence of an inherent power would surely prevail. However, the interests of the living and the interests of justice must also be brought into consideration.
  • Taking all these matters into account, my conclusion is that the High Court does possess an inherent jurisdiction that it can properly deploy to direct scientific testing to provide evidence of parentage in circumstances falling outside the scope of the FLRA. If the court was unable to obtain evidence of this kind, severe and avoidable injustice might result. Awareness of the implications of ordering testing without consent and of the wider public interest does not lead to the conclusion that the jurisdiction does not exist, but rather to the realisation that it should be exercised sparingly in cases where the absence of a remedy would lead to injustice.

 

This is not a surprising conclusion. Magical Sparkle Power continues to be most efficacious in evey case. The remedy for all ills.

 

Having established that the Court COULD use Magical Sparkle Power to compel a DNA test from a deceased person’s tissue samples, given for another reason, the Court then had to decide whether they SHOULD in this case.   (This of course raises the issue as to whether someone who is terminally ill should make legal arrangements for the destruction of any tissue samples on death, or whether that should be part of a formal consent procedure when the samples are taken, but that’s a bit beyond our scope)

 

F THIRD ISSUE: SHOULD TESTING BE DIRECTED IN THIS CASE?

 

  • The following factors are relied upon in support of testing:

 

(1) Mr Spencer’s natural desire/right to know his parentage.

(2) Combined with this, the value that knowledge of paternity will have in clarifying his medical status and the need (or not) for intrusive investigations.

(3) The interests of justice and the need for the best available evidence: cf Re H and A.

 

  • In response, it is said on behalf of Mrs Anderson that:

 

(1) An order for testing would be an unjustified interference with her own Art. 8 rights by compounding a distressing situation and creating a risk that a genetic relationship would be identified between herself and a person who has caused her stress and anxiety.

(2) Human DNA is intensely personal and very strong justification is therefore required if it is to be used for any purpose without that person’s consent. The sample was provided by Mr Anderson for his own benefit during the course of medical treatment. He was entitled to a high expectation of confidentiality.

(3) Testing could not have taken place in Mr Anderson’s lifetime without his consent. This statutory bar has been given greater weight than any other rights, including those of a supposed child. Mr Anderson’s option to consent or withhold consent during his lifetime (and to explain his decision) was circumvented by Mr Spencer’s choice not to raise the issue until after his death. It would be unjust if his extensive delay allowed Mr Spencer to achieve testing without consent.

(4) To allow testing in this case would be against the public interest by undermining patient confidence in the confidentiality of providing samples for medical treatment.

(5) Mr Spencer’s delay deprived Mr Anderson of the opportunity to make decisions about his private life and his property.

(6) Mr Spencer’s interest weighs less heavily in the balance than that of Mr Anderson, Mrs Anderson and the public interest because:

(i) His lack of interest in testing until after Mr Anderson’s death shows that he had no interest in testing for paternity in order to satisfy himself of that relationship for its own sake. The court is not obliged to take positive steps to uphold his rights in these circumstances.

(ii) If the request is now motivated by inheritance reasons, his delay denied the deceased the opportunity to manage his estate in the light of relevant knowledge.

(iii) If the request is now motivated by medical reasons, on Mr Spencer’s own case, a test would merely serve to confirm what he already believes to be the case; if no testing is carried out he will continue to benefit from low-risk screening which will reduce his chance of cancer.

(7) Making no order for testing in this case would not exclude the possibility of an order for testing of a DNA sample being made on different facts, for example, where national security or the life of a child was at stake.

 

  • Weighing these matters up with appropriate caution, and seeking to strike a fair balance between the competing private and public interests, I have reached the conclusion that scientific testing should take place to seek to establish the paternity of Mr Spencer by using the stored DNA sample of the late Mr Anderson. These are my reasons:

 

(1) If the application for a declaration of parentage had appeared to be speculative or opportunistic, the request for scientific testing would probably not have succeeded. However, the overall evidence here raises the real possibility that Mr Anderson was Mr Spencer’s father, he having undeniably been in a relationship with Mr Spencer’s mother at the time of conception.

(2) It is common ground between the parties that there is a significant medical issue that turns on the possibility of a biological relationship between Mr Anderson and Mr Spencer. It is of course possible for Mr Spencer to be tested periodically by colonoscopy, but that is only a partial solution because he is surely entitled to know the reason why he should undergo those procedures, or to be relieved of the need to do so. As recently as February 2015, Mrs Anderson regarded it as “essential” that Mr Spencer’s paternity should be established. It does not now lie easily in her mouth to say the opposite.

(3) Although it is possible that the late Mr Anderson (like the alleged father in Jaggi) might have refused to consent to testing during his lifetime, there is no particular reason to regard that as likely. Whether or not he would have welcomed the possibility that he was a father, it may not do justice to his memory to assume that he would have withheld his support from a young man who might have inherited a serious medical condition from him.

(4) The information, in the form of the DNA sample, is readily available and does not require physically intrusive investigations. In particular, it does not require exhumation, as to which particular considerations would undoubtedly arise.

(5) There is no objection on behalf of the hospital, which might be seen as being a nominal representative of the public interest in this case.

(6) The interests of third parties, and in particular those of Mrs Anderson to the extent that they may be engaged, are, with all respect, of lesser significance. There is no indication of any real risk of harm and the establishment of the truth carries greater weight than the question of whether it is palatable.

 

  • I accordingly find that Mr Spencer’s interest in knowing his biological parentage, the questions raised by the medical history, and the marked advantages of scientific testing as a means of resolving both issues, collectively carry more weight in the particular circumstances of this case than the counter-indicators to testing that undoubtedly exist. It is in the interests of justice that testing should take place, and it is a proper exercise of the court’s inherent jurisdiction to secure this outcome.
  • For completeness I would add that, had testing not been directed, the court would have heard the evidence in the normal way. Statutory inferences could not be drawn in a case where the statute did not apply, but this would not have prevented the court from drawing whatever inferences seemed proper from the evidence before it.
  • I pay tribute to the considerable help that I have received from counsel and invite them to submit a draft order that reflects this decision and replicates so far as possible the protections that would accompany a direction for testing under the FLRA.

 

Magical Sparkle Power, eh. Amazing. For me, it’s a bit like Superman. If you’re writing a Superman comic or film, you know the powers that Superman has been given. It’s a broad spectrum – he has super strength, he has flight, he has X-ray vision, he has heat rays, he has extraordinary speed. That’s a lot to work with, it should cover most of what you need in any given scenario. If you start adding to that with the power to kiss people and make them forget things, to peel his logo off his chest and throw it as a super weapon, to fly so fast round the earth backwards that he can turn back time, then you’re CHEATING.  Superman does have super powers, yes, but he has particular and specified superpowers. He can’t just suddenly produce claws out of his fists because Krypton, or have control over metal because “Superman”.  So “Magical Sparkle Power” is my little way of reminding myself and others that there are consequences to using the inherent jurisdiction to do wholly new and imaginative things that aren’t written down anywhere, because every time you do, it is stepping stone that others will stand on to go a little bit further.  Some of these stepping stones are now just floating in thin air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appeal about the transparency in the Poppi Worthington case

 

At first glance, this looked a bit  “Let me just fix this stable door, it is SO much easier without the horse being in here getting in the way and standing on my foot“, but the appeal was actually heard in November  BEFORE the re-hearing of the fact finding, and it is just that we’ve only today had the judgment itself.

I know that some people were curious about how much material was allowed to be reported (for example Poppi’s name, and the name of the father) and some were curious about the ‘live’-tweeting aspects and the Press being present during the hearing itself.

Re W Children 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/113.html

Mr Justice Peter Jackson had given a decision about his plans as to what could or could not be published, in advance of that re-hearing and what role the Press could play.  The Guardian appealed that decision, supported in part by the father. The mother and Local Authority were neutral.

The Court of Appeal were asked specifically to consider what role the welfare of the children had to play in a decision about reporting and press attendance. They bravely duck that question  (to be fair, I think it ends up being a conflict between some  authorities one of which is a House of Lords case, so it has to be resolved ultimately by the Supreme Court). Given that the Guardian’s case was largely based on the degree of openness and transparency here being inimical to the welfare of the other children, that decision was pretty fatal to the appeal.

  1. During the hearing of the appeal we accepted the jointly argued approach of counsel and that, in turn, was the basis upon which we came to the decision on the appeal which we announced at the conclusion of the oral hearing. In the process of preparing this written judgment, however, I have come to the preliminary view that there may be a conflict, or at least a tension, between the apparently accepted view that welfare is not the paramount consideration on an issue such as this, on the one hand, and Court of Appeal authority to the contrary on the other hand. As this present judgment is a record of the reasons for our decision announced on 23rd November 2015 and that decision was based upon the children’s welfare not being the paramount consideration, I do no more than flag up this potential point which, if it is arguable, must fall for determination by this court on another occasion.
  2. The key authorities to which I am referring are a criminal case in the House of Lords, Re S (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2004] UKHL 47; [2005] 1 AC 593, a private law family case in the Court of Appeal, Clayton v Clayton [2006] EWCA Civ 878; [2007] 1 FLR 11 and a public law child case in the High Court, Re Webster; Norfolk County Council v Webster and Others [2006] EWHC 2733 (Fam); [2007] 1 FLR 1146.
  3. Although, in my view, a reading of those cases may give rise to a potential point relating to the paramountcy of the child’s welfare, which, as I have stated, must fall for determination on another occasion, it is not necessary to go further in this judgment and consider the matter in any detail.

 

Counsel for the Press association (the always excellent Caoilfhionn Gallagher) set out the case for openness and transparency in this case very well  – and it really explains why so much was allowed to be reported in this case.

a) In the unusual circumstances of this case, the judge’s decision on publicity and reporting is entirely justified for the reasons that he gave after giving careful thought to the submissions of each party;

b) In general, there is a strong principle in favour of open justice which has long been regarded as integral to protecting the rights of those involved in court proceedings, and as essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice;

c) The President of the Family Division has drawn attention to the importance of transparency in the context of family justice in Practice Guidance Transparency in the Family Courts: Publication of Judgments [2014] 1 FLR 733 and in a 2014 consultation document Transparency – Next Steps;

d) The Practice Guidance identifies two classes of judgment, (i) those that the judge must ordinarily allow to be published and (ii) those that may be published; the present case falls into category (i) and there is therefore a strong presumption that the final judgment should be published in due course;

e) There is already an extremely strong public interest in transparency being applied to this case at this time;

f) The Appellant’s acceptance that paragraph [1] to [100] of the July 2014 judgment should be published, which contains a summary of the medical evidence, renders illogical her opposition to the publication of the remaining paragraphs (albeit in a redacted form);

g) There is already substantial publicly available information regarding the injuries that Poppi sustained prior to her death and the fact that her father had been arrested with respect to an allegation of sexually abusing Poppi. Reference is made to the clip of media reports provided to the court;

h) Daily news reporting is justified against the backdrop summarised in (g) above and is justified in this ‘highly unusual’ case. In any event the judge will retain some measure of control over reporting through the ability to impose a retrospective embargo if some particularly sensitive material is disclosed in court;

i) The challenge relating to the judge giving judgment in public is misconceived as the judge did not make any such direction. His proposal to sit in private, with the media in attendance, prior to publishing the judgment was entirely proportionate in the circumstances.

 

The Court of Appeal concluced that this was unusual, but that Poppi was  ahighly unusual case, given that so much was already within the public domain. They largely upheld Mr Justice Peter Jackson’s decision, albeit limiting the amount of medical information that was to be published from the original finding of fact judgment (you may recall at the time that the judgment published initially had such huge chunks redacted from it that one couldn’t see what father was alleged to have done and it was left to astute reading to see that taking a sample swab from father’s penis suggested something very dark. )  They also said that tweeting from Court would have to wait until the end of the day, when the Judge could consider anything unusual arising from the evidence and give directions about it.

 

  1. Ms Gallagher accepts that daily reporting of a child protection case was unusual, but she submits that this has now become a highly unusual case in terms of there being a second fact finding hearing in circumstances where a good deal about the case is now in the public domain.
  2. During the hearing the court asked for more detail of the arrangements that the judge had put in place to maintain some control on the material that could be reported by press representatives who were attending court. The judge’s proposal was that if, for example, a witness were to give unexpected evidence, the disclosure of which might unnecessarily breach the Article 8 rights of the children, or more generally cause them unnecessary harm, the court could embargo that part of the evidence from that which could otherwise be reported. The wording of the judge’s order on this point was that ‘such reporting is subject to any further directions given by the court concerning what can and cannot be published if an issue arises during the course of the hearing’.
  3. In considering the appeal on this point, the starting point must be that the introduction of a facility for daily reporting of an ongoing fact finding hearing in a child protection case is indeed highly unusual. It is not profitable to debate whether this is or is not the ‘first’ such case. For my part, in a slightly different context, I recall that there was widespread national media reporting day by day of the sad case of Re RB [2009] EWHC 3269 (Fam); [2010] 1 FLR 946; other judges will no doubt be aware of other cases. Be that as it may, no party submits that Jackson J was acting outside his powers by permitting daily media reporting. For the reasons that I have given at paragraph 37, such a course was plainly within his discretion.
  4. In circumstances where, as the Appellants have accepted, the final judgment will be published in due course, the issue of daily reporting relates to the quantity and timing of reporting rather than to reporting the facts of this case as such in principle. It is a matter that calls for a proportionate approach, over which a trial judge is entitled to exercise a wide margin of discretion; as I have stressed, in the present case that is particularly so with respect to this trial judge at this stage in this trial process.
  5. Although I must confess to having a feeling of substantial unease at this degree of openness at the start of an unpredictable fact finding exercise, I am clear that it is simply not possible to hold that Jackson J is wrong in his analysis of the issue and his decision to grant media access to this degree. I am, however, sufficiently concerned about the laxity of the terms of the order dealing with daily reporting as it is currently drawn to stipulate that a further sub-paragraph be added to that part of the order in the following terms:

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

    The purpose of this new provision is, hopefully, self-explanatory in that it allows for stock to be taken at the close of the court day so as to identify any aspect(s) of the evidence which should be subject of embargo before any reporting, of any nature, can take place.

  6. The grounds of appeal relating to whether or not the judge should sit in public to deliver his judgment were not pursued and therefore fall away.
  7. For the reasons that I have given, I would therefore allow the appeal to the very limited extent of (a) requiring the removal of reference to any of the medical evidence from the edited 2014 judgment, and (b) inserting a tighter requirement in the court order relating to the control of daily reporting.

 

 

 

An unmusical Mozart – a patient’s right to say no to surgery

 

The Court of Protection dealt with a challenging case in Wye Valley NHS Trust v B 2015. The case was decided by Mr Justice Peter Jackson, and as ever he brings analysis, kindness and humanity to bear on a very difficult issue in the Court of Protection.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/60.html

 

Here a man who clearly lacked capacity to make a fully informed decision, had expressed extreme hostility towards having an operation to amputate his foot. The medical professionals were clear that if he did not have his foot amputated, that the infection in it would spread and eventually kill him.

 

The Court had to decide whether it was in the man’s best interests to have the operation against his will or whether it was in his interests to respect his autonomy and wishes even though it would have adverse consequences.

A person who has capacity to understand the medical advice and risks and consequences would be able to say no to surgery in any event. What the Judge had to do here was consider what weight to give to the man’s wishes and the context of those wishes being expressed by a person who did not have the capacity to fully weigh up the pros and cons.

 

  1. Where a patient lacks capacity it is accordingly of great importance to give proper weight to his wishes and feelings and to his beliefs and values. On behalf of the Trust in this case, Mr Sachdeva QC submitted that the views expressed by a person lacking capacity were in principle entitled to less weight than those of a person with capacity. This is in my view true only to the limited extent that the views of a capacitous person are by definition decisive in relation to any treatment that is being offered to him so that the question of best interests does not arise. However, once incapacity is established so that a best interests decision must be made, there is no theoretical limit to the weight or lack of weight that should be given to the person’s wishes and feelings, beliefs and values. In some cases, the conclusion will be that little weight or no weight can be given; in others, very significant weight will be due.
  2. This is not an academic issue, but a necessary protection for the rights of people with disabilities. As the Act and the European Convention make clear, a conclusion that a person lacks decision-making capacity is not an “off-switch” for his rights and freedoms. To state the obvious, the wishes and feelings, beliefs and values of people with a mental disability are as important to them as they are to anyone else, and may even be more important. It would therefore be wrong in principle to apply any automatic discount to their point of view.
  3. In this case, the Trust and the Official Solicitor consider that a person with full capacity could quite reasonably decide not to undergo the amputation that is being recommended to Mr B, having understood and given full thought to the risks and benefits involved. However, the effect of their submissions is that because Mr B himself cannot balance up these matters in a rational way, his wishes and feelings are outweighed by the presumption in favour of life. It is, I think, important to ensure that people with a disability are not – by the very fact of their disability – deprived of the range of reasonable outcomes that are available to others. For people with disabilities, the removal of such freedom of action as they have to control their own lives may be experienced as an even greater affront that it would be to others who are more fortunate.
  4. In some cases, of which this is an example, the wishes and feelings, beliefs and values of a person with a mental illness can be of such long standing that they are an inextricable part of the person that he is. In this situation, I do not find it helpful to see the person as if he were a person in good health who has been afflicted by illness. It is more real and more respectful to recognise him for who he is: a person with his own intrinsic beliefs and values. It is no more meaningful to think of Mr B without his illnesses and idiosyncratic beliefs than it is to speak of an unmusical Mozart.
  5. Further, people with Mr B’s mental illness not uncommonly have what are described by others as “religious delusions”. As appears below, he describes hearing angelic voices that tell him whether or not to take his medication. Delusions arising from mental illness may rightly lead to a person’s wishes and feelings being given less weight where that is appropriate. However, this cannot be the automatic consequence of the wishes and feelings having a religious component. Mr B’s religious sentiments are extremely important to him, even though he does not follow an established religion. Although the point does not arise for determination in this case, I approach matters on the basis that his Article 9 right to freedom of thought and religion is no less engaged than it would be for any other devout person.
  6. This is another manifestation of the principle that the beliefs and values of a person lacking capacity should not be routinely undervalued. Religious belief has been described as a belief that there is more to be understood about mankind’s nature and relationship to the universe than can be gained from the senses or from science: R (Hodkin and another) v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2014] AC 610 at [57]. Religious beliefs are based on faith, not reason, and some can strongly influence the believer’s attitude to health and medical treatment without in any way suggesting a lack of mental capacity. Examples include belief in miraculous healing or objections to blood transfusions. There may be a clear conceptual difference between a capable 20-year-old who refuses a blood transfusion and an incapable elderly man with schizophrenia who opposes an amputation, but while the religiously-based wishes and feelings of the former must always prevail, it cannot be right that the religiously-based wishes and feelings of the latter must always be overruled. That would not be a proper application of the best interests principle.
  7. Having commented on the process of evaluating wishes and feelings, I refer to the Law Commission’s current consultation paper No. 222: Mental Capacity and Deprivation of Liberty. It proposes [Proposal 12.2] that s.4 of the Act might be amended so that an incapacitated person’s wishes and feelings should be assumed to be determinative of his best interests unless there is good reason do depart from the assumption. It is said [12.42] that there is insufficient certainty about the weight to be given to a person’s wishes and feelings and that prioritising them would reflect to some degree the approach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  8. In the above discussion, I have identified some of the circumstances in which the wishes and feelings of incapacitated individuals might be unjustifiably undervalued. However, my respectful view is that the Law Commission proposal would not lead to greater certainty, but to a debate about whether there was or was not “good reason” for a departure from the assumption. To elevate one important factor at the expense of others would certainly not have helped the parties, nor the court, in the present case. All that is needed to protect the rights of the individual is to properly apply the Act as it stands.

 

For my part, I think that the proposal by the Law Commission would be a beneficial addition for dealing with these cases, putting a rebuttable presumption that a person’s expressed wishes should be followed unless there are strong reasons for the contrary. Whilst many Court of Protection Judges (including this one) have a very healthy respect for autonomy and the wishes of the patient, some still tend to veer towards the wrapping P in cotton wool and the patrician approach.

 

Lastly, I refer to the principle at s. 4(4) that so far as is reasonably practicable, the person must be permitted and encouraged to participate as fully as possible in any decision affecting him. In this case, given the momentous consequences of the decision either way, I did not feel able to reach a conclusion without meeting Mr B myself. There were two excellent recent reports of discussions with him, but there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting where the patient would like it to happen. The advantages can be considerable, and proved so in this case. In the first place, I obtained a deeper understanding of Mr B’s personality and view of the world, supplementing and illuminating the earlier reports. Secondly, Mr B seemed glad to have the opportunity to get his point of view across. To whatever small degree, the meeting may have helped him to understand something of the process and to make sense of whatever decision was then made. Thirdly, the nurses were pleased that Mr B was going to have the fullest opportunity to get his point across. A case like this is difficult for the nursing staff in particular and I hope that the fact that Mr B has been as fully involved as possible will make it easier for them to care for him at what will undoubtedly be a difficult time.

 

[that noise you can hear is me applauding]

 

The Judge sets out the pros and cons of the best interests decision very well – the judgment is short, and well worth a read for those sections.

  1. Conclusion
  2. Having considered all of the evidence and the parties’ submissions, I have reached the clear conclusion that an enforced amputation would not be in Mr B’s best interests.
  3. Mr B has had a hard life. Through no fault of his own, he has suffered in his mental health for half a century. He is a sociable man who has experienced repeated losses so that he has become isolated. He has no next of kin. No one has ever visited him in hospital and no one ever will. Yet he is a proud man who sees no reason to prefer the views of others to his own. His religious beliefs are deeply meaningful to him and do not deserve to be described as delusions: they are his faith and they are an intrinsic part of who he is. I would not define Mr B by reference to his mental illness or his religious beliefs. Rather, his core quality is his “fierce independence”, and it is this that is now, as he sees it, under attack.
  4. Mr B is on any view in the later stages of his life. His fortitude in the face of death, however he has come by it, would be the envy of many people in better mental health. He has gained the respect of those who are currently nursing him.
  5. I am quite sure that it would not be in Mr B’s best interests to take away his little remaining independence and dignity in order to replace it with a future for which he understandably has no appetite and which could only be achieved after a traumatic and uncertain struggle that he and no one else would have to endure. There is a difference between fighting on someone’s behalf and just fighting them. Enforcing treatment in this case would surely be the latter.
  6. The application, which was rightly brought, is accordingly dismissed.
  7. I conclude by thanking the parties and witnesses for the quality of their contributions and by paying tribute to the high standard of care and treatment that Mr B is now receiving.