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DAM (I wish I was your lover)

 

 

An appeal about the structure of a judgment and whether it was sufficiently deficient to warrant overturning the decision (I’m sure that combination of italicised words is already making David Burrows writhe in agony…. )

 

Re DAM (Children) 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/386.html

 

(There are obvious alternative jokes about the way the case name sounds if you read it aloud, but you know me and pop music, I wasn’t going to be able to resist a Sophie B Hawkins reference)

 

But obviously, beware the eyes that paralyze

 

 

The decision being appealed was from HHJ Tolson QC.   The lead Judge in the Court of Appeal was Jackson LJ .   (If you ARE being appealed about the manner in which you construct your judgment, you probably would not elect Jackson LJ to be critiquing your judgment, in much the same way as you would not want Rodin turning up to your pottery class to tell you if your bodged-up clay ashtray is any good)

 

 

5.Judges hearing care cases in the Family Court are engaged in one of the most difficult of all judicial tasks. The decisions are of huge significance for children and their families. The evidence is often difficult and distressing, and the level of emotion high. Achieving good case management and timely decision-making, not just for the children in the individual case but for all the children who are awaiting decisions, is a demanding challenge for the specialist judges who undertake this work.

 

 

6.In every care case, the Children Act 1989 and the Human Rights Act 1998 require the court to address a series of questions. What are the facts? Has the threshold been crossed? If so, what order is in the child’s best interests? Is that outcome necessary and proportionate to the problem? There is much authority from the appeal courts about each of these questions but at its simplest every valid decision will answer them.

 

 

7.It is in the judgment that the judge’s reasoning is found. There is no one correct form of judgment. Every judge has his or her own means of expression. Different cases may call for different types of judgment. Some judgments will be given at the time and others will be reserved. What is necessary in every case is that the judgment should be adequately reasoned: Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 at [46]. That is a matter of substance, not of structure or form: Re R [2014] EWCA Civ 1625 at [18]. The judgment must enable the reader, and above all the family itself, to know that the judge asked and answered the right questions.

 

 

8.This is not to say that the structure of a judgment is irrelevant. A judgment that lacks structure or is structured in a confusing way makes the judge’s reasoning harder to follow and may raise the possibility that the process by which the decision was reached was faulty. Inevitably, that increases the possibility of an appeal.

 

 

There was an educational psychologist instructed in the case who seems to have had an idiosyncratic approach to her role

 

Dr Rothermel’s approach: – The judge described this as the most bizarre aspect of the matter. Having filed her lengthy report, she was directed on 18 July to provide copies of her notes and correspondence. She said that would take six hours and sought payment for it, having already exceeded her budget. She was then directed to bring the documents to court on the first day of the hearing. They amounted to more than a hundred pages of, in particular, email exchanges with the mother. The other parties made extensive criticisms of Dr Rothermel, and the judge summarised the material as revealing her to be an expert who had strayed far beyond her limited brief, advising the mother on the presentation of her case, gathering evidence for her and, when giving evidence, being an advocate for home education and for the mother. She disposed of the key elements of her instruction in what the judge described as a few bland lines.

 

 

 

36.The grounds of appeal included the contention that the judge was wrong to reject the evidence of Dr Rothermel as worthless in its entirety, and to conclude that the children had not been educated at home. This argument was not developed by Mr Twomey. In my view, the judge’s verdict on Dr Rothermel’s contribution was fully justified, and his finding of fact about the children’s lack of education at home could not be disturbed in this court.

 

Fundamentally, the appeal was based on the assertion that the trial Judge had wrongly approached the case as one that was decided on threshold, that having found threshold met he swiftly ruled mother out and announced his decision on orders and AFTER that, dealt with welfare matters including the welfare checklist and briefly.

 

 

33.Mr Twomey QC and Mr Boyd start their submissions with an analysis of the way the judge structured his judgment as showing that he had fallen into substantive error. They make these undeniable observations:

 

 

 

 

(1) The judge stated that the key to the case lay in the threshold criteria. [48]

 

(2) Having found the threshold to be made out [61], he immediately eliminated the mother [62] and announced his conclusion, stating that there was no other realistic option but foster care for D and A [63, 65].

 

(3) He did not carry out any welfare assessment, by balancing the advantages and disadvantages of placements at home or in foster care. He did not refer to the welfare checklist until [73], long after he had stated his decisions, and in doing so, he stated, “I check my conclusions against the welfare checklist.”

 

(4) When identifying factors in the welfare checklist, he did not mention (g), the powers of the court, such as an interim or final care order with placement at home, or injunctions or undertakings to ensure schooling and medical care, perhaps as conditions to a supervision order under Schedules 2 or 3.

 

(5) He made no proportionality crosscheck.

34.As a matter of law, Mr Twomey submits that the use of the welfare checklist as an afterthought is not compliant with s.1(4), which requires the court to have regard to the matters in s.1(3) when it “is considering” whether to make a care order. It must, he argues, be considered before a decision is reached, not afterwards. He also draws attention to the encouragement given by Baroness Hale to judges to address each of the factors in the welfare checklist in any difficult or finely balanced case so as to ensure that no particular feature of the case is given more weight than it should properly bear: Re G (Children) [2006] UKHL 43 at [40].

 

 

35.In an ambitious submission, Mr Twomey argued that the court was not entitled to make a care order separating the children from their mother without being satisfied that “nothing else will do”.

 

[For those who are not fluent in Judge, ‘ambitious’ here is not a compliment]

 

The Court of Appeal don’t explicitly mention Re B 2013, and the words of Lord Neuberger, which are what sets that particular hare running (in my respectful view)

 

 

  1. It appears to me that, given that the Judge concluded that the section 31(2) threshold was crossed, he should only have made a care order if he had been satisfied that it was necessary to do so in order to protect the interests of the child. By “necessary”, I mean, to use Lady Hale’s phrase in para 198, “where nothing else will do”. I consider that this conclusion is clear under the 1989 Act, interpreted in the absence of the Convention, but it is put beyond doubt by article 8. The conclusion is also consistent with UNCRC.

 

  1. It seems to me to be inherent in section 1(1) that a care order should be a last resort, because the interests of a child would self-evidently require her relationship with her natural parents to be maintained unless no other course was possible in her interests. That is reinforced by the requirement in section 1 (3)(g) that the court must consider all options, which carries with it the clear implication that the most extreme option should only be adopted if others would not be in her interests. As to article 8, the Strasbourg court decisions cited by Lady Hale in paras 195-198 make it clear that such an order can only be made in “exceptional circumstances”, and that it could only be justified by “overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare”, or, putting the same point in slightly different words, “by the overriding necessity of the interests of the child”. I consider that this is the same as the domestic test (as is evidenced by the remarks of Hale LJ in Re C and B [2001] 1 FLR 611, para 34 quoted by Lady Hale in para 198 above), but it is unnecessary to explore that point further

 

(Now of course in Re B, the care plan was adoption, and it might well be that those passages are intended to be read as ‘a care order where the care plan is adoption’, but the bare language is “should only have made a care order if satisfied that it was necessary to do so in order to protect the interests of the child and by necessary I mean ‘where nothing else will do’ “ )

 

I think there’s at least an argument to be had on that aspect. I have seen a Parker J case in which it was posited that this formulation applies to interim care orders as well, which I think goes too far.

 

The Court of Appeal don’t agree

 

 

 

(5) I reject the argument that a court considering whether to make a care order has to be satisfied that “nothing else will do”. A care order is a serious order that can only be made where the facts justify it, where it is in the child’s interests, and where it is necessary and proportionate. But the aphorism “nothing else will do” (which, as has been said, is not a substitute for a proper welfare evaluation and proportionality check) applies only to cases involving a plan for adoption. That is clear from the case in which it originated, In re M (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, which concerned an application for a care order with a care plan for adoption. It is clear, where it is not explicit, that all the justices were addressing a situation involving the severance of the parental relationship altogether, and not one involving physical separation under a care order, where the parent retains parental responsibility. That is confirmed by the summary given by the President in Re B-S:

 

“22. The language used in Re M is striking. Different words and phrases are used, but the message is clear. Orders contemplating non-consensual adoption – care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders – are “a very extreme thing, a last resort”, only to be made where “nothing else will do”, where “no other course [is] possible in [the child’s] interests”, they are “the most extreme option”, a “last resort – when all else fails”, to be made “only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do”: see Re M paras 74, 76, 77, 82, 104, 130, 135, 145, 198, 215.” [my emphasis]

 

I may be utterly wrong about the impact of Lord Neuberger’s words, but it is a shame that they weren’t considered explicitly, because that’s what gives rise to the suggestion that any order that permanently separates a child from birth parents has to be measured against that necessity and ‘nothing else will do’ yardstick.

 

 

On the other matters, the Court of Appeal decision is as follows:-

 

41.Despite the neat way in which the mother’s case has been presented, my clear conclusion is that the judge’s findings of fact, set out at paragraph 29 above, amply satisfy the threshold for making public law orders and adequately underpin the welfare decision. Taking full account of the matters that appear below, it has not been shown that the judge was wrong to conclude that the mother’s parenting falls so far short of what the children need, and that her approach is so ingrained and unchangeable, that care orders were necessary. He had an excellent opportunity to assess the mother’s personality and behaviour during the course of the proceedings. Nor is it irrelevant that there is now no challenge to the judge’s decision that M, who had grown up for 4½ years in her mother’s care, should remain with her father. The home circumstances that justified that decision were shared by the older children.

 

 

42.Dealing specifically with the criticisms of the judge’s approach, set out in paragraph 33 above:

 

 

 

(1) It was unwise of the judge to characterise the decision as one that turned on the threshold findings. The threshold is concerned only with harm, while the welfare checklist addresses a much wider range of factors. There are cases involving very serious abuse where the threshold definitively determines the outcome, but this was not one of them. Nonetheless, despite the way the judge expressed himself, his decision did not in fact rest on the threshold alone, but on all the welfare considerations mentioned in the judgment.

 

(2) The term “realistic options”, deriving from cases such as Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, ensures that time is not wasted on outcomes that are merely theoretical, so that attention can be focused on the genuine possibilities. In this case, the realistic options for D and A were placement at home or placement in foster care. The fact that one was discarded in favour of the other made it a rejected option, not an unrealistic one, and the judgment, read as a whole, shows that this is how the judge in fact proceeded.

 

(3) In the almost 30 years since it was devised, the ‘welfare checklist’ has stood the test of time and its value to decision-makers, as described in Re G, cannot be overstated. It is obligatory to have regard to its contents when considering what order should be made. That obligation will be discharged if it is evident that in substance all the relevant, significant welfare factors have been taken into account. I do not accept that there is an obligation to articulate a checklist analysis before announcing a decision. However, to omit any reference to the substance of the checklist, or to relegate the exercise until after the court has stated its conclusion, carries risks of the kind seen in this appeal.

 

(4) The absence of a point in the judgment where the judge can be seen to have drawn together the welfare factors for comparative evaluation is an undoubted weakness. However, analysis of the judgment as a whole shows that the judge did evaluate all the significant welfare factors, although not in a methodical order that would have made his reasoning easier to appreciate.

 

 

(6) To continue, I do not accept Mr Twomey’s submission that the judge did not consider the powers of the court, as required by checklist factor (g). He dealt with that matter squarely at paragraph 51 (see 31 above).

 

(7) I accept that the judge did not explicitly return to the issue of proportionality, but he clearly had it in mind from his self-direction and in my view his decision is not undermined by that omission.

43.I therefore conclude that the submission that the judge’s decision was wrong must fail.

 

 

The Court of Appeal did, it seems to me, consider that there were failings in the structure and approach of the judgment; but these were not such as to fatally flaw the judgment. A considered reading of the judgment answered all of the questions posited in the opening remarks in the appeal judgment and this piece.

 

However,

 

 

 

44.I would also reject the submission that the decision was unjust because the form of the judgment amounted to a serious procedural irregularity. The judge gave a substantial judgment that, on close examination, adequately reasons his decision.

 

 

45.However, I am also in no doubt that permission to appeal was rightly granted. Had the judgment proceeded simply and methodically through the stages of the decision-making process, this might have been avoided. It should not be necessary for an appeal court to undertake a laborious explanatory exercise of the kind contained in this judgment. That can only affect the parties’ confidence in the decision. In the meantime, this family has been left in a state of uncertainty for a further four months and the costs of the appeal to the public purse have, we were told, amounted to some £37,000.

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I saw the best minds of my generation utterly baffled by nothing else will do – developments

It has been fourteen months since we last had a perplexing piece of adoption case law which scrambled the brains – which in the context of what’s been going on in adoption law since 2013 represents an almost One Hundred Years of Solitude rest from mind-f**kery.

In the words of Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning “now it begins”

(we are not going to hear from young Ned Stark yet, saying “no, now it ends” – we may never hear that)

Clearly everything from Re B onwards is the fault of Bran Stark and his Three Eyed Raven powers. Great job, Bran.


Re B (A child) (Care Proceedings) 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/20.html

I will stress at the outset that nothing in this case says “A Court should ALWAYS do this”, it says instead that the Court, if they give good reasons for it and a careful judgment “CAN do this”

Basically, little girl B, born in spring 2016. She has a biological brother, H who was born in 2015 and adopted in 2016. Birth parents ruled out in care proceedings on B. H’s adopters wanted to adopt B.

There were family members, paternal cousins I and R, who were a realistic and viable option to care for B.

I’ll make it clear that the judgment we have gives us ABSOLUTELY NO INFORMATION about why the parents were considered not suitable to care for B or why H was adopted. We don’t have any information that would allow us to even speculate about that. Mother and father were both represented, and they were both at the appeal supporting a placement with I and R, rather than seeking to care themselves for B.

The Court at first instance was grappling with the competing arguments

(a) It is better for B to grow up with her full biological sibling for life, even if that means adoption OR
(b) It is better for B to grow up within her biological extended family, even if that means not growing up with her sibling

The prospective adopters sought to be made parties to the proceedings, but that was refused. The Courts have given guidance on this, notably in Re T (A Child) (Early Permanence Placement) [2015] EWCA Civ 983, [2017] 1 FLR 330
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/983.html

“The care judge is concerned at most with consideration of adoption in principle, not with evaluating the merits of particular proposed adopters. There is no need for the prospective adopters to be joined, for it is the children’s guardian … who has the task, indeed is under the duty, of subjecting the local authority’s care plan to rigorous scrutiny and, where appropriate, criticism.”
7.I went on to recognise (Re T, para 51) that there might be “an exceptional case justifying [a] departure from the general approach”, echoing in this respect what Wilson LJ had said in Re A, para 35:

“To say that the credentials of proposed adopters may exceptionally need to be considered in care proceedings in order that the court should better be able to reach the central decision whether the child should be removed from his family and adopted is not to say that care or indeed placement proceedings are an appropriate forum for resolution of an issue between a proposed adopter and the local authority as to the merits of her candidacy.”

In effect, the Court isn’t carrying out a beauty contest between what prospective adopters can offer and what the alternatives are – the Court has to look at the issue of whether adoption is necessary without considering the particular merits that adopters bring to bear.

In this case, however, making it different to Re T, the prospective adopters were caring for a biological sibling H. So the issue wasn’t about what the qualities of the ADOPTERS were, but what the benefits to B might be of growing up with a sibling.

The relevant parts of the welfare checklist from the Adoption and Children Act 2002 are set out below

11.Those sections provide as follows:

“The court … must have regard to the following matters (among others) –

(c) the likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person,

(f) the relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court … considers the relationship to be relevant, including –

(i) the likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so,

(ii) the ability and willingness of any of the child’s relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child’s needs,

(iii) the wishes and feelings of any of the child’s relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.”

So the Court HAS to consider all of the family relationships that might continue for B and the value of them doing so – the parents, I and R AND H.

The Local Authority and the Guardian both urged the Court to consider that the benefits for B of growing up with a full sibling were considerable and tipped the balance towards this being a plan of adoption.

The Judge recognised the last seismic adoption authority, Re W

12.The judge next embarked upon a careful analysis of the evidence (judgment, paras 28-35). It requires to be read in full, but for present purposes I can concentrate on the evidence of the children’s guardian, which the judge described (para 34) as “very thoughtful”. She continued (paras 34-35):

“34 … She said that placement with [R] and [I] is a realistic option, they are an open and generous couple, but her professional judgment is that the advantages for [B] of a full sibling relationship outweigh the advantages of a placement with [R] and [I].

35 She was careful to point out that her recommendation did not turn on an assessment of [I] and [R], but the weight to be attached to the two competing factors set out in Sections 1(4)(c) and (f) of the 2002 Act. She had balanced on the one hand the effect of [B] having ceased to be a member of her original birth family mitigated in this case by the big plus of a lifelong relationship with her full sibling and closest relative and, on the other hand, the relationships she has with her relatives, the likelihood of those relationships continuing and the value to the child in them doing so. If [H] had not already been placed for adoption in a placement willing to take [B], the Guardian would support a placement with [I] and [R]. It would have been under a Care Order because currently the placement is untested. That would result in a period of uncertainty for [B]. Taking into account the research on the importance of the sibling bond and all the circumstances of this case she attached more weight to the sibling relationship, which led her to conclude that adoption was necessary.”
13.The judge thus correctly recognised (paras 26, 34) that a family placement with I and R was a viable and realistic option. In that context, it is important to appreciate the point made by McFarlane LJ in Re W (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ 793, paras 70-71:

“70 With respect to them, it is clear to me that both the Children’s Guardian and the ISW fell into serious error by misunderstanding the need to evaluate the question of A’s future welfare by affording due weight to all of the relevant factors and without applying any automatic “presumption” or “right” for a child to be brought up by a member of her natural family. The extracts from the reports of both of these witnesses indicate that they determined their recommendation for A on just that basis. Mrs Fairbairn repeatedly described the child as having a “right” to be brought up by the natural family where there is a viable placement available. The Guardian advised that adoption is not in A’s best interests because the grandparents can provide her with a home. Putting the correct position in lay terms, the existence of a viable home with the grandparents should make that option “a runner” but should not automatically make it “a winner” in the absence of full consideration of any other factor that is relevant to her welfare; the error of the ISW and the Guardian appears to have been to hold that “if a family placement is a ‘runner’, then it has to be regarded as a ‘winner'”.

71 The repeated reference to a ‘right’ for a child to be brought up by his or her natural family, or the assumption that there is a presumption to that effect, needs to be firmly and clearly laid to rest. No such ‘right’ or presumption exists. The only ‘right’ is for the arrangements for the child to be determined by affording paramount consideration to her welfare throughout her life (in an adoption case) in a manner which is proportionate and compatible with the need to respect any ECHR Art 8 rights which are engaged.”

(The Court of Appeal judgment doesn’t get into the ‘fulcrum’ metaphor which permeated Re W, in particular where the balance falls in a case BEFORE placement order is made and child placed – remember that in Re W, the child by that stage had been placed with prospective adopters.
https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/07/29/re-w-no-presumption-for-a-child-to-be-brought-up-by-a-member-of-the-natural-family/ )

The trial Judge decided that it was in B’s interests to make the Care Order and Placement Order, so that B could grow up with H.

15.The judge then set out (paras 56-62) her analysis of the “pros and cons of an adoptive placement.” She began with this (paras 56-57):


“56 One advantage of adoption is that [B] will be brought up with her nearest relative, a full sibling. This would mean that she would never be alone, she would have the shared experiences of being brought up in the same household, which will promote identity and self-esteem. The research which I have been referred to suggests that the sibling relationship is emotionally powerful and critically important, not only in childhood but over the course of a lifetime. People spend more time with their siblings than anyone else. Growing up with a sibling enables one to learn social skills, sharing and managing conflict and negotiating. The relationship can provide a significant source of continuity throughout a child’s lifetime and is likely to be the longest relationship most people experience.

57 For children going into care it is generally accepted that siblings should be placed together unless it is contrary to an individual child’s welfare needs. A shared history and experiences help self-identity and self-esteem because siblings provide support and companionship. An adoptive placement with her brother would mitigate against the loss of the relationship with her parents. This would be a lifelong relationship with her brother which would be promoted. The impact of becoming an adopted person, with the severance of legal and emotional ties with her parents and family, would also be mitigated by the shared experience of being with her brother.”
16.As against that (para 61):

“The disadvantages of an adoption placement include severance of the links with the biological family. This can mean a real sense of loss, particularly to children when they get older and realise that they have not brought up within their biological family. It can also have a negative impact on their sense of identity and belonging. It will result in a loss of [B]’s relationship with her parents because there would be no direct contact with them. There would be a probable loss of contact with the extended family because it is unlikely that [B] will have contact with her half-siblings or with [I] and [R] and their family.”
17.The judge concluded with a section (paras 63-69) headed “Decision.” She began (paras 63-64):

“63 In the final analysis the court must decide whether the advantages associated with the sibling relationship outweigh the relationship with other family members: the parents, half-siblings, [I] and the wider family. This is the balancing exercise between the factors set out in Sections 1(4)(c) and (f) of the 2002 Act. I have already set out the benefits of the sibling relationship. Although there is no existing relationship between the siblings once the children are living in the same household one is likely to develop rapidly, given their closeness in age. I acknowledge the argument that to prioritise the relationship with a brother will be at the expense of all other family relationships. They do not have an existing relationship which can currently be given weight to, but rather the potential for a unique relationship lasting throughout their lives which the Guardian and social worker say should be prioritised.

64 The reality and quality of a continuing relationship with other family members is very relevant here therefore. As I have identified already, the relationship with her parents is likely to be very limited. [Her father] is likely to be in [Africa], so contact will be indirect with possible occasional visits to [Africa] … Contact with the mother is likely to be either non-existent or problematic and potentially disruptive and unsettling. [B] has no existing relationship with her half-siblings, but only the potential for one. That is likely to be very limited. Those children are all quite a bit older than her and may or may not develop a bond.”
18.She continued (paras 66-67):

“66 When considering [B]’s welfare throughout her life the scales tip in favour of prioritising the relationship with her brother for all the positive advantages that will bring her set out above. What makes this case particularly difficult and finely balanced is the cultural dimension. However, a close examination of what benefits [B] would actually derive from a placement with [I] and [R] reveals that [and she then set out various matters which I do not propose to repeat as they might lead to the identification of the family. She went on:] The practicalities and financial cost of frequent visits to [Africa] may prove problematic.

67 Whilst a placement with [H] does not provide the cultural match which a placement with [I] could offer, the adopters have some cultural similarities and living with her brother would boost her identity because of growing up with her closest relative. His heritage and identity and early childhood experience of a foster placement at birth and then one stable placement afterwards, exactly mirrors her own. All this has led me to conclude that this is the over-riding requirement pertaining to [B]’s best interests throughout her life. Having reached that conclusion, I am satisfied that an adoption order is necessary to meet [B]’s needs and proportionate in all the circumstances of the case.”
19.The judge concluded as follows (paras 68-69):

“68 Whilst this is more interventionist than a placement with [I] and [R], it has the benefit of permanency now. There will be no further delay. It will avoid the testing out of a placement with [I] and [R] and reduce the risks and uncertainties for [B] all of which adds weight to the decision that I have come to.

The father and I and R appealed – understandably on the basis that the Court had not squared the case with the “nothing else will do” principle – but rather had decided that Placement Order was the better of two choices.

The Court of Appeal, lead judgment by the President, praised the careful and analytical approach of the trial Judge and upheld the decision. It was permissible for a Judge to give more weight to the option of B being placed with a sibling than B being placed within the family (even where there was a viable and realistic alternative family placement)

23.The central core of the father’s complaint relates to the judge’s application – in his counsel’s submissions, her misapplication – of the principles in Re T, the essence of the complaint being that the judge had, in conflict with those principles, treated the matter as a competition between the adopters and the kinship carers and, illegitimately, been drawn into an inquiry as to which would be the ‘better’ placement. As the passages from her judgment (judgment, paras 20, 21 and 25) which I have set out demonstrate, that is not what the judge said she was doing or what she thought she was doing. Nor, in my judgment, is that what she was in fact doing. On the contrary, she was carefully, conscientiously and, in my judgment, correctly applying the learning in Re T.

24.How else was the judge to proceed? She was confronted with the fact – the reality – that B’s only full sibling, H, a sibling close to her in age, had been adopted and that H’s adoptive parents were willing to adopt B. That was not something the judge could ignore, as it were put out of her mind, if she was to comply with her statutory duty under section 1(4) and in particular section 1(4)(f) of the 2002 Act. And in having regard to that objective, factual, reality, the judge was doing nothing inconsistent with the learning in Re T and the earlier authorities to which I have referred.

25.As Mr Tyler and Ms James pointedly observe, there is nothing in Re T to say that the court can ignore a crucial factor which is necessarily concomitant with a particular placement. The presence of H in B’s life must fall in the credit side of the balance sheet in relation to placement with H’s adopters, just as the loss of H must fall in the debit side in relation to the kinship placement; to ignore this would, they say, be a nonsense. I agree.

26.Complaint is also made, in particular by Ms Fottrell and Ms MacLynn, that the judge never grappled with the question of whether adoption per se was required for B and, in consequence, that she truncated the adoption process and, in effect, approached the case as if she was deciding an adoption application and on the assumption that, immediately following the making of the placement order, B would be placed for adoption by H’s adoptive parents. I do not agree. The judge was well aware that she was considering only the making (if appropriate) of care and placement orders as a prelude to the entirely separate adoption proceedings which, if she made those orders, would no doubt follow in due course. And, in circumstances where the fact and reality was that H had been adopted by those who were offering a similar placement for B, the distinction between adoption per se and adoption by H’s adoptive parents is more apparent than real.

27.The father complains that the process adopted by the judge meant that she ended up weighing the ‘known’ uncertainties in respect of the proposed kinship carers against the certainties of the adoptive placement. That, it is said, was an unfair half-way house; the judge, on this approach, should have embarked upon a full welfare evaluation and comparison of each prospective placement. I do not agree. The judge knew all that she needed to know about the possible placement with H’s adoptive parents to be able properly to carry out, and in a manner compatible with Re T, the task she was embarked upon. Indeed, to go further into that aspect of the matter than she did would have risked offending against the principle in Re T.

28.In relation to the other grounds of appeal I can be quite brief. The father complains that the judge erred in prioritising B’s relationship with H over her relationships with her wider family, in placing too much emphasis on the sibling relationship, and in attaching too little weight to ‘nothing else will do’. I do not agree. The judge did not prioritise either of these placements – both, it is to be noted, family placements – over the other. She treated each as being viable and realistic and carefully evaluated the competing evidence and arguments before coming to her conclusion. The fact that her conclusion favoured X rather than Y does not mean that the judge was prioritising X over Y. Her conclusion that, in all the circumstances, B’s future relationship with H throughout their lives tipped the balance and was determinative of the outcome, was, in my judgment, securely founded in the evidence the judge had heard and, as I have already said, was plainly open to her.

29.I can take the two remaining grounds – that the judge placed too much weight on the ‘untested’ nature of the placement with I and R while failing to acknowledge that the placement with H’s adopters was equally untested; and that she was too focused on avoiding the potential delay and failed to balance the purpose of such delay to B’s best interests – together. The judge, in my judgment, was entitled to have regard to these factors, and it was for her to determine how much weight to attach to them. In fact, as we have seen, she did not attribute determinative weight to other of them. As her judgment makes clear (judgment, para 68) their impact was merely to “add … weight to the decision that I have come to.”

This is a very difficult one. I have no doubt that prior to 2013, the decision to place B with her sibling (having ruled out her parents for reasons that we don’t know about) would have been an arguably correct decision both on the facts and the law. I don’t see how it does square with Re B.

Let’s remind ourselves what the test for making a Placement Order is, as set down by the Supreme Court

“only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do”: see Re B paras 74, 76, 77, 82, 104, 130, 135, 145, 198, 215.

But also the apparent dilution of that by the Court of Appeal in Re W 2016 that welfare analysis and evaluation is actually the be-all and end-all

The phrase is meaningless, and potentially dangerous, if it is applied as some freestanding, shortcut test divorced from, or even in place of, an overall evaluation of the child’s welfare. Used properly, as Baroness Hale explained, the phrase “nothing else will do” is no more, nor no less, than a useful distillation of the proportionality and necessity test as embodied in the ECHR and reflected in the need to afford paramount consideration to the welfare of the child throughout her lifetime (ACA 2002 s 1). The phrase “nothing else will do” is not some sort of hyperlink providing a direct route to the outcome of a case so as to bypass the need to undertake a full, comprehensive welfare evaluation of all of the relevant pros and cons

I think that it is POSSIBLE for a Court to decide that, for B, her overriding requirement is to be placed with her sibling, and no other placement option is able to deliver that and therefore that nothing else but adoption will do. But neither the Trial Judge nor the Court of Appeal actually spell that out.

The case reads like a straight welfare shootout (a well-considered and thoughtful shootout, but one nonetheless which doesn’t really engage with the spirit or the letter of Re B)
And of course, there’s a counter argument to that. If the Courts are saying that placement with a sibling is such a powerful factor that it can override other factors, then what happens with all those cases where the LA care plan is to split a sibling group and the only way they can stay together is to be with a parent – even where the quality of care would fall below ‘good enough’

If having the sibling relationship endure is a reason to discount ‘viable and realistic’ family members on the one hand, then why is it not a reason for preferring a family placement to a placement in care where the family placement would keep them together?

OR, as happens frequently – one child is young enough to be adopted, but another is to be placed in foster care – and the parents understandably would want both children placed together. In those scenarios, unlike B and H, the sibling group will actually have met and have a relationship.

[These are all cases where the well-known authority of Sauce for Goose v Sauce4Ganda 1621 may be deployed]

(I’ll stress again that the Court of Appeal are not saying here that the sibling placement MUST triumph over family placement or that it MUST be given greater weight – they are saying that the Judge in this case was ABLE to decide this the way she did, because she had very carefully thought about the evidence and the law. Another Judge could decide the reverse in a similar set of facts, provided they very carefully think about the evidence and the law. It is NOT sibling rights beat family rights. It is NOT that. )

I think the treatment of ‘nothing else will do’ is a bit of a Jedi hand-wave here. We are getting closer and closer to the old state of play – which was ‘what decision is the best for the child’s welfare’ and farther away from what the Supreme Court were talking about with adoption and placement orders being a very high bar that the State have to meet.

In the meantime, expect any case where a sibling has previously been adopted to have urgent enquiries being prompted by the social worker or Guardian as to whether those adopters put themselves forward for this child. The Court CAN take account of it if there’s a definite commitment to do so (even though they might not be matched by Panel). What is the Court going to do if the adopters of the siblings say that they are ‘open to it’ or ‘thinking it over’? Can they give that any weight at all?

Law for social workers (part 3)

This time I’m going to deal with Placement Orders and Adoption Orders – and largely of course what the Courts are looking for when deciding whether to approve a care plan of adoption rather than placement with a family member.

I expect to be changing this page a LOT.  Adoption law is changing faster at the moment than Justin Beiber’s views about Instagram.

Quick sidetrack. I like dinosaurs.

Of course I do. That’s surprised none of you, I suspect. I would actually go to a real world Jurassic Park if they built one. I would actually go to a real world Jurassic Park like the one in the last movie where 42% of the guests were eaten to bits. I wouldn’t care. Sign me up, I’m going. Every day I pass Thomson’s window and sigh that there’s still no Jurassic Park brochures.

One of the first dinosaurs found, in fossil form, was Iguanadon, which means “Iguana teeth”.  (and frankly, if I’d dug up something as epic as the first ever dinosaur, I wouldn’t have been naming it after a chuffing IGUANA. I would have gone for Dragon-stone or Me-Grimlock or something. Iguanadon was actually the second, after Megalosaurus – so it’s not like there wasn’t a prompt – Megalosaurus is a great name. Don’t then drop the ball with “Kittendon”  or “Daddylonglegosaur”)

When they found it, there was also a spike. So, reasonable assumption, they put the spike on its nose, like a rhino. And they put it on all fours, like a rhino.

 

Then fossil-hunters found a bunch of iguanadon fossils in Belgium, and the iguanadon idea got flipped turned upside down

Check out THIS dude. I'm getting a time machine, and rebranding him Fonziesaurus. Which would probably stop Happy Days naming their guy Fonzie. And then how would I have ever got the name in my mind? Paradox!

Check out THIS dude. I’m getting a time machine, and rebranding him Fonziesaurus. Which would probably stop Happy Days naming their guy Fonzie. And then how would I have ever got the name in my mind? Paradox!

 

Honestly – when you look at this thing, which incidentally was TEN METRES long, is the first thing that comes to mind “Oh, it’s teeth are quite like an Iguana’s teeth?” what the heck, Victorian Paleontologists?

Okay, so that’s all sorted out viz-a-viz Iguanadons.  Only NO!  It is now believed that whilst the spike things did indeed go on the thumbs and not the nose, that Iguanadon’s weren’t always walking around upright going “Hey!” and possibly “Sit on it”, but that they were largely on all fours but they could rear up on their hind legs when they felt the need. So three completely different ideas about the Iguanadon.

And that’s pretty much what’s happening with adoption. The Court of Appeal keep saying “Hey, I tell you where this spike belongs on adoption” and everyone has to react and nod and go “Ah, yeah, I thought that too” and then just when we all get used to it, they flip on us and go “sucker, you were a damn fool for thinking the spike was on the nose, it’s on the thumbs, dummy” and so forth.

 

Deep breath – putting this off now. Let’s get to it.

 

The Court can’t make a Placement Order unless the parent has consented OR the Court has decided to dispense with their consent. And the LA can’t place a child with prospective adopters with a view to a later adoption application without a Placement Order.  And the Court can only make a Placement Order if the LA apply, and the LA can only apply if their Agency Decision Maker (ADM) makes a decision that adoption should be the plan for the child.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 uses pretty plain language.

 

52 Parental etc. consent

(1)The court cannot dispense with the consent of any parent or guardian of a child to the child being placed for adoption or to the making of an adoption order in respect of the child unless the court is satisfied that—

(a)the parent or guardian cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent, or

(b)the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with.

 

If we’re learning anything about the Courts over this three article series (and we may well be learning more about dinosaurs at this precise time) it is that plain language is like anti-matter to Courts. They don’t care for it at all, and will quickly try to eradicate the heck out of it by complicating it.

So, this is the truly astounding bit. Every piece of adoption caselaw in the last three years, that has turned everything upside down and made huge differences to outcomes to children in cases has been about the word ‘requires’ in that section.

You and I and Fonzie know what the word ‘requires’ means. We aren’t going to need to google it. But that’s not enough for the Courts. It took them a long time to get around to it, but they pimped that word up to a level where you’d no longer recognise the word they started with.

Let us begin with the Supreme Court and Re B 2013 .

 

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed114409

This is the case that decided that when considering the application for a Placement Order and thus a plan of adoption, the Court had to be in a position to decide that “nothing else will do”

 

Proportionality
194. Once the threshold is crossed, section 1(1) of the Children Act requires that the welfare of the child be the court’s paramount consideration. In deciding what will best promote that welfare, the court is required to have regard to the “checklist” of factors in section 1(3). These include, at (g), the range of powers available to the court in the proceedings in question. By section 1(5), the court must not make any order unless it considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all. The Act itself makes no mention of proportionality, but it was framed with the developing jurisprudence under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights very much in mind. Once the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force, not only the local authority, but also the courts as public authorities, came under a duty to act compatibly with the Convention rights.

195. It is well-established in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights that “the mutual enjoyment by parent and child of each other’s company constitutes a fundamental element of family life, and domestic measures hindering such enjoyment amount to an interference with the right protected by article 8 of the Convention” (Johansen v Norway (1996) 23 EHRR 33, among many others). However, such measures may be justified if aimed at protecting the “health or morals” and “the rights and freedoms” of children. But they must also be “necessary in a democratic society”. The court has recently summed up the principles in the context of an order freeing a child for adoption, in R and H v United Kingdom (2011) 54 EHRR 28, [2011] 2 FLR 1236, at para 81:

“In assessing whether the freeing order was a disproportionate interference with the applicants’ article 8 rights, the court must consider whether, in the light of the case as a whole, the reasons adduced to justify that measure were relevant and sufficient for the purposes of paragraph 2 of article 8 of the Convention (see, among other authorities, K and T v Finland (2001) 36 EHRR 255, para 154). . . . The court would also recall that, while national authorities enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in deciding whether a child should be taken into care, stricter scrutiny is called for as regards any further limitations, such as restrictions placed by those authorities on parental rights of access, and as regards any legal safeguards designed to secure the effective protection of the right of parents and children to respect for their family life. Such further limitations entail the danger that the family relations between a young child and one or both parents would be effectively curtailed (see Elsholz v Germany (2000) 34 EHRR 1412, para 49, and Kutzner v Germany (2002) 35 EHRR 653, para 67). For these reasons, measures which deprive biological parents of the parental responsibilities and authorise adoption should only be applied in exceptional circumstances and can only be justified if they are motivated by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests (see Aune v Norway (Application No 52502/07) 28 October 2010, para 66; Johansen v Norway (1996) 23 EHRR 33, para 78; and, mutatis mutandis, P, C and S v United Kingdom (2002) 35 EHRR 31, para 118).”

196. The Strasbourg court itself has consistently applied a stricter standard of scrutiny to the national courts’ decisions to restrict or curtail contact between parent and child than it has to the decision to take a child into care in the first place. This is because, as stated, for example, by the Grand Chamber in K and T v Finland (2001) 36 EHRR 255, at para 178, there is:

“. . . the guiding principle whereby a care order should in principle be regarded as a temporary measure, to be discontinued as soon as circumstances permit, and that any measures implementing temporary care should be consistent with the ultimate aim of reuniting the natural parents and the child. The positive duty to take measures to facilitate family reunification as soon as reasonably feasible will begin to weigh on the responsible authorities with progressively increasing force as from the commencement of the period of care, subject always to its being balanced against the duty to consider the best interests of the child.”

197. Thus it is not surprising that Lewison LJ was troubled by the proportionality of planning the most drastic interference possible, which is a closed adoption, in a case where the threshold had not been crossed in the most extreme way (see para 174 above). However, I would not see proportionality in such a linear fashion, as if the level of interference should be in direct proportion to the level of harm to the child. There are cases where the harm suffered or feared is very severe, but it would be disproportionate to sever or curtail the family ties because the authorities can protect the child in other ways. I recall, for example, a case where the mother was slowly starving her baby to death because she could not cope with the colostomy tube through which the baby had to be fed, but solutions were found which enabled the child to stay at home. Conversely, there may be cases where the level of harm is not so great, but there is no other way in which the child can be properly protected from it.

198. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do. In many cases, and particularly where the feared harm has not yet materialised and may never do so, it will be necessary to explore and attempt alternative solutions. As was said in Re C and B [2001] 1 FLR 611, at para 34,

“Intervention in the family may be appropriate, but the aim should be to reunite the family when the circumstances enable that, and the effort should be devoted towards that end. Cutting off all contact and the relationship between the child or children and their family is only justified by the overriding necessity of the interests of the child.”

 

[I cannot stress strongly enough to you that  “nothing else will do” is the spike here, in the Iguanodon metaphor.]

After that, came Re BS 2013, where the Court of Appeal tried to put some rigour into social work statements and judgments and to get professionals to engage with that philosophy set down by the Supreme Court in Re B.

 

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed117048

 

Adoption – essentials: (i) proper evidence
34. First, there must be proper evidence both from the local authority and from the guardian. The evidence must address all the options which are realistically possible and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option. As Ryder LJ said in Re R (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1018, para 20, what is required is:

“evidence of the lack of alternative options for the children and an analysis of the evidence that is accepted by the court sufficient to drive it to the conclusion that nothing short of adoption is appropriate for the children.”

The same judge indicated in Re S, K v The London Borough of Brent [2013] EWCA Civ 926, para 21, that what is needed is:

“An assessment of the benefits and detriments of each option for placement and in particular the nature and extent of the risk of harm involved in each of the options”.

McFarlane LJ made the same point in Re G (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 965, para 48, when he identified:

“the need to take into account the negatives, as well as the positives, of any plan to place a child away from her natural family”.

We agree with all of this.

35. Too often this essential material is lacking. As Black LJ said in Re V (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 913, para 88:

“I have searched without success in the papers for any written analysis by local authority witnesses or the guardian of the arguments for and against adoption and long term fostering … It is not the first time that I have remarked on an absence of such material from the evidence, see Plymouth CC v G (children) [2010] EWCA Civ 1271. Care should always be taken to address this question specifically in the evidence/ reports and that this was not done here will not have assisted the judge in his determination of the issue.”

In the Plymouth case she had said this (para 47):

“In some respects the reports of the guardian and the social worker, and the social worker’s statement, are very detailed, giving information about health and likes and dislikes, wishes and feelings. However there is surprisingly little detail about the central issue of the type of placement that will best meet the children’s needs … In part, this may be an unfortunate by-product of the entirely proper use, by both witnesses, of the checklist of factors and, in the case of the social worker’s placement report, of the required pro forma. However, the court requires not only a list of the factors that are relevant to the central decision but also a narrative account of how they fit together, including an analysis of the pros and cons of the various orders that might realistically be under consideration given the circumstances of the children, and a fully reasoned recommendation.”

36. Black LJ has not altered the views that she expressed on these earlier occasions and the other members of the court agree with every word of them. We draw attention in particular to the need for “analysis of the pros and cons” and a “fully reasoned recommendation”. These are essential if the exacting test set out in Re B and the requirements of Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention are to be met. We suggest that such an analysis is likely to be facilitated by the use – which we encourage – of the kind of ‘balance sheet’ first recommended by Thorpe LJ, albeit in a very different context, in Re A (Male Sterilisation) [2000] 1 FLR 549, 560.

37. It is particularly disheartening that Black LJ’s words three years ago in the Plymouth case seem to have had so little effect.

38. Consider the lamentable state of affairs described by Ryder LJ in Re S, K v The London Borough of Brent [2013] EWCA Civ 926, where an appeal against the making of a care order with a plan for adoption was successful because neither the evidence nor the judge’s reasoning was adequate to support the order. It is a lengthy passage but it merits setting out almost in full (paras 22-26):

“22 … what was the evidence that was available to the judge to support her conclusion? … Sadly, there was little or no evidence about the relative merits of the placement options nor any evidence about why an adoptive placement was necessary or feasible.

23  The allocated social worker in her written statement recommended that [S] needed:

“a permanent placement where her on-going needs will be met in a safe, stable and nurturing environment. [S]’s permanent carers will need to demonstrate that they are committed to [S], her safety, welfare and wellbeing and that they ensure that she receives a high standard of care until she reaches adulthood

Adoption will give [S] the security and permanency that she requires. The identified carers are experienced carers and have good knowledge about children and the specific needs of children that have been removed from their families …”

24  With respect to the social worker … that without more is not a sufficient rationale for a step as significant as permanent removal from the birth family for adoption. The reasoning was in the form of a conclusion that needed to be supported by evidence relating to the facts of the case and a social worker’s expert analysis of the benefits and detriments of the placement options available. Fairness dictates that whatever the local authority’s final position, their evidence should address the negatives and the positives relating to each of the options available. Good practice would have been to have heard evidence about the benefits and detriments of each of the permanent placement options that were available for S within and outside the family.

25  The independent social worker did not support adoption or removal but did describe the options which were before the court when the mediation opportunity was allowed:

“Special Guardianship Order: This is the application before the Court and which would afford [S] stability, in terms of remaining with the same primary carer and the opportunity to be raised within her birth family. I do not consider that the situation within the family is suitable at present for this Order to be made.

Adoption: [S] could be placed with a family where she should experience stability and security without conflict. This may be the best option for [S] if current concerns cannot be resolved in a timely manner.”

26  In order to choose between the options the judge needed evidence which was not provided. The judge’s conclusion was a choice of one option over another that was neither reasoned nor evidenced within the proceedings. That vitiated her evaluative judgment which was accordingly wrong.”

39. Most experienced family judges will unhappily have had too much exposure to material as anodyne and inadequate as that described here by Ryder LJ.

40. This sloppy practice must stop. It is simply unacceptable in a forensic context where the issues are so grave and the stakes, for both child and parent, so high.

Adoption – essentials: (ii) adequately reasoned judgments
41. The second thing that is essential, and again we emphasise that word, is an adequately reasoned judgment by the judge. We have already referred to Ryder LJ’s criticism of the judge in Re S, K v The London Borough of Brent [2013] EWCA Civ 926. That was on 29 July 2013. The very next day, in Re P (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 963, appeals against the making of care and placement orders likewise succeeded because, as Black LJ put it (para 107):

“the judge … failed to carry out a proper balancing exercise in order to determine whether it was necessary to make a care order with a care plan of adoption and then a placement order or, if she did carry out that analysis, it is not apparent from her judgments. Putting it another way, she did not carry out a proportionality analysis.”

She added (para 124): “there is little acknowledgment in the judge’s judgments of the fact that adoption is a last resort and little consideration of what it was that justified it in this case.”

42. The judge must grapple with the factors at play in the particular case and, to use Black LJ’s phrase (para 126), give “proper focussed attention to the specifics”.

43. In relation to the nature of the judicial task we draw attention to what McFarlane LJ said in Re G (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 965, paras 49-50:

“In most child care cases a choice will fall to be made between two or more options. The judicial exercise should not be a linear process whereby each option, other than the most draconian, is looked at in isolation and then rejected because of internal deficits that may be identified, with the result that, at the end of the line, the only option left standing is the most draconian and that is therefore chosen without any particular consideration of whether there are internal deficits within that option.

The linear approach … is not apt where the judicial task is to undertake a global, holistic evaluation of each of the options available for the child’s future upbringing before deciding which of those options best meets the duty to afford paramount consideration to the child’s welfare.”

We need not quote the next paragraph in McFarlane LJ’s judgment, which explains in graphic and compelling terms the potential danger of adopting a linear approach.

44. We emphasise the words “global, holistic evaluation”. This point is crucial. The judicial task is to evaluate all the options, undertaking a global, holistic and (see Re G para 51) multi-faceted evaluation of the child’s welfare which takes into account all the negatives and the positives, all the pros and cons, of each option. To quote McFarlane LJ again (para 54):

“What is required is a balancing exercise in which each option is evaluated to the degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh its own internal positives and negatives and each option is then compared, side by side, against the competing option or options.”

45. McFarlane LJ added this important observation (para 53) which we respectfully endorse:

“a process which acknowledges that long-term public care, and in particular adoption contrary to the will of a parent, is ‘the most draconian option’, yet does not engage with the very detail of that option which renders it ‘draconian’ cannot be a full or effective process of evaluation. Since the phrase was first coined some years ago, judges now routinely make reference to the ‘draconian’ nature of permanent separation of parent and child and they frequently do so in the context of reference to ‘proportionality’. Such descriptions are, of course, appropriate and correct, but there is a danger that these phrases may inadvertently become little more than formulaic judicial window-dressing if they are not backed up with a substantive consideration of what lies behind them and the impact of that on the individual child’s welfare in the particular case before the court. If there was any doubt about the importance of avoiding that danger, such doubt has been firmly swept away by the very clear emphasis in Re B on the duty of the court actively to evaluate proportionality in every case.”

46. We make no apologies for having canvassed these matters in such detail and at such length. They are of crucial importance in what are amongst the most significant and difficult cases that family judges ever have to decide. Too often they are given scant attention or afforded little more than lip service. And they are important in setting the context against which we have to determine the specific question we have to decide in relation to Re W (Adoption: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535, [2011] 1 FLR 2153.

Adoption – the current reforms to the family justice system
47. First, however, we need to see how all this fits in with the current reforms to the family justice system and, in particular, with the revised Public Law Outline.

48. Our emphasis on the need for proper analysis, argument, assessment and reasoning accords entirely with a central part of the reforms. In his ‘View from the President’s Chambers’ the President has repeatedly stressed the need for local authority evidence to be more focused than hitherto on assessment and analysis rather than on history and narrative, and likewise for expert reports to be more focused on analysis and opinion: see ‘The process of reform: the revised PLO and the local authority’, [2013] Fam Law 680, and ‘The process of reform: expert evidence’, [2103] Fam Law 816. What the court needs is expert opinion, whether from the social worker or the guardian, which is evidence-based and focused on the factors in play in the particular case, which analyses all the possible options, and which provides clear conclusions and recommendations adequately reasoned through and based on the evidence.

49. We do not envisage that proper compliance with what we are demanding, which may well impose a more onerous burden on practitioners and judges, will conflict with the requirement, soon to be imposed by statute, that care cases are to be concluded within a maximum of 26 weeks. Critical to the success of the reforms is robust judicial case management from the outset of every care case. Case management judges must be astute to ensure that the directions they give are apt to the task and also to ensure that their directions are complied with. Never is this more important than in cases where the local authority’s plan envisages adoption. If, despite all, the court does not have the kind of evidence we have identified, and is therefore not properly equipped to decide these issues, then an adjournment must be directed, even if this takes the case over 26 weeks. Where the proposal before the court is for non-consensual adoption, the issues are too grave, the stakes for all are too high, for the outcome to be determined by rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable and justice thereby potentially denied.

Following the one-two punch of Re B and Re B-S,  “nothing else will do” became a mantra, a yardstick, a soundbite that was taken literally. The Court of Appeal did not help in this regard, because for about 15 months, they granted just about every appeal against a Placement Order – including at its low-point an appeal where a Judge had made a Placement Order where both parents had been recently sentenced to prison but hadn’t explained specifically in his judgment why “nothing else will do”

At this point, the spike is firmly on the nose.

We then have a shift.  The Court of Appeal had started to get cold feet about the bare mantra “nothing else will do”  – they were drowning in appeals, nobody seemed to know how to produce the judgments that would satisfy them and make a decision bullet-proof and the adoption statistics were utterly tanking, leading to Government raised eyebrows and hand-wringing in the Press.  A few cases had started to say “oh, you’re not supposed to mean ‘nothing else will do’ literally”

Re R 2014

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed138081

 

50. The fundamental principle, as explained in Re B, is, and remains, that, where there is opposition from the parent(s), the making of a care order with a plan for adoption, or of a placement order, is permissible only where, in the context of the child’s welfare, “nothing else will do”. As Baroness Hale of Richmond said in Re B, para 198:

“the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do.”

She reiterated the point, para 215:

“We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.”

This echoes what the Strasbourg court said in Y v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33, [2012] 2 FLR 332, para 134:

“family ties may only be severed in very exceptional circumstances and that everything must be done to preserve personal relations and, where appropriate, to ‘rebuild’ the family. It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing. However, where the maintenance of family ties would harm the child’s health and development, a parent is not entitled under article 8 to insist that such ties be maintained.”

In essence, the Court do have to apply the whole of Baroness Hale’s fomulation, not just the easily remembered soundbite element.

But the Court is looking at all of the REALISTIC alternatives to adoption and analysing them, not every single fanciful possibility and having to rule out everything.

52. At the end of the day, of course, the court’s paramount consideration, in accordance with section 1(2) of the 2002 Act, is the child’s welfare “throughout his life.” In this regard I should refer to what Macur LJ said in Re M-H, para 8, words with which I respectfully agree:

“I note that the terminology frequently deployed in arguments to this court and, no doubt to those at first instance, omit a significant element of the test as framed by both the Supreme Court and this court, which qualifies the literal interpretation of “nothing else will do”. That is, the orders are to be made “only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by the overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s best interests.” (See In Re B, paragraph 215). In doing so I make clear that this latter comment is not to seek to undermine the fundamental principle expressed in the judgment, merely to redress the difficulty created by the isolation and oft subsequently suggested interpretation of the words “nothing else will do” to the exclusion of any “overriding” welfare considerations in the particular child’s case.”

53. Likewise of importance is what Black LJ said in Re M, paras 31-32:

“31 … steps are only to be taken down the path towards adoption if it is necessary.

32  What is necessary is a complex question requiring an evaluation of all of the circumstances. As Lord Neuberger said at §77 of Re B, speaking of a care order which in that case would be very likely to result in the child being adopted:

“It seems to me inherent in section 1(1) [Children Act 1989] that a care order should be a last resort, because the interests of the child would self-evidently require her relationship with her natural parents to be maintained unless no other course was possible in her interests.” (my emphasis)

I emphasise the last phrase of that passage (“in her interests”) because it is an important reminder that what has to be determined is not simply whether any other course is possible but whether there is another course which is possible and in the child’s interests. This will inevitably be a much more sophisticated question and entirely dependent on the facts of the particular case. Certain options will be readily discarded as not realistically possible, others may be just about possible but not in the child’s interests, for instance because the chances of them working out are far too remote, others may in fact be possible but it may be contrary to the interests of the child to pursue them.”

54. I repeat and emphasise: At the end of the day, the court’s paramount consideration, now as before, is the child’s welfare “throughout his life.” 

58. The nature of that exercise has been helpfully illuminated by Ryder LJ in CM, para 33. Put more shortly, by Ryder LJ himself, in Re Y, para 24:

“The process of deductive reasoning involves the identification of whether there are realistic options to be compared.  If there are, a welfare evaluation is required.  That is an exercise which compares the benefits and detriments of each realistic option, one against the other, by reference to the section 1(3) welfare factors.  The court identifies the option that is in the best interests of the children and then undertakes a proportionality evaluation to ask itself the question whether the interference in family life involved by that best interests option is justified.”

I respectfully agree with that, so long as it is always remembered that, in the final analysis, adoption is only to be ordered if the circumstances meet the demanding requirements identified by Baroness Hale in Re B, paras 198, 215.

59. I emphasise the words “realistically” (as used in Re B-S in the phrase “options which are realistically possible”) and “realistic” (as used by Ryder LJ in the phrase “realistic options”). This is fundamental. Re B-S does not require the further forensic pursuit of options which, having been properly evaluated, typically at an early stage in the proceedings, can legitimately be discarded as not being realistic. Re B-S does not require that every conceivable option on the spectrum that runs between ‘no order’ and ‘adoption’ has to be canvassed and bottomed out with reasons in the evidence and judgment in every single case. Full consideration is required only with respect to those options which are “realistically possible”.

60. As Pauffley J said in Re LRP (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Placement Order) [2013] EWHC 3974 (Fam), para 40, “the focus should be upon the sensible and practical possibilities rather than every potential outcome, however far-fetched.” And, to the same effect, Baker J in Re HA (A Child) [2013] EWHC 3634 (Fam), para 28:

“rigorous analysis and comparison of the realistic options for the child’s future … does not require a court in every case to set out in tabular format the arguments for and against every conceivable option. Such a course would tend to obscure, rather than enlighten, the reasoning process.”

“Nothing else will do” does not mean that “everything else” has to be considered.

61. What is meant by “realistic”? I agree with what Ryder LJ said in Re Y, para 28:

“Realistic is an ordinary English word. It needs no definition or analysis to be applied to the identification of options in a case.”

(Bearing in mind that we spent two years bickering about what ‘requires’ means, it still amuses me that the President confidently asserted that we need no definition of the word ‘realistic’)

And the key punchy bit, where the spike was well and truly installed on the thumb of adoption and we were told that adoption stands on two legs

44. I wish to emphasise, with as much force as possible, that Re B-S was not intended to change and has not changed the law. Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs.

We all understood adoption now. It has spiked thumbs, and stands on two legs.  You need to apply the WHOLE of Baroness Hale’s formulation

“We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.”

Not just the easy to recall last bit.

We now have Re W 2016

It’s really tricky to explain, but this was my attempt at it

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/07/29/re-w-no-presumption-for-a-child-to-be-brought-up-by-a-member-of-the-natural-family/

In a soundbite (because that’s NEVER led us into any trouble in family law)

There’s not a LEGAL PRESUMPTION that a child is better off with the birth parents or within the birth family, not even what’s called a REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTION  (i.e “you start with the idea that the child should be with the family, but if the LA can prove that this is harmful, they have rebutted that presumption”)

There is no RIGHT for the child to grow up within the birth family.

If you’re thinking that all of that just flies in the face of everything you just read, that’s why it is a judgment whose implications have not yet been established.

It MIGHT apply solely to cases like the facts of Re W itself – prospective adopters v birth family, and the Court saying that it is a straight welfare shoot out. It MIGHT not.

There are three really big paragraphs in the judgment

  1. Plunging a stake into the heart of nothing else will do

 

  • Since the phrase “nothing else will do” was first coined in the context of public law orders for the protection of children by the Supreme Court in Re B, judges in both the High Court and Court of Appeal have cautioned professionals and courts to ensure that the phrase is applied so that it is tied to the welfare of the child as described by Baroness Hale in paragraph 215 of her judgment:

“We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.”

The phrase is meaningless, and potentially dangerous, if it is applied as some freestanding, shortcut test divorced from, or even in place of, an overall evaluation of the child’s welfare.

2. Once threshold is crossed, decisions about the child are on straight welfare  and proportionality grounds (not any presumption or right or duty)

As the judgments in Re B, and indeed the years of case law preceding Re B, make plain, once the s 31 threshold is crossed the evaluation of a child’s welfare in public law proceedings is determined on the basis of proportionality rather than by the application of presumptions. In that context it is not, in my view, apt to refer to there being a ‘presumption’ in favour of the natural family; each case falls to be determined on its own facts in accordance with the proportionate approach that is clearly described by the Supreme Court in Re B and in the subsequent decisions of this court.‘

3. There’s however, some sort of credit for parents BEFORE placement orders

As Mr Feehan helpfully observed in his closing submissions, it is all very well to purport to undertake a balancing exercise, but a balance has to have a fulcrum and if the fulcrum is incorrectly placed towards one or other end of that which is to be weighed, one side of the analysis or another will be afforded undue, automatic weight. Taking that point up from where Mr Feehan left it, in proceedings at the stage prior to making a placement for adoption order the balance will rightly and necessarily reflect weight being afforded to any viable natural family placement because there is no other existing placement of the child which must be afforded weight on the other side of the scales. Where, as here, time has moved on and such a placement exists, and is indeed the total reality of the child’s existence, it cannot be enough to decide the overall welfare issue simply by looking at the existence of the viable family placement and nothing else.

If you can’t quite understand what the difference is between a fulcrum that is placed so as to reflect weight being afforded to any viable natural family placement and a presumption, you’re not alone. I haven’t yet met anyone that understands this.  I suspect that I am going to see the word ‘fulcrum’ in dozens of law reports until someone explains that actually, the spike is underneath the Iguanadon’s chin, and that it was used to pick up litter because Iguanadon was really a pre-historic womble.

I hope this has been useful, feel free to pass it on, email it around, print it out and stick it on notice boards.

If this is your first encounter with Suesspicious Minds – normally there is more sarcasm and 80s pop culture, and weird cases that might make you wince or cry or laugh, so pop in again.

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Re W – no presumption for a child to be brought up by a member of the natural family

 

This was a Court of Appeal case decided today.  It has taken a LOT of chewing over to make sense of it. I’m still not quite sure that I get it.

 

Re W (A child) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/793.html

 

The facts

A, a young girl, was born on 1st May 2014. Care proceedings took place and on 21st October 2014 a Care Order and Placement Order were made.  A was placed with prospective adopters, Mr and Mrs X in December 2014. An adoption application was lodged by Mr and Mrs X on 1st April 2015.

In June 2015, the parents went on to have another child, J, and in those care proceedings, the paternal grandparents were approached and wanted to care for J. This was the first time that they learned of A’s existence. They wanted to also care for A.

They made an application for leave to oppose the adoption (which was wrong in law, but understandable – only parents can apply for that) and for a Child Arrangements Order for A to come and life with them.  [Yet another child K was born in April 2016 and K was placed with paternal grandparents and J]

The case came before Bodey J in April 2016. He dismissed the adoption application and made a Special Guardianship Order to the paternal grandparents. Mr and Mrs X appealed.

 

A powerful comment

 

This is not legally significant, but it was very punchy and wise, from Jackson LJ

 

 

  • As things stand at the moment, no party is proposing a compromise solution whereby A has contact with both families. The court is therefore faced with two unattractive options:

 

i) Shall A be removed from the home of Mr and Mrs X, where she is thriving and much loved? That will be involve the brutal and traumatic transfer of a two-year-old girl from her perceived parents to a family whom she has never met; or

ii) Shall A be kept apart from her two siblings and her birth family? Shall she grow up without meeting them?

 

  • If the court adopts the first course, what will be the long term effects on A (who has already had one change of carers) of such a huge upheaval at the age of 2? Alternatively, if the court adopts the second course, what will be the consequences a decade from now when A discovers that Mr and Mrs X through court orders have kept her away from her ‘real’ family and that her ‘real’ family were in a position to care for her? The teenage years are not always trouble-free and this could be a devastating discovery when A is a teenage girl.
  • I agree with McFarlane LJ that the shortcomings in the evidence and in the judgment at first instance are such that this case must be remitted to the Family Division for rehearing.
  • I express the hope that the next judge will not face the same “all or nothing” options which were put before Bodey J. The option should also be considered of A enjoying contact with both families. Mr and Mrs X love A dearly and have brought her up for almost two years. The paternal grandparents and A’s two siblings will, no doubt, love A dearly when eventually they meet her. Both families have the potential to enrich A’s life after its troubled start. Above all else what matters is the welfare of A, not the wishes of the opposing couples in this litigation.
  • The final tribunal in this case is not us or the Supreme Court. It is A herself. In later life A will probably read these judgments on the Internet. She will decide whether the positions adopted by the Xs and by the grandparents were reasonable. She will also make up her own mind about whether we were right or wrong to allow the present appeal.

 

Powerful stuff.  I hope that heed is taken of it.

 

Another powerful point, and one that I think was long overdue – children cases seem to barely be about children anymore. They are about timescales, and capacity to change, and resources, and whether professionals can be criticised, and whether parents can be blamed, and about 26 weeks and statistics, and about getting all of the case law window-dressing in place. But they’re not about the children very much.  So HOORAY for this

 

 

This case was all about A. She is a person. Her personality, her attributes, her achievements should have been centre stage in these proceedings. Yet she does not shine out from any reading of the court papers or from the judge’s judgment, indeed, the opposite is the case. It is, of course, on one level meaningless, given her age, to say that A was not “heard” or that she did not have ” a voice” within the proceedings but, for the reasons I have given, particularly the failure to allow the judge to hear directly from Mr and Mrs X and the failure of the Guardian to provide any description of A and her world, the way the case was presented, did, in a very real sense, rob the court of this essential dynamic.

 

Issues for the appeal

 

 

  • This appeal raises the following issues which may be of general importance:

 

a) The approach to be taken in determining a child’s long-term welfare once the child has become fully settled in a prospective adoptive home and, late in the day, a viable family placement is identified;

b) The application of the Supreme Court judgment in Re B [2013] UKSC 33 (“nothing else will do”) in that context;

c) Whether the individuals whose relationship with a child falls to be considered under Adoption and Children Act 2002, s 1(4)(f) is limited to blood relatives or should include the prospective adopters;

d) Whether it is necessary for a judge expressly to undertake an evaluation in the context of the Human Rights Act l998 in such circumstances and, if so, which rights are engaged.

I think most of us thought that with the President’s clarification in Re R, we were pretty much done with ‘nothing else will do’   (don’t take the soundbite literally, use the entireity of Lady Hale’s formulation, it is about realistic alternative options not fanciful ones). But the Court of Appeal have grabbed hold of a can opener and opened about a dozen cans that were labelled  “WORMS, Do not open”

Because they can can can

Because they can can can

The Court of Appeal were very very critical of the ISW and the Guardian (chiefly the Guardian) who they felt had got the law seriously wrong. Their mistake as to the law meant that their recommendations and conclusions were so flawed that the Judge’s reliance on them made the judgment flawed and the appeal succeed. So what did they get wrong?

All of them had approached the case in this way :-

A) This is an adoption application

B) The grandparents are a realistic option to care for A – they are caring for two siblings and doing a good job

C) There is nothing to rule them out as a carer for A

D) To make the adoption order, the Court must be satisfied that “nothing else will do”

E) Unless the risks of moving A are too great, she should be moved

I have to say, that this is exactly the way that I think almost every social worker, Guardian and lawyer in the country would have approached matters.  And candidly, how I would have approached it too. Of course look at the risks in E and weigh them up very carefully, but the starting point is that this is only a “nothing else will do” case and thus an adoption order case IF those risks mean that a placement with grandparents is not a realistic option. The starting point is surely that the child should be placed within the birth family if possible.  (That’s exactly the way that Bodey J –  one of the smartest men I’ve ever been in a room with – looked at it as well)

The Court of Appeal ire was particularly drawn by the word ‘right’ in the evidence of those professionals.    [Of course what a professional means by ‘right’ does not necessarily mean the same as what a lawyer means – but in any event, the article 8 right to family life seems rather to encompass that the child has a right to the family life that they were born into and should only be deprived of that where it is proportionate and necessary – hence Y v UK, hence Re B, hence Re B-S, so I’d have said there was a legal right as well as the context that social workers and Guardians would have been using the term – a moral right rather than a legal one.  If you had to have lived with a person to acquire a family life with them, there’d be no article 8 rights in cases where the child was removed at birth, and that’s just not the way the Court approaches such cases]

So these are the critical passages. They need a LOT of careful reading

“Nothing else will do”

  • Since the phrase “nothing else will do” was first coined in the context of public law orders for the protection of children by the Supreme Court in Re B, judges in both the High Court and Court of Appeal have cautioned professionals and courts to ensure that the phrase is applied so that it is tied to the welfare of the child as described by Baroness Hale in paragraph 215 of her judgment:

“We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.”

The phrase is meaningless, and potentially dangerous, if it is applied as some freestanding, shortcut test divorced from, or even in place of, an overall evaluation of the child’s welfare. Used properly, as Baroness Hale explained, the phrase “nothing else will do” is no more, nor no less, than a useful distillation of the proportionality and necessity test as embodied in the ECHR and reflected in the need to afford paramount consideration to the welfare of the child throughout her lifetime (ACA 2002 s 1). The phrase “nothing else will do” is not some sort of hyperlink providing a direct route to the outcome of a case so as to bypass the need to undertake a full, comprehensive welfare evaluation of all of the relevant pros and cons (see Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, Re R [2014] EWCA Civ 715 and other cases).

  • Once the comprehensive, full welfare analysis has been undertaken of the pros and cons it is then, and only then, that the overall proportionality of any plan for adoption falls to be evaluated and the phrase “nothing else will do” can properly be deployed. If the ultimate outcome of the case is to favour placement for adoption or the making of an adoption order it is that outcome that falls to be evaluated against the yardstick of necessity, proportionality and “nothing else will do”.

Natural family presumption/right

  • With respect to them, it is clear to me that both the Children’s Guardian and the ISW fell into serious error by misunderstanding the need to evaluate the question of A’s future welfare by affording due weight to all of the relevant factors and without applying any automatic “presumption” or “right” for a child to be brought up by a member of her natural family. The extracts from the reports of both of these witnesses indicate that they determined their recommendation for A on just that basis. Mrs Fairbairn repeatedly described the child as having a “right” to be brought up by the natural family where there is a viable placement available. The Guardian advised that adoption is not in A’s best interests because the grandparents can provide her with a home. Putting the correct position in lay terms, the existence of a viable home with the grandparents should make that option “a runner” but should not automatically make it “a winner” in the absence of full consideration of any other factor that is relevant to her welfare; the error of the ISW and the Guardian appears to have been to hold that “if a family placement is a ‘runner’, then it has to be regarded as a ‘winner'”.
  • The repeated reference to a ‘right’ for a child to be brought up by his or her natural family, or the assumption that there is a presumption to that effect, needs to be firmly and clearly laid to rest. No such ‘right’ or presumption exists. The only ‘right’ is for the arrangements for the child to be determined by affording paramount consideration to her welfare throughout her life (in an adoption case) in a manner which is proportionate and compatible with the need to respect any ECHR Art 8 rights which are engaged. In Re H (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 1284 this court clearly stated that there is no presumption in favour of parents or the natural family in public law adoption cases at paragraphs 89 to 94 of the judgment of McFarlane LJ as follows:

’89. The situation in public law proceedings, where the State, via a local authority, seeks to intervene in the life of a child by obtaining a care order and a placement for adoption order against the consent of a parent is entirely different [from private law proceedings], but also in this context there is no authority to the effect that there is a ‘presumption’ in favour of a natural parent or family member. As in the private law context, at the stage when a court is considering what, if any, order to make the only principle is that set out in CA 1989, s 1 and ACA 2002, s 1 requiring paramount consideration to be afforded to the welfare of the child throughout his lifetime. There is, however, a default position in favour of the natural family in public law proceedings at the earlier stage on the question of establishing the court’s jurisdiction to make any public law order. Before the court may make a care order or a placement for adoption order, the statutory threshold criteria in CA 1989, s 31 must be satisfied (CA 1989, s 31(2) and ACA 2002, s 21(2)).

94. It is clear that for Russell J the outcome of this case did not turn on the deployment of the ‘presumption’ that she describes, and this point was not taken within the appeal. My attribution of some prominence to it is not therefore determinative of the appeal. My aim is solely to point out the need for caution in this regard. The House of Lords and Supreme Court have been at pains to avoid the attribution of any presumption where CA 1989, s 1 is being applied for the resolution of a private law dispute concerning a child’s welfare; there is therefore a need for care before adopting a different approach to the welfare principle in public law cases. As the judgments in Re B, and indeed the years of case law preceding Re B, make plain, once the s 31 threshold is crossed the evaluation of a child’s welfare in public law proceedings is determined on the basis of proportionality rather than by the application of presumptions. In that context it is not, in my view, apt to refer to there being a ‘presumption’ in favour of the natural family; each case falls to be determined on its own facts in accordance with the proportionate approach that is clearly described by the Supreme Court in Re B and in the subsequent decisions of this court.

[As a sidebar, I think that particular point rather slid by, and the thrust of it is that threshold is extraordinarily important. Once threshold is crossed, the Court does not have a presumption that the child ought to be placed within the natural family – it is a straight welfare test.  My forecast is that disputes about threshold will probably increase once practitioners grasp the full import of that]

  • In the present appeal the point has more prominence because of the central focus afforded to the ‘right’ or presumption by both the ISW and the Guardian and by the fact that the judge relied upon their evidence without drawing attention to this erroneous approach.
  • It may be that some confusion leading to the idea of their being a natural family presumption has arisen from the use of the phrase ‘nothing else will do’. But that phrase does not establish a presumption or right in favour of the natural family; what it does do, most importantly, is to require the welfare balance for the child to be undertaken, after considering the pros and cons of each of the realistic options, in such a manner that adoption is only chosen as the route for the child if that outcome is necessary to meet the child’s welfare needs and it is proportionate to those welfare needs.
  • The total absence of any reference in the evidence of either the Guardian or the ISW to the welfare checklist in ACA 2002, s 1(4) and/or to the need to undertake a Re B-S compliant analysis only goes to reinforce my conclusion that both of these seasoned professionals fell into the trap that I have described and did indeed use the existence of a viable family placement as a hyperlink to the outcome of the case without taking any, in the case of the Guardian, or any proper, in the case of the ISW, regard to any other factor that might weigh to the contrary arising from A having achieved a full and secure placement with Mr and Mrs X.
  • As Mr Feehan helpfully observed in his closing submissions, it is all very well to purport to undertake a balancing exercise, but a balance has to have a fulcrum and if the fulcrum is incorrectly placed towards one or other end of that which is to be weighed, one side of the analysis or another will be afforded undue, automatic weight. Taking that point up from where Mr Feehan left it, in proceedings at the stage prior to making a placement for adoption order the balance will rightly and necessarily reflect weight being afforded to any viable natural family placement because there is no other existing placement of the child which must be afforded weight on the other side of the scales. Where, as here, time has moved on and such a placement exists, and is indeed the total reality of the child’s existence, it cannot be enough to decide the overall welfare issue simply by looking at the existence of the viable family placement and nothing else.

 

The problem with that formulation, of course, is that ‘necessary’  in the context of Adoption, means  “nothing else will do”  or to put it fully from Re B  “We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.  ”      .    It is almost impossible to read that in any way other than there being a presumption that the child should be brought up within the birth family – a rebuttable presumption, but a presumption.  If there’s not that overriding requirement, the child would be with the birth family.

One might say, ah well that’s applicable when the Court are considering making the Placement Order, but once one is made, then the presumption or right or starting point is dislodged – the Court have already decided that there is such an overriding requirement when they MADE the Placement Order, so it doesn’t need to be found again. However, the Court of Appeal expressly said in Re B-S that when considering an application for leave to oppose an adoption order, and the making of an adoption order, the Re B test still applies, notwithstanding that the Court earlier made a Placement Order.   Para 74  iii) Once he or she has got to the point of concluding that there has been a change of circumstances and that the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave, the judge must consider very carefully indeed whether the child’s welfare really does necessitate the refusal of leave. The judge must keep at the forefront of his mind the teaching of Re B, in particular that adoption is the “last resort” and only permissible if “nothing else will do” and that, as Lord Neuberger emphasised, the child’s interests include being brought up by the parents or wider family unless the overriding requirements of the child’s welfare make that not possible. That said, the child’s welfare is paramount.

 

 

After a LOT of chewing, I think the critical passage to understand is the last one, and thank Heaven for Mr Feehan QC putting it in a way that one can understand.

 

As Mr Feehan helpfully observed in his closing submissions, it is all very well to purport to undertake a balancing exercise, but a balance has to have a fulcrum and if the fulcrum is incorrectly placed towards one or other end of that which is to be weighed, one side of the analysis or another will be afforded undue, automatic weight. Taking that point up from where Mr Feehan left it, in proceedings at the stage prior to making a placement for adoption order the balance will rightly and necessarily reflect weight being afforded to any viable natural family placement because there is no other existing placement of the child which must be afforded weight on the other side of the scales.

 

At the time that a Placement Order application is being considered then, there is a leaning towards placement within the birth family (not a right, or  presumption)  – but all things being equal, the scales will tip that way.  However, AFTER a Placement Order has been made and the child is placed with prospective adopters

 

Where, as here, time has moved on and such a placement exists, and is indeed the total reality of the child’s existence, it cannot be enough to decide the overall welfare issue simply by looking at the existence of the viable family placement and nothing else.

 

So in a post placement case, the issue becomes that of welfare of the child  with both sides to be weighed in the balance.  (I don’t really know where that leaves the Re B-S pronouncement that post Placement Order, “nothing else will do” applies to making of the Adoption Order. ..   Possibly the last sentence  of Re B-S para 74 iii) “That said, the child’s welfare is paramount” is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting – meaning that EVEN where there re no overriding requirements for the child’s welfare to be brought up outwith the birth family a simple ‘better for the child’s welfare’ can still make adoption possible.  Man, that’s a LOT of weight to carry.)

 

 

The Court of Appeal also looked at the article 8 issues

 

 

  • The issue of the lack of an HRA l998 analysis was not argued before this court at the oral hearing. If my Lords agree that this appeal must be allowed and there should be a re-hearing, it will be for the next judge to consider what, if any, HRA evaluation is justified. I shall therefore be both short and careful in the words that now follow. In human rights terms the present case may be unusual and out of the norm. As is well established, the existence of “family life” rights under Article 8 is a question of fact. It must be beyond question, as a matter of fact, that the relationship that now exists between Mr and Mrs X and A is sufficient to establish family life rights that justify respect under Article 8 in relation to all three of them. It does not, however, follow as night follows day, that the paternal grandparents have any Article 8 family life rights with respect to A at all. They have never met her. She does not know of their existence. They have no relationship whatsoever. Their son, A’s father, has never had parental responsibility for A. The same is likely to be the case with respect to family life rights of A with respect to her grandparents. It may well be, however, that A has some “private life” rights with respect to her natural family.
  • If the tentative formulation offered above is correct, the only relationships which fall to be afforded respect in the context of Article 8 “family life” are those between Mr and Mrs X and A. What effect, if any, that state of affairs may have on the outcome of the proceedings requires consideration at first instance.

 

[If the grandparents were not caring for A’s two siblings, I think that I would probably agree. But that’s a magnetic fact that I think does give A some article 8 family life with the grandparents as a family unit , despite never having met them or lived with them. Those are two full siblings, whom she might be placed with, or might grow up a stranger from. I’d give that some weight, myself]

 

 

So the upshot for this case is that there will be a re-hearing, and of course, the impact on A of moving her only becomes greater with the passage of time. I hope that all involved are looking at the words of Jackson LJ, because that seems to me to represent the best hope for the long-term future of this case.

 

And get ready for appeal after appeal as to presumptions and rights, and where exactly on the balancing scales Mr Feehan QC’s fulcrum should be in any case. The obvious immediate line of appeals will be the 11th hour relatives, who at the moment, if viable, force an adjournment for full assessment if the alternative is adoption because how are the Court to exclude them as a realistic option and thus be able to say that there are overriding requirements for the child’s welfare which warrant adoption?

The one thing that we REALLY didn’t need with adoption law was more complexity and more uncertainty and we’ve just been handed both.

 

What's in the box, Jokey? What's IN THE BOX?

What’s in the box, Jokey? What’s IN THE BOX?

 

 

Local Authority lawyers should grow a pair

This post contains 95 per cent of your Recommended Daily Allowance of Sarcasm and 119% of your Recommended Daily Allowance of Dopiness

 

Well, it isn’t quite put like that, but it isn’t far off.   I appreciate that for a substantial amount of my compatriots, it isn’t even biologically possible.

 

You see, it turns out that the adoption statistics are our fault.  We all knew that there was about to be a blame game  (heaven forbid that anyone should even consider whether the direction of travel might be a good thing, or a bad thing or a neutral thing before embarking on the blame exercise), but it turns out that the finger points at Local Authority lawyers, who, as I say, are going to be told to ‘grow a pair’

[Even though I speculated today that the next judicial edict would be that the LA final evidence must be written in iambic pentameter and rather than being typed, the social worker would have to sew it using cross-stitch, this rather surprised me.  “It turns out that the Bayeux Tapestry was really just contact notes”… I fully anticipate that Dallas PD will be questioning all Local Authority lawyers about JFK shortly]

 

Martin Narey, Adoption Czar  (or is it Tsar? I can never remember, but it always does remind me that the career trajectory of Czars and Tsars, both in historical leader sense and in political oversight sense hasn’t been that stellar) has given a speech at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

 

He is thus talking to the uber-bosses of all social workers, the capo del tutti capi of social workers.

Whilst I’m not the largest flag-waving champion of Mr Narey, and I’m unlikely to ever make his Christmas card list, I will give credit where it is due. He has put that speech up online, so that people can read it. He didn’t HAVE to do that, so good on him for doing it.

Flag is going back in the cupboard now.

 

It isn’t really surprising that he opens with a discussion about the adoption statistics. To be fair (oh, flag coming back out), if you’re the Adoption Czar and there’s a big political drive to get adoption numbers up, then when they absolutely tank, you’re BOUND to want to do something about that. If you don’t, then you’re sort of redundant. Probably literally as well as figuratively.

 

Mr Narey refers to the drop being a result of two major Court decisions, Re B and Re B-S, and reminds us all that he helped to produce a Myth-Busting document that picked up a lance and slew the dragon of misconception, so these adoption figures should recover, thanks to his intervention.

 

He talks about the number of ADM decisions for Placement Orders to be sought going down 52% last year, and he says this    (If I’m crabby here, it is only PARTLY because I can’t cut and paste from his slides and have had to type the whole thing out. Only PARTLY)

 

“But these are not as a result of the Courts rejecting Placement Order applications in vast numbers. The drop is overwhelmingly explained by a drop in Local Authority Placement Order applications. They have dropped from 1,830 to 910, a decrease of almost exactly half.

 

Unless you believe that all those adoption decisions you made last year were not in the interests of those children, I urge you to ensure that your social workers and lawyers have not lost their nerve, and the President’s exhortation that you must follow adoption when that is in the child’s best interests is followed. If current figures do not recover, then over time, we shall see adoption numbers drop back very substantially indeed.

 

I don’t think adoption can ever be suitable for other than a minority of children in care. But I think that minority is probably more than 5,000 or just 7% of the care population”

 

Well, where to start?

As an argument “Unless you believe that all those adoption decisions you made last year were not in the interests of those children”  so get out and make some more – ideally 50% more , leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, it is an emotive appeal. Secondly, saying ‘If you think all those cases where you recommended adoption, you were right’ inexorably leads to   ‘a lot of the ones where you didn’t, you must be wrong’ is some strange use of logic that I’m not familiar with.  Of course ADMs who make a decision that adoption is the right plan for a child do so believing that this is in the best interests of the child. But why on earth should that mean that they were wrong with those that they rejected?

That’s like saying  “remember all those times you bet on Red in the casino and you won? Well, forget about the times that you bet on Red and lost, or you bet on Black and won, clearly betting on Red is the right approach. Go heavily into Red. “

Next, if you think that Local Authority lawyers have lost their nerve, then you need to get out in the trenches with us. There has NEVER been a harder time to be a Local Authority lawyer.  I don’t say this to garner sympathy (I know that many of my readers think that lawyers, and LA lawyers in particular, are the devil incarnate – they are wrong, it is just me), but it is the truth.  It is breathtakingly offensive to say that we have lost our nerve.

Nor have social workers.

 

Perhaps the Adoption Tsar doesn’t know that actually, a lawyers’ job is to give advice but take instructions. We don’t EVER say to a social worker that they can’t put forward a plan of adoption or ask the Agency Decision Maker to approve that plan. We tell them whether or not such a plan is likely to succeed in Court, and we tell them what the strong and weak points of their case is, and we give them advice on what they can do to improve the weak points and how to present their evidence in the way that the Courts now require.

What we do not do, is advise the ADM  “you should approve adoption here”  or “this isn’t an adoption case”.  Even back in the days of Adoption Panel, where a lawyer sat in the same room as the Panel when they made the decision about whether it was an adoption case or not, we didn’t get to make any representations about it or to vote.  Our role was, and still is, limited to giving advice on any legal issues that arise, not to advise the ADM on the merits or otherwise of the case.

 

Mr Narey’s argument here is presumably, theat if Local Authorities had asked the Court to make 1,830 Placement Orders after Re B-S, the Court would have made them.   (And perhaps if we’d asked for 4,000, the Court would have made them too).

 

The reason the adoption statistics dropped was because we were stupid and didn’t understand Myth-Busting !  (TM)  or because we were too timid to ask the question – social workers and Local Authority lawyers have been metaphorically teenagers who want to ask someone out but end up not being able to get a word out when we are near the subject of our affections. What Mr Narey is saying to us is “Hey, that person you like is TOTALLY into you, and they would TOTALLY say yes if you asked them to go to the pictures with you”

It is of course telling that with that 52% drop in applications for Placement Orders, I have not heard of a SINGLE case where a Judge seized of all of the facts and evidence, said to the Local Authority “I cannot believe that you are putting forward a plan that doesn’t involve adoption here, I really think that you should reconsider”  , or given judgments that say “none of the options put forward for this child are sufficient to safeguard their well-being, and I adjourn the final hearing so that matters can be reconsidered”

 

 

I think that it is interesting that whilst this speech makes great play of the President’s decision in Re R, and even quotes from it approvingly, it misses out two really major elements of Re R.

 

The first is this one:-

 

in the final analysis, adoption is only to be ordered if the circumstances meet the demanding requirements identified by Baroness Hale in Re B, paras 198, 215.’

 

[And to save you flipping back to Re B, that, precisely, is THIS

 

para 198: “the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do.” 

para [215]:

“We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.” ]

 

If a Judge makes a Placement Order without engaging with that test, the judgment will be deficient. If a Local Authority present their case without striving to meet that test, their evidence will be deficient.

The Court of Appeal in Re R also made it plain that all of the stipulations laid down in Re B-S about the quality of the evidence, the need for robust and rigorous child-specific analysis of all of the realistic options and the Court not proceeding in a linear manner still stand.

 

The second omission is of course,

On 11 November 2014 the National Adoption Leadership Board published Impact of Court Judgments on Adoption: What the judgments do and do not say, popularly referred to as the Re B-S myth-buster. This document appears to be directed primarily at social workers and, appropriately, not to the judges. It has been the subject of some discussion in family justice circles. I need to make clear that its content has not been endorsed by the judiciary.

 

I have set out before, here, what the Court do and do not say in Re R     http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/view-from-the-foot-of-the-tower-two-steps-forward-two-steps-back

 

As I said in that piece, the ‘myths and misconceptions’ that the Court of Appeal were slaying were the ones that nobody actually believed were right – even the lawyers advancing those claims that “Re B-S means that if the positives and negatives aren’t set out in tabular form, adoption must be rejected” didn’t actually believe what they were saying.  (It’s one of the advantages of being a lawyer, you don’t have to believe what you are saying in order to say it…)

 

Mr Narey is quite right that the Court of Appeal are clear that where the only option that will meet a child’s needs is adoption, that’s the order that should be sought, and the Court will adjudicate on it. If the social worker thinks that of all of the realistic options, adoption is the only one that can meet the child’s needs, then they can and should go to the ADM to seek approval of that plan. And likewise, if the ADM thinks that, then they can and should approve the plan. And likewise, if the Court conclude that, they can and should make the adoption order.

 

That is encapsulated by this passage

‘[44] … Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs.’

 

If a social worker, or an ADM think that this test is made out, then there’s no reason at all why they shouldn’t put forward a plan of adoption. It might be that when the evidence that lead them to think that is tested in the burning crucible of cross-examination, it is found wanting, but that’s how litigation works.

 

I can’t help but note that Mr Narey in his speech quotes a section of the President’s judgment from Re R  [what he doesn’t do is quote all of the bits in italics are a key part, which rather change the meaning if you ENTIRELY miss them out]

 

It is apparent, and not merely from what Miss James and Miss Johnson have told us, that there is widespread uncertainty, misunderstanding and confusion, which we urgently need to address.

[41] There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an adoption application now has to surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’, or even that ‘adoption is over’, that ‘adoption is a thing of the past.’ There is a feeling that ‘adoption is a last resort’ and ‘nothing else will do’ have become slogans too often taken to extremes, so that there is now “a shying away from permanency if at all possible” and a ‘bending over backwards’ to keep the child in the family if at all possible. There is concern that the fact that ours is one of the few countries in Europe which permits adoption notwithstanding parental objection is adding to the uncertainty as to whether adoption can still be put forward as the right and best outcome for a child.

[42] There is concern that Re B-S is being used as an opportunity to criticise local authorities and social workers inappropriately – there is a feeling that “arguments have become somewhat pedantic over ‘B-S compliance’” – and as an argument in favour of ordering additional and unnecessary evidence and assessments. It is suggested that the number of assessments directed in accordance with section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989 is on the increase. It is said that when social worker assessments of possible family carers are negative, further assessments are increasingly being directed: “To discount a kinship carer, it seems that two negative assessments are required.” There is a sense that the threshold for consideration of family and friends as possible carers has been downgraded and is now “worryingly low”. Mention is made of a case where the child’s solicitor complained that the Re B-S analysis, although set out in the evidence, was not presented in a tabular format.

[43] We are in no position to evaluate either the prevalence or the validity of such concerns in terms of actual practice ‘on the ground’, but they plainly need to be addressed, for they are all founded on myths and misconceptions which need to be run to ground and laid to rest.

[44] I wish to emphasise, with as much force as possible, that Re B-S was not intended to change and has not changed the law. Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs.

 

I appreciate, space is at a premium and when you’re giving a speech you don’t necessarily want to quote great chunks of a judgment, but when you quote as selectively as this, you are turning a passage in a judgment that is saying that where really ridiculous arguments about Re B-S are being used, those are fallacies into something which suggests that Re B-S says nothing of any consequence at all.  It is just plain misleading.

 

Ignore for a moment the “nothing else will do” formulation (although, as outlined above, it is still good law, just not in the ludicrously over-literal way that the Court of Appeal were initially using it).  These are the other changes in child protection law and adoption law since Re B.

 

1. The test for an appeal Court is now whether the Judge was  “wrong” and not whether the Judge was “plainly wrong”.  That is a substantial change, and makes the risk of being appealed in a judgment notably higher.

2. The Court can no longer proceed on a linear analysis.  They MUST look at the pros and cons of each option. This is not a small thing. Prior to this decision, the process was always “look at parent, if no, then look at family member, if no then adoption is all that is left, ergo the ‘last resort’ element is satisfied, it is the last resort because there isn’t anything left”.   If a Local Authority are making a case for adoption, they have to not only show the flaws in the other options, but that the benefits of adoption outweigh the FLAWS in adoption. That requires social workers to fully engage and grapple with the benefits AND flaws of adoption both in general and for a particular child.  If the Adoption Leadership Board want to tackle a single issue, rather than Jedi-hand-waving that ‘this law hasn’t changed, you may go about your business’, training that better equips social workers to do this and proper impartial and evidence-based research about those benefits and flaws would be a damn good start.

3. The rigorous analysis and evidence required as a result in Re B-S is still required.

Let’s look specifically at the example of social work analysis on why adoption was right for a child that the Court of Appeal tore to bits in Re B-S

“a permanent placement where her on-going needs will be met in a safe, stable and nurturing environment. [S]’s permanent carers will need to demonstrate that they are committed to [S], her safety, welfare and wellbeing and that they ensure that she receives a high standard of care until she reaches adulthood

Adoption will give [S] the security and permanency that she requires. The identified carers are experienced carers and have good knowledge about children and the specific needs of children that have been removed from their families …”

 

Prior to 2013, that wasn’t only the sort of thing that you’d see in a social work statement explaining why adoption was the right outcome for a child, it was actually one of the better ones. Prior to 2013, I’d have put that in the top 10% of attempts in a social work statement to explain the benefits of adoption.  This was an A minus attempt.

Let’s look at what the Court of Appeal said

With respect to the social worker … that without more is not a sufficient rationale for a step as significant as permanent removal from the birth family for adoption. The reasoning was in the form of a conclusion that needed to be supported by evidence relating to the facts of the case and a social worker’s expert analysis of the benefits and detriments of the placement options available. Fairness dictates that whatever the local authority’s final position, their evidence should address the negatives and the positives relating to each of the options available. Good practice would have been to have heard evidence about the benefits and detriments of each of the permanent placement options that were available for S within and outside the family.

 

. Most experienced family judges will unhappily have had too much exposure to material as anodyne and inadequate as that described here by Ryder LJ.

40. This sloppy practice must stop. It is simply unacceptable in a forensic context where the issues are so grave and the stakes, for both child and parent, so high.

 

I’ll say it again, because this is important. A formulation that I would have put in the top 10% of analysis that I’d been seeing pre 2013 was DESTROYED by the Court of Appeal as being completely inadequate.  An A minus attempt was given an E.   Whether or not Re B-S changed any legal tests, it certainly raised the bar massively for the standard of evidence and analysis required.

 

4. The test for leave to oppose adoption was dramatically reduced.  Prior to Re B-S, such applications were rare and also very easy to shut down. All you needed was to quote Thorpe LJ in Re W  “However, it cannot be too strongly emphasised that that is an absolute last ditch opportunity and it will only be in exceptionally rare circumstances that permission will be granted after the making of the care order, the making of the placement order, the placement of the child, and the issue of the adoption order application.”  and draw the Court’s attention to the facts of Re P, where parents who had gone on to have another child and keep that child, with no statutory order, hadn’t been sufficient to get them leave to oppose.   Now, the test is substantially reduced.   In particular, these two elements from Re B-S.

 

iii) Once he or she has got to the point of concluding that there has been a change of circumstances and that the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave, the judge must consider very carefully indeed whether the child’s welfare really does necessitate the refusal of leave. The judge must keep at the forefront of his mind the teaching of Re B, in particular that adoption is the “last resort” and only permissible if “nothing else will do” and that, as Lord Neuberger emphasised, the child’s interests include being brought up by the parents or wider family unless the overriding requirements of the child’s welfare make that not possible. That said, the child’s welfare is paramount.

 

and

vi) As a general proposition, the greater the change in circumstances (assuming, of course, that the change is positive) and the more solid the parent’s grounds for seeking leave to oppose, the more cogent and compelling the arguments based on the child’s welfare must be if leave to oppose is to be refused.

 

5.  As we have seen, more leave to oppose applications are being made, and more have been granted.  We also see that the Courts have given judgments in cases where adoption applications have been successfully opposed. To date, the reported cases are where a parent has been able to show that another family member could care for the child instead of prospective adopters who have had the child for 13-18 months.  Such a decision would have been unthinkable in 2012, but they are happening now.  What that means is that if a Court is being invited to make a Placement Order, and the LA are inviting the Court to do so, they have to have good, cogent evidence as to why family members are not suitable instead.  If they don’t get that exercise right first time round, then the child will pay the price when at an adoption hearing 15 months later, the Court may be removing the child from adopters and placing with those family members.

 

 

All of those things, and Lady Hale’s formulation are real things.  It does nobody any favours to ‘jedi-hand-wave’ them out of existence, particularly by chopping up a quote from a judgment so that a person reading it would think that the Court of Appeal had said:-

There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an adoption application now has to surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’, or even that ‘adoption is over’… those impressions are based on myths and misconceptions  

 

when those three little dots are missing out all of the actual substance.

 

Parliament has created a statutory power of adoption. The tests have been laid down in the Act. The Courts have interpreted how those tests are to be delivered in practice.  The Lady Hale formulation in Re B is the test that the Courts will be working towards. To pretend otherwise is misleading.

It does remain the case that where a Local Authority can show that none of the other options before the Court can meet the child’s needs, adoption is an option that they can legitimately pursue.

 

It’s disengenous to pretend that people didn’t understand that.  If social workers and lawyers and ADMs hadn’t grasped that, then there would have been NO applications for Placement Orders.  The numbers went down because the difficulty in obtaining a Placement Order from the Court went up.

 

 

If the social workers, lawyers and ADMs had ‘held their nerve’ in 2013 and made the same number of Placement Order applications, then the Court would have rejected them in huge numbers.  Maybe they all should have done, and let it become the Court’s problem.

Two years later, the same might not still be the case.  Firstly, the over-literal over-prescriptive appeals seem to have died down a bit. Secondly, social workers have got more used to the rigorous standards that are required in terms of their evidence and are better equipped to present their evidence to those standards.

 

 

 

 

 

Adoption and American immigration

I have been waiting since Re B-S for one of these cases to come up, and it finally has.

Where a family member is put forward to care for a child, and that family member lives in America, the net effect of American immigration law is that in order to be able to get the child into the country to live with that family member, you’d need an adoption order. Nothing less than that would do for American immigration authorities. BUT, does that amount to ‘nothing else will do’ for the English family Court?

 

Re S and T (children) 2015  looks at that issue.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/1753.html

 

Much of the case also involves the horrid rigmarole because in order to apply for an adoption order in England, the prospective adopters need to be habitually resident in England or Wales AND to have had a home in England for 10 weeks before the application.  (In practice, this is an utter nightmare in any case where the relatives are American, as it just causes logistical problems that don’t arise in any other country).  So if you are interested in those matters  those are in the early parts of the judgment, and it shows you the tangle that the process can become.

But my real interest is in the analysis of whether the US immigration requirements of ‘adoption or you’re not coming in’ amount to ‘nothing else will do’

This case is made more complex because they were initially private law proceedings brought about because the father removed the children to Pakistan, their mother later died of cancer, and it seems that the children have been actually living in America since July 2014  (as a result of a ‘holiday’ order made by Singer J, permitting the children, who were wards of Court, to go and stay with their maternal great aunt and great uncle for a defined period of time.  It is the great aunt and great uncle who applied for an adoption order under s84 Adoption and Children Act 2002, with the intention of later applying for an adoption order under US law.

 

[There are complicated technical reasons why they had to do it that way round, but basically if the English Court didn’t make an Adoption Order, they wouldn’t be able to get one in America, and the children wouldn’t be able to live with them]

 

The father was not consenting to the plan of adoption, and was actively opposing it, and there was no Placement Order (or application for a Placement Order)

  1. The issues: can the father’s consent be dispensed with?
  2. The father opposes the making of any adoption order and any order under section 84 of the 2002 Act. The applicants submit that his consent can be dispensed with. He disputes this.
  3. In my judgment, it is clear that there is nothing in section 84 itself to preclude the court dispensing with the father’s consent. Regulation 11(1)(p) is clear recognition that section 52(1) applies to an order under section 84. Moreover, Form A61, the application form to be used in applications under section 84, contains, in Part 3, para (j), provision for an application to dispense with parental consent. The father’s argument, however, is based on the wording of Articles 4 and 16 of the Convention which, he submits, plainly contemplates that a Convention adoption such as is proposed in this case cannot proceed in the absence of parental consent.
  4. I have set out the relevant passages already, but for convenience I will repeat the critical wording. Article 4(c)(2) provides that an adoption can take place “only” if:

    “the persons … whose consent is necessary for adoption … have given their consent freely.”

    Article 16(1)(c) provides that the Central Authority of the State of origin “shall”:

    “ensure that consents have been obtained in accordance with Article 4.”

    Article 16(2) provides that the Central Authority of the State of origin “shall”:

    “transmit to the Central Authority of the receiving State … proof that the necessary consents have been obtained.”

  5. The Convention does not contain any provisions identifying what consents are necessary. On a plain reading of the Convention, it leaves it to the domestic law of the State of origin to determine what, if any consents, are “necessary”. This is borne out by paragraph 129 of the Explanatory Report on the Convention drawn up by G Parra-Aranguren:

    “The persons whose consent is necessary on behalf of the child are determined by the applicable law: it will usually include … the child’s biological parents.”

  6. English domestic law enables the court to “dispense with” a parent’s consent in accordance with section 47(2)(c) of the 2002 Act if the requirements of section 52(1)(b) are satisfied. Those provisions apply both where the application is for an adoption order and where the application is for an order under section 84: see regulation 11(1)(l). They likewise apply in a Convention case: see regulation 55.
  7. The point is, ultimately, a very short one, incapable of much elaboration, but, in my judgment, where the court has “dispensed” with a parent’s consent in accordance with sections 47(2)(c) and 52(1)(b), that parent’s consent is no longer “necessary” within the meaning of Article 4(c)(2). It is not “necessary” because it has been “dispensed with”. It follows, in my judgment, that the court can in principle, as the applicants contend, dispense with the father’s consent in the present case.

 

The President having decided that the Court COULD dispense with father’s consent, then had to decide whether it SHOULD.

  1. The issues: should the father’s consent be dispensed with?
  2. The father submits that, even taking all the available material at its highest, there is no basis upon which the court could properly dispense with his consent and that on this ground alone I should dismiss the applicants’ claim here and now.
  3. In short, the father’s case is that, although he has been the subject of many serious findings – a proposition not challenged before me – they cannot be determinative. Indeed, it is said, they are not sufficient, on a proper welfare analysis, to justify the severing of the children’s relationship with him through adoption.
  4. It is properly common ground before me that, if the father’s consent is to be dispensed with, the applicants have to demonstrate that “nothing else will do”: see In re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, [2013] 1 WLR 1911, [2013] 2 FLR 1075, In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563, [2014] 1 FLR 1035, and Re R (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 1625. As the Strasbourg court said in Y v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33, [2012] 2 FLR 332, para 134, “It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.” The local authority makes the same point when it observes, and I agree, that what might ‘tip the balance’ in a private law case does not necessarily suffice to justify adoption in the face of parental opposition.
  5. Putting the issue into context, there are two striking features of this case. The first is that the local authority, having considered the matter very carefully, has doubts (a) whether the ‘threshold’ in section 31 of the 1989 Act is met and (b) whether, even if threshold is met, it would apply for a care order, let alone a placement order. The second is that, in truth, adoption is being considered here only because of the seeming imperatives of United States of America immigration law. As the local authority puts it, the issue of adoption would certainly not have arisen but for the stance of the United States of America’s authorities. Counsel for the guardian was equally explicit: “It is purely the immigration requirements of the USA which dictate that although the dispute is between family members, a placement with the applicants will require an adoption process.”
  6. I make clear that neither of these factors can alone, or in combination, be determinative. One can, for example, conceive of a case in which “nothing else will do” precisely because of a requirement of foreign immigration law. But they are, nonetheless, very striking features of this case which must, at the very least, give one pause for thought.

 

 

The President is saying there that the US immigration requirement for adoption as a pre-requisite for the child living in the country MIGHT amount to “nothing else will do” or it MIGHT not. It isn’t determinative either way, and will depend on the merits and background features of the case.  [It appears that with strong reasons why the child can’t live with birth parents and has to live elsewhere, the immigration component might tip the balance, but where the ‘threshold’ component is weak, that it might not]

 

In looking at what might amount to ‘threshold’ against father, the President identified these matters

 

  1. What are the matters alleged against the father? They include, but are not limited, to the specific matters found by Sir Peter Singer as set out in his judgment given on 1 October 2014:

    i) Domestic violence of the father inflicted on the mother in August 2012 (judgment, paras 28-29): details can be found in the maternal uncle’s statement dated 11 April 2014.ii) The fact that the father removed the children to Pakistan in December 2012 without the mother’s consent (judgment, para 80(i)) – something emotionally abusive of both the mother and the children.

    iii) The fact that the father in effect abandoned the children between March 2013 and April 2014 (see paragraph 2 above), though he claims this was on the basis of legal advice he received in Pakistan.

    iv) The unlikelihood of the father fostering any kind of relationship between the children and the maternal family (judgment, para 79) – though this is something he now says he will do: see his statement dated 31 October 2014.

    v) The fact that the father put forward two bogus documents: a purported will of the mother dated 29 August 2013 and a purported “confession” of the mother (judgment, paras 80(ii) and 80(iii)).

    vi) The fact that the father “laid the ground for attempting” to obtain the insurance monies arising out of the mother’s death (judgment, para 80(v)).

    I am of course concerned with those matters which are relevant to the children’s welfare. It is hard to see that (v) and (vi), however deplorable, go to that issue.

  2. As against this, the following matters have to be borne in mind:

    i) Sir Peter Singer’s finding that the applicants and the children’s maternal uncle “deliberately” did not inform the father of the death of the mother “in order, as they sought, better to advance their own case for the children to remain with the mother’s family and in order to distance themselves from him for reasons which, because of his behaviour, are apparent” (judgment, para 80(vi)).ii) The quality of the contact between the father and the children as demonstrated, for example, by the records of contact sessions on 15, 17, 21 and 23 October 2014

     

 

I think that the Guardian’s conclusions are interesting and telling  (it is not really a right way to approach the law)

 

“I do not believe the father can meet the children’s global needs to the extent that [the applicants] can. I have sought in this report to delineate the differences between the father as a potential long term carer for the children in Pakistan and their great aunt and uncle in the USA.

The father’s position is not without merit and this is a finely balanced decision. If there was no one but the children’s father to care for them it is likely that despite his deficits he might be considered good enough. However if there is an alternative, and I accept that the mechanism for achieving an adoption placement for the children in the USA is inchoate, I take the view for the reasons adumbrated within this report, that this is preferable and in the children’s best lifelong interests than living with their father in Pakistan.

I fall back on the aspiration that this Court can do better for these children than place them with their father in Pakistan; it can honour and make possible their mother’s legacy because she knew what was best for her daughters.

 

That comes very close to (if not actually arriving at) a conclusion that if there were no  relatives in America, the children should be with their father, but because the children would have a better life with the relatives in America, adoption is the right plan.  That’s precisely the opposite conclusion of Y v United Kingdom 2012  (the case that launched Re B and all that followed it)  http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/ECHR/2012/433.html “It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.”

If the Court were approaching this as a pure ‘beauty contest’  – who comes across better, who might be able to meet the child’s needs better, with whom might the child have a better life, the maternal great aunt and great uncle would have won hands-down.  It is decidedly possible that if the great aunt lived in Ilford, not Illinois, and the order was a private law order rather than adoption, that the Court would have gone with that option.  There’s no presumption in private family law that a father would beat a grandparent or aunt. Re E-R 2015 for example http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed144557

 

But that’s not the approach with adoption.

 

It clearly isn’t the strongest set of ‘threshold’ or risks that father might pose the children, and the Guardian’s analysis whilst intending to be a reason why the Court should make the adoption order and allow the children to live /stay with their maternal family in America actually makes the legal argument as to why the Court shouldn’t.

 

 

  1. In these circumstances, the first question I have to consider is whether, on the evidence currently before me, I could be satisfied that the father’s consent “requires” to be dispensed with (the language of section 52(1)(b) of the 2002 Act) within the principles set out in Re P (Placement Orders: Parental Consent) [2008] EWCA Civ 535, [2008] 2 FLR 625, and In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563, [2014] 1 FLR 1035; whether I could be satisfied that “nothing else will do.” The short answer is that I could not be so satisfied. I agree with the father that the material at present before the court falls far short of meeting the required standard. Taking the matters I have summarised in paragraph 68 above at their highest, the case for adoption is simply not made out. One really only has to consider what is said in the reports of LB and JP and, equally significant, what those reports do not say.
  2. This being so, the second question is whether the proceedings should nonetheless continue. This comes down to two questions: (1) Is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that with further forensic activity – the testing of the existing evidence by cross-examination or giving the parties an opportunity to adduce further evidence – the conclusion might be different? This requires a robust and realistic appraisal of what is possible, an appraisal which is evidence based, with a solid foundation, not driven by sentiment or a hope that ‘something may turn up’. (2) Is there some solid advantage to the children in continuing the proceeding?
  3. In my judgment, there is no basis in the materials currently before the court for any belief that prolongation of the process carries with it any realistic prospect of the court ever being satisfied that the father’s consent requires to be dispensed with, that nothing else will do. The deficit in the existing evidence is simply too great to imagine that there is any realistic prospect of the gap being bridged. And in the circumstances, not least bearing in mind the length of time these proceedings have been going on, far from there being any solid advantage to the children in continuing the proceedings, their welfare requires finality now.
  4. The proceedings should now be brought to an end.
  5. I am very conscious that the consequence of this, in a sense, is that the father wins by default. The children go to him because the only alternative is ruled out because adoption is ruled out. But it is fundamentally important that children are not to be adopted merely because their parenting is less than perfect, indeed, perhaps, only barely adequate. To repeat what was said in Y v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33, [2012] 2 FLR 332, para 134, “It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.”

 

So the children were to be brought back to England by August, and to go back to the care of their father.

This, I think, is only the second reported case where a child was taken from prospective adopters who had been caring for the child for a significant period of time, and placed with either a parent or family member. The first of course was Holman J’s https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/12/05/i-would-put-this-as-a-must-read-adoption-case-dynamite/

 

In that case, the interest of the child being placed with an aunt outweighed that of remaining with prospective adopters, in this one, the interest of the children being placed with dad outweighed that of remaining with prospective adopters who were family members.  (Blood is thicker than water, but parental blood is thicker than blood, perhaps)

Of course this one is rather different, since there hadn’t been any Court determination that adoption was the right plan for the child, and the plan of adoption arose solely as a result of US immigration law, but it does show that the Court is willing to implement the philosphy of Y v UK in real life cases and to reach decisions that it feels to me would not have been made in 2011.

Good luck anybody running a case with an American relative in getting the case done within 26 weeks.

 

I come not to praise “nothing else will do” but to bury it

 

I think one could safely say that five Court of Appeal decisions in five weeks whose thrust is “don’t come wingeing to us about nothing else will do” counts as a hint being heavily dropped, much like my own heavy-handed hints that a Darcey Bussell calendar would hit the spot over this festive period.

 

Hints, of course, are not always taken.

 

[I know of more forthcoming decisions from the Court of Appeal, and I suspect there will be a few working their way through the system before Counsel for the appellant makes a difficult telephone call saying “we’re doomed, we need to drop this”]

 

Re T (Children ) (Rev 1) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1549.html

 

The original case had involved 6 children, the youngest two being made subject to Placement Orders, and the older four being made subject to Supervision Orders and placed with their father.

 

The mother’s appeal was largely based on a claim that the Judge had failed to properly analyse whether adoption was proportionate and that “nothing else will do” and whether a placement with her instead might have met the children’s needs.

 

Reading between the lines on this one, mother’s counsel was put through the wringer by the Court of Appeal who have a somewhat different approach to that taken earlier in the year and last autumn.

Ms O’ Leary concedes, without hesitation, that :

i) HHJ Waller is a well known and experienced family judge who gave a long, carefully considered and thorough judgment having seen and heard the parties give evidence.ii) The Social work report was ‘exemplary’ including the way in which it dealt with the question of future placement alternatives for the children in a balance sheet form. The social worker gave evidence and the judge undoubtedly had in mind the totality of her evidence.

iii) The authors of the FAST assessment report were not required by the mother to give evidence. It was conceded on behalf of the mother that the authors of that assessment would have been the people through whom to challenge the assessment generally, or to put a case that the mother could cope with two children if not with six.

iv) The judge had not been asked to consider the return of the two youngest children; the mother’s case had been unclear, but at trial she had been seeking the return of at least three of the children (including J and O).

v) The judge not only expressed his understanding that adoption is an order of “last resort” [48] but expressed on a human level, that “it is with great reluctance and after careful consideration” [265], that he reached the decision to grant the care and placement orders.

 

The issue of interest in this appeal, other than it being yet more bolstering of an argument that appeals based solely on “nothing else will do” are not going to be cutting much mustard anymore, is that the judgment at first instance did not contain a single section in which all of the analysis and proportionality assessment was self-contained, but the Court of Appeal ruled definitively that if this material was threaded through the judgment as a whole, that was sufficient.

 

  1. The judge recognising that the care plan of the local authority was one of adoption thereafter asked himself the right question namely whether “the permanent separation from the natural family and relatives and the severance of legal ties, is necessary or whether there is any other realistic option” [277].
  2. Whilst not corralled in one section of the judge’s judgment, the positives and negatives of both rehabilitation and of adoption are threaded through the judgment; they are no less a part of the Re BS exercise for that. The judge as he was entitled to do, answered the question he had posed and decided, on the facts and in the light of his careful welfare analysis, that the children’s future welfare could not be safeguarded with the mother and therefore other alternatives had to be considered.
  3. In this case it was accepted that given the ages of the children and the absence of any family members to care for them, adoption was the only realistic alternative to rehabilitation. Where the judge had only two options available to him his decision making process is not rendered “linear” simply by virtue of his conclusion that rehabilitation is not in the best interests of the children, so leaving adoption as the only realistic option for the children concerned. The “holistic” consideration to be applied in applications for adoption had been implicitly, if not explicitly, conducted through the careful weighing up of the benefits for and against rehabilitation and for and against adoption which are found within the body of the judgment.