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Baby without a name / child removed because of father’s aggression towards social workers

 

The Court of Appeal have given judgment in the full Permission to appeal application by these parents from a Care Order and Placement Order decision at first instance.

 

 

Re BP and SP v Hertfordshire 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1524.html

 

 

This case was covered by me when Ryder LJ first gave a judgment on the papers moving it forward to fuller hearing

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/08/02/we-are-all-unquantified-risks/

 

 

[You might recall, if I jog your memory, that this was the case involving a child where there had been no naming ceremony, and the father had assaulted the social worker – and at the hearing before Ryder LJ the thrust of the argument had been “if the child was removed because the father was a risk to social workers, was that wrong?”

 

If you don’t remember that, you might remember the Telegraph’s report about the case

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/10855218/Child-with-no-name-must-be-adopted-judge-rules.html ]

 

These were Ryder LJ’s strong words at that initial permission hearing (but the permission hearing could not ultimately reach a decision because the parents and their McKenzie Friends did not have the court papers from the care proceedings that would be vital in reaching a proper determination of the basis on which orders had been made.

 

These children needed protection at least until it could be concluded that the prima facie risk identified in relation to their mother had been answered one way or the other. Father acted so as to thwart an assessment of himself and in doing that he is alleged to have exposed his children to the risk of emotional harm because his behaviour is indicative of a trait that would be dangerous to their emotional health. Whether that is sufficient to permit of the removal of children for adoption is a question on the facts of this case that the documents will no doubt illuminate but it may also raise a legal policy issue relating to proportionality that the court needs to address i.e. can even a violent failure to co-operate with an agency of the state be sufficient to give rise to the removal of one’s child?

 

 

At this hearing, the papers were available, and the application was heard by three Judges. Ryder LJ gives the lead decision, and again reminded everyone that “nothing else will do” is not a legal test or principle.

 

There was no error of law made by Judge Mellanby and Judge Waller was right to dismiss the first appeal. This is not a case in which it can be argued that there was any misapprehension by either judge about what the concept of proportionality might mean and it is perhaps appropriate to remind practitioners and ‘interested McKenzie Friends’ that ‘nothing else will do’ is not a new legal test, rather it is part of the description used by the Supreme Court for the proportionality evaluation that is to be undertaken by the court. The language used must not be divorced from the phrase that qualified it, namely: “the overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s best interests” (see [77] and [215] of Re B (A Child) [2014] UKSC 33).

 

 

 

 

In relation to the father’s main point of appeal, the Court of Appeal encapsulate it like this :-

 

In layman’s terms he was saying: it is not a sufficient reason that my children are permanently removed from my care because I disagree with the local authority and will not co-operate with them.

 

 

Their decision and analysis in relation to this, having seen all of the papers (that were of course not available to Ryder LJ at the previous hearing ) was this

 

 

On the facts of another case that might be a successful submission but that simplistic analysis does not adequately examine the facts relating to this father’s antagonistic behaviour and lack of co-operation. There is of course no general duty on a citizen to co-operate with an agency of the state unless that duty is described in law. That said, these proceedings might not have been taken had father co-operated and it may not be too much of a speculation to say that, given his capabilities to provide support for mother and the children, there may not have been a need for the proceedings to be completed i.e. they may not have been pursued to an adverse conclusion had he demonstrated that he was prepared to act in the best interests of his children.

 

 

The significance of the father’s conduct is not that his children were removed because he had the temerity to argue with the local authority: to put it in that way misses the point. The welfare issue that was legitimately pursued by the local authority was that father’s antagonistic and unco-operative behaviour was indulged in by him to the detriment of his children. By way of examples, the following are relevant:

 

 

  1. father exhibited sustained antagonistic behaviour throughout the proceedings before DJ Mellanby who concluded that his behaviour was likely to continue;

 

  1. the consultant psychiatrist relied upon by DJ Mellanby was of the opinion that father would not change his aggressive behaviour;

 

  1. father had assaulted the social worker in the presence of P in respect of which he has been been convicted and since then he has also been convicted of an offence of threats to kill for which he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment;

 

  1. father was unlikely to be able to manage his behaviour even in the presence of his children;

 

  1. father prioritised his own needs above those of his children:

 

  1. by refusing to engage with the local authority to agree contact with his sons even to the extent of denying B a relationship with him;
  2. by refusing to comply with assessments or engage with the children’s guardian;

iii. caused an unnecessary change of placement for P;

 

  1. father is unlikely to change his behaviour;

 

  1. mother is unable to control father’s behaviour.

 

Given the nature of the positives that the parents demonstrated in the residential assessment and despite the recorded antagonism that he exhibited during that assessment and thereafter, DJ Mellanby gave father ‘one last chance’ in the proceedings relating to P. She did so in response to the decision of this court in Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563 which had been handed down during the proceedings. In so doing she was being more than fair to the parents. She allowed a further examination of the evidence and of the father’s ability to change in the hope that the parents might provide a realistic alternative to long term placement away from the family.

 

 

Sadly, father failed to act on that opportunity and remained implacably opposed to any child protection mechanism or support that would verify that P was safe. He had refused access to the social work team in October 2012, he refused to engage with further assessment which would have been able to demonstrate that the positives had been carried across into the family home and ultimately when access was again refused in February 2013 it had to be obtained with the assistance of the police. Father’s written submissions to this court highlight the fact that mother would have been left in the care of the children when he was at work and in the context of the opinion that mother could not cope on her own, there was a legitimate child protection interest in the adequacy of the arrangements that the family had put in place once they were at home and no longer in a professionally supported setting.

 

 

There was ample material before both courts to justify the conclusion that the children’s father represented a greater risk to them than the benefit he provided by his capability to support their mother. The welfare evaluation of the parents was accordingly adverse i.e. the detriments outweighed the benefits. To the extent that he was able to argue, as he did at the first permission hearing, that he was an un-assessed risk, that ignores the evidence that was before the court, the father’s refusal to co-operate with assessments and the court’s ability and indeed duty to undertake its own analysis for the purposes of section 1(3) of the 1989 Act. The local authority were able to prove both of their cases and the family was unable to take advantage of such support services as the local authority might have been under a duty to provide because father refused to participate in any arrangement that would have demonstrated the efficacy of the same.

 

 

In any event, it is the parents’ case that they do not need help. They deny that the assault in the presence of P (and indeed the continuing aggression thereafter) would have had any effect on P. They deny that either of the children would be likely to be adversely affected by father’s continuing and uncontrolled aggressive behaviour. They are oblivious to the confusing and frightening effects of father’s conduct. They are unable to see that it was their own failure to co-operate within proceedings when they had access to the court to argue their case and non means and non merits tested public funding to facilitate the same that led to the removal of P. Father’s written submissions to this court continue to assert that father will not deal with social workers.

 

 

 

Against that factual backdrop, the Court of Appeal was satisfied that father’s bare assertion that he might be a risk to social workers but not to his child was not bourne out by the evidence, and thus that limb of the appeal was not successful.

 

The interesting academic argument about whether threshold is met as a result of a parent behaving aggressively to a social worker but not to a child or in the presence of a child, will have to wait for another case.

 

 

A fresh limb of appeal was raised, which was that within pre-proceedings work, an expert had been instructed, and the parents subsequently learned that this expert was on a retainer basis with the Local Authority in that they had agreed to do 20 hours of work with the Local Authority each week for 46 weeks of the year, making them really semi-employed by the Local Authority (not in an employment law sense, but leading the parents to question whether such an arrangement could still result in the expert being considered ‘independent’)

 

A separate issue arose during the first permission hearing that has become the second ground of appeal before this court. That relates to the independence of the psychologist. It transpires that on 4 March 2013 the local authority entered into a form of contract with the psychologist described by them as a ‘retainer’ by which the psychologist agreed to work for an agreed hourly rate and for up to 20 hours a week during 46 weeks of the year. Any work covered by the retainer was to be undertaken with a transparent letter of instruction and the psychologist was expected to act in accordance with the obligations of an expert (see for example, Family Proceedings Rules 2010 Part 25, PD25B 9.1(i)).

 

 

The arrangement enabled the local authority to rely upon independent expert advice that may have been obtained by them pre-proceedings where they needed it to supplement their own social workers and in-house advisors and which would subsequently be respected within family proceedings (in accordance with the guidance given for example in Oldham MBC v GW & Ors [2007] EWHC 136 (Fam) at [24] and [91]). The independence of the expert would enable other parties to join in the instruction if they chose to do so. We are told that the arrangement was revealed to solicitors then acting for the mother and each of the children in a circular letter. The arrangement was not specifically referred to in either of the proceedings concerning P and B.

 

 

The funding arrangement of the psychologist should have been notified to the court and to the parties in the proceedings not just by way of a circular letter that may not have come to their attention. The perception of fairness is very important in proceedings that can involve the permanent removal of a child from a parent’s care. There is a hypothetical conflict of interest that can be implied in the financial arrangements. There is, however, no actual conflict of interest on the facts of this case nor any complaint that the psychologist did anything that could have amounted to a breach of her obligations as an independent expert. Far from it, she was not even cross examined as to any of her opinions or the work she had done. This court has been shown no material that would have warranted cross examination other than the disagreement of the parents with the expert’s ultimate conclusion. The assertion that the error in referring to her as a ‘Dr’ in the letter of instruction or the implication that she was unqualified for the task that all parties agreed is without foundation in that no valid complaint is based on the same. Accordingly, although the situation is regrettable, the manner in which the expert was selected and did her work gives rise to no issue that is capable of undermining the determinations appealed and the alleged procedural irregularity is insufficient on the facts of this case to warrant further consideration.

 

 

Such an arrangement, the Court of Appeal say, could be capable of giving rise to a conflict of interest, and proper transparency needs to take place (not just burying the disclosure deep in the pages of boilerplate Letter of Instruction); but there had not been a conflict of interest in this case – the Court of Appeal noted that there had been no cross-examination of the expert by the parents, who would have been entitled to do so if they challenged the report.

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Nothing else will do – In which Nails are placed in coffins, and heads of pins are danced upon

 

The third Court of Appeal decision in a month to backtrack from “nothing else will do” and this one does so very powerfully. (previous two Re MH and Re M, both blogged about last month)

 

To the point of saying that it is not a test.

 

In case you are pushed for time to read this, I’m afraid that you still have to write/read all the analysis of the various options, and the Court still have to consider those options and analyse them, but the Court of Appeal say that “nothing else will do” isn’t a test, but a process of deductive reasoning.

 

In case you are new to the whole adoption debate, then welcome, and in a nutshell there appears in the last year to have been a tension between the Government (pushing a pro adoption agenda, including telling social workers to stop thinking of adoption as a last resort) and the senior judiciary, who have been mindful of the principle that adoption is a last resort.

 

 

Even the President of the Family Division has acknowledged this tension

 

 

http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18284:top-judge-recognises-tension-over-court-rulings-and-guidance-on-adoption&catid=54:childrens-services-articles

 

 

the Department for Education said: “The local authorities that are most successful in finding adoptive families for looked after children will generally be those with a very clear care planning process that always considers adoption as a possible permanence option and not an option of last resort.”

 

Asked about the issue by Local Government Lawyer at a press conference yesterday (29 April), Sir James responded: “Under our system Parliament makes the law in passing a statute. Parliament, I emphasise; not the Government. It’s Parliament that legislates. It is for the judges to decide what the statute means.

 

The Supreme Court has ruled what it believes the statute means and under our system that is the definitive judicial view but of course under our system the relevant statutes can be changed as Parliament wishes to do so.”

 

But the President added: “I’d be foolish not to acknowledge as I do that there is a clear tension between what the Supreme Court said in Re B in the summer of last year and what the Government had said in guidance which it issued only a few months before in the spring of last year…..

 

“So there is a tension there but under our system Parliament makes the law; the judges interpret the law and if Parliament does not agree with the judges’ interpretation of the statute they passed, then the remedy is for Parliament to change the law.”

 

The Family President added: “In saying that I think I’ve acknowledged that there is that tension there. But I appreciate that on the ground, as it were, for the directors of social services; for the social workers dealing with adoption cases; it must be slightly difficult to know exactly what they should be doing given that tension.”

 

 

 

You might want to put a mental Post-it Note on the President (the lead author of Re B-S) saying THIS

 

The Supreme Court has ruled what it believes the statute means and under our system that is the definitive judicial view

 

Because the Court of Appeal (Ryder LJ lead judgment) are currently saying THIS

 

 

Turning then to the issue in this appeal. I do not accept that Re B and Re B-S re-draw the statutory landscape. The statutory test has not changed. I have set it out at [26] above. It is unhelpful to add any gloss to that statutory test as the gloss tends to cause the test to be substituted by other words or concepts.

 

 

Have fun reconciling those two things.

 

The case is CM v Blackburn with Darwin Council 2014 (lead judgment Ryder LJ)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1479.html

 

 

The point of the appeal was an issue that immediately came into most people’s minds following Re B-S – dual planning.

 

It is not (or was not) unusual, to see a care plan that said “we will search for an adoptive placement for the child for 6 months, and if that is not successful, then a foster placement will be found”

 

As a matter of law, based on the principle of “nothing else will do”, how could a Court say that fostering would not do in order to make the Placement Order, when the plan envisages fostering being a possible outcome? Either it is permissible to say “adoption is better than fostering for this child, but both would do”   or on a strict interpretation of “nothing else will do” the Court should reject the Placement Order as there is clearly something else that will do (fostering, explicitly provided for in the dual care plan as the fallback)

 

The Local Authority in such cases aren’t saying that fostering won’t meet the needs of the child, it is saying that adoption is a BETTER way of meeting those needs. (which for me is fine and common sense – they have to make the case, but a Court should have that discretion)

 

Is that compatible with “nothing else will do” ?

 

Well, given cases in October (and cough, the adoption figures and political uproar), it is not surprising that the Court of Appeal say “yes, dual planning is compatible with the law”

 

 

 

Here’s what they have to say about “nothing else will do”   (and it is not only a major shift, but it probably makes large parts of the Myth-Busting document now accurate, or at least more accurate than it was before this judgment was published – so it was a fortune-telling document as well as a Myth-Busting one)

 

 

Turning then to the issue in this appeal. I do not accept that Re B and Re B-S re-draw the statutory landscape. The statutory test has not changed. I have set it out at [26] above. It is unhelpful to add any gloss to that statutory test as the gloss tends to cause the test to be substituted by other words or concepts. The test remains untouched but the court’s approach to the evidence needed to satisfy the test and the approach of practitioners to the existing test without doubt needed revision. That can be seen in graphic form in the comments of the President in Re B-S at [30]

 

“we have real concerns about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis of reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption, both in the materials put before the court by local authorities and guardians and also in too many judgments. This is nothing new, but it is time to call a halt.”

 

 

 

Yes, you have read that right – the Court of Appeal are now calling nothing else will do an unnecessary gloss on the statutory test. A gloss that a year ago they were embracing and thrusting on us all. We are rewriting history here – in the words of Kevin Costner “We’re through the looking glass here, people”.

 

 

Someone else might hear make a cruel remark about irony and unfortunate glosses to statute, but that would be beneath me.

 

 

The Court of Appeal goes on

 

Neither the decision of the Supreme Court nor that of this court in Re B-S has created a new test or a new presumption. What the decisions do is to explain the existing law, the decision making process that the court must adopt to give effect to Strasbourg jurisprudence and domestic legislation and the evidential requirements of the same.

 

 

(That will delight the Government and Mr Narey – as this is their line. But go on, please)

 

 

A court making a placement order decision must conduct a five part exercise. It must undertake a welfare analysis of each of the realistic options for the child having regard among any other relevant issues to the matters set out in section 1(4) of the 2002 Act (the ‘welfare checklist’). That involves looking at a balance sheet of benefits and detriments in relation to each option. It must then compare the analysis of each option against the others. It must decide whether an option and if so which option safeguards the child’s welfare throughout her life: that is the court’s welfare evaluation or value judgment that is mandated by section 1(2) of the Act. It will usually be a choice between one or more long term placement options. That decision then feeds into the statutory test in sections 21(3)(b) and 52 of the 2002 Act, namely whether in the context of what is in the best interests of the child throughout his life the consent of the parent or guardian should be dispensed with. The statutory test as set out above has to be based in the court’s welfare analysis which leads to its value judgment. In considering whether the welfare of the child requires consent to be dispensed with, the court must look at its welfare evaluation and ask itself the question whether that is a proportionate interference in the family life of the child. That is the proportionality evaluation that is an inherent component of the domestic statutory test and a requirement of Strasbourg jurisprudence.

 

 

[You may be seeing here that there is no mention of the least interventionist order, last resort, draconian nature of the order – that’s all bound up here in proportionality. But it is fairly pivotal and important that it was the specific issue of whether adoption was a proportionate answer and the circumstances in which it might be that led to the ECHR decision in Y v UK which was at the heart of Re B and Re B-S. It is a strange omission, and one which is also conspicuous by its absence in the Myth-Busting document]

 

That is what ‘nothing else will do’ means. It involves a process of deductive reasoning. It does not require there to be no other realistic option on the table, even less so no other option or that there is only one possible course for the child. It is not a standard of proof. It is a description of the conclusion of a process of deductive reasoning within which there has been a careful consideration of each of the realistic options that are available on the facts so that there is no other comparable option that will meet the best interests of the child.

 

 

“nothing else will do” is not a test – that noise you may hear as you read this is your eyes rolling. It is just a description of the process of deductive reasoning. Therefore, if the Judge has carried out the balancing exercise and answers the question “Am I satisfied that nothing else but adoption will do?” with a “No”, can he or she make the Placement Order? If it is not a test, but just a description of a process, then possibly.

 

I mean, this is just flat out strange – the Supreme Court made themselves rather plain, I thought. But now we are told that this is not in fact a test, and we should just read the word as ‘requires’

 

I’ll deviate for a moment

 

Supreme Court, Re B June 2013. http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed114409

 

We are all familiar with Lady Hale’s key paragraphs, but I’ll set them out, because they seem to be vanishing before our eyes. Note that on the issue of “nothing else will do” she says that all of the Supreme Court Judges agree on that. And she is right. Although she gave a minority judgment in the case overall (i.e whether the Judge had got the individual case right or wrong), on this aspect, these paragraphs reflect the decision of the Supreme Court.

 

  1. Perhaps above all, however, this case raises the issue of when it is proper for an appellate court to interfere in the decisions of the trial judge who has heard and read all the evidence and reached his conclusions after careful cogitation following many days of hearing in court and face-to-face contact with the people involved. We all agree that an appellate court can interfere if satisfied that the judge was wrong. We also all agree that a court can only separate a child from her parents if satisfied that it is necessary to do so, that “nothing else will do”.

 

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. But that is not the end of the story. 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.

 

 

 

Let’s now look at the words of the President in Re B-S on this issue

 

  1. Section 52(1)(b) of the 2002 Act provides, as we have seen, that the consent of a parent with capacity can be dispensed with only if the welfare of the child “requires” this. “Require” here has the Strasbourg meaning of necessary, “the connotation of the imperative, what is demanded rather than what is merely optional or reasonable or desirable”: Re P (Placement Orders: Parental Consent) [2008] EWCA Civ 535, [2008] 2 FLR 625, paras 120, 125. This is a stringent and demanding test.

 

  1. Just how stringent and demanding has been spelt out very recently by the Supreme Court in In re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, [2013] 1 WLR 1911. The significance of Re B was rightly emphasised in two judgments of this court handed down on 30 July 2013: Re P (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 963, para 102 (Black LJ), and Re G (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 965, paras 29-31 (McFarlane LJ). As Black LJ put it in Re P, Re B is a forceful reminder of just what is required.

 

  1. The language used in Re B 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 B paras 74, 76, 77, 82, 104, 130, 135, 145, 198, 215.

 

 

 

And

 

  1. It is time to draw the threads together and to spell out what good practice, the 2002 Act and the Convention all demand.

 

 

 

All of these “striking” words, we are now told, were not intended to amount to any change in the legal test or a gloss on the statute. Anybody interpreting the word ‘require’ in the wording of the statute as now incorporating those principles is just wrong, or that a Judge is expected to answer a question about whether “nothing else will do but adoption” is wrong.

.

 

52 (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.

 

Re B-S is thus, presumably, case management guidance rather than law. One wonders, if that’s the case, why it wasn’t all set out in a Practice Direction rather than a judgment, given that the primary author of Re B-S had the power to do that. [I don’t believe for a second that Re B-S wasn’t intended as an authority that Judges who failed to properly engage with proportionality and necessity and the Re B principles would be at risk of appeal]

 

 

I will give a caveat to all of this – I’m sure that there were very good Judges up and down the country who were grappling with these issues in their judgments before Re B, and were properly considering the pros and cons of adoption and were not doing as criticised in Re G by a linear process of “if I’ve ruled out mum, dad and grandparents, what is left is adoption, so adoption IS the last resort”. For those very good Judges, Re B and Re B-S didn’t really change the way they were doing those judgments and making their decisions. But it was very plain from the volume of successful appeals that there were Judges who weren’t.

 

(And I don’t think that those were bad judges or flawed judges – it was rather that it had become general practice to use that linear model and it was only once McFarlane LJ highlighted the inherent flaws in it in Re G that some shifted.   From the published judgments that I have read on Bailii in the last year, a surprising number of placement order judgments still fail to do that and simply replace analysis by quoting large chunks of the caselaw and saying “I have considered this” thus failing to see the point that the Court of Appeal appear to have been making in their condemnation of stock phrases and judicial window-dressing)

 

Were Re B and Re B-S new law, a fresh interpretation of the word ‘requires’ in the statute, or a gloss? Or were they as is being suggested now, a reinforcement and reminder of the existing law containing nothing fresh other than case-management guidance? We could dance on the head of a pin forever on that one.

 

If it was nothing fresh, it is surprising that so many successful appeals were happening last autumn and winter …

 

 

 

Back to the Court of Appeal in this particular case.

 

 

The words of Lord Nicholls in In re B (A Minor) (Adoption: Natural Parent) [2001] UKHL 70, [20012] 1 WLR 258 cited with approval in the Supreme Court in Re B remain apposite:

 

“[16] … There is no objectively certain answer on which two or more possible courses is in the best interests of a child. In all save the most straightforward cases, there are competing factors, some pointing one way and some another. There is no means of demonstrating that one answer is clearly right and another clearly wrong. There are too many uncertainties involved in what, after all, is an attempt to peer into the future and assess the advantages and disadvantages which this or that course will or may have for the child.”

This court has on two recent occasions highlighted the way in which the proportionality evaluation is being misconstrued by practitioners. In each case practitioners were reminded to use the concept that was described by the Supreme Court in Re B. In M-H (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 1396 Macur LJ at [8] said:

 

“…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 Re M (A Child) (Long Term Foster Care) [2014] EWCA Civ 1406 Black LJ said:

 

“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 the 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.”

With respect, I agree.

 

It is in the very nature of placement proceedings that in many of them there will be alternative options that are at least hypothetically feasible and which may have some merit. The fact that, after consideration of the evidence, the court on an analysis of the options chooses adoption over another option does not mean that such a choice is tainted because something else may have been reasonable and available. The whole purpose of a proportionality evaluation is to respect the rights that are engaged and cross check the welfare evaluation i.e. the decision is not just whether A is better than B, it is also whether A can be justified as an interference with the rights of those involved. That is of critical importance to the way in which evidence is collated and presented and the way in which the court analyses and evaluates it.

 

My answers to the questions posed by Mr Rowley are as follows:

 

  1. a) The judge’s methodology was right. She conducted a fact finding exercise, a welfare analysis of each realistic option, a comparative welfare evaluation and a proportionality evaluation.
  2. b) The statutory tests are not re-drawn. ‘Nothing else will do’ is the conclusion of a proportionality evaluation after a process of deductive reasoning not a new presumption and not a standard of proof.
  3. c) It is not necessary to have a contingency in a care plan although it is desirable. A timetable within which a local authority have to implement a substantive order once proceedings have concluded is beyond the jurisdiction of the court and is not part of the prescribed content of a care plan.
  4. d) Recognising the possibility of failure by a contingency plan is appropriate. That is quite different from deciding that something other than adoption is required.
  5. e) There is no objection in principle to dual planning in an appropriate case. This case was appropriate because the placement decision was neither conditional upon the happening of an event nor the success of some extraneous process such as therapy. It was not a decision that one of two options would do.

 

 

 

I think the CoA go further here than in the last two cases – in those, there was still a concept that “nothing else will do” being a test, albeit a more nuanced test in which the words meant “nothing else that will properly meet the needs of the child”

 

Here, they say explicitly

 

The fact that, after consideration of the evidence, the court on an analysis of the options chooses adoption over another option does not mean that such a choice is tainted because something else may have been reasonable and available

 

That’s not saying that the Court rejected the other options, or ruled them out, or concluded that they were not capable of meeting the child’s needs. That is outright saying that even with a reasonable and available option, adoption can still be the choice of the Court.

 

Although in saying

 

Recognising the possibility of failure by a contingency plan is appropriate. That is quite different from deciding that something other than adoption is required.

 

And

 

It was not a decision that one of two options would do.

 

 

Are they in fact saying that there WASN’T a judicial acceptance that long-term fostering was capable of meeting the child’s needs and that the Court was just approving the plan of adoption by rejecting all of the other options and that long-term fostering was not a plan, but a contingency in the care plan that the Court wasn’t required to consider?

 

That’s one way of reading the Court of Appeal’s answers to those questions which still IS compatible with the nuanced / glossed “nothing else will do”   (there is no other option that is capable of meeting this child’s needs in a satisfactory way). I wouldn’t have much quarrel if the case had been decided in that narrow way – it seems to me that you could resolve it by deciding that adoption was the plan, making a Placement Order and advising the LA that a revocation application should be lodged if the plan is formally to be changed.

 

Let us be honest, in a care plan of “search for adoption for 6 months, if unsuccessful long-term foster care”, which of those two things is the ‘last resort’?   It isn’t adoption, that’s the first preference. Long-term fostering there is the last resort. When the Court makes a Placement Order in those circumstances, it really isn’t saying that adoption is the last resort; it is saying that adoption is a better way of meeting the child’s needs than the other available alternative. [Which arguably just falls under s1 of the Children Act and is a good thing, but in that case, the talk of ‘last resort’ is a sham]

 

 

 

Why, one might almost think, if one was very cynical, that the fact that Re B looked like it was heading for the ECHR led the Court of Appeal to take pre-emptive action to bolster adoption before any ECHR decision “look, we’re being proportionate!”   and now that we know Re B isn’t going to the ECHR and the practical import is being seen, there’s a backtrack.

 

I mean, I myself am not that sort of cynical person, so that of course isn’t what’s happened.

 

What has happened is that we naughty, dastardly lawyers have deliberately confused the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal saying that for the wording of the statute, “requires” means literally nothing else will do, and taken that to be a test to be followed, whereas all they meant was the quality of evidence needed for a Judge to be satisfied that the child’s welfare ‘requires’ that parental consent be dispensed with is higher.

 

And all of those successful appeals based on that point were… I’m afraid that my imagination is breaking down there and I can’t find a plausible explanation why those appeals were allowed if the position really is and always was what the Court of Appeal now say.

 

Why weren’t they rejecting all those appeals and saying “no, people have got this wrong, nothing else will do doesn’t mean that at all?”

 

If we can be honest again for a moment, imagine that a Judge in a Placement Order case in September 2013, or even September 2014 had said “I have been referred to the cases of Re B and Re B-S, but I don’t need to follow those and I am sticking to the law exactly as it was in 2012”   would the Court of Appeal have backed that

Why is there something instead of nothing?

 

An age-old philosophical question, and one that every generation finds for itself – I myself remember playground arguments when I was about seven – “If God made everything, then who made God? And who made the person who made God?”    [But then I also remember being taken to the Deputy Head’s Office for a fist-fight about whether the Beatles were better than Elvis]

 

I shall pass that question over to Brian Cox, who can answer it more ably than I can and also with a boyish charm that I would lack. (I think my favourite scientific answer is from Alan Guth “The universe is simply one of those things that happen from time to time”

 

But for our legal purposes, the ‘something instead of nothing’ debate is focussing on adoption, and the soundbite formulation that it appears that the Court of Appeal may be deeply regretting that a Court can’t make a Placement Order unless satisfied that “nothing else will do”

 

Understandably, if you tell a group of lawyers that the test is “nothing else will do”, half of them will find something and argue that if there is something then there can’t also be nothing.  Something else and nothing else are mutually exclusive, surely.

 

The Court of Appeal are in a process of refinement (or retreat, if you want to be mean)

 

Last week, we had Re M H   https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/10/29/nothing-else-will-do-court-of-appeal-clarification/

 

This one is Re M (A child : Long-Term Foster Care) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1406.html

 

 

We don’t need to go into the whys and wherefores of why the child couldn’t be with mum, but save to say that it was quite plain that (a) she had problems that she couldn’t fix on her own (b) The therapy that she would need to fix the problems would take at least two years and (c) it wasn’t clear whether she would be fixed at the end.

 

The LA were saying – the timescales for change and prognosis for change mean that the child can’t wait for the mother to make those changes, and thus nothing else than adoption will do.

 

The mother’s case seems to have been that the Court should embark on a course of therapy, see how the first 6 months had gone and THEN make the decision.

 

The Court instead arrived at a “something” which involved the child being in foster care, subject to a Care Order until such time as mother was ruled as being capable of meeting the child’s needs.

 

[That sentence probably has a mixed response. If you are English or Welsh AND a lawyer or social worker, you’ll think it is nuts. If you are a parent, you’ll think it sounds fair. If you are a Scottish lawyer or social worker, you might think it sounds reasonable, because that’s an approach that is foreign to England and Wales but something that occasionally happens in Scotland.]

 

 

This was a case in which the Recorder had given three judgments, at various stages (the final judgment, an addendum giving clarification and then a judgment on the LA’s application for permission to appeal).

 

As the Court of Appeal illustrate, the reasoning is not perhaps ideal when you lay the three judgments alongside each other. My first draft used the word ‘inconsistent’ but the Court of Appeal say that to call it inconsistent is inappropriate, so I changed my words.

 

 

21. The Recorder’s three judgments do not sit easily together and nor does his thinking emerge clearly from them. There are, on the face of it, inconsistencies in what he says. I am not entirely sure whether this is because he was inconsistent in his thinking or because, in so far as his true reasoning emerged, it only did so gradually over the course of the three judgments.

 

22. I can illustrate what I mean by contrasting the end of the permission judgment with the earlier judgments. Concluding the permission judgment, the Recorder expressed himself in a way which suggested that he saw foster care as catering for the next two years or so, until the possibility of L returning to live with M had been fully explored. In the earlier judgments, in contrast, there was, at times, a sense that he contemplated that L would remain in foster care for the rest of her childhood, probably reflecting a different strand of his thinking which was about the importance of continuing the relationship between L and her parents through contact. The end of the permission judgment reads:

 

“This is a case where it will become apparent in 2 years or perhaps less whether M will be able to care for her daughter, when it is established if she will respond to therapy/treatment. If therapy and treatment is successful, M will be able to apply to discharge the care order. If, as foreseen by Dr Penny, there is a possibility, if not a strong possibility, that therapy fails (sic)…. LA can then make a fresh application for a placement order.”

 

23. The first judgment, in contrast, included passages such as those which I have set out below, which I think show that the Recorder was considering long-term foster care with contact as an option in its own right which would potentially endure throughout L’s childhood, albeit that there are some allusions suggesting that he may also have had in mind the possibility of a return to M’s care following therapy (see for example, §64 and the end of §74). The first two passages show the importance that the Recorder attached to continuing contact and the final one appears to be contemplating indefinite long-term foster care in order to maintain that contact:

 

“I find that the particular needs of L for the present are for her to be cared for in a ‘secure, warm and loving family that is able to meet all her needs’ and, crucially, for continuing the existing and loving relationships with her birth parents by way of direct contact.” (§72, my emphasis)

“I am also concerned that L will interpret being cut off from M as being a ‘punishment’ for having behaved wrongly…. “(§73)

“I do not think that this analysis [the guardian’s analysis of the shortcomings of long term foster care] places sufficient weight on the importance of maintaining direct contact with her parents. It is an evaluation which does not explain why long term foster care ‘will not do’, to paraphrase, slightly, the words of Baroness Hale in a number of cases. I accept that foster placements may not be as stable or secure as adoption orders, but some succeed, just as some adoptions fail. There is no reason for the local authority to be unnecessarily intrusive in a long term fostering placement. She should be able to enjoy a relatively normal childhood, save that she would be seeing her birth parents during contact, rather than living with one or other of them.” (§78)

 

24. In the second judgment, which the Recorder expressly did not intend to affect his conclusions in his first judgment (§81), there are passages which seem to merge the idea of long-term foster care as a freestanding option and foster care as a way of preserving the possibility of a return to M. This can be seen, for example, in §88 where the Recorder commented that the social worker had not considered what L’s wishes would have been if she had been offered the option of “long term foster care with direct contact continuing and her mother receiving treatment and the possibility of return to her mother’s care if the treatment was successful”. It can also be seen in §93 where the judge comments on the Statement of Facts as follows:

 

“Again, there is no analysis of the option of long term foster care, with its benefits of continuing the strong bond between M and L and the possibility of return to her care if she successfully undergoes the therapy and other interventions.”

 

 

25. The passages that I have quoted so far leave the reader unclear as to the design that the Recorder had for long-term foster care, whether it was to be a vehicle for preserving contact or the means of providing an opportunity for a return to M if her therapy succeeded or both, but it would probably be inappropriate to describe them as inconsistent. However, I agree with LA that the Recorder’s rejection of temporary foster care as inappropriate for L at §76 is difficult to reconcile with the order that he made which, on one view, provided for just that, certainly if events were going to develop as the Recorder contemplated at the end of the permission judgment.

 

 

The option of long-term foster placement being the right option for the child was possible (and it might be possible to have made a case for the plan that the Recorder ended up with), but as the Court of Appeal say, that’s going to require a very clear and reasoned judgment

 

 

27. In the course of argument, Mr MacDonald submitted persuasively that the difficulties in the course taken by the Recorder were demonstrated in practical terms by the problem for LA in deciding what type of foster care should be chosen for L if his order were to be upheld. He had created, it was submitted, an undesirable half-way house between true long-term foster and short-term foster care which was the worst of all worlds for L. There is force in that submission. The Recorder’s plan for L had built into it uncertainty and insecurity. It also incorporated delay for a period potentially extending to 2 years. Delay, on the evidence before the Recorder (which was in familiar terms), was likely to harm L’s chances of a successful adoption placement if, ultimately, that was the proper outcome for her. Indeed, he himself accepted that a decision about whether adoption was appropriate needed to be made as soon as possible because a successful adoptive placement was more likely now than later (§72).

 

28. To justify a decision such as this would require the clearest of reasoning, particularly in the face of the very guarded prognosis for M’s therapy. I am afraid that this is absent from the Recorder’s judgments. I cannot reliably tell whether he proceeded as he did in order to leave open the possibility of L going home to one of her parents if therapy were to prove successful or because he considered that her relationship with them was such as to require preservation through contact, notwithstanding the disadvantages for L of the long-term foster care which would be the inevitable corollary of that. Furthermore, I am not confident that he gave weight to the guarded prognosis for successful therapy, or took into account the advantages for a child of her age of adoption and the disadvantages of long-term foster care, or bore in mind the advice that he had accepted at §72 (see below) as to the need to deal with the adoption question sooner rather than later. He seems to have been inclined to minimise the disadvantages of foster care, on the basis that long-term foster care would be better than short-term foster care and that LA would not be “unnecessarily intrusive in a long-term fostering placement” and L could have “a relatively normal childhood” in that context (§78). In this regard, he was, in my view, overly optimistic, not least because, with the best will in the world, LA would not be able to avoid involvement in L’s life because of their statutory duties to protect her as a looked after child.

 

 

 

But there clearly was “something” here, and “something” that the Recorder had not been satisfied should be ruled out. So, in the presence of “something” there’s an absence of the “nothing else” for the nothing else will do test, surely?

 

 

Well, no. The Court of Appeal explain that the shorthand test incorporates within it the more important concept that one is looking at [emphasis in italics is the Court of Appeal, underlining mine]

 

 

30. The “recent authorities referred to above” are Re B (a child) [2013] UKSC 33 and Re G (Care Proceedings: Welfare Evaluation) [2013] EWCA Civ 965. What is said in these authorities about the need to consider all the options and to sanction adoption only if nothing else will do must be interpreted with a careful eye to the realities of a child’s life. Delay is one of factors that always has to be taken into account in determining any question with regard to a child’s welfare, see section 1(3) Adoption and Children Act 2002 (ACA 2002) and section 1(2) Children Act 1989 (CA 1989). But whether an individual child’s welfare requires adoption depends on many other factors besides delay. A vital starting point for what those factors might be in a given case is the list in section 1(4) ACA 2002 (and its equivalent for Children Act proceedings in section 1(3) CA 1989) but these are not of course exhaustive lists. It is to be noted that the child’s age features in both of them.

 

31. The fact that speedy action will improve the prospects of a successful adoption for a particular child of a particular age must take its place in the overall appraisal of the case. Sometimes when considered with all the other factors, it will dictate that the court approves a plan for adoption of the child, even when full weight is given to the important reminders in recent cases, starting of course with Re B, that 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.

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal had been asked to make a Placement Order, but decided that the case needed to be resubmitted for re-hearing.

 

We are continuing to refine / retreat from “nothing else will do” and our soundbite test is really ending up to be quite a nuanced and long test, rather more like

 

The Court must look at each of the options for the child, consider which are remote and which are possible, and of the possible options consider whether they are contrary to the interests of the child to pursue them. If there is an option that remains that is a less interventionist order than adoption, that should be preferred.

 

That isn’t snappy, it isn’t catchy, it isn’t memorable  – but if we learned anything from the “imminent risk of really serious harm” debacle  (maybe we didn’t) it is perhaps that Courts should stick to nuance and long formulations and the statute and leave  catchy slogans to Don Draper

 

[It is therefore not Adoption > long-term fostering for the child therefore adoption, but long-term fostering being an option for the child that although possible is not in their interests]

Nothing else will do – Court of Appeal clarification

We have been waiting a year for something like this, so this is quite a swift post pointing you to it and giving you the relevant quotations.

I wrote a piece for Jordans a long while ago, saying that whilst the “nothing else will do” test appears at first glance to be simple common sense English, there are a number of possibilities for what it actually really means

 

http://www.jordanpublishing.co.uk/practice-areas/family/news_and_comment/nothing-else-will-do-why-the-last-resort-won-t-necessarily-be-the-last-word

For example, which of these following definitions of ‘nothing else will do’ is actually right?

(1) There is genuinely, literally, no other option that could be conceived of.
(2) The other options available are appreciably worse for the child than adoption would be.
(3) There are other options, but they require a degree of intervention by the state (ie the local authority) that they would in effect be unworkable.
(4) There are other options, but they require a degree of intervention by the state that the state says is disproportionat (at some stage, the R v Gloucestershire County Council ex parte Barry [1997] 2 All ER 1 decision is going to come into play).
(5) There are other options, but in order to make use of them, the court would not be able to make a final decision within the 26-week PLO timetable.
(6) There are other options, but in order to make use of them, the court would not be able to make a final decision within the 8-week extension to the 26-week PLO timetable that is permissible in ‘exceptional’ circumstances.
(7) There are other options, but in order to make use of them, the court would be extending the decision-making process to a point where the delay would be harmful for the child and the harm can not be justified [that is really where we have historically been].
(8) Any of the other options would cause harm to the child or carry with it a significant risk of harm to the child, and weighing up the options, adoption is the least harmful of all of the options available.
(9) Another one/ten that I have not thought of yet.

 

 

[I do sincerely apologise for quoting myself, and don’t mean to do so in a Presidential manner, it is just that I knew I’d already written somewhere else exactly what I wanted to say here, and it seemed crackers to rewrite it from scratch]

 

So, which of those is it? Do the Court of Appeal finally help?

 

Re M-H (A child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1396.html

 

It involves an appeal from my own Designated Family Judge, so I’m rather relieved that her decision was upheld (otherwise it is slightly awkward to write about) but not my own Local Authority.

 

The appeal was brought largely on the claim that the Judge at first instance had applied the wrong test for the making of a Placement Order.

 

This is what the Court of Appeal say  (underlining as ever, mine for emphasis)

 

  1. The ‘correct test’ that must be applied in any case in which a court is asked to dispense with a parent’s consent to their child being placed for adoption is that statutorily provided by the sections 52 (1) (b) and 1 (4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 interpreted in the light of the admonitions of the President in Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 which drew upon the judgments of the Supreme Court in In Re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33 and rehearsed previous jurisprudence on the point. The “message” is clearly laid out in paragraph 22 of Re B-S and needs no repetition here.
  2. However, 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.
  3. It stands to reason that in any contested application there will always be another option to that being sought. In some cases the alternative option will be so imperfect as to merit summary dismissal. In others, the options will be more finely balanced and will call for critical and often anxious scrutiny. However, the fact that there is another credible option worthy of examination will not mean that the test of “nothing else will do” automatically bites.
  4. It couldn’t possibly. Placement orders are made more often in anticipation of finding adoptive parents than with ones in mind. Plans go awry. Some adoption plans are over ambitious. Inevitably there will be a contingency plan, often for long term fostering. The fact of a contingency plan suggests that ‘something else would do at a push’, the exact counterpoint of a literal interpretation of “nothing else will do”, and it would follow that the application would therefore fail at the outset.
  5. The “holistic” balancing exercise of the available options that must be deployed in applications concerning adoption is not so as to undertake a direct comparison of what probably would be best but in order to ascertain whether or not the particular child’s welfare demands adoption. In doing so it may well be that some features of one or other option taken in isolation would produce a better outcome in one particular area for the child throughout minority and beyond. It would be intellectually dishonest not to acknowledge the benefits. But this is not to say that finding one or more benefits trumps all and means that it cannot be said that “nothing else will do”. All will depend upon the judge’s assessment of the whole picture determined by the particular characteristics and needs of the child in question no doubt often informed by the harm which s/he has suffered or been exposed to.

 

Boiling that down – it does not mean that there are literally no other credible options, nor does it mean that there are no other credible options which offer benefits. It means really that the Judge must choose the right option for the child’s needs but have in mind that if the child’s needs can be met by a less drastic order that should be preferred to adoption.

 

And that if a Judge is going to make a Placement Order, the judgment will need to set out the other options, assess their credibility and explain why they have not been followed.

 

It is really about judgments being rigorous and robust and analysing the pros and cons – I think for the last nine months we have all been swept along on replacing one set of stock judicial window-dressing phrases for another, that as long as the phrase “nothing else will do” peppers the case and the documents and the judgment that will suffice.  The real message of Re B-S for me, was that the options have to be set out with proper rigour as to what they would mean for the real child in the real case.

With the profoundest respect

 

Firstly, apologies. I know that to lawyers, using that title is the equivalent of me going into a Wetherspoons pub, finding the drunkest person there, giving them a lot of amphetamines and telling them that (a) you were the person who stole their wife back in 1984 and (b) that they should go around your house and shout what they think of you through your letterbox.

 

Non-lawyers may not be aware of the lawyer code which is “with respect” = You absolute moron, you’re wrong.  “with great respect”  = ffs do you have anything between your ears, you are utterly wrong , “with the greatest possible respect”  –  I am going to have to get Malcolm Tucker to concoct a sentence which truly construes how annoyed I am with you and how wrong you are.  I honestly didn’t even know it went up as high as “with the profoundest respect”

 

So why am I dropping the P-R bomb on y’all?  Well, because that phrase appears in a judgment, and it is used by a High Court Judge, and he is using it about the Court of Appeal.

 

The Judge is Mostyn J (who has had a busy autumn), and the case is Re D 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/3388.html

 

I wrote about Mostyn’s initial decision here https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/01/08/brussels-sprouts-ii-this-time-its-jurisdictional/

I’ve written about the particular Court of Appeal decision here (and you can see that I may have been somewhat bored by it, because a lot of it ends up being co-written by Snoop Doggy Dogg – apposite given post 500)

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/02/21/and-i-aint-talking-bout-chicken-and-gravy/

 

The gist of it, very quickly.

The father in the case was found to present a massive risk to children. I don’t think anyone (even Ian from Forced Adoption) could dispute that he would be a bad person to be around children. The real meat of the case was whether mother could separate from him and stay away from him.

The background this case is to be found in my fact finding judgment of 30 November 2012 to be found in section A at page 53. I do not repeat it here. Suffice to say that I found the father, Stefan D, to be guilty of truly bestial conduct. I recorded his conviction in the year 2000 in the Czech Republic of offences of the utmost seriousness involving the gross abuse and exploitation of women and girls. I found how, after his arrival in the UK, he meted out appalling domestic violence to his wife, Daniella D. I found how he engaged in serious criminal activity, largely centred around illegal drugs. I described how I was satisfied that he had seduced his 16 year old stepdaughter by plying her with drugs; how he had had unprotected sex with her; and how she became pregnant by September 2011 when she was only 17 years of age. I recorded how this sexual congress took place in the family home to the knowledge of the other minor children there, B and K. I recorded how he was even having sexual intercourse in the same time-frame with his wife as he was with his stepdaughter. I found that the statutory threshold in section 31 of the Children Act had been comprehensively crossed, both in respect of past harm and the risk of future harm.

Care proceedings, mum and dad were both Czech, and had gone back to live in the Czech Republic. The baby was in care in England and the care plan of the Local Authority, shared by the Guardian was for adoption.  Mostyn J had to decide a Brussels II application, and in doing so, he raised an important philosophical question – if the outcome of the case would be radically different in another country (because England has non-consensual / forced adoption and the Czech Republic does not) should that be taken into account? Mostyn J did take it into account and decided that the case (and future of the child) ought to be transferred to the Czech Republic.

 

That was appealed, and the Court of Appeal in Re M (A child) 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/152.html decided that Mostyn J was wrong, that you decide Brussels II on the facts of the case and you give no regard at all to how another jurisdiction might decide the case.

Here are the 3 questions to be answered

” … as Art 15(1) makes clear there are three questions to be considered by the court – here The Hague court – in deciding whether to exercise its powers under Art 15(1):

i) First, it must determine whether the child has, within the meaning of Art 15(3), ‘a particular connection’ with the relevant other member state – here, the UK. Given the various matters set out in Art 15(3) as bearing on this question, this is, in essence, a simple question of fact. For example, is the other member state the former habitual residence of the child (see Art 15(3) (b)) or the place of the child’s nationality (see Art 15(3) (c))?

ii) Secondly, it must determine whether the court of that other member state ‘would be better placed to hear the case, or a specific part thereof’. This involves an exercise in evaluation, to be undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular case.

iii) Thirdly, it must determine if a transfer to the other court ‘is in the best interests of the child.’ This again involves an evaluation undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular child.”

 

I wish to emphasise that the question of whether the other court will have available to it the full list of options available to the English court – for example, the ability to order a non-consensual adoption – is simply not relevant to either the second or the third question. As Ryder LJ has explained, by reference to the decisions of the Supreme Court in Re I and of this court in Re K, the question asked by Article 15 is whether it is in the child’s best interests for the case to be determined in another jurisdiction, and that is quite different from the substantive question in the proceedings, “what outcome to these proceedings will be in the best interests of the child?”

 

 

So they told Mostyn J that the English Court would decide the case, overturned his decision and sent it back to him for determination.

 

I have never had the experience of going back into a case where the Court of Appeal have told the Judge he was wrong and then gave him the case back – it must be a somewhat trying situation. We now see from Re D, just how exasperating a Judge might find that experience.

 

[In the interests of fairness, I’ll throw my hat in the ring – I think Mostyn J first time got the right decision for the wrong reasons, and I think that the Court of Appeal had the right reasoning but reached the wrong decision, so I can see why there’s some rancour there.  ]

 

What follows is all genuinely from Re D (at least all the stuff in bold – a Judge thought of this, wrote it down and published it. For real – underlining is by me, for emphasis)

 

 

  • The reason I am conducting this hearing today in September 2014 is because I have been ordered to do so by the Court of Appeal. My decision of 18 December 2013 was that a Czech court would be better placed to hear this case and in consequence of that decision I issued a formal request under Article 15 of Brussels II Revised Council Regulation No 2201/2003. That formal request sought the agreement of the Czech court to hear this case to its conclusion. My decision of 18 December 2013 was overturned by the Court of Appeal on 21 February 2014 and that is to be found in section A, page 167.
  • It is necessary for me to make reference to aspects of the judgments of the Court of Appeal, if only to clarify matters. The Court of Appeal decided that my decision was flawed as I had allowed the consideration of ED’s Czech nationality to dominate my thinking to the exclusion of any proper consideration of the second and third questions formulated in AB v JLB [2009] 1 FLR 517 (see paragraph 45 of Lord Justice Ryder’s judgment). It was said by him at paragraph 31 of his judgment that the practical considerations which I had identified at paragraph 40 of my judgment of 18 December 2013 were equally matched by the merit of judicial continuity. Notwithstanding that equal balance which I had ultimately decided in favour of a transfer request, Lord Justice Ryder held at paragraph 46 that the issue should have been decided in favour of a continuance of the case here. In his judgment Lord Justice Lewison suggested that in making my decision I had given expression to some kind of secret agenda or inherent hostility to the making of a care order with an adoption plan.
  • In my defence I would say this:

 

(1) If in fact I gave too much weight to the matter of nationality as a connecting factor under the first question it cannot be disputed that it certainly had to be given some weight. However, the Court of Appeal decision affords this factor no weight at all. Instead it merely balances the factor of judicial continuity with the practical considerations and, notwithstanding that they were found to be evenly balanced, my decision to seek a transfer was overturned. This is very hard to follow.

(2) I certainly, in my paragraph 29, was not operating any kind of secret agenda but was merely emphasising the draconian and momentous nature of care and placement orders and faithfully recording and following the views of the senior judiciary in Re B [2004] 2 FLR 142 at paragraph 101, per Mr Justice Munby (as he then was); Re B [2013] 1 WLR 1911, a decision of the Supreme Court; and Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, a decision of the Court of Appeal.

(3) The conduct of this trial has shown how the Court of Appeal’s perception of an equal balance of judicial continuity and practical considerations was, with the profoundest of respect to them, wrong. No material from the fact finding hearing has featured in this case other than my judgment. My judgment has been treated as the alpha to omega of the past proceedings. Unquestionably another judge could have conducted this hearing in exactly the same way that I did. I did not reach for any unwritten nuances or impressions as referred to by Lord Justice Ryder at paragraph 27. In my previous judgment I stated that the advantage of me conducting the hearing would be marginal. With the benefit of actual experience I would say that I have had no such advantage. By contrast, even though Lord Justice Ryder thought in his final sentence of paragraph 31 that, “In a world where the use of information technology is a commonplace the physical location of a professional witness is rarely likely to be decisive” the experience of this case showed that this too was a misplaced view.

 

 

The technology all broke down (I have sad real-life experience of how awful it can be to be involved in video-link evidence overseas, and it is like the course of true love in that it never runs smoothly)

 

The video link to the Czech Republic frequently froze visually leaving me only with sound. I lost the chance in this case in respect of the three crucial witnesses from the Czech Republic to assess their demeanour. All the vital evidence from the Czech Republic had to be professionally translated. The translator gave a heroic performance but the exercise was completely unsatisfactory leaving me again unable, because of translation, to judge these important witnesses’ demeanour. The father also gave his evidence by video link or for much of the time only by audio link, again translated. It was very difficult for me to judge him in the way that I am required to do so.

 

 

  • In my judgment of 18 December 2013 I said at paragraph 40 (this is page A165, the final two sentences):

 

“But beyond these lofty expressions of principle are the simple practical facts that the parents are in the Czech Republic. Baby LD is in the Czech Republic and any proceedings in the Czech Republic will be conducted in the first language of the parents.”

Those practical facts loomed very large in the hearing before me. Those practical facts, or rather my inability to give expression to those practical facts, impeded the trial significantly. Notwithstanding that I had been found by the Court of Appeal to have erred, I am convinced that this case was at all times better tried in the Czech Republic. And had it been tried in the Czech Republic then no placement order, as contended for by the Local Authority and supported by the guardian, could have been made, as that order, in common with almost all other countries in the EU, with the exception of Ireland and Croatia, is beyond the powers of the court in the absence of parental consent.

 

 

The Judge discusses the expert witnesses from the Czech Republic who gave evidence via this flawed video-link. When you see that one of them said in writing that the mother could ‘definitely’ protect the child, you might have your antennae for “you’re going to collapse in cross-exam” twitching, and you’d be right

 

 

  • The next three witnesses were taken over the often malfunctioning video from the Czech Republic and they were the psychotherapist, Leona Hozova, the father and the social worker, Pavla Polakova. I will take the two professional witnesses first. Their written material was laconic indeed but it is not for me to criticise what may well be the usual practice for making professional reports in the Czech Republic. If it is the usual practice then as one who has to read these reports I can see a lot to commend it. Leona Hozova, a psychotherapist employed by the Domino Organisation, a well-known organisation in the Czech Republic, has provided three short statements at section C159, 193 and 195. I quote from the most recent dated 29 May 2014. It is so short that I can read it in full:

 

“From a position of a psychotherapist working with the family, I can respond within my competence as follows:

Ms M, dob 23.04.1994, is capable of recognising a danger and she is definitely able to protect her children, in this case her son ED, dob 27.06.2012. Ms M is an exemplary and loving mother. She is able to bring children up and to create them a relationship in harmony. From an attachment point of view, she is able to create safe and strong bond between her and her children. In a case of any possible danger she would be the first one to protect and defend her children.

At this time Ms M exhausted from the whole situation, psychologically very tired. This whole situation is very difficult for her and her family. Despite this she is still able to function as a mother without any problems and to carry out her child’s needs. During our consultations with Ms M we do not only talk about her psychological state, but we work together on developing her parental competency and smooth care of her child.

As a family psychotherapist I do not find any reasons to take Ms M’s child away, she is a caring and loving mother.

In terms of the psychological help which I am providing to the parents, so far I did not find any pathological elements in the behaviour of the father of Stefan D, dob 25.10.1972. Mr D is able to look after the daughter LD, dob 13.09.2013, without any problems and with love even at times when Ms M is away in England. Mr D is psychologically very broken from the whole situation, delaying of the whole matter has broken him psychologically. As a psychotherapist I can not express my opinion regarding his personal life and his actions at the time before our psychotherapeutic sessions.

Recommendation:

I recommend ED to be returned to his parents.

If it was not possible due to some particular reasons, then I recommend to place ED to foster care in the Czech Republic into a foster family who is experienced with foster care and who would live near to the parents, the reason is the most effective complying with ED’s needs and to enable ED’s contact with his biological parents.

I recommend to continue in regular psychotherapeutic consultations with the parents (both individual and in pair) and in strengthening their parental competence, further on in company of a family advisor who mainly focus in children in the family and in their care.

This opinion has been given on request of the High Court in London, England.”

 

  • In her oral evidence she confirmed that the mother and father had punctiliously attended all psychotherapeutic appointments. However, under cross-examination and significantly she accepted that she was not convinced, notwithstanding the mother’s assertions, that she would in fact ever leave the father, notwithstanding that in her assessment the mother was full of love and was a very careful mother to baby LD. She was satisfied that the mother authentically loved the father but she was of the view that that love was a search by the mother for a substitute father figure, a substitute for the father who abandoned her when she was a young child. She confirmed that she had spoken to both parents about the findings made by me in my fact finding judgment of 30 November 2012 but the father had told her unambiguously that they were not true. He told her that he rejects my findings of domestic violence meted out to his wife, Daniella D, although, in contrast to what he told me at the fact finding hearing, he accepted that he was actually and properly guilty of the criminal offences in respect of which he was sentenced in the Czech Republic in the year 2000. Similarly, but not nearly to the same extent, the mother told her, the psychotherapist, that she did not accept my detailed findings in which the relationship was begun and conducted.
  • Miss Hozova told me that in the Czech Republic there would be available foster parents who could look after ED and that such foster parents had full experience of caring for Roma children. Under cross-examination she accepted that she had tried hard to open up the topic of the father’s past conduct as found by me but that he simply would not co-operate. In a very significant statement for my purposes she stated whilst being cross-examined:

 

“For as long as he does not accept the findings there are considerable risks in placing ED with him and the mother.”

 

 

The Judge weighed up the evidence very carefully and rejected the proposals made by both sides (the mother seeking return of the child, the LA and Guardian seeking adoption)

 

 

  • These are my conclusions. First, I reject the proposal by the mother that these proceedings be dismissed and ED be returned to her and the father in the Czech Republic. That is manifestly not in his interests. Such a placement back with his parents would be replete with far too many risks in circumstances where the father categorically rejects the majority of the previous findings made in this case. He plainly cannot confront his demons until he has identified his demons. The same is true to a lesser extent in relation to the mother. If these parents were living here it is inconceivable that ED would be returned to them. That they are in the Czech Republic surely makes no difference. If a corollary of this finding by me is that I must conclude that baby LD should not be with her parents while deep professional work is done the first base of which is a full acceptance of the wrongdoing the father has done both to Daniella and to the mother, then I do not shrink from expressing that corollary.
  • I now turn to the choice urged on me by the Local Authority and supported by the guardian. In Re B-S at paragraph 19 the President, Sir James Munby, stated:

 

“It is to be remembered, as Baroness Hale pointed out in Down Lisburn Health and Social Services Trust and Another v H and Another [2006] UKHL 36 at paragraph 34 that the United Kingdom is unusual in Europe in permitting the total severance of family ties without parental consent.”

 

  • In this case Janet Kavanagh in her second statement dated 14 June 2013 has adduced certain research extolling the merits of adoption. At paragraph 22 she said this:

 

“The benefits of successful adoptions are well-evidenced: the overview of evidence research by Coram and Barnados (Exhibit 2) shows adopted children have good psychological outcomes and more stable placements than children brought up in care. “Adoption by contrast (with long-term fostering) is associated with lower disruption rates and placement stability confers a reduction of problems over time and growth of attachment” (Social Care Institute for Excellence in their scoping review of research of looked after children, Exhibit 3). Moreover the Adoption Research Institute (Exhibit 1) goes so far as to state that said that, ‘Adoption should be considered for every child who can not return home’.”

 

  • The proposition of the merits of adoption is advanced almost as a truism but if it is a truism it is interesting to speculate why only three out of 28 European Union countries allow forced or non-consensual adoption. One might ask: why are we so out of step with the rest of Europe? One might have thought if it was obvious that forced adoption was the gold standard the rest of Europe would have hastened to have adopted it. The relevance of this aspect of the case is surely obvious. This case, as I have demonstrated, could very easily have been tried in the Czech Republic. It was a fortuity that it was not. Had it been so tried there the orders sought by the Local Authority could not have been made. I accept, of course, that I must apply the law of England exclusively but in so doing the unique irrevocability of the orders sought has to play a prominent part in my judgment.
  • Therefore I turn to the two intermediate choices and ask myself if either of them will “do.” Only if neither will “do” will it be appropriate to make the order sought by the Local Authority. In my judgment a special guardianship order in favour of the current foster parents would be the preferred solution. I will not spring such an order on them or on any of the parties here pursuant to the Children Act 1989 section 14A(6)(b) and I cannot in fact envisage such an order being made of the court’s own motion other than by consent. Only if the foster parents apply for a special guardianship order will such an order be made. I invite them to decide within 14 days of today if they will apply for a special guardianship order. If they do I urge them to apply promptly so that a report under section 14A(8) can be prepared.

 

[You may remember the Court of Appeal case I recently discussed where the foster carers WERE putting themselves forward and the Court of Appeal said the Judge was not wrong to reject them – here they weren’t, but the Judge was trying to persuade them to do so]

 

I think that this is an important case – not for setting precedent – this won’t be relied upon in other cases and if it was attempted to be, I am confident that the Court of Appeal would have little hestitation in correcting Mostyn’s views here. But it frames an important philosophical debate – do the Court of Appeal really mean ‘nothing else will do”  – or do they mean “the other options must be considered and if adoption is the decision the Court must explain why they have been rejected”  – and Mostyn J raises the other major issue – are WE right in allowing forced adoption (together with two other countries in the EU, or are the other 25 countries right to have rejected it?

How long will it be before this is litigated, at length in the ECHR?  Y v UK set down the marker that Re B  and then Re B-S followed  [some observers, myself included think that ‘nothing else will do’ was an attempt to get English adoption law back in line with the ECHR view of it], but has there actually been a sea-change in the sort of cases that warrant adoption or have we all just swapped one set of ‘judicial window-dressing’  (draconian order) for a fresher one ‘nothing else will do’ ?

 

I have to say that it feels sometimes on the ground that we have just swapped our incantations for a newer form of words, rather than the radical re-think on adoption that Re B-S looked like a year ago.

 

What was Mostyn J’s plan if the current carers did not offer themselves up as Special Guardians? Well, here’s where it gets interesting. And remember, the Court of Appeal had said no to transferring this case to the Czech Republic under Brussels II.

 

If the foster parents do not signify that they will seek a special guardianship order I then will turn to consider the choice of a placement with Czech foster parents. If I were to do this it could not be under a care order. It is trite law confirmed by a decision of the House of Lords that once a care order is made all subsequent decisions concerning placement of the child are delegated to the Local Authority without interference from the court. The only role the court has thereafter is in relation to contact. Therefore if I were to go down this route it would have to be outside the care proceedings; those proceedings would have to come to an end and wardship proceedings would have to be commenced. The order placing ED with Czech foster parents would be a judgment made in wardship proceedings and such a judgment would be enforceable under Articles 21 and 23 of Brussels II Revised and under Article 23 of the 1996 Hague Convention. However, the judgment could only be enforced in the Czech Republic provided that Article 56 had been complied with (see Article 23(g) of Brussels II Revised).

 

I.e, I’ll make a wardship order and place the children in foster care in the Czech Republic.

 

The LA and Guardian expressed some doubts on that, given that the agencies of the Czech Republic had been leaning more towards rehab to mother’s care.

 

 

  • If therefore there is no signification by the foster parents to seek a special guardianship order within 14 days I direct that the central authority, OILPC, be notified that this court is contemplating a placement of ED with Czech foster parents and ask them to set in train the identification of such foster parents in accordance with the terms of the letter which I have just read out. If foster parents have been identified by the Czech central authority pursuant to the procedure set out by 1st November 2014 the matter must be restored to me to consider the suitability of those foster parents. If they are suitable then I will make the order in wardship that ED be placed with those foster parents and such an order and judgment will explicitly provide that the question of contact or indeed discharge from foster care will be made by the Czech court.
  • In principle I consider that foster care in the Czech Republic is a preferable solution to the irrevocability of a care order and placement order although, in my judgment, it is not as preferable as a special guardianship order. My reason is that in this case the ethnicity factor and parental link I regard of critical importance and which must have the capacity of being preserved and should not be irrevocably severed on the facts of this case. I reject the argument made for the Local Authority by Mrs Rowley, and by Mr Veitch for the guardian, that this solution is replete with risks because the Czech court might return ED to his parents. If I might respectfully say so it is a highly chauvinistic, almost neo-colonial sentiment. If the Czech court does return ED to his parents it will be after a full hearing with the child represented by a guardian. Plainly there can be no serious suggestion made that the Czech court would not, in any hearing, properly promote the interests of ED. Only if both of these intermediate choices prove to be impossible will I be satisfied that nothing else will do and in those circumstances I would make on the evidence the care order and placement order.
  • I accept entirely that the solution I have proposed and which I order will involve further delay in achieving finality for ED. I accept that the avoidance of delay is an almost canonical prescription in this kind of proceedings. However, bearing in mind that I am making arrangements which will affect the whole of ED’s life I do not believe that the most profound consequences of that decision should be sacrificed on the altar of the avoidance of delay.

 

So, to suggest that the Czech authorities might return the child to mother’s care is highly chauvinistic and almost neo-colonial…

 

Let’s see what the Czech authorities had to say (AFTER the judgment was handed down. Again underlining mine for emphasis)

 

 

  • On 29 September 2014 this court received a letter dated 23 September 2014 from Mr Zdeněk Kapitán, the Direct of OILPC. This was written and received well after I had orally given judgment. The letter reads as follows:

 

“The Office for International Legal Protection of Children, as the Central Authority of the Czech Republic under the Council Regulation (EC) No 2201 /2003 of 27 November 2003 concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, repealing Regulation (EC) No 1347/2000 hereby states its position regarding the case of the child mentioned above.According to the information available to the Office, the child is currently removed from the care of his parents and is placed in the foster care.

As our Office is highly concerned about the best interest of the minor who is the Czech national we respectfully ask the Court to consider, while deciding in the Care Order proceedings the following rights of the Child arising from the international conventions named below that are binding for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Firstly, the Office would like to point out at the Article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights that regulates the right to respect for private and family life, the Office hereby highlights the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “ECHR’) in respect of the Article 8 of the Convention. In particular the ECHR constantly rules that “the fact that a child could be placed In a more beneficial environment for his or her upbringing will not on its own justify a compulsory measure of removal from the care of the biological parents, there must exist other circumstances pointing to the effective ‘necessity’ for such an interference with the parents’ right under Article 8 of the Convention to enjoy a family life with the child” (T v FINLAND, § 173)

Furthermore, the ECHR declared that “although the essential object of Article 8 is to protect the individual against arbitrary action by the public authorities, there may jn addition be positive obligations inherent in an effective ‘respect’ for family life. Thus. where the existence of a family tie has been established, the State must in principle act in the manner calculated to enable that tie to be developed and take measures that will enable parent and child to be reunited” (KUTZNER v. GERMANY. § 61).

Secondly, the Office draws the attention of the Court to the Article 8 and Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child under which the States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her family relations and shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will unless the certain conditions are met.

Finally, the Office understands that the habitual residence of the above child is in the territory of the United Kingdom and that the Court shall have the jurisdiction in the matter. Nevertheless if the Court considers that it is in the best interest of the child to proceed under the Article 15 and/ or the Article 56 of the Regulation, the Office supports such proceedings and is very open to offer the Court its further assistance in proceedings under the Article 15 and / or the Article 56 of the Regulation.

In conclusion, the Office appeals to the Court to take into consideration the aforesaid and not to interfere with the right to respect for family life unless it is necessary and justifiable.

This statement is to emphasize the importance and priority of the work with the biological family over the very extreme measure of separating the child from his parents and placing him into foster care. Accordingly, we are of the opinion that in case the parents are not able to take care of the child, the members of wider family should be always considered as potential carers.”

 

I might be highly chauvinistic and almost neo-colonial, but I read that as the Czech authorities dropping a pretty big hint that if the child is in their control, they view foster care as the last resort and a very extreme measure.

 

Now, one could of course argue – this is a Czech mother, a Czech father, a Czech baby – let the Czech Republic get on with it and make their own decisions, it is really their baby to make decisions about.  Except… that’s exactly what Mostyn J decided first time out and the Court of Appeal rejected that.

 

We don’t know yet what has actually happened. Here is my guess – either the LA and the Guardian began drawing up an appeal claim straight away OR a lot of pressure was put on the current foster carers to take up the offer of Special Guardianship to avoid further ligitation.

 

I’m not a huge fan of how Mostyn J has necessarily gone about this, but it is a real practical issue on the ground – we are having more and more babies in England and Wales whose parents are from other parts of the EU, those countries being ones who don’t have non-consensual adoption – should we be spending huge amounts of taxpayers money litigating these cases in England, or should the decisions about the children be taken in the parents country of origin?   (It gets ludicrously tricky if mum and dad are from different countries within the EU, of course)

 

The ECHR’s already tough line on non-consensual adoption was in a case where the UK was making decisions about the children of its own citizens – might they take an even tougher line when the first case of a foreign national’s children goes before the ECHR?  The Italian C-section case drew a lot of overseas attention – and if we have 3 countries within the EU who support non-consensual adoption and 25 who don’t, the UK government may not be preaching to the converted if a case of that kind comes up before the ECHR.

 

 

Nothing else will do? A head-scratcher

 
The Court of Appeal’s decision in Re W (Children) 2014

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed134050

This was an appeal by the mother in relation to the Judge’s decision to make Care and Placement Orders in relation to the youngest three children of a sibling group of nine.

As we all know, the Court can’t make those orders (post Re B and Re B-S) unless satisfied that “nothing else will do”.

This appeal was refused, and leaves me scratching my head about what is actually meant any more by “nothing else will do”
The nub of this appeal was really that the children’s existing foster carers would consider putting themselves forward to permanently care for the children. That might be either as adopters or as Special Guardians.

The mother had been asking for the Court to adjourn the hearing, to have an assessment of those foster carers as Special Guardians.

That application was refused and the Court had gone on to make Placement Orders.

Now, the critical thing here for Re B-S and “nothing else will do” is that here there is a valid and viable placement option – placement with the current carers as Special Guardians, which would not have been expressly considered within the social worker’s Re B-S analysis, and which is an option which would have to be explicitly ruled out by the Court in order to say that “nothing else but adoption would do”

[There was, I am sure, an argument that even if these carers were to care for the children that it should be under Adoption rather than Special Guardianship, but the Re B-S formulation suggests that the Court isn’t looking at whether adoption is BETTER than the other options or has advantages or lacks the disadvantages of the alternatives, but that each of the other realistic options is ruled out. It has never been really clear to what standard the Court is supposed to be ruling them out – but “nothing else will do” is NOT the same as “nothing else is quite as good as adoption”]

The other complication here is that the Guardian, in written evidence, was AGAINST the making of Placement Orders and in support of the current carers caring for the children permanently. It appears that the Guardian shifted their position during the final hearing (and by shifted, I mean “did a reverse ferret” )

“Following discussions with the Local Authority, an amendment to the care plan has been proposed which provides for the Local Authority to assess the foster carers as adopters. The guardian was clear that even if these foster carers are not approved as adopters and if it means that D has to be separated from G and M, he still considered, following his analysis, that adoption was the right and only option available for these children.”

24. That summary of the guardian’s position is of note because it is in apparent contrast to the guardian’s position in writing as recently as 12 January 2014, a week or so before the hearing commenced, having summarised the position of the children and the three younger children and in particular highlighted the priority that the guardian gave to the benefit achieved from their current foster home.

25. The guardian says this at paragraph 62:

“That opinion, therefore, is, at this time, not to support the placement order application of the Local Authority naming D, G and M. The current foster carers are willing to care for all three children in the long term and have been seen as very capable of meeting the children’s needs to date.”

26. Then in his recommendations, the guardian is express. He says:

“I recommend that the court does not make a placement order on naming D, G and M. However, I reserve the right to change this position until after I have heard the evidence and opinions of Dr Butler and she having read this, my final report.”
Dr Butler, the child and adolescent psychiatrist who had reported in the case, had provided a very clear written report on the issue of whether the children could be placed at home with mother, but had not got into the merits of the various other forms of ORDER.

It seems that Dr Butler had been asked about this in oral evidence.

19. The judge then concluded her summary of Dr Butler’s evidence with respect to the younger three children in the second part of paragraph 29 where the judgment says this:

“As far as D, G and M are concerned, Dr Butler thought it would be helpful if they could stay in their current placement. She would be concerned about separating them for adoption. She said that they have survived as a sibling group. They all need therapeutic work some form of play therapy. She was clear in her oral evidence that only adoption would give them the stability they need.”

20. All, save the last sentence, of that quotation is a almost direct lift word for word from the concluding paragraphs of Dr Butler’s report. The key sentence for the context of this appeal is the last one where the judge records the doctor as being clear in her oral evidence that “only adoption” would give the children the stability that they need.

21. Dr Butler’s report, whilst analysing the children’s position very clearly, does not actually descend to an opinion one way or the other on the issue of adoption or long term fostering or some other form of placement. All we have in this court in terms of the evidence of Dr Butler on this point is, firstly, this sentence in the judge’s judgment and, secondly, a copy of counsel for the Local Authority’s handwritten notes taken during the hearing which in particular obviously does not include any question and answer record of counsel’s own cross examination of the doctor.
So, going into the hearing, in their written evidence, both the Guardian and Dr Butler were saying that the best thing for the children would be to remain in their current placement. (But in oral evidence, although the details are sparse, both said adoption was the right thing for the children, although the reasoning is not very well set out and the Judge largely bases the conclusions on the position of those two witnesses)

The mother was saying that if they could not come back to her, she would want the children to remain in their current placement – she would prefer any form of order other than adoption. If there HAD to be adoption, she would want it to be with the current carers, rather than with strangers.

The Local Authority position was that there should be adoption – they would do an assessment of the current carers but only as adopters – if they were approved as adopters that would be Plan A. But if they were not approved as adopters, Plan B would be to find other adopters NOT to look at different orders that would allow the children to stay with those carers.
Now, there might be a raft of reasons why the Judge eventually preferred the evidence of the Local Authority and decided that this really was a case where “nothing else would do” other than adoption, but if that’s the case there needs to be some very heavy lifting done in the judgment.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Court of Appeal have to say this about the judgment

31. Some time ago I indicated the narrow focus of this appeal and the concern expressed by my Lord Jackson LJ in granting permission to appeal. The concern is one that, on the papers, I share. It arises from the difficulty that any reader of the judgment has in understanding two matters. First of all, what it was that Dr Butler and, in turn, the children’s guardian said in oral evidence which justified, in Dr Butler’s case, at least a clarification of her view that adoption was the only option and, in the guardian’s case, a change from his position of not supporting the placement applications to holding that in any circumstances adoption was the only order for these children. The second related difficulty that any reader of the judgment has is understanding what it was that the judge thought about these matters as leading in her view to making these final orders, particularly in the context of the outstanding, albeit recently identified, need to assess the foster carers. Rhetorically, the question is asked: why was it necessary to make the final orders on this occasion?
When you look at some of the successful appeals in relation to Placement Orders (I think particularly of the one where both parents were in prison at the time the orders were made), this case looks to have successful appeal written all over it. If you read the judgment and can’t see how the Judge reached the conclusions at the end, then post Re B-S, that’s the sort of judgment that gets overturned. Or rather, it WAS.

There was an option before the Court that was substantially less draconian than adoption by strangers, and to rule out that option would surely have needed rigorous analysis.

Instead, the Court at first instance seemed to have placed very heavy emphasis on adoption being the only form of order that would prevent the mother disrupting the placement.

[It MIGHT be that this was a mother who had been going to the foster home, being undermining and abusive, making phone calls or sending letters – that isn’t set out in the extracts of the judgment that we have been given in this report though, and surely it would be. So we can discount that as a possibility. There MIGHT be circumstances where the risk of mother disrupting a long-term foster placement or Special Guardianship Order with these carers was simply unmanageable, but it would need to be spelled out why the Court couldn’t control this with all of the legal remedies (s91(14) orders, non-molestation orders) at its disposal]
In any event, there seems very little weighing up of the proportionality issue and that the Court should be looking for the least interventionist form of order where possible. Unless the risk of disruption was so high and utterly unmanageable, that’s a feature of adoption which is beneficial or advantageous to be put into the balancing exercise, not a determinative factor, surely?
42. If the judge’s judgment were the only material available, it is a document upon which it is hard to rely in terms of gaining any detail as to what it was that Dr Butler said about adoption and why it was that the guardian changed his opinion. The court has made efforts to try and obtain transcripts, but they have come to nothing. The note of counsel takes matters so far, but does not provide in anyway a total answer. Yet the appeal has to be determined. In particular, there is now a pressing need for the appeal to be determined because of the prospect of the children being matched, if the appeal is unsuccessful, with these prospective adopters. I considered countenancing an adjournment to obtain a transcript, but to my mind, that is not necessary.

To be honest, I had always considered that this was the real thrust of Re B-S and the successful appeals that followed – that the Court of Appeal looks at the judgment and if the reason for making the orders is not robust and rigorous within the document, then the judgment is wrong.
In this case, the judgment sets out that the Judge agreed with the Guardian and expert that nothing else but adoption would do, but doesn’t set out WHY either of those witnesses reach that conclusion (particularly since the Guardian was saying something different in writing), or WHY the Judge agreed. The Court of Appeal, for reasons that aren’t plain to me, decided that was okay.

This appears to me to be the strongest appeal since Re B-S was decided, but although many rather flimsy appeals have been granted, this one has been refused.

The reasoning appears to be that although the judgment as delivered is somewhat sparse, the parties did not invite the Judge to fill in the gaps. (that’s not something that was mooted in the flimsier successful appeals)

45. So while it does seem to me that although this court lacks the precise detail of the actual words used by these two key witnesses, we are entitled to take as the baseline the judge’s summary of what was said. It is absolutely clear in the terms that I have described. So having gone into the matter in more detail than was possible on the occasion that my Lord considered the permission application, I am satisfied that the judge must have had the clear professional oral evidence in the terms that she has summarised, which, in turn, enabled her to consider the options for these three children.

46. I therefore turn to the lack of reasons given in the judgment. This court has from time to time had to consider the absence or submitted absence of full judicial reasoning in cases across the civil justice spectrum, but perhaps particularly in the context of family justice.
47. There are a number of relevant authorities, but the most convenient is that of Re: B (Appeal: Lack of Reasons) [2003] EWCA Civ 881, the decision of this court presided over by Thorpe LJ and Bodey J in 2003. They had the benefit of a judgment given one year earlier by my Lady Arden LJ in the case of Re: T (Contact: Alienation: Permission to Appeal) [2002] EWCA Civ 1736. In the course of that judgment, my Lady considered the applicability of the ordinary civil authority English v Emery Reimbold & Strick Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 605 to family cases. My Lady held that there was no distinction to be drawn on the question of principle as to the need for the requests to be made to judges at first instance to amplify their reasons in family cases just as in civil cases.

48. The law report is available to all. I do not intend to lengthen this judgment by repeating what my Lady said in Re: T, save to quote from paragraph 41 to this extent. My Lady said this:

“It would be unsatisfactory to use an omission by a judge to deal with a point in a judgment as grounds for an application for appeal if the matter has not been brought to the judge’s attention when there was a ready opportunity so to do. Unnecessary costs and delay may result.”

49. That approach was unsurprisingly endorsed by Thorpe LJ in the course of his judgment in the later case of Re: B. He in turn at paragraph 11 said this:

“No doubt I have hesitated as to how best to respond to these submissions. I regard a number of the criticisms of the judgment as ignoring the seniority and experience of this judge. No doubt a judge recently appointed or only recently inducted to public law would not reach the milestones and signposts to ensure that no essential stage of the process is overlooked or truncated… But there is a huge virtue in brevity in of judgment… The more experienced the judge, the more likely it is that he may display the virtue of brevity. Certainly it is not incumbent upon the judge to adopt some formula of a judgment or simply to parrot statutory provisions. For my part, I would say that the essential test is: does the judgment sufficiently explain what the judge has found and what he has concluded as well as the process of reasoning by which he has arrived at his findings and then his conclusions?”

50. The judge in this case, as I have described in the quotations from her judgment that I have set out, gives short reasons and, in effect, identifies her reasoning as being at one with that of Dr Butler and the children’s guardian.

51. They in turn conclude that the only option is adoption. If a true reasons challenge was to be mounted in relation to this judgment, the proper course to be adopted would have been to go back to the judge at the permission to appeal stage before the first instance judge, which I do not think was undertaken in this case, and to raise the reasons challenge and to invite the judge to enlarge upon the reasons that she has given. That simply was not a step that was taken here. Insofar as the mother was a litigant in person, she is not to be criticised for that, but the reality is that step was not taken. It was not taken at a later stage when, for a time, the mother had the benefit of some legal representation.

 

 

Re W makes it even more difficult than it already was (and it was already extremely difficult) to hazard a guess at how the Court of Appeal will decide any appeal on a Placement Order. Which in turn makes it even harder for the Court at first instance to know what the Court of Appeal expect to see in a bullet-proof judgment. And harder for advocates to advise their clients on the merits of an appeal and prospects of success.

I think that there MIGHT be cases where the Court could reject a plan of long-term fostering or Special Guardianship with the current carers and decide that “nothing else but adoption will do” – it will depend heavily on the circumstances of the case. But it is clearly a considerably difficult hurdle to surmount and the judgment would need to reflect the rigorous and robust analysis of why the current carers are not an option, and the judgment would need to be cogent as to the reasons for that decision.

Correction – the last sentence there is how I would have IMAGINED the law to be, but post Re W, who knows any more?

I am slightly surprised (to put it mildly) that the appeal did not dwell more on the judicial refusal of the application for an adjournment in light of Re MF – finding out whether these carers could keep these children seems to me to be a piece of information whose absence does prevent the Court from resolving the proceedings justly and that the adjournment was necessary.

The Court of Appeal simply say this (in effect – because the Judge was in favour of adoption, it wasn’t a piece of information that the Judge needed. Again, scratching my head on that one)
64. The judge in the present case was plain that the expert and professional evidence was to the effect that only adoption would do for these three children. That was also the judge’s conclusion. Therefore, in my view, as a matter of structure and of law it would not have been open to the judge to contemplate the court carrying on to oversee the assessment process of the foster carers if a placement for adoption order was to be granted at the end of the day.

65. The working out of the plan for the assessment of the foster carers and the development of an alternative plan if they were not acceptable as long term carers for the children were matters and should be matters for the Local Authority under the placement for adoption order and the care order and not for the court. So as a matter of structure, I am not persuaded by Ms Jones’ submissions.

66. In any event, we would only be able to intervene and overturn the judge’s conclusion on this point if we were satisfied that the judge was “wrong” and that she had acted in a disproportionate manner in making a placement for adoption order at this stage without proper regard to the Article 8 rights of the children, which may well include the relationship they have with the current foster carers. It simply is not open, in my view, to the mother in this case to sustain that submission.

67. The evidence before the judge was that adoption was what was required. It was necessary to take a decision at that stage partly to avoid delay, but partly to achieve clarity. On the evidence before the judge which she accepted, no other outcome other than the adoption of these children was justified unless that could not be achieved. Therefore, there was no benefit for the children in holding back from making a final order at that stage. It was the only tenable outcome of the case on the evidence and on the findings of the judge. So even within the compass of the appeal as it was on paper before my Lord when he gave permission and this court before we had the extra information from the Local Authority, I would refuse the appeal on that basis.

 

As more general practice for appeals, the Court of Appeal put down this marker about transcripts of evidence
70. I wish to add brief comments on one procedural issue. From time to time when this court grants permission to appeal, it directs that the evidence of a particular witness be obtained. If the appeal concerns the adoption of children, it is by definition an urgent matter and the hearing will be listed at an early date. Indeed, as here, the court granting permission to appeal may direct an expedited hearing.

71. In such a case, the parties must use their best endeavours to obtain any transcript of evidence which is required as soon as possible. If, as here, the transcript cannot be obtained in time, then solicitors and counsel should co operate in producing a composite note of the relevant evidence.

72. That did not happen in this case. Instead, part way through the hearing today, counsel for the Local Authority stood up and informed us that she had a note of the evidence given by Dr Butler and the guardian. In those circumstances, the hearing was adjourned for 40 minutes so that counsel’s note could be photocopied and considered by all present. I say at once that counsel’s note of the evidence is clear and extremely helpful, although it does not include her cross examination of the two witnesses. I am grateful for the copy of that note which we have received.

73. Nevertheless, in any future case where a necessary transcript of evidence is not obtained in time for the hearing, then any available notes of the relevant evidence must be circulated in advance to all parties and the court. That will avoid any risk of ambush. Also, it will avoid the need for an adjournment in the middle of the hearing of the appeal.

 

 

So, just as the President has shown us in Re X that “must” in a statute means “ah, just ignore that bit”,  the Court of Appeal have now shown us that when they said in Re B-S that “nothing” else will do, they didn’t mean that a possible placement with existing carers under an SGO or long-term fostering could be SOMETHING else that might do. They meant an entirely different kind of nothing.

 

This wouldn’t be  teh interwebs if I didn’t use that as an excuse for the Inigo Montoya meme.

 

No, I am NOT the Red Viper of Dorne

No, I am NOT the Red Viper of Dorne

step-parent adoptions and nothing else will do

The Court of Appeal in Re P (a child) 2014 considered an appeal from a Judge who refused a step-parent adoption having applied the law (or at least the gloss on the law applied in the last year)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1174.html

 

Boiling it down to one question – does ‘nothing else will do’ apply to step-parent adoptions where the biological parent who is being ousted as the legal parent doesn’t consent?  Well, of course it does, one would immediately say. The whole thrust of Re B was about ‘non-consensual adoption’, that’s a  non-consensual adoption. And the whole hook of Re B was using the word ‘requires’ in the s52(1) (b) test  to carry with it a huge additional weight of proportionality and nothing else will do – running counter to the former President’s decision in  a previous  Re P that ‘require was a perfectly ordinary English word’  to import a meaning  that was much much more. (To be fair, that’s an additional amount of meaning taken directly from the ECHR decision of  Y v UK, which in effect was ‘the ECHR lets the UK persist in its weird ideas about adoption, but we only tolerate it if you take it bloody seriously’)

 

The legal test for dispensing with the father’s consent to make a step-parent adoption  (and these cases are almost always about fathers being cut out of children’s lives and legal relationship of fathers being severed – you just don’t get many stepmother adoptions) is s52(1) (b),  – the child’s welfare requires consent to be dispensed with.

 

So, of course, it must be ‘nothing else will do’.

 

And if it is “nothing else will do” then it is going to be spectacularly hard to demonstrate that for any proposed step-parent adoption  (not just that it would be better for the child to make the order but that there is literally no other solution – ie the status quo can’t remain for reasons which are hard to fathom, looking from the outside)

 

So, nothing else will do almost certainly kills off step-parent adoptions.

No, the Court of Appeal say otherwise.  (I will make it plain that I think this decision is wrong, but it’s the law, and we are stuck with it. I think it flies in the face of common sense, ignores the principle of least interventionist order and is particularly prejudicial to birth fathers)

 

Here is the Court of Appeal test for step-parent adoptions  (drawn from a 1999 ECHR case, Soderback v Sweden, which distinguished between State adoption and adoption within part of the biological family)

 

a) There is a distinction to be drawn between adoption in the context of compulsory, permanent placement outside the family against the wishes of parents (for example as in Johansen v Norway) and a step-parent adoption where, by definition, the child is remaining in the care of one or other of his parents;

b) Factors which are likely to reduce the degree of interference with the Art 8 rights of the child and the non-consenting parent [‘Parent B’], and thereby make it more likely that adoption is a proportionate measure are:

i) Where Parent B has not had the care of the child or otherwise asserted his or her responsibility for the child;

ii) Where Parent B has had only infrequent or no contact with the child;

iii) Where there is a particularly well established family unit in the home of the parent and step-parent in which ‘de facto’ family ties have existed for a significant period.

 

Those all seem to me very good reasons for a step-father having PR, but why are they good reasons for making an adoption order and changing a step-father into a legal father, and changing the biological father into a person with no connection to the child whatsoever?

 

The Court of Appeal do say that where the biological father is involved and opposes, the position is that the adoption should be a rare event and that the case ought to be resolved by making private law orders instead (there’s the ability to grant a step-father PR, or Child Arrangement Order (residence), even a Special Guardianship Order – although that would be insane, because it would give the step-father the legal power to override the birth mother. That’s so crackers that… it will probably happen within the next year)

 

In so far as the earlier domestic cases to which I have made reference establish that, in the event of Parent B being actively opposed to a step-parent adoption, practical arrangements should be dealt with by private law orders, that approach is entirely at one with the modern private law relating to children which seeks to determine aspects of the delivery of child-care and the discharge of parental responsibility either by parental agreement or by a child arrangements order under CA 1989, s 8.
 

The making of an adoption order is primarily, if not entirely, concerned with the legal status of the relationships between the child, his natural parent(s) and the adopter(s), rather than practical arrangements. Thorpe LJ’s words in Re PJ adhering to the aptness of earlier cautionary dicta, and reminding professionals of the need to be aware of the motives, emotions and possible unrealistic assumptions about any new family unit, remain as wise and sound as they were when uttered in 1998. In this manner, the approach of the domestic case law sits easily alongside that of the ECtHR in Söderbäck v Sweden

 

The earlier authorities on contested step parent adoptions thus still apply, despite their antiquity so here they are

 

In Re D (Adoption: Parent’s Consent) [1977] AC 602 the House of Lords gave consideration to a step-parent adoption application made by a mother and her new husband, which was opposed by the child’s father. Lord Wilberforce, at page 627, laid stress on three matters:
 

 

i) that under the statutory test for dispensing with parental consent, as it then was, the child’s welfare was only one consideration; the test being ‘reasonableness’ (Adoption Act 1958, s 7); 

ii) consent should only be dispensed with in rare and exceptional cases, and this was ‘all the more so in cases … where the adoption is desired by one natural parent and the other refuses consent’;

iii) an adoption order, which is irrevocable, should not be used to deal with practical considerations concerning custody, care and control or access.
Dicta of the Court of Appeal (for example that of Bagnall J in Re B (Adoption by Parent) [1975] Fam 127 at page 146) endorsed the third of these points and indicated that, in the event of the other natural parent opposing a step-parent adoption, the court would strive to achieve an outcome by ordinary private law orders rather than adoption.

 

 

This is going to make the issue of service of the birth father a very critical issue. If the birth father has been served and doesn’t turn up, the Court will probably make the step parent adoption order if it can be shown that the current family unit is settled and happy and that the birth father’s role has been limited. If he does turn up, the Court will probably NOT make the order.  Thus, making sure that the birth parent has been served is vital, and of course the likelihood is that these applications will be made after mum and birth father have been estranged for some years and without the benefit of public funding.