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Law for social workers (part 2)

Ah admit it, you skipped straight here, didn’t you?  In which case, you missed a lot of cool stuff about lizards, that’s for sure.

 

In this part, I’ll tell you the key tests and principles from the Acts and case law, for each sort of order.  I will keep this up to date if the law changes, and it will be up on the front page on a tab.

 

Let’s start with the thing that is changing more dramatically than anything else at the moment, and it ISN’T an order.

 

Section 20 accommodation

 

Section 20 is the voluntary agreement of a parent for the child to come into foster care.  For almost 22 years of the Children Act 1989 it was completely ignored by the Court and barely got a mention. Then all hell broke loose.

It started with a decision by Mr Justice Hedley, where a mother was asked to agree section 20 consent immediately after a C-section. She also had learning difficulties and was basically scared into signing it by threats that if she didn’t, the social worker would go to Court and get an EPO.

From that case, which you can read about here,

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2012/2190.html

the following principles were derived.  These are REALLY important for all social workers to know. I would seriously recommend having them on a piece of paper that you have on your person when doing any visit – because if the issue of section 20 comes up, it is on YOUR shoulders to evidence that you knew about all of this and took it all into account – the records are going to need to show all of it.

 

i) Every parent has the right, if capacitous, to exercise their parental responsibility to consent under Section 20 to have their child accommodated by the local authority and every local authority has power under Section 20(4) so to accommodate provided that it is consistent with the welfare of the child.

ii) Every social worker obtaining such a consent is under a personal duty (the outcome of which may not be dictated to them by others) to be satisfied that the person giving the consent does not lack the capacity to do so.

iii) In taking any such consent the social worker must actively address the issue of capacity and take into account all the circumstances prevailing at the time and consider the questions raised by Section 3 of the 2005 Act, and in particular the mother’s capacity at that time to use and weigh all the relevant information.

iv) If the social worker has doubts about capacity no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought from the social work team leader or management.

v) If the social worker is satisfied that the person whose consent is sought does not lack capacity, the social worker must be satisfied that the consent is fully informed:

a) Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?
b) Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
c) Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?
vi) If not satisfied that the answers to a) – c) above are all ‘yes’, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought as above and the social work team should further consider taking legal advice if thought necessary.

vii) If the social worker is satisfied that the consent is fully informed then it is necessary to be further satisfied that the giving of such consent and the subsequent removal is both fair and proportionate.

viii) In considering that it may be necessary to ask:

a) what is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
b) If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?
c) Is it necessary for the safety of the child for her to be removed at this time?
d) Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?
ix) If having done all this and, if necessary, having taken further advice (as above and including where necessary legal advice), the social worker then considers that a fully informed consent has been received from a capacitous mother in circumstances where removal is necessary and proportionate, consent may be acted upon.

x) In the light of the foregoing, local authorities may want to approach with great care the obtaining of Section 20 agreements from mothers in the aftermath of birth, especially where there is no immediate danger to the child and where probably no order would be made.

 

At the moment, Human Rights Act damages are being paid out by Councils not just for misuse of section 20 to get a child INTO care, but delaying too long in making decisions about a child’s future once they are IN care – an issue called section 20 drift.

 

The law has developed still further, with the Court of Appeal in Re N suggesting that section 20 agreements should always be in writing and that it is not sufficient for a Local Authority to rely on an absence of objection.  Also that if a parent withdraws their consent, the LA have to either get an immediate Court order (very very hard at present due to Court access) or return the child. I’d suggest that Re N is a major factor in the volume of care proceedings going up 20% this year, and it is going to keep going up.

Re N is here http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/1112.html  (don’t read it, because 98% of it is unintelligible stuff about international law, but if you MUST, skip straight to para 157

 

Be REALLY aware that going to a maternity ward to ask for s20 consent with a police officer there as back up is liable to make the s20 consent invalid as made under duress

  1. Surrey County Council –v- M, F & E [2012] EWHC [2400] a decision of Mrs. Justice Theis and at paragraph 60 she said this:-

“To use the section 20 procedure in circumstances where there was the overt threat of a police protection order if they did not agree, reinforced by the physical presence of uniformed police officers, was wholly inappropriate. By adopting this procedure the local authority sought to circumvent the test any court would have required them to meet if they sought to secure an order, either by way of an EPO or interim care order.”

 

And that leads us nicely into

 

Police Protection

 

 

First things first-  EVERYONE calls these PPOs  (because they sort of sit beside Emergency Protection Orders EPOs) but there’s no O. There is no Order. This is the police exercising their power to remove a child

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/46

 

46 Removal and accommodation of children by police in cases of emergency.

(1)Where a constable has reasonable cause to believe that a child would otherwise be likely to suffer significant harm, he may—

(a)remove the child to suitable accommodation and keep him there; or

(b)take such steps as are reasonable to ensure that the child’s removal from any hospital, or other place, in which he is then being accommodated is prevented.

 

And you can see from the statute that the test for this is pretty low. It is an administrative decision taken by a police officer at the time, on the scene.  There’s no filing of evidence, no legal argument, no representation of a parent, no voice of the child, and no Judge weighing things up

It is for that reason that the Court’s don’t like them and have made it clear that “Wherever possible, a decision to remove a child from a parent should be made by a Court not as an administrative decision”.   Police Protection should be reserved for situations where the risk can’t even be managed long enough to go to Court and seek an EPO. That’s a LOT rarer than their actual use.

Be warned, if a Court scrutinises use of Police Protection and thinks that the LA were involved and used it as a short cut or an easy way to get the child into foster care without having to go to Court, damages can and will be made.

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/05/01/misuse-of-police-protection-human-rights-claim/

“Police protection is an emergency power and should only be used when necessary, the principle being that wherever possible the decision to remove a child/children from a parent should be made by a court.”

 

The lead case is Langley v Liverpool 2005, so these issues are not exactly new.  The Home Office Guidance above makes it really clear that s46 is an emergency power only, not to be used if the Court can make a decision instead.

 

Emergency Protection Order

 

The bare statute just says this:-

44 Orders for emergency protection of children.

(1)Where any person (“the applicant”) applies to the court for an order to be made under this section with respect to a child, the court may make the order if, but only if, it is satisfied that—

(a)there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if—

(i)he is not removed to accommodation provided by or on behalf of the applicant; or

(ii)he does not remain in the place in which he is then being accommodated;

 

[It is quite often overlooked that actually ANY person can apply for an EPO – unlike care orders, where only the LA or NSPCC can apply. In 25 years, I’ve only seen a parent apply once for an EPO, but it can happen]

The Courts set a much higher test for EPOs than the Act does.

The lead case is Re X and B Council 2004

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2004/2015.html

There are 14 points in there which the High Court say MUST be drawn to the attention of a Court considering an EPO application – the case law has to be produced and the Court referred to these 14 points when making the application.

Critically for social workers

An EPO, summarily removing a child from his parents, is a “draconian” and “extremely harsh” measure, requiring “exceptional justification” and “extraordinarily compelling reasons”. Such an order should not be made unless the FPC is satisfied that it is both necessary and proportionate and that no other less radical form of order will achieve the essential end of promoting the welfare of the child. Separation is only to be contemplated if immediate separation is essential to secure the child’s safety; “imminent danger” must be “actually established”.

 

If your statement or evidence in relation to an EPO does not ‘actually establish’  ‘imminent danger’ then you can’t have your order.

and

 

The evidence in support of the application for an EPO must be full, detailed, precise and compelling. Unparticularised generalities will not suffice. The sources of hearsay evidence must be identified. Expressions of opinion must be supported by detailed evidence and properly articulated reasoning.

 

It is probably the HARDEST order to obtain, and many would argue rightly so. The test set down by the High Court in re X and B, compared to what the Act says is the difference between a limbo bar and a pole vault.

 

Removal under an Interim Care Order

 

Again, the bare statute doesn’t say much

 

38 Interim orders.

(1)Where—

(a)in any proceedings on an application for a care order or supervision order, the proceedings are adjourned; or

(b)the court gives a direction under section 37(1),

the court may make an interim care order or an interim supervision order with respect to the child concerned.

(2)A court shall not make an interim care order or interim supervision order under this section unless it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the circumstances with respect to the child are as mentioned in section 31(2).

 

The Courts though have set a higher test for removal under an Interim Care Order, and THAT is the test that social workers must address in their written and oral evidence

 

 

“that separation is only to be ordered if the child’s safety demands immediate separation.”

It may do no harm to invite particular attention to Wall LJ’s definition of “safety” in this passage in Re B and KB. The concept of a child’s safety, as referred to in the authorities which I have cited, is not confined to his or her physical safety and includes also his or her emotional safety or, as Wall LJ put it, psychological welfare. Indeed, it may be helpful to remember that the paramount consideration in the court’s decision as to whether to grant an interim care order is the child’s welfare, as section 1 Children Act 1989 requires, and as Wall LJ shows when he says that in his view “KB’s welfare did demand her immediate removal from her parents’ care”.

 

Re GR and Others (Children) 2010

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2010/871.html

 

I was going to squeeze adoption into this part, but it has already been pretty long, and my Chinese food has arrived, so I’ll clean up adoption over the weekend.

 

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

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

 

If you enjoyed the piece, or the blog, please visit the website about my book, and if it takes your fancy, pre-order it.  I’m 85% of the way to getting it published now, thanks to loads of support and help from very cool people. Be like Fonzie and be cool too.

 

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

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And I’m all outta bubblegum

 

 

It is always enjoyable for me to receive a judgment from His Honour Judge Wildblood QC.  I expect that there may be a slightly different qualitative experience between reading one at a safe geographical distance and being physically present to receive it on a case you’re involved in.

 

My mental image of His Honour Judge Wildblood QC is that of a kindly man who nonetheless would be able to come into his Court room and open with the Rowdy Roddy Piper (God Rest his soul) line

 

“I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all outta bubblegum”

 

[Incidentally, the fight scene in this movie, They Live, which is between two characters, one of whom wants the other to put on a pair of sunglasses and the other who is reluctant to don said sunglasses, is so epic that my dad came and got me out of bed to come and watch it at about three am, when he was watching this film on TV. And I was glad that he did. It is marvellous.  In case you are in any doubt – when I compare HH J Wildblood QC with Rowdy Roddy Piper it is intended as high praise]

This case does not disappoint on that level. There was clearly a deficiency of gum that day, but no deficiency of kicking ass.

 

Gloucestershire CC and M 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B147.html

I am publishing the judgment in this case because it is an example of the following:

i) The unnecessarily protected use of accommodation of a child under section 20 of The Children Act 1989. This child was accommodated with short term foster carers for 12 months before these inevitable proceedings were issued and has now been with them for about 16 months.

ii) The delayed identification of the need for therapeutic intervention for this mother. 19 months after the Local Authority intervened in a family where the mother had obvious difficulties it was identified that the mother needed therapy. It was then said that, by then, the benefit of therapy was ‘outwith the timescales of the child’. If psychological evidence was to be obtained with the invariable recommendation of therapy (and I have never known a psychologist not recommend therapy in a report) I cannot understand why it was not obtained much earlier.

iii) Failure to identify realistic options leading to the adjournment of this final hearing and a consequent inability to meet the timetabling demands of section 32 of The Children Act 1989, as amended.

 

Section 20 drift has been something of a theme of the Courts and hence this blog, for some time now.

As a quick rule of thumb for a social worker thinking about a case in their cabinet/caseload where there’s a section 20 agreement, ask yourself this question

 

If the mother or father rang you this afternoon and said “I want the child back” would you be ?

 

(a) Perfectly fine about that and make the arrangements

(b) Okay about it, but suggest that the move take place over the next 2 days to make the preparations

(c) Concerned and thinking that the child would not be safe at the moment, if they went home

(d) In a blind panic, and wanting to do anything to stop that happening

 

If your answer is (c) or (d), then it isn’t really a proper use of section 20 any more. The section 20 here is a very short holding position until you can either have a Meeting Before Action at which the parents will have lawyers, or care proceedings at which the parents will have lawyers.

 

 

  1. C grew up in the primary care of his mother until 28th May 2014 when, at the age of 5, he was removed from the mother under police powers of protection and then accommodated by the Local Authority with foster carers. The mother does not accept that the threshold criteria in s31 (2) of The Children Act 1989 are fulfilled and has also issued a claim for damages under The Human Rights Act 1998 in relation to the circumstances in which C was removed from her care and the manner in which the Local Authority has conducted itself in relation to C. On the same day in May 2014 A went to live with Mr D.
  2. For no valid reason it took the Local Authority a year, that is until 15th May 2015, to issue these proceedings. In its application the Local Authority said at B9: ‘C was the subject of a child protection plan from August 2013 until 19th May 2014 as a consequence of neglectful parenting. The concerns related to the dirty and unhygienic home conditions and the mother’s mental health and its impact upon her parenting and capacity to meet her child’s needs. A week after de-registration a further child protection referral was received. C was accommodated on 29th May 2014 following police powers of protection being used on 28th May 2014. The police removed C as a consequence of a person known to be a risk to children continuing to have contact with him (against professional advice) and because of the unsuitable home conditions. On 29th September 2014 the mother was evicted from her flat which had been significantly damaged. The mother was sofa surfing. Roger Hutchinson, psychologist, completed a report on the mother on 9th March 2015. This concluded that the mother experiences social anxiety and schizoid and paranoid traits with poorly developed social, functional and adaptive skills. Therapy is indicated over a nine month period’.
  3. C has therefore been with his current foster carers for 16 months of his life, has settled with them and is integrated into life with them. His mother has been having contact with him twice a week for sessions lasting one hour and although there have been inevitable niggles about that contact, a condensed analysis of that contact could not express it as falling below the grasp of the adjective ‘reasonable’ on my current reading of the papers and submissions that were made at the IRH. C’s educational and social connections, at an important time of his life when he is settling into school, have all been made from the base of his current foster home. The foster carers have done an excellent job in caring for him and, in his letter to the judge, C says ‘my family is [the foster father, the foster mother and their cat]‘ and draws the foster father with a big smile on his face. The guardian reports that C is making ‘greatly improved progress at school and his health has improved’ since living with them [A14].

 

 

These three paragraphs of background raise the three obvious questions

 

  1. What the hell took the LA so long to issue?
  2. Is it fair for the LA to have delayed so long in finding out that mum needed 9 months of therapy – because if they’d found out earlier, she’d have had it by now
  3. IF the child can’t go and live with mother, surely this child is going to stay with the current carers if humanly possible

 

However, the LA in this case had delayed for so long, were saying that the child couldn’t wait for mum to have therapy, and had ruled out the current foster carer as an option.

 

Taking these in turn

i) Having been involved with this mother since August 2013 and having accommodated this child in May 2014 it is inexplicable that it took a year for the Local Authority to issue these proceedings. That has absolutely nothing to do with limited resources. It is simply bad practice.

 

On the issue of therapy :-

 

ii) The Local Authority knew the mother’s level of functioning but still took until 9th March 2015 to identify that this mother needed therapy. Knowing the mother’s level of functioning why did it take 19 months (from August 2013) to do that? How can it be regarded as satisfactory for the Local Authority now to say that the mother needs therapy which is outwith the timescales of the child? For instance, if a psychologist’s report had been obtained within three months of C being accommodated (i.e. in August 2014) there could have been 13 months of therapy by now at far less expense than the cost of these proceedings leading to the possibility that the consequences of this mother’s unfortunate background could have been mitigated with the child receiving an upbringing with her

 

[I have a bit of sympathy with the LA here –  I’m not sure whether anyone actually argued that as a result of House of Lords authority Kent County Council v G, it is not within the Court’s powers to compel the provision of therapy, that therapy thus has to be resourced through the NHS and the NHS aren’t going to provide therapy without a clear diagnosis and recommendation, at least not without a huge waiting list. So tempting as it is to just start the therapy whilst waiting for the expert report, that isn’t how the real world works.  It is fair enough to say that the real world in this regard sucks and it needs to change.   There is possibly a big argument to come as to whether the House of Lords settled position that “there is no article 8 right to be made a better parent at public expense” is compatible with what Baroness Hale says in Re B about the State needing to provide the resources to do just that, but that’s a debate that can only be resolved by the Supreme Court. ]

 

On the last issue, why the current foster carers had been rejected in favour of adoption by the LA.

 

  1. At the IRH, on 8th September 2015, I was told that the current foster carers were not offering C a long term home. The guardian says in her position statement: ‘since the IRH on 8th September 2015 the guardian has spoken to C’s current foster carers. They have confirmed they have never said they would not keep C long term as foster carers. They would not wish to consider special guardianship or adoption because they see themselves as foster carers and may well wish to foster another child and would wish both children to be placed with them on the same basis. The foster carer has also informed the guardian that Mr D has on a number of occasions said that he would be prepared to care for C if there were no other options’.
  2. It is right that, on 27th August 2015 there was a discussion between the adoption social worker, TG, and the foster carers. I have the case note in relation to that. This conversation therefore took place six days after the placement application had been filed by the Local Authority (so the Local Authority had already ruled out long term fostering then). The foster carers were saying at the time of that note that they did not feel able to adopt C. They are not recorded as saying that they would not foster C. It took one conversation between the guardian and the foster carers to clarify matters. When asked directly by the social worker on an unspecified date (but after the IRH) ‘the foster father confirmed that he and the foster mother would have C for as along as is needed in long term foster care with a care order if they were supported by the Local Authority’. The clear impression that I have, having read the papers, heard the IRH and listened to submissions today, is that the Local Authority did not consider the possibility of long term fostering with the foster carers and, once it regarded the mother as ruled out, its linear analysis took it to adoption.

 

So the child’s current foster carer, who everyone involved would agree had done a marvellous job, was willing to be a permanent carer for the child, just that he didn’t want to adopt the child. The LA had approached this on the basis of “our plan is adoption, you don’t want to adopt, therefore you are out”, rather than looking at whether the child could remain with the carer on a different basis THUS avoiding the need for adoption.

 

The case simply could not be concluded, as there were too many unknowns.

Following a heavy IRH on 8th September 2015 the case is listed before me for final hearing for the rest of this week. That final hearing cannot proceed because there are realistic options in relation to the future care of C that have not been assessed by the Local Authority. That means that large amounts of public money and time have been wasted in a Local Authority involvement that has spanned 16 months. All parties now say that the case has to be adjourned. Eventually, I have had to give up my attempt at keeping this case on the rails of this final hearing and have had to accede to adjournment. To adjourn a case where there has been lengthy Local Authority involvement with a family in a straightforward case is absurd but now unavoidable.

 

 

and in conclusion

  1. What are the options that need to be considered? They are these:

    i) That C should be rehabilitated to his mother. Of course, nature, law and common sense require that it be recognised that the best place for a child to live is with his natural parent unless proven and proportionate necessity otherwise demands. As matters stand the professional evidence is all stacked up against this mother but her case will require very careful consideration at a final hearing.

    ii) That C should continue to be a child fostered by Mr and Mrs B. If the Local Authority will not support this the only way in which C could live with the foster carers would be through private law orders. If special guardianship orders were to be proposed there would need to be a report under s14A(8) of The Children Act 1989. Therefore I need to flush out what the Local Authority is saying. If it will not agree that C should remain with the foster carers (should the court so recommend on the making of a care order and a rejection of the placement application), I will have to give directions for a special guardianship application to proceed (a written application is not necessary if I so determine – s14A(6)(b) of the 1989 Act). The possibility of C remaining with the foster carers is unassessed by the Local Authority and there has not been sufficient discussion with them.

    iii) That C should live with Mr D and A. This is also unassessed. There is no blood relationship between Mr D and C but there is a blood relationship between A and C. They have a clear fraternal attachment (in which C is A’s big brother). That possibility remains unassessed also.

    iv) That C should be placed for adoption. That is an option upon which I have already commented. I am not suggesting that there are difficulties about that option on the basis of age alone. I say that there are difficulties about it because of the particular circumstances of this child.

  2. Therefore today I have had to give directions for the future of these proceedings. By the time that the case comes back the new baby will have been born, and I wish the mother well with the birth. However, the advent of the new baby will mean that there are additional complications that will arise in ensuring that the best solution is found for C.
  3. I have given this judgment in writing so that there is a formal record of what has gone wrong in this case and how matters must now be put right. The Local Authority must consider the realistic options that arise and must put its case into order.
  4. Proper plans must be put in place for the birth of the baby and where the inevitable assessment of the mother and the baby will take place. That should have been done already. The mother is in and out of hospital at the moment and it is manifestly unfair that, as well as dealing with the physical demands of impending birth and repeated hospital appointments, she is also having to deal with the uncertainties of these proceedings and a lack of knowledge about what will happen when she does give birth – where will she be living and what is planned for the baby?
  5. The Local Authority must therefore look at the options that arise and file proper evidence in relation to them. The case will have to come back before me later this week when I will have to give further directions as to how that will be achieved. It is deeply frustrating that a case such as this has to exceed the timescales provided by section 32 of The Children Act 1989 and that should be recorded as having been caused by systemic failure by the Local Authority

 

 

There is also some pending litigation in this case as to whether when the child was originally removed from the parents by police protection, whether that was in breach of the families human rights – it being really settled law that where removal of a child is being contemplated it should be a decision of the Court unless there are exceptional and compelling reasons why the removal cannot wait for a Court hearing.

 

 

Sibling rivalry

 

In Re P (A child) 2015, His Honour Judge Wood had to deal with an application for a Care Order for a girl who was sixteen years and four months old. That in itself is unusual. Even more unusual, the central allegation was that of physical abuse (which was disputed by the family). More unusual still, the allegation was that the girl had been physically assaulted by her older brother.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B101.html

 

Now, if you have a sibling, you might be thinking along similar lines to my initial reactions.  My sister and I fought, not like cat and dog, but like two fighting roosters whose feed had been laced with PCP. We fought about absolutely everything. No topic was too trivial , no imagined slight too minor.  That did occasionally spill into physical conflict. I’m sure that my sister has many dreadful stories about me – many of which would be true, and I will simply indicate that there was a day at Pwllhlei Butlins putting green where she hit me with some degree of force on the nut with a golf club  (from behind) and when it knocked me out, ran off and spent the rest of the afternoon in the arcades playing Burger Time.  She also once hit me full in the face with a tennis racket swung with genuine purpose and intent (but as I recall, that was warranted, though painful).

 

This story, however, goes rather further even than those (admittedly shameful) incidents.

 

At 18.11 hours on Monday, 20th June 2014 P, a girl born on 28th October 1998 and now aged 16 years 4 months, was admitted by ambulance to the emergency department of Hospital A. She was found to have six distinct areas of injury: the first were three red linear marks on the right upper thigh, 1cm by 6cm long; second were two linear marks on the outer aspect of the left forearm, 4cm by 1cm wide; the third was an oblique red mark across the left upper outer thigh, 10cm by 1cm; the fourth was a bruised area, circular in shape, 3cm in diameter with a contusion over the left shoulder tip; the fifth was a linear bruise to the left upper outer arm approximately 4cm by 1cm and the final were a number of red marks across the lower thoracic area, that is to say the back, approximately 3cm by 1cm to the left and right of the midline.

 

 

The fact that the girl had been injured was not therefore in dispute, what was disputed was how these injuries had occurred.

The girl said that she had been at home, watching television and that she and her brother had had an argument (he wanting to turn the channel over to watch football and she wanting to finish watching what she had started), whereupon he started hitting her, escalating to hitting her with an iron bar.

 

The brother said that the girl had come home from school, complained of being hot and fainted from the heat.

It had of course been June when this happened, so perhaps it was hot. However, the girl had grown up in Nigeria and only been in England for a year.   And the family were living in Sunderland. Perhaps the weather in Sunderland that particular day was so hot that a girl who had spent 13 of her 14 years in Nigeria was unaccustomed to such heat and it caused her to faint.

 

The weather in Sunderland on 20th June 2014 was pretty hot for Sunderland. 20 degrees Celsius.  Looking at the weather in Nigeria in the year before, when the girl had been living there, 20 degrees C would represent a brisk chilly day in Nigeria, with a hot day being about 33-36 degrees.

https://weatherspark.com/history/28568/2013/Ikeja-Lagos-Nigeria

 

I have to say that the ‘fainting from heat’ explanation is in need of some work.  I suspect that “Girl Faints from Heat in Sunderland” would be headline news in the North East were it ever to happen.

 

[Actually out of curiosity, I just Googled ‘Sunderland heat wave’ ready to tell you that there were no results, but there were 168,000. Perhaps many of them were along the lines of  “Ed Milliband making a comeback as Labour leader in 2020? That’s about as likely as a Sunderland Heat Wave”]

 

The brother’s evidence became less credible when, for example, he denied that the iron bar was something that he had ever seen before and then retracted this when it was suggested to him that his DNA would be on it.

 

The mother, who had been present, and her father (who had been in Nigeria) both supported the brother’s version of events.

The cultural issue of course raised its head, and the Judge dealt with that

  1. Before considering which evidence I prefer, I want to say a word about cultural issues. This family come from a remote part of Nigeria. English is not their first language, albeit they have a good command of it. They are, as I have said, born again Christians and they seek to live their lives by a strong religious code. Their cultural background is in many ways very different to that which exists in the north east of England. They do things in Nigeria which are acceptable there but not here.
  2. Specifically, physical chastisement of children is normal. The father’s evidence was very clear that for what he called an accountable child, probably from the age of 10 onwards, whipping a child on the legs with African broom or with a cane as part of a process of punishment and learning is normal. It is not so long ago, certainly within the lives of some of the lawyers here, that such was acceptable in this country and so the court has no difficulty at all in accepting that but, given the way that this case has proceeded, its relevance is limited because it is not said either by the mother or R that this is what happened to P. Rather, they say she was not struck at all but I do accept that P and R are likely to have a more benign view of physical chastisement on a child than most British people would have in 2015. All that said, I agree with Mr Donnelly that this is not a case about chastisement in a different culture but a case about significant harm in the care of a mother.
  3. I accept that, further, there is a strict hierarchical structure within families whereby the father of the house, whether he is there or not, has to be consulted on important decisions. That has had significant practical consequences given parental separation here and I accept that it may have played some part in the refusal to consent to P being accommodated, as well as the initial engagement with the Local Authority and possibly even going to court in the early stages which I have no doubt is both a frightening and possibly shameful thing for the mother, in particular, to have experienced. So I have all of these factors very much in mind in making the decisions that I have to and I will return to this in due course.

 

 

The Court had to consider the evidence given by all parties, and of course the legal framwork, which is all very carefully set out. It is a very well constructed judgment.

  1. So which evidence do I prefer? Unhesitatingly, that of P. There is no more explanation for her lying now than there was in June last year. The lengths to which she went in feigning a faint point to the seriousness of the assault that she suffered. The instincts of the ambulance man first on the scene were, in my judgment, entirely correct. The injuries are entirely consistent with her account. They are all about the same age and fresh. They have the characteristics of being hit with an object such as a table leg in their linear appearance. They affect the outer aspects of both thighs, the outer aspects of the left arm and the back. They are not consistent with a simple collapse to the floor. They are, as Dr Mellon said but the mother, father and R denied, characteristic of defensive injuries. It appeared to be beyond the father and R’s comprehension that P would not fight back. She is described elsewhere as an underweight, 15-year-old girl of slight build pitched against a 19-year-old male who appeared to be over six feet high and who was armed and one might have thought that that was a sufficient reason to adopt a defensive position rather than try and fight back.
  2. There is simply no other explanation for these injuries, just as there is no reason put before the court as to why, as R said, P would want to put herself in care and be separated from her family. I reject her father’s submission that because P has told him that she has been refused permission to go to church and to foster care, to the foster carer has said that she does not want to go, that she is demonstrably untruthful or unreliable. There could be many reasons for two different accounts at different times and there has been no opportunity to investigate the circumstances in which those accounts were given in any event. I also reject R’s submission that because she identified her shoulder to the ambulance man, she was thereby not complaining of being beaten by her brother. The medical evidence, in my judgment, is clear. There is no alternative, credible explanation.
  3. The evidence of the mother and R, far from causing me to question her veracity, confirms that they were neither credible nor reliable. I found R to be evasive, argumentative and unwilling to confront the truth staring us all in the face. I could say more about it but I am satisfied, as it happens, that in her letter P has described her brother to a tee:

    “My brother is not a type of person that says sorry so easily. He is a type of person that is so proud and full of himself.”

    It seemed to me that that was a very accurate description of a rather arrogant and self-centred young man. I am quite satisfied that he is an intelligent and articulate man. Having seen him give his evidence and be cross-examined, I am quite sure that he was generally intent on ensuring that he gave answers which supported and/or did not undermine his case rather than trying to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth at all times. Accordingly, I did not find him credible and reliable.

  4. I am satisfied that R lost his temper with his sister over an argument about the television. He wanted to watch the five o’clock football match and would not let her finish the programme that she had been watching for some time since she came in from school and, not for the first time, he responded with violence. I am satisfied he beat her with a table leg and caused the injuries that I have noted and, furthermore, I am satisfied that P’s mother knew that this is what had happened for the very reason that she saw it. I pay due regard to what her husband has said about his belief in her veracity but I do not believe that she intervened but, in seeking to deflect attention at the outset, suggested that very thing to the police only to back away from it, as she did, when the seriousness of the incident became known.
  5. P’s shock and distress at her mother not intervening was marked and entirely understood. Although the mother told me that both R and P are her children and that she loves them equally, by her conduct she has demonstrated that, in fact, she has put R’s interests before her daughter. She has protected him when she knows the truth of what he has done. She has almost inexplicably abandoned – and it is not too strong a word – her daughter by denying her contact, putting up as obstacles the Local Authority’s perfectly reasonable conditions. Most parents would walk over hot coals to see their children, however objectionable the terms, because to do so would be to prioritise the child and to meet the child’s needs to see her family. Furthermore, she is not ignorant of the role of social workers. Her professional training and experience over a period of almost ten years contradicts her claim. She may very well be ashamed at the misfortune that has befallen her and her family but she simply has persistently refused to engage in this process as I will explain.
  6. So looking at the threshold document prepared by the Local Authority in the bundle at A16, I am satisfied it is made out as pleaded. That refers in paragraph 4(a) to the injuries themselves, in paragraph (b) to R being the cause of the injuries, being struck by an iron rod and that it was causing her pain, in subparagraph (e) that the mother has been complicit in that physical abuse perpetrated by her son in that she knew or ought to have known it was happening and had failed to tell anyone so as to protect her own interests. She misled professionals and, indeed, now the court about her son having assaulted her daughter and instead alleged that P is lying about the abuse she has suffered and following P’s admission to hospital and subsequently care has, as I have said, abandoned her daughter preferring to protect her son.

 

The family in this case had adopted a strategy of not engaging with the assessment or coming to contact, which is the all or nothing approach that only really ever works if the Court find that the threshold is not met. In a case like this, where the Judge found that the brother had caused very serious significant harm to the girl by hitting her with an iron bar, and that the mother had been in the home at the time, had not intervened and had lied about it, that is not really giving the mother much chance of a happy outcome.  They absolutely would not countenance the brother moving out of the home so that the girl could come home.

 

Even then, though, the Judge was holding out a hand and inviting the parents to take it

I want to say this at this stage: it is still not too late for this family, mother and R in particular, to accept the findings of this court, to make a suitable admission and to work with the Local Authority to reduce the risk both to P and any other children with whom they may be concerned – a very particular concern of P as she said in her letter to me

 

The Court had to make the Care Order, there was no other option

 

This is a very, very sad case. It began as a one issue case, the assault. It could, as Mr Rowlands has said, have had a very different outcome. That it has not is entirely due to the family and not their daughter. It has ended up as more than that because of the astonishing and persistent denial in the face of all of the evidence and the near complete rejection of P by her family. The harm to her from the latter is likely to outweigh the harm from the former in the longer term but, I repeat, even now it is not too late to reverse that process. These parents have an attractive, appealing and loving daughter who has shown the Christian virtues of forgiveness and love that they taught her. She really deserves a very much better outcome than this but I am afraid the solution lies entirely in their hands.

 

One particularly worrying feature of this case was the removal of the child by Police Protection. The mother having refused section 20 and the girl at that time not being sixteen so she was not able to accommodate herself using section 20 (11).   However,

I want to register my extreme concern at the level of force which was used when the police recovered P from her home when she ran away from foster care in September. She was handcuffed, under what power is not clear, and the incident is said to have been recorded because of its nature. This incident needs to be noted and taken up by the Local Authority in conjunction with the police. It is ambiguous from the statement as to whether a social worker was actually present when it happened. It has not formed part of the material evidence before me but it was an extremely unfortunate incident, it was harmful to P that her guardian was rightly horrified about. I do not know what the Local Authority response to it was at the time, what its response has been since and I do seek separately an explanation from the Local Authority and the police as to the circumstances that were pertaining and as to what measures have been devised and agreed upon to avoid a repetition of such an event in the future.

 

contact handover at Manchester airport

 

Contact handovers are often pretty fraught affairs. Getting through airport security and getting on a plan can also be a pretty fraught affair.  If you combine the TWO, AND you have one person who is more than happy for the children not to get on the plane and who has got there as late as possible, that’s a toxic combination.

 

Re P (A child :Enforcement of contact order) 2015 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/B9.html

 

The reason for the airport is because the father lives in Sweden, and he comes to England to collect the children and then take them to Sweden for his contact.  As the Judge remarked, the fact that he had made 37 flights to England in a year was illustrative that he was committed to spending time with his children.

  1. The events of 22nd May 2015
  2. The flight booked for the children and father to fly to Sweden left from Z Airport at around 6:30pm. Boarding closed at 6:10pm. The father was waiting at an agreed place at the airport and began sending texts enquiring as to the children’s late arrival from about 5:00pm. The father indicates, and the mother accepts, that she generally arrives at about 5:40pm. She insisted that a 5:40pm arrival was entirely realistic for a 6:30pm flight. In any event, the mother told me she could not be any earlier as she and her husband had to collect the children from school at 3:30pm, arrange for them to change and then to drive from school to Z Airport. She complained that the father should have booked a later flight. I accept his evidence that such a flight would involve changing planes, for example, at Copenhagen and this was the latest direct flight from Z Airport.
  3. However, on this occasion and contrary to her evidence to this effect, the mother did not even arrive at 5:40pm. It may be that she was in the vicinity of the airport at 5:40pm, but it is clear from the texts sent by the father at that point in time, which he was able to produce, asking where she was, that she was not at the agreed meeting point. I accept the father’s evidence that she arrived around 6:00pm. By this stage, the father was highly and rightly anxious about missing the flight since he and the children still had security and passport control to navigate in a large, busy airport. I find that this is the pattern for the handover at the airport with the children and father usually having to run so as to avoid missing their flight. I reject the mother’s insistence that, “They were not too late. They still had half an hour to board the plane.” My sense was that the mother was resentful as to the detail of the arrangements, was not troubled by her late arrival and was making no effort to facilitate the speedy handover of the children, saying they were “upset as usual.”
  4. I cannot be sure of all the precise details, but, in summary, the mother did not exhibit any sense of urgency. The father became increasingly frustrated. The mother’s husband saw fit to intervene. Eventually, the father took hold of both children by the hand and began to try to get them through the security barriers. The mother objected and began shouting and screaming. Airport staff intervened and called the police. The children were hugely distressed. When asked in the presence of their mother if they wanted to go with their father, they said no and the police left them with their mother. By that stage, of course, the children and father had missed their flight in any event.
  5. The mother in her written statement and in her oral evidence insisted that the children were made the subject of a police protection order:

    “The police protection order was to last until 31st May, during which time E was to have no contact with the children.”

At this point, every single lawyer in the country is thinking that the mother is a liar.

 

The Judge explains why

The granting of a police protection order pursuant to s.46 of the Children Act is a formal process governed by detailed procedural requirements, none of which the mother was able to evidence. Of course, a police protection order can as matter of law only last for a maximum of 72 hours and not nine days. On the evidence currently before me, the “police protection order” was a fiction of the mother’s imagination. It is no coincidence that this supposed order covers the whole of the period during which the children were supposed to be with their father in Sweden. I note the mother’s complaint that, “Even during this time the father was trying to call and Skype the children.”

 

Obviously, the whole situation must have been horrible, and the Court acknowledge that, whilst understanding that the father had been sorely provoked.

I do not find the father entirely blameless for the distressing scene at the airport, but understand the pressures he found himself placed under with the flight closing. On balance, I find that this scene was largely instigated by the mother’s behaviour. I do not accept that the children were inherently unwilling to go to Sweden, more that they were understandably confused and terribly upset by the behaviour of their parents.

It doesn’t reflect terribly well on mother that the children are basically travelling with no possessions at all, not even a change of clothes.

 

I was, for example, astonished to learn, very much in passing when I enquired about collection arrangements, that on the father’s visits, whether in the UK or Sweden, the children are sent in, literally, the clothes in which they stand up and with their passports in their hand: no change of clothing, no favourite toys, nothing to cuddle, no books, not even a toothbrush. When the father visits the UK, he is obliged to bring those items with him on the plane from Sweden. The same situation applies even when the children stay with him for four weeks during summer holidays The message this sends to the children as to the totally separate existences they have with each parent is deeply unfortunate and unhealthy. It is compounded by the mother’s refusal to speak to the father at points of handover. The reason she gave was, “I cannot bear to be near him.”

 

The Judge doesn’t say this, and I don’t normally go further than the Judge, but this is SHABBY.

 

There are features of this case that suggest to me that mother is inching towards the Court losing patience and sanctioning a change of residence if she continues on this path of frustrating contact and not complying with Court orders.

 

  1. I simply do not accept the mother’s florid descriptions of the children complaining desperately that they do not want to go to see their father. That is a repetition of the evidence which was demonstrably and comprehensively undermined by the findings of the CAFCASS officer, Mr Power, in his report dated 24th May 2012. If, which I doubt, the children do express such views to her, the most probable explanation is their understanding of her hostility to the father and their desire to please her, their primary carer. I prefer the father’s evidence that the children are loving and affectionate with him, enjoy the time that they spend together and are happy and relaxed with him and his family.
  2. In July 2014, the mother made allegations of sexual abuse against two girls who are friends of B in Sweden. Those allegations were taken seriously by the Swedish police and social work authorities and both girls and their parents have been interviewed. The Swedish authorities found no basis upon which any action could or should be taken. I found the mother’s attempts to blacken the father’s character by insisting that he approved of sexual relationships between young children unconvincing, bearing in mind that such an allegation has never been made before. The evidence, such as it is, does not come close to persuading me that B has been sexually abused.

 

 

I thank my lucky stars that I no longer have to deal with private law contact cases and handovers. It always meant that I spent the whole of Friday afternoon on the phone with (a) clients who wanted to cancel weekend contact for really spurious reasons and telling them not to do it and (b) clients who had just had their weekend contact cancelled for really spurious reasons and having to ring the other side and get it back up and running.

 

 

 

Misuse of police protection – human rights claim

 

The High Court have ruled on a case involving the misuse of police protection in Re A-W & C (children) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/B41.html

 

 

Section 46 of the Children Act allows for a police officer to remove a child from a parent (i.e without an order) for a period of up to 72 hours.  [Most professionals call this removal under police protection a PPO , in echoes of an EPO, but it is not actually an Order].  The decision is made by a senior police officer, not the Court.

 

In this case, the removal under police protection happened DESPITE solicitors representing the mother alerting the Local Authority that they were seeking a declaration from the High Court that the use of those police protection powers would be unlawful.

 

When the High Court dealt with the interim care order hearing, the child having been removed shortly after birth by the police, they ordered that a mother and baby foster placement be found, to reunite the mother and baby.

 

It is alarming how something like this could occur, the Courts having made it extremely plain in both Langley v Liverpool 2005 and A v East Sussex 2010 that in almost every case where removal is sought, this should be by way of a Court’s decision, not the use of police protection. The words used in those cases were not vague, they are crystal clear

 

“It is also right to say, I think, that the separation of mother and child under an ICO in care proceedings is, for good reason, usually a judicial as opposed to an administrative decision. The court is the parent’s safeguard against arbitrary or inappropriate action by a local authority. Thus in the overwhelming majority of the cases, it will be for the judge or magistrates to make the decision. I can thus readily understand Her Honour Judge Finnerty’s view that both she and the Family Proceedings Court were, inappropriately, being presented with a fait accompli.
67.

“For the local authority to succeed in this appeal, therefore, the facts have to be regarded as wholly exceptional.”

The President goes on at paragraph 68, having dealt with some of the facts of that case:

  1. “In anything other than wholly exceptional circumstances, the rule must be that it is for the court to make the relevant decision unfettered by events which effectively curtail its powers. The question, therefore, is whether or not the current case can be said to be ‘wholly exceptional’.”

 

 

And even if nobody reads law, then the police ought to have regard to the Home Office circular which gives advice on the use of those powers

 

 

  1. Home Office Circular 17/2008, to which I have already made reference, helpfully provided to me by Mr Firbank. That Circular issues guidance to the police in the use of their powers under section 46. There had been earlier guidance both in 1991 and 2003 and I suspect that the 2008 guidance was issued after the Liverpool case to which I have made reference to reflect the law as it emerged from that case. Paragraph 3 of the guidance reads as follows:

“The provisions of the Act aim to strike the proper balance between the provision of speedy and effective help to children at risk and unwarranted interference in family life. The underlying principle of the Act is that the welfare of the child is paramount.”

The guidance goes on to say at paragraph 15:

“Police protection is an emergency power and should only be used when necessary, the principle being that wherever possible the decision to remove a child/children from a parent should be made by a court.”

It goes on to say at paragraph 16:

“All local authorities should have in place local arrangements (through their local Chief Executive and Clerks to the Justices) whereby out of hours applications for EPOs may be made speedily and without an excess of bureaucracy. Police protection powers should only be used when this is not possible.”

 

 

In this particular case, the Local Authority had concerns about the safety of the child at home (such concerns would have entitled them to commence Court proceedings and perhaps even to seek a plan of separation). The mother had got legal advice, was talking to the Local Authority, was not threatening to leave the hospital or go home – she did not agree section 20 voluntary accommodation in foster care, she wanted the opportunity to fight the Local Authority’s case in court.

 

Because the social worker and a police officer turned up at the hospital, mother’s representatives very quickly worked out that the child was going to be removed under police protection (i.e by administrative decision not a judicial one) and wrote to the Local Authority indicating that this would be unlawful and that they would be seeking a declaration from the High Court to this effect.

 

That didn’t dissuade the LA from their unlawful course of action, and the police duly removed the child.

 

By the time of the Human Rights claim, the LA had put their hands up to the breach of the mother’s human rights.

 

However

 

They would not concede any declaration that the local authority should have sought an emergency protection order pursuant to section 44 of the Children Act 1989 when they erroneously believed that a contested ICO could not take place. The police have made no concessions at all as to the process adopted by their officers on that day.

 

 

And therefore the Court had to deal with the matter and give judgment

 

This was the written evidence of the police officer about the decision to remove

 

 

I turn back to DC K’s document. This document is a Lancashire Constabulary pro forma document prepared, presumably, in compliance with the Home Office guidance that I have read. It sets out the identity of the officer taking the child into protection, that is DC K. It sets out the details of the child. It sets out her location when taken into police protection, namely neonatal ward RLI. The paragraph under the heading “Reasons for Taking Child into Protection” reads as follows:

“Baby is currently subject of a child protection plan (neglect). Parents under investigation on suspicion of physical assault towards older sibling.”

Those are the reasons as they are set out in their entirety on that form. The form goes on to record that the child was taken into police protection at 12.40 on Monday, 18th February and records the address to which she was taken. It seems to me from the evidence that the point at which the advice was taken, during the morning before attendance at hospital, was likely to be when that document was prepared.

 

 

You might be thinking that this is rather sketchy on the critical issue – why it was necessary to do the removal without going to Court. The Court agree with you.

I pause to say that the grounds set out in that document appear to me to be thin and poorly reasoned. The use of police protection was seen by DC K as necessary by reason of the mother’s lack of co-operation and failure to agree to section 20. That was referred to by both the social worker and DC K in evidence repeatedly as a mother refusing to work with or engage with the local authority. References were made in the written evidence of both witnesses to the mother’s solicitor’s demands as if those demands were in some way obstructive. That did not seem to me to be a proper approach to a young and vulnerable parent who was merely following her own legal advice properly given. In any event the social worker and two policewomen – I think there was also a student social worker there as well – met up at the hospital that morning. The social worker had invited the police to come and they had gone ready to use section 46 if necessary. There can have been absolutely no other purpose to the police officers attending on that day and this is confirmed by DC K’s statement (from G203 in the Court bundle):

“On Monday, 18th February 2013 Michelle Lee contacted me and said that the baby was ready for discharge but the parents are not agreeing to voluntary accommodation. I agreed I would attend the hospital to try and encourage the parents to engage with social services. I updated Inspector BL about the situation. Myself and DC L attended the neonatal to see the mother and father.”

It emerged during the evidence of the social worker that DC K was quite set upon asserting a need for separation to the social worker. I, frankly, do not understand why the efforts of the local authority were not directed at getting an urgent hearing to scrutinise the separation rather than at that stage enlisting the police to secure one as a backstop. I note again that the mother was not threatening to remove A from the hospital. Equally the hospital was reporting her care of A over the weekend as having been good. ML did have conversations with the local authority solicitor during the morning. She told me that she did not think a hearing on a contested ICO would be achievable until Wednesday or Thursday of that week and she did not consider it safe for mother to care for A until then. I think she was particularly concerned about overnight care. Privilege as to advice about why an EPO should not be used was not waived and I, therefore, do not know why that alternative, which would have afforded mother and father some voice in decision-making, if not the children’s guardian as well, was not considered. In fact, had that alternative been investigated it would have become clear that a contested ICO before me was possible that afternoon. The real significance for me, therefore, is not whether or not the local authority legal advice as to EPO would be preferable but as to whether any effort was made to investigate or re-investigate whether an application for an EPO or an ICO could take place.

  1. One of the problems in this case was that those at the hospital, the social worker and the police officer, did not keep themselves informed about when the earliest court hearing could take place. They were not asking their superiors to press for such a hearing. I consider that both finding out and pressing for an earlier hearing were reasonable expectations in respect of both the social worker and the police officer in executing their duties under their statutory responsibility. Quite apart from this, even if a contested ICO hearing were not possible until the Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday there is an onerous burden upon a local authority to find alternative arrangements during the delay which would hold the balance of protection and which do not require separation.

 

 

 

The Court went on to remind the Local Authority about Re CA, and that s20 consent must be freely given, not “compulsion in disguise” and that having a police officer present during the discussions would have led to a legitimate complaint that the principles of s20 had been breached, even if mother had agreed.

 

 

This is bolstered by the existing caselaw

 

  1. The second is Surrey County Council –v- M, F & E [2012] EWHC [2400] a decision of Mrs. Justice Theis and at paragraph 60 she said this:-

“To use the section 20 procedure in circumstances where there was the overt threat of a police protection order if they did not agree, reinforced by the physical presence of uniformed police officers, was wholly inappropriate. By adopting this procedure the local authority sought to circumvent the test any court would have required them to meet if they sought to secure an order, either by way of an EPO or interim care order.”

 

 

It isn’t a genuine discussion about s20 consent if there is an explicit or implicit threat that the police will remove the child.

 

 

 

The police officer gave evidence (bear in mind that the police position was that the use of powers was lawful and not a breach of mother’s human rights, so the idea of giving evidence is to persuade the Judge of that)

 

 

  1. I heard oral evidence from DC K. I have already referred to her statement, but I have not yet read into this judgment the sentiments contained in that statement at the end, which I consider to be somewhat alarming. She says this:

“I can categorically state that I was in no doubt that a police protection order was absolutely essential in order to keep A safe. I came to that informed decision having paid great attention to the background of this family, in addition to my recent involvement with them. Basically if this child had been allowed to return home with the parents then I would have been neglecting my role as a police officer. I am a child protection officer and that is what I did on that day. My actions were not at the instigation of the local authority.”

She did not draw back from that stance during her oral evidence. She is obviously a very experienced officer. She demonstrated pride in the role she holds in child protection. Her demeanour is pleasant and sensitive and I can well imagine that she has an excellent manner with both the parents and the children she encounters in the course of her duties. However, I consider her approach on 18th February in taking A into police protection at the point in time that she did to have been fundamentally flawed. It was plain that she went to the hospital with the intention, were mother not to agree to accommodation, of taking the child into police protection.

  1. Euphemistic language was used during her evidence about encouraging parents to co-operate or engage with the local authority. However, it is plain that in DC K’s mind the co-operation could only take one form, namely agreement to section 20. When the mother, acting on her solicitor’s advice, refused to consent DC K encapsulated her was “We can’t just go up there and be blocked”. Later I repeated this in asking her questions myself and she seemed to think that the word “blocked” was one that I had used and not her. I am quite clear in my note that those were her words. She failed to weigh into the balance the fact that the parents were co-operating with the local authority in every regard except with regard to a separation pursuant to section 20. They were not threatening to remove A; they were responding to their own legal advice; they had cared for A well on the ward. Not only did DC K have a low threshold for the need for intervention, which to my mind did not arise at all unless or until the hospital was to insist upon discharge and at that point the parents sought to go home with A, but she also seemed to pay little or no heed that the S46 route into to the care of the local authority is the one to be least preferred, affording, as it does, no right of argument or judicial scrutiny.

I refer again to the document that she wrote, as I said probably in advance of attending the hospital, countersigned by her Inspector. It seems to me that it would be strongly arguable, that, even had the decision to go by section 46 occurred out of hours, the justification set out in that document is insufficient. I know that DC K in evidence advanced a lot of other reasons in addition to those set out in the document, but it is very important that the documents to be kept as records of when an authority is to take an action of such consequence as this one contain full reasons even if in summary and note form. She and Inspector BL both took as read that there could be no court hearing until later in the week and that an EPO was not an available route. I consider that both DC K and Inspector BL as the designated officer had a separate duty from the local authority to ensure, not only that separation and protection were absolutely necessary, but also that this route to it was absolutely necessary and that there was no prospect that a separation could be scrutinised or, if necessary, endorsed by a court. She should have been asking herself, “Why do I have to make this decision now?”. So, however impressive DC K was in terms of her commitment and her demeanour, her failure in exercising such a draconian power to establish that this route to protection was absolutely necessary was unimpressive

 

 

 

The Court made its decision about whether the police action had been unfair and a breach of human rights

 

 

The separation of a parent and child by any authority is a most serious act and it must be necessary and proportionate. The gravity and importance of that principle is all the more acute where that child is a newborn and magnified when the mother of that child is herself a child. Protection of the child, of course, is a foremost priority but protection does not require in every case an enforced separation. There are a whole range of remedies before enforced separation, which is the absolute last resort. Decisions as to whether that protection is necessary should be made by a court, and decisions as to what course is the least interventionist necessary should be made by a court. There was a duty, it seems to me, not just on the social worker but on the police themselves to look at the route into protection. DC K did acknowledge in her evidence that separation is always the last resort. It did not seem to me there was any real acknowledgement that section 46 as the route of that separation is also the route of last resort. As I have said, the local authority has made concessions. The police are completely unapologetic. DC K was absolutely convinced of the need for intervention but she is ill equipped to look at the form of protection needed. Her assumption was that the local authority plan for separation was the only route and she made no or no sufficient effort to find out whether a court was available to weigh up the alternatives. She was far too ready to assume responsibility and take the decision without acknowledging that it was for a court to determine what was necessary and proportionate. That type of decision making is quite understandable late at night, at weekends, at Bank Holidays, in the context of parents determined to not work with the local authority, demonstrating violence or threatening to snatch a child from where that child is considered to be safe. None of those things applied here.

 

 

 

The mother had not sought any financial compensation, wanting just the principle to be decided

 

 

  1. The relevant parts of those declarations read as follows:-

Lancashire County Council has acted incompatibly with the rights of CMC, as guaranteed by Article 6 and 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 in that it:

•    Failed to complete its pre-birth assessment and that consequent pre-proceedings steps were not taken (article 6 and 8).

•    Failed to issue its application for a care order and an interim care order at the time of A’s birth to enable there to be consideration by the court of whether to exercise its powers prior to her discharge from hospital. (article 6 and 8).

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. I note what was said by Mr Rothery in his submissions that it is the experience of the children’s guardian in this case that this is not an isolated incident of an over willingness to use section 46 in this area. If that is the case it is very much to be hoped that better practice will emerge from this hearing, hence I have taken some time and trouble to deliver that part of the judgment.

 

 

[I continue to hear about misuse of s46 powers from a variety of parts of the country, and I believe that the Guardian was right here]

 

The principles in this case really ought to go without saying, but it seems that the lessons from Liverpool and East Sussex still haven’t been learned.

 

 

If the police are exercising their power under s46, the fundamental question is not “Is this child at risk of harm” but “What are the reasons why a police officer should do this NOW, rather than a Court decide it?”

 

There are circumstances in which the use of s46 powers will be warranted (the shorthand that used to be used when I started was “life and limb” – i.e the harm or risk of harm was so great that waiting even an hour would be unthinkable), but the use of s46 is clearly still prevalent in the country as a speedy and efficacious way of removal before going to Court, and that is fundamentally wrong.

 

I would be amazed if the next mother this happened to was as sanguine as this one was about compensation.

“Social Services are asking me to put my child in care, and they want me to do it now”

 Some important things for you to know, if you are asked to put your child in care. And some practical tips.

 

Firstly, and I can’t stress this enough – I am not your lawyer, just A LAWYER, and what is right for you and the circumstances of your case are things I don’t know, and the best thing I can recommend is for you to either talk to your own lawyer or find a lawyer and talk to them.

If you need to find one – you came here on the net, so you have internet. Google “family law firms in X” (where X is your town or county). Look for ones who do Care work if you can. Get in touch with them and make an urgent appointment.

There might be a good reason for you, and your family, why agreeing to the children coming into care is a good thing. What I want to help you with is not agreeing just because you feel you have no choice, and before you have had chance to think and ask your own lawyer what to do. If you honestly feel that it is the right thing for you, don’t be put off by me. I am trying to help people who feel that it ISN’T the right thing for them.

That done, back to your situation. You are a parent, social workers have come to your house, told you that they are worried about your children and think they need to come into care and are asking you to agree.

Here are some important things to know before you make any decisions

1. You don’t have to say yes. It has to be your free choice.

2. You don’t have to decide right now.

3. You are entitled to tell them that you want some legal advice before you decide something as big as that.

4. If you are told “If you don’t agree we will go to Court”, this is supposed to make you agree to avoid going to Court. It doesn’t have to. The Court will listen to your side of the story, and it might be that going to Court is the right thing for you to do. At the very least, it will get you a lawyer who will listen to you, give you advice and speak on your behalf.

5. The social worker doesn’t have any magic powers to be able to take your children away. They have to have either your agreement, or a Court order. Except in very specific circumstances, they can’t get a Court order without you having a chance to be there, to have your own lawyer speak on your behalf and have the chance to have your say.  They should NEVER go away and try to get that order without you being there if they have asked you to consent to the children coming into care and you have said no. That hearing should be with you present.

6. If they DO have that Court order, you will have a chance at a later Court hearing to challenge and fight it, but I’m afraid the order does give them the power to remove (if it is an Emergency Protection Order or an Interim Care Order) and trying to prevent them won’t do much good. You can try to tell them the names of other family members who would be willing and able to look after the children (as they have to consider placing the children within the family rather than with strangers if it is safe to do so)

7. The police do have the power to take your children away without a Court order (I’ll come back to that later) so you will know that if the police aren’t there and there isn’t a court order, your children will not be going anywhere unless you agree or until you have your say in Court.

Here are suggestions for what you can do if you are asked to make that decision

Very hard to do, but keep calm. It is likely that what you do and say in the next hour or so will end up being information given to the Court. It can be information that helps you (you were calm, reasonable but firm) or that hurts you (you got aggressive, shouting, or physical, or the children were exposed to lots of drama and distress whilst all this was going on).

With that in mind, it is perfectly fine to say something like “That’s a real shock. I want to talk about this, but I don’t want the children to have to hear it. Can we sit down with the children being in another room and talk about it for a bit?”

And “I’d really like to get some legal advice about all this before I decide anything at all, does this have to be decided right now?”

If they are insisting on it being right now, it is fine for you to ask why, and also fine for you to ask them for some paper, so you can make a note of what they are saying.

It is also fine to say “I would like to call my lawyer to see what they think and I am going to do that now, just so I know where I stand”

[I don’t know whether agreeing to the children coming into care is right for you, or right for your situation, that’s a matter for you and your lawyer. What I want to do is give you the chance to make that decision and think about it and know what it means.]

The social worker will probably say something along the lines of “I’m afraid if you won’t agree now to the children going into care, then I’ll go to court and get an order for them to come into care”

And as I said earlier, you need to remember, that what they actually mean here is “I’ll go to court and ASK for an order for the children to come into care, and you will be at Court and you can ASK for them to stay at home, and the Court will make a decision”

And also that the Court don’t automatically grant those orders – they require the social worker to have evidence that the children are at risk and that going into care is the only thing that can be done, and that everything else that could be tried either has been or isn’t safe to try.

It might be that for you, going to Court is better than agreeing for the children to go into care. You would have your chance to fight this in Court, to have someone speak for you, and the chances are that if Social Services are in your home asking you to agree to the children going into care that you will eventually have to be in Court in order to get them back. So the threat of the case going to Court isn’t a good reason to agree to the children going into care, if you wouldn’t otherwise agree to do it.

Agree if you do think it is best for you or your children, or if talking it through with your lawyer you decide it is right for you right now, and that you need to sort some things out for yourself first before you have that fight.

If you feel that you are being bullied to agree or make that decision right away, you can say to the social worker “I believe that the High Court in Re CA, decided that section 20 consent has to be voluntary and not as a result of pressure, and that my human rights could be breached if I was cajoled into that agreement”

And “It isn’t that I am not cooperating, but I think a decision about whether my children should be removed is a very big one, and I don’t agree that right now. I’d want to see all of the evidence and have my own legal advice before I thought about it”

What if the police are there?

If the police are there, all of these discussions become much more serious. The police do have the power to take the children away, under Police Protection. That lasts for 72 hours, after which time the social workers have to either get a Court order, or your agreement to the children being in care, or a Court order.

So you would have a right to challenge and fight to get the children back in 72 hours, but you obviously want to avoid that happening if at all possible.

So firstly, again keep calm. Shouting, yelling, screaming, throwing things, being aggressive are all things that make the police more likely to use that power. Try not to give them any excuse.

Here are the magic words, if the police say “we are going to take your child into police protection” or something similar.

“Officer, I’m not being difficult, but I see that you have come with the social worker, which means social services are already involved. And as the High Court said in Re CA 2012, where that is the case, the social worker ought to go to Court to seek an order from the Court, so my human rights aren’t breached by the police or social services. And you will know from the Liverpool case that the police shouldn’t just take a child into police protection to save the social worker the trouble of going to court. And so you should only take the children into police protection if the risks are so great that they can’t be kept safe until the case is heard in Court. I won’t do anything silly and I won’t run away. I will go to Court and the Court will decide. If you want, you can watch me with the kids, or they can go to (my mother/aunt Beryl/whoever) until the Court case starts, then you know everything will be fine.”

That may well put the fear of god into them. It will probably make them think “God, I don’t know anything about the law on this, but this person seems to, and the High Court say we shouldn’t do this”

And you won’t have said anything that isn’t (a) true and (b) fair. No threats, no shouting. Just a reminder that the police aren’t supposed to do social workers dirty work for them, unless there is evidence that the children won’t be safe with you even for an hour whilst the social worker gets a Court hearing sorted out.