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Funding of intermediaries

[See last blog]

 

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

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

I think that it does.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Court service to pay father’s legal costs K& H

 

I had imagined that the President would be the first Judge to use the powers he speculated in  Q v Q that the Court might have, to make Her Majesty’s Court Service pay the legal costs of a party who would have their article 6 rights breached by being unrepresented. But I was wrong. It was H H Judge Bellamy, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge  (always making my head hurt about whether it is precedent authority or not)

 

Re K and H (children : Unrepresented father : Cross-Examination of a Child) 2015   (The 2015/1 in bailii’s link suggests it might be the first 2015 reported judgment as well)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/1.html

Bald facts – private law dispute, allegation about father sexually abusing the child, allegation disputed. Judge ruled that child was a capable witness and should be cross-examined. Dad did not want to cross-examine the child himself and all agreed that this would be bad – the forensic exercise much more serious than a Judge just ‘putting’ things to the child and in effect presenting father’s case.

Lord Chancellor asked to intervene, and represented very ably by Ms Whipple QC  (funny how there’s always public money to get the best for the Lord Chancellor, but not for others…)

 

I’m going to surprise you now. I think the Lord Chancellor should appeal this decision, and I think they should win the appeal.

 

Why?

Because this isn’t a case of a father who would have got funding pre LASPO now not getting it, and not a case of the Legal Aid Agency being mealy-mouthed about section 10 discretion to grant funding. This man was over the financial limits for legal aid. And not a little bit – he was double the disposable income limit.

Now, that doesn’t mean that he can necessarily afford to pay privately for legal representation, nor that paying privately wouldn’t be expensive and wouldn’t hurt.

But we’ve not had in this country for private law disputes a situation where EVERYONE gets free legal advice regardless of means (we have that for parents in care proceedings, that’s different). There has always been a financial limit – a point at which the State says “you earn too much to get free legal advice”  (or more accurately “you earn too much for other taxpayers to be footing your bill for free legal advice”.   You might argue until the cows come home about whether that’s right or fair, but it has ALWAYS been the system. This is not a Grayling change, this man would not previously have got free legal advice under any government you care to mention.

Whether it is fair or not, the State has said, there’s a cut-off point – we soften it by saying when you are near it you can still get legal representation but you have to make a contribution to it, but if you’re double the cut off point, you don’t get free legal representation.  Nobody in that position ever has, and there weren’t article 6 breaches in any of those cases.

If HMCS are going to fund this man, then they are potentially going to fund many more like him – and more to the point, all those people in the past who had to pay privately for their lawyers are going to rightly feel aggrieved.

The ECHR has never said that States can’t set financial limits on free legal aid and representation, nor where those limits are.

I’m no fan of LASPO, and have been pretty vocal about it, but this isn’t a LASPO failure or a LASPO injustice. This is a flat-out  “when someone really needs legal advice and the State limits suggest that they ought to put their hand in their own pocket, should the taxpayer pay instead?”

Just because this bill is coming from HMCS doesn’t mean that the money isn’t ultimately coming from a taxpayer  (and frankly, I’d be really, really wary of taking the case on for him because I don’t think whoever does it will ever see a penny – after all, if the Court stiffs you on your bill, what are you going to do about it? Sue?   I think the French expression is, “to whom do you complain when it is the Judge who is screwing your wife?”)

 

I think it is a good judgment, and it is thorough and detailed, but for me, that key point is not given sufficient weight, and for that reason, I’d be expecting it to be appealed and successfully appealed to boot.

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

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

 

Re H 2014

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

At that hearing, D J Reed gave these directions

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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