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Tag Archives: Re W A child 2016

Judge making findings about a witness – fair trial

This is a very tricky one – I have to say that my eventual conclusion is that the Court of Appeal are entirely right about the principles and the decision that they came to, but it leaves me feeling uncomfortable and queasy that allegations as important as this about professional misconduct end up being dealt with on a technicality. What was alleged (and found by the Judge who heard all the evidence) was very serious stuff indeed.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/1140.html

 

 

In this case, at the end of a 4 week hearing, the Judge delivered a judgment that said that the SW and Police Officer had embarked on a deliberate calculated exercise of getting ‘evidence’ to prove sexual abuse without any relation to whether or not the allegations were true, that they had drawn other professionals in, that both had lied to the Court and that the SW had caused considerable emotional harm to the child.  The Judge also directed that the judgment be sent to their employers.  The Judge delivered this judgment as a bullet point ‘draft’ and allowed the SW and PO to make representations about it before it was finalised, but it ended up in the same form.

 

  • Permission to appeal was granted by this court to the local authority, the named social worker (“SW”) and the named police officer (“PO”). Their appeal, if successful, will lead to the passages complained of being excised from the judgment, it is therefore plainly inappropriate to offer any more than a mere gist of those matters within this judgment. On that basis, and in short, the complaint relates to the judge’s finding that SW and PO, together with other professionals and the foster carer, were involved in a joint enterprise to obtain evidence to prove the sexual abuse allegations irrespective of any underlying truth and irrespective of the relevant professional guidelines. The judge found that SW was the principal instigator of this joint enterprise and that SW had drawn the other professionals in. The judge found that both SW and PO had lied to the court with respect to an important aspect of the child sexual abuse investigation. The judge found that the local authority and the police generally, but SW and PO in particular, had subjected C to a high level of emotional abuse over a sustained period as a result of their professional interaction with her. In addition to the specific adverse findings made against the local authority, SW and PO also complain that there was no justification for the judge deploying the strong adjectives that he used in describing the scale of his findings in a judgment which, in due course, in its final form, will be made public.
  • It is necessary to stress that the issues canvassed in this appeal relate entirely to process. This court has not been asked to analyse the evidence underpinning the judge’s adverse findings nor to determine whether or not the judge was justified in criticising the professionals as he did. The central point raised by each of the three appellants is that the prospect of them being the subject of such adverse findings was made known to them, for the very first time, when the judge gave an oral “bullet point” judgment at the conclusion of the hearing. It is submitted that individual and collective adverse findings of the type that the judge went on to make in his judgment, did not feature at all in the presentation of the case of any of the parties and were not raised in any manner by the judge during the hearing. In short terms it is said that these highly adverse findings “came out of the blue” for the first time in the judgment. The findings both in nature and substance have the potential to impact adversely upon the standing of the local authority and/or the employment prospects and personal life of each of SW and PO, yet none of the three had been given any opportunity to know of or meet the allegations during the course of the trial process. They therefore seek a remedy from this court to prevent the inclusion of these adverse and extraneous findings in the final judgment that has yet to be handed down formally and published as the judge intended it to be.

 

 

As a result, the SW has been suspended ever since and the police officer had to be taken off all criminal investigations (a bit of a problem for a police officer) because this judgment would be discloseable to the defence in ANY case involving that officer.  If the process in making the findings was fair, then those consequences would be utterly justified by the findings. But what if the process was NOT fair?

 

  • In the context of potential “legal consequences”, Mr Brandon draws specific attention to the requirement, as he submits it is, for the judge’s findings with respect to PO, if they stand, being “disclosable” material in relation to any criminal proceedings in which PO may be involved as a police officer in the future on the basis of the approach described in R v Guney (Erkin Ramadan) (Disclosure) [1988] Cr. App. R. 242. It is also at least arguable that these findings would amount to “reprehensible behaviour” (R v O’Toole (Patrick Francis) [2006] EWCA Crim 951) and, he submits, they are also capable of being adduced as evidence of “bad character” pursuant to Criminal Justice Act 2003, s 100 by the defence in a criminal trial. Mr Brandon went on to explain that it is common practice amongst constabularies in England and Wales to remove officers who are the subject of adverse judicial findings from the “evidential chain” as their participation in the investigation and prosecution of offences may jeopardise the prospect of convicting those whom they are investigating. If this occurred, PO would not be permitted to be concerned in obtaining evidence in criminal investigation thereby compromising her ability to continue to work as a police officer.
  • For SW, Mr Zimran Samuel, who acts on a pro bono instruction and to whom the court is most grateful for taking on this substantial case, has informed the court that SW who, following these proceedings went to work for a different local authority, has been suspended as a consequence of the judge’s findings and has been unable to work for any other authority since that time. He argues that that circumstance alone is sufficient to amount to a legal consequence sufficient to bring her appeal within the boundaries established by Cie Noga. Mr Samuel adopted the submissions that had been made on behalf of the local authority and PO before making detailed submissions on behalf of SW focussed upon the specific findings of fact made against her. It is not necessary in this judgment to consider that level of detail, although the court fully understands the importance to SW of the points that have been made on her behalf.

 

 

Both of them appealed, so the Court of Appeal had to look at :-

 

  1. A) Can a witness appeal at all? (and the vexed question of whether you appeal against FINDINGS, or ORDERS – an issue that the Court of Appeal change their mind on just about every time the issue comes up)
  2. B) Does the Court as a public body owe article 6 and article 8 duties to WITNESSES ?
  3. C) Was the process adopted here fair?
  4. D) Is there guidance to Judges in similar situations?

 

The Court of Appeal held that in the circumstances of this case, where the witnesses lives were significantly and materially affected by the process, they could appeal, and that they could appeal against the findings. (Those bits are all quite legalistic and compex, so I’ve just given you the answer. The working out is at paras 19-65)

 

Process and fairness

Unfairness

 

  • It is plainly necessary to consider what elements of procedural fairness are required by Art 8 in this context. In my view, however, for the purposes of deciding this appeal, it is unnecessary to go beyond what must be an essential factor to be included on any list of the elements of procedural fairness, namely giving the party or witness who is to be the subject of a level of criticism that is sufficient to trigger protection under Art 8 (or Art 6) rights to procedural fairness proper notice of the case against them.
  • Mr Brandon submits that it is a basic element of fairness for a judge to ensure that criticisms of the nature that he came to find proved are put to the witness rather than appearing for the first time ‘out of the blue’ (to use Mr Brandon’s phrase) in the judgment. Reliance is this regard is placed upon the Court of Appeal decision in Markem Corp v Zipher Ltd [2005] EWCA Civ 267, which was a patent case that included an assertion of procedural unfairness. Lord Justice Jacob, giving the main judgment, drew attention to a 19th century House of Lords decision of Browne v Dunn (1894) 6 R 67. The case report of Browne v Dunn is sparse, but Jacob LJ sets out in full the relevant parts of their Lordships’ opinions at paragraph 59 of his own judgment in Markem. Of particular note is the following in the speech of Lord Herschell LC:

 

‘Now my Lords, I cannot help saying that it seems to me to be absolutely essential to the proper conduct of a case, where it is intended to suggest that a witness is not speaking the truth on a particular point, to direct his attention to the fact by some questions put in cross-examination showing that that imputation is intended to be made, and not to take his evidence and pass it by as a matter altogether unchallenged, and then, when it is impossible for him to explain as perhaps he might have been able to do if such questions had been put to him, the circumstances which it is suggested indicate that the story he tells ought not to be believed, to argue that he is a witness unworthy of credit. My Lords, I have always understood that if you intend to impeach a witness you are bound, whilst he is in the box, to give him an opportunity of making any explanation which is open to him; and, as it seems to me, that is not only a rule of professional practice in the conduct of a case, but is essential to fair play and fair dealing with witnesses.’

Other members of House of Lords gave speeches that expressly concurred with the Lord Chancellor on this point and the authority of Browne v Dunn was fully endorsed by this court in the course of its decision in the Markem case.

 

  • The statement of the law in Browne v Dunn must however be read alongside the authoritative description of the role of a judge given by Lawton LJ in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] QB 523 at page 541 B-D:

 

“The researches of counsel have not produced any other case which has suggested that at the end of an inquiry those likely to be criticised in a report should be given an opportunity of refuting the tentative conclusions of whoever is making it. Those who conduct inquiries have to base their decisions, findings, conclusions or opinions (whichever is the appropriate word to describe what they have a duty to do) on the evidence. In my judgment they are no more bound to tell a witness likely to be criticised in their report what they have in mind to say about him than has a judge sitting alone who has to decide which of two conflicting witnesses is telling the truth. The judge must ensure that the witness whose credibility is suspected has a fair opportunity of correcting or contradicting the substance of what other witnesses have said or are expected to say which is in conflict with his testimony. Inspectors should do the same but I can see no reason why they should do any more.”

 

  • During the detailed submissions made on behalf of PO by Mr Brandon and of SW by Mr Samuel, we were taken to the transcript of the oral evidence which demonstrated beyond doubt that the matters found by the judge were not current, even obliquely, within the hearing or wider process in any manner. None of the key findings that the judge went on to make were put by any of the parties, or the judge, to any of the witnesses and there is a very substantial gap between the cross examination, together with the parties’ pleaded lists of findings sought, and the criticisms made by the judge. In this respect this is not a matter that is finely balanced; the ground for the criticisms that the judge came to make of SW, PO and the local authority, was simply not covered at all during the hearing.
  • For my part it became clear from reading the transcript that the cross-examination of SW and PO had been entirely conventional in the sense that it dealt with ordinary challenges made to the process of enquiry into the allegations of sexual abuse and was conducted entirely, to use Mr Geekie’s phrase, within the four corners of the case. At the conclusion of the oral evidence, in closing submissions no party sought findings that went beyond those conventional challenges. At no stage did the judge give voice to the very substantial and professionally damning criticisms that surfaced for the first time in the bullet-point judgment.
  • It can properly be said that by keeping these matters to himself during the four week hearing, and failing to arrange for the witnesses to have any opportunity to know of the critical points and to offer any answer to them, the judge was conducting a process that was intrinsically unfair.
  • For my part, in terms of the decision in this appeal, it is not necessary to go further than holding that, unfortunately, this is a fundamental and extreme example of ‘the case’, as found by the judge, not being ‘put’ to SW and PO. However, out of respect for the thoughtful and more widely based submissions that have been made, and because the ramifications of this decision may need to be considered in other cases, I would offer the following short observations on other aspects of procedural fairness in the context of Art 8 in answer to the rhetorical question: ‘what should the judge have done?’.

 

 

To give you an illustration of this point, if I am cross-examining a witness, let’s say David Kessler, I may ask him questions as to whether his appetite for meat has increased in recent times, whether he has visited London Zoo recently, whether he is familiar with a pub called the Slaughtered Lamb.  But if I intend to ask the Judge at the end of the case to find that David Kessler is a werewolf, I have to actuallly put the allegation to him, and not just join up those dots. I have to ask him “Are you in fact a werewolf?” or words to that effect – SO THAT HE HAS THE CHANCE TO DENY IT and give an alternative explanation which might fit those other facts.

Similarly, if as in this case, nobody had actually asked the Judge to find that David Kessler is a werewolf, but the Judge is joining those dots for himself, it is not fair to David Kessler (whether he is a werewolf or not) that the first time he hears of the possibility is when the Judge delivers a judgment.

 

In a case like this, where the Judge was considering (and did) make a finding that the social worker had lied and entered into a conspiracy, that question has to actually be put. It isn’t sufficient to join the dots – the bald question has to be asked.

 

The SW and Police officer won the appeal, the process had not been fair.  (Note in particular that at no point did anyone in the case seek these findings or declarations and the first anyone knew of it was in the judgment).  The Court of Appeal also interestingly said that the Court owes an article 6 right to fair trial to the Local Authority   (the LA is not owed any art 8 rights, though the witnesses were)

 

By way of general guidance

95.Where, during the course of a hearing, it becomes clear to the parties and/or the judge that adverse findings of significance outside the known parameters of the case may be made against a party or a witness consideration should be given to the following:

 

 

 

  1. a) Ensuring that the case in support of such adverse findings is adequately ‘put’ to the relevant witness(es), if necessary by recalling them to give further evidence;

 

  1. b) Prior to the case being put in cross examination, providing disclosure of relevant court documents or other material to the witness and allowing sufficient time for the witness to reflect on the material;

 

  1. c) Investigating the need for, and if there is a need the provision of, adequate legal advice, support in court and/or representation for the witness.

 

 

 

Article 8: Conclusions

97.In the light of the law relating to ECHR Art 8 as I have found it to be, it is clear that the private life rights of SW and PO under Art 8 of these individuals as witnesses would be breached if the judgment, insofar as it makes direct criticism of them, is allowed to stand in the final form as proposed by the judge. The finding of breach of Art 8 does not depend on whether or not the judgment is published; the need to inform employers or prospective employers of such findings applies irrespective of whether the judgment is given wider publication. In short terms, the reasons supporting this conclusion are as follows:

 

 

 

  1. a) In principle, the right to respect for private life, as established by Art 8, can extend to the professional lives of SW and PO (R (Wright) v Secretary of State for Health and R (L) v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis);

 

  1. b) Art 8 private life rights include procedural rights to fair process in addition to the protection of substantive rights (Turek v Slovakia and R (Tabbakh) v Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust);

 

  1. c) The requirement of a fair process under Art 8 is of like manner to, if not on all-fours with, the entitlement to fairness under the common law (R (Tabbakh) referring to Lord Mustill in R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex Pte Doody);

 

  1. d) At its core, fairness requires the individual who would be affected by a decision to have the right to know of and address the matters that might be held against him before the decision-maker makes his decision (R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex Pte Hickey (No 2));

 

  1. e) On the facts of this case protection under Art 8 does extend to the ‘private life’ of both SW and PO for the reasons advanced by their respective counsel and which are summarised at paragraphs 61, 86 and 87;

 

  1. f) The process, insofar as it related to the matters of adverse criticism that the judge came to make against SW and PO, was manifestly unfair to a degree which wholly failed to meet the basic requirements of fairness established under Art 8 and/or common law. In short, the case that the judge came to find proved against SW and PO fell entirely outside the issues that were properly before the court in the proceedings and had been fairly litigated during the extensive hearing, the matters of potential adverse criticism had not been mentioned at all during the hearing by any party or by the judge, they had certainly never been ‘put’ to SW or PO and the judge did not raise them even after the evidence had closed and he was hearing submissions.

98.As will be apparent from this analysis of the issues in the context of ECHR Art 8, I regard the process adopted by the judge in the present case to have fallen short by a very wide margin of that which basic fairness requires in these circumstances. The occasions on which such circumstances may occur, or develop during proceedings, will, I anticipate, be rare. This judgment should be seen by the profession and the family judiciary to be a particular, bespoke, response to a highly unusual combination of the following factors:

 

 

 

  1. a) a judge considering himself or herself to be driven to make highly critical findings against professional witnesses, where

 

  1. b) such findings have played no part in the case presented by any party during the proceedings, and where

 

  1. c) the judge has chosen not to raise the matters of criticism him/herself at any stage prior to judgment.

 

99.The fact that, so far as can be identified, this is the first occasion that such circumstances have been brought on appeal may indicate that the situation that developed in the present case may be a vanishingly rare one. For my part, as the reader of very many judgments from family judges during the course of the past five years, I can detect no need whatsoever for there to be a change in the overall approach that is taken by judges.

 

 

100.The present case is, unfortunately, to be regarded as extreme in two different respects: firstly the degree by which the process adopted fell below the basic requirements of fairness and, secondly, the scale of the adverse findings that were made. This judgment is, therefore, certainly not a call for the development of ‘defensive judging’; on the contrary judges should remain not only free to, but also under a duty to, make such findings as may be justified by the evidence on the issues that are raised in each case before them.

 

 

 

All of the adverse findings were set aside and were to be removed from the judgment before it was published – so not mere redaction, but actual removal of them as legal findings.  [This is where I have the difficulty, since those original findings were grave, and I think to simply ignore them on a technicality is uncomfortable.  Of course, unless the Judge’s decision on the child was wrong and being appealed, it is hard to come up with a framework to have a re-hearing of the allegations about the professional witnesses, but it still doesn’t sit well with me. It looks like a whitewash]

 

Remedy on appeal

119.Where, as I have found to be the case here, the adverse findings complained of have been made as a result of a wholly unfair process and where, again as here, the consequences for those who are criticised in those findings are both real and significant, it is incumbent on this court to provide a remedy and, so far as may be possible, to correct the effect of the unfairness that has occurred. In the present case what is sought is the removal from the judgment of any reference to the matters that were found by the judge against SW, PO and the local authority that fell outside the parameters of the care proceedings and had not been raised properly, or at all, during the hearing.

 

 

120.Mr Feehan accepts, as I understand it, that if this court reaches the stage that, in my judgment, it has indeed reached, then redaction from the judgment must follow, subject to any submissions as to detail. I agree that that must be the case. So that there is no ambiguity as to words such as ‘removal’ or ‘redaction’ in this context, I make it plain that the effect of any change in the content of the judge’s judgment that is now made as a result of the decision of this court is not simply to remove words from a judgment that is to be published; the effect is to set aside the judge’s findings on those matters so that those findings no longer stand or have any validity for any purpose. The effect is to be as if those findings, or potential findings, had never been made in any form by the judge.

 

 

 

 

 

And general guidance for other cases:-

 

 

108.Looking at this issue in general terms, it must, in some cases, be possible, where a court is contemplating making findings which may have arisen outside the original focus of the case, for the court to embark on a process which allows for those affected to make submissions and/or submit evidence in relation to those matters before final judgment is given. I have already described some of the basic elements in such a process at paragraph 95. For those additional steps to be an effective counter-balance to a process which might otherwise be seen as a whole to be unfair, they need, in my view, to be undertaken before the judge has reached a concluded decision on the controversial points. Whilst not impossible, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances where the overall fairness of the hearing could be rescued by any form of process after the judge has reached and announced his concluded decision. Where a court is considering making findings that have not, thus far, been foreshadowed in the proceedings I would suggest that, at the very least, the judge should alert the parties and, if necessary any affected witness, to the potential for such an outcome so that the steps in paragraph 95, and any other relevant additional matters, can be openly canvassed during the hearing and before any judgment is given.

 

 

The Court of Appeal went on to consider criticism of expert witnesses (and of course this year we have seen the very different approach to the radicalisation case where the Judge savaged the ISW in the judgment without her knowing in advance that this was possible, and the psychologist who made up quotes who had the chance to be represented by a Silk at a hearing where the declarations sought were all set out in advance)

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/07/19/fell-far-short-of-the-promise-foreshadowed-in-her-cv-radicalisation-tower-hamlets/

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/08/23/tape-recording-of-an-expert-a-shocking-case/

 

Both of these experts had their reputation, and integrity, and livelihood put in doubt by these judgments – and the processes were wildly different.

 

Criticism of Expert witnesses

101.It is, unfortunately, sometimes the case that a judge in civil or family proceedings may be driven to criticise the professional practice or expertise of an expert witness in the case. Although what I have said with regard to a right to fair process under ECHR, Art 8 or the common law may in principle apply to such an expert witness, it will, I would suggest, be very rare that such a witness’ fair trial rights will be in danger of breach to the extent that he or she would be entitled to some form of additional process, such a legal advice or representation during the hearing. That this is so is, I suspect, obvious. The expert witness should normally have had full disclosure of all relevant documents. Their evidence will only have been commissioned, in a family case, if it is ‘necessary’ for the court to ‘resolve the proceedings justly’ [Children and Families Act 2014, s 13(6)], as a result their evidence and their involvement in the case are likely to be entirely within the four corners of the case. If criticism is to be made, it is likely that the critical matters will have been fully canvassed by one or more of the parties in cross examination. I have raised the question of expert witnesses at this point as part of the strong caveat that I am attempting to attach to this judgment as to the highly unusual circumstances of this case and absence of any need, as I see it, for the profession and the judges to do anything to alter the approach to witnesses in general, and expert witnesses in particular.

 

 

The Court of Appeal were trying to be as clear as possible that they weren’t asking Courts to approach the issue of assessment of witnesses and criticisms of witnesses differently or defensively, and that the issues in this case arose really because the specific allegations that led to the findings weren’t actually put to the witnesses, or sought by the parties. If the social worker and police officer had been asked the direct questions and known that such findings were sought, then the Judge’s findings could have been upheld.

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Absconding and secure accommodation

This Court of Appeal decision hasn’t come up on Bailii yet, and I’m grateful to Graham Cole from Luton’s LA legal team for alerting me to it.

 

RE W (A CHILD) (2016)

 

[2016] EWCA Civ 804

 

A lawtel link is here, but that’s only good if you have access codes to it. Will keep an eye out for it on Bailii.

 

https://www.lawtel.com/MyLawtel/Documents/AC0151488

 

It relates to an application for a Secure Accommodation Order for a girl who was 17 years and 8 months old.  There’s a common misconception that you can’t have a Secure Accommodation Order on a child over 17  (in fact, what the Secure Accommodation Regs prohibit is secure accommodation for a child accommodated under s20 (5) of the Children Act 1989.

 

Secure Accommodation Regulations 1991

Children to whom section 25 of the Act shall not apply

5. –

(1) Section 25 of the Act shall not apply to a child who is detained under any provision of the Mental Health Act 1983(1) or in respect of whom an order has been made under section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933(2) (punishment of certain grave crimes).

(2) Section 25 of the Act shall not apply to a child–

(a)to whom section 20(5) of the Act (accommodation of persons over 16 but under 21) applies and who is being accommodated under that section,

 

So a 17 year old accommodated because of a Care Order, or under s20(3) is okay.

However, when you look at the definitions of s20(3) and s20(5) side by side

 

(3)Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who has reached the age of sixteen and whose welfare the authority consider is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they do not provide him with accommodation.

 

and

(5)A local authority may provide accommodation for any person who has reached the age of sixteen but is under twenty-one in any community home which takes children who have reached the age of sixteen if they consider that to do so would safeguard or promote his welfare.

 

Then you can see that determining which one was used for any given young person is tricky, as there’s a waffer-thin mint between them, AND it all hinges on what was in the LA mind at the time of accommodation and whether they correctly alloted the young person to the (reasonable and proportionate) type of accommodation.   IF the accommodation is to stop their welfare being seriously prejudiced, then they can securely accommodate. If the accommodation was just to safeguard or promote welfare, they can’t.

 

Initially, I thought “Well, any s20 where the concerns are sufficient to want to go for secure, will trigger s20(3)”  but remember, one is looking at the reason for the provision of accommodation in the first place, not necessarily immediately before the secure accommodation application. If a young person leaves home and is accommodated under s20(5)  to prevent them having to sofa surf or be homeless, then when there’s a later deterioration in behaviour that triggers the secure criteria, the option wouldn’t be open to the LA.   Can the LA discharge the s20(5) and immediately convert it to s20(3) ?  That sounds a bit iffy to me.  (My legal summary of ‘a bit iffy’ is not necessarily the way I would express it in the Court of Appeal. Let us instead say “has the hallmarks of an abuse of process)

 

Be grateful I went for THIS image rather than the many others available

Be grateful I went for THIS image rather than the many others available

 

What has always been a bit dubious/uncertain, if you don’t have a Care Order on the 17 year old, is the power of the LA to accommodate a young person against their will, and specifically by then locking them up, if accommodated under s20(3) and a Secure Accommodation Order is obtained.

The statute doesn’t say anything about a young person’s capacity to discharge THEMSELVES from s20 accommodation. It says specifically that a parent has the right to discharge them by objecting or removing, and it says specifically that post 16 a parent can’t do that if the young person wants to remain in s20. But it says nothing about a young person saying “I don’t want to be here, I’m checking out.”

Well, maybe you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave….

 

W’s lawyers were saying that W DID NOT consent to being accommodated under s20(3), and thus could not be accommodated, and if she wasn’t accommodated, she couldn’t be SECURELY ACCOMMODATED.

The LA lawyers said, the statute doesn’t say that W has to consent.   (It doesn’t say that the parents have to consent either, but that particular ship has sailed with the caselaw on s20 over the last year)

The Court of Appeal on this point said  (and curse it not being on Bailii, because I’m having to TYPE this rather than cut and paste it as normal)

 

“A due regard to the wishes and feelings of a competent child so far as consistent with his or her welfare may dissuade a Local Authority from applying for a secure accommodation order. As a child approaches its majority, the factors to be weighed in the balance will undoubtedly acknowledge its looming legal independence. That said, we are satisfied that the subject child’s consent is not a pre-requisite of the making of a secure accommodation order”

They also indicate that for secure based on s20(3), the parents have to be consenting to the s20 accommodation  (the s20(11) provision that a 16 year old can block parents removing them from s20 if they want to stay there doesn’t apply, because it is not removal but entry that is up for debate)

The Court of Appeal also had to look at whether the secure accommodation criteria were met, and there’s a novel argument there.  W’s lawyers argued that W was not ‘absconding’ from placements. She was absenting herself and then returning, whereas absconding carries the connotation of ‘escape’  and this was developed into ‘escape’ has a connotation of an intent to be absent indefinitely.

 

Now, that’s very very important. An awful lot of the ‘absconding’ that you see in application for Secure Accommodation Orders is a young person going missing for a few days and coming back of their own free will – and them putting themselves in danger in the interim. You do see some absconding which fits the classic ‘escape with intent to avoid recapture’ where the child is missing for weeks or even months and generally gets picked up by the police not entirely voluntarily, but those are rarer.   The very modern post Rochdale phenomenon of Child Sexual Exploitation leading to secure is very much a young girl not returning to placement after school and staying away for a few days (with abusive and exploitative men) and then returning home.  This case is raising the important issue of whether that actually IS absconding.  If it ISN’T, then the first of the two possible limbs to satisfy the Secure Criteria is not made out.

 

25 Use of accomodation for restricting liberty.

(1)Subject to the following provisions of this section, a child who is being looked after by a local authority may not be placed, and, if placed, may not be kept, in accommodation provided for the purpose of restricting liberty (“secure accommodation”) unless it appears—

(a)that—

(i)he has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and

(ii)if he absconds, he is likely to suffer significant harm; or

(b)that if he is kept in any other description of accommodation he is likely to injure himself or other persons.

 

So if the Court of Appeal rule that ‘absconding’ for s25 means some intent to escape with intent to stay away, then ground (a) can’t be made out for a lot of young people in Secure, because although they are AWOL a lot, and missing a lot, they are coming back and intended to, rather than had the intent to ‘escape’.   Ground (b) might still apply, but most Secures are dealt with on ground (a).

 

This could be very big.

What did the Court of Appeal decide?

 

21. Miss Judd QC’s arguments in relation to the Judge’s definition of ‘absconding’ arose in the fact-specific circumstances of the case and did not persuade us that it was necessary to define the term beyond its everyday meaning.

 

[That noise you just heard was 500 LA lawyers breathing out. Don’t jump the gun – the Court of Appeal might SAY that they don’t think it’s necessary, but they are probably still about to do it anyway]

 

Munby J (as he then was)

 

[500 LA lawyers just said ‘oh god, no’]

 

in Re G (Secure Accommodation Order) 2001 FLR 884 at 895 relied on the definition of ‘abscond’ found in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. This accords with the usual application of the term to connote the element of ‘escape’ from an imposed regime.  Mr Tyler QC’s reliance on the wider definition in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary was perhaps borne of the need to support his argument that Keehan J’s approach to the issue was correct.  Although trite to say, the facts will speak for themselves.  As it is, we are satisfied, as we indicate below, that the Judge wrongly categorised W’s absences from the Unit in which she had been placed since January 2016 as absconding.

 

This particular girl had NOT absconded.

 

We don’t have Keehan J’s judgment to look at the facts, but the Court of Appeal say at para 7 that she has from a variety of placements and units, absented herself at all hours to pursue her own ends and has not followed the rules in any of the placements, when absent she has been with risky adult males and come back with sums of money. It looks, therefore like the sort of CSE case I discussed earlier.  Lots of short-lived absences without leave, which the Court of Appeal concluded did not amount to absconding.

Eep.

22 . In determining that W had absconded, Keehan J invoked the facts that W had ‘disengaged’ with the Unit, returning “not just a few hours later but well into the following day”.  I do not consider that this meant that W was ‘absconding’ from the Unit, in terms of  escaping indefinitely from an imposed regime, as opposed to deliberately absenting herself for a limited period, knowingly and disdainfully in breach of the night-time curfews imposed.

 

The Court of Appeal went on to say that in W’s case, they considered that the second criteria (b) was made out in any event and thus a Secure Accommodation Order could legitimately be made.

 

But the first criteria is now in tatters for a lot of cases  –  the Court of Appeal are looking for evidence that the young person ‘escaped indefinitely from an imposed regime’   rather than ‘deliberately absenting themselves for  limited period in breach of rules.  Obviously, the shorter the period of absence the harder it will be to prove that the young person ‘escaped indefinitely’, particularly if they return of their own volition.  Ground (b) will be the criteria to inspect chronologies for in the future – the absconding ground just became very tough to prove in 80% of cases.

 

 

If you enjoyed this piece, or like the blog generally – my novel which is set in a Children’s Secure Accommodation centre, is available to pre-order and should be out around Christmas time.  I’d LOVE your support, which you can provide by pre-ordering here

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Re W (A child) 2016

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

 

The facts

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

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

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

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

 

A powerful comment

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Issues for the appeal

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Because they can can can

Because they can can can

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

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

A) This is an adoption application

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing else will do”

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

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

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

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

Natural family presumption/right

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The Court of Appeal also looked at the article 8 issues

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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