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Tag Archives: Re X

Disclosure to the security services

 

Well, applications for disclosure of care proceedings to the police is something that we are used to, but an application to disclose papers in care proceedings to the Security Services is something rather new – even if with radicalisation we should have seen it coming.

 

X, Y and Z (Disclosure to the Security Service) [2016]

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2400.html

 

In this case which involved not only allegations of radicalisation but also allegations that one of the parents might have deliberately adminstered a harmful drug to the child by way of an intravenous cannula, the Security Services and the police were taking an interest.  There were materials within the care proceedings which were of interest to them and might have assisted in their investigations.

The complicating wrinkle is that whilst we know exactly what happens with documents that are disclosed to the police (the officers in the case read them, they are shared with the CPS and possibly with trial counsel to decide whether there needs to be an application to USE them in the criminal trial), we’re not at all sure what the internal processes of the Security Services are.

And understandably, the Security Services aren’t keen on walking us through their processes and what is involved, particularly to reveal those matters to people they are investigating under terrorism legislation.

The Security Services therefore wanted effective Cate Blanchett to have the documents and make such use of them as they saw fit including sharing them on a ‘need to know’ basis whereas the Court was being urged to not allow such unfettered access.

The compromise that was reached – and the judgment is very helpful on the detail for anyone in this position, was that the papers could be disclosed to the police, the CPS and the Security Services but any onward disclosure by those agencies would have to be with the Court’s permission following an application.

 

The Court set out the principles about how such an application by the Security Services might work (notably whether the parents would be served with it and allowed to attend and make representations)

 

 

  • My decision raises the possibility of the Security Service needing to make an application to this court for permission to disclose the material outside the Service. Whilst such applications are ordinarily straightforward, as set out above, given the nature of the Security Service and its manner of operation, an application in this context presents specific potential difficulties. In particular, the practice of neither confirming nor denying an interest or involvement means that it is unlikely that the Security Service will wish to give notice of such an application in circumstances where, in some situations, simply confirming or denying that an agency is interested in information or seeks information will result in risk that that agency will disclose its interest in, or alert suspects. In addition, the nature of the disclosure sought means that it is likely the Security Service will thereafter wish to adopt a closed procedure. Given the impact of these contentions on the Art 6 rights of the parties, they will need to be the subject of rigorous examination by the court. Within this context, I note that The President’s Guidance recognises that in cases in the family court concerning the issue of radicalisation the court may need to consider the use of closed hearings or special advocates. The Guidance further recognises the need to ensure that the Art 6 rights of all the parties are protected.
  • In seeking to ensure that the Art 6 rights that are engaged are properly protected, as well as fidelity to the common law principles of fairness and natural justice, I further note that both the domestic and European Courts have recognised that proceedings in relation to the intelligence services inevitably raise special problems and might not be capable of being dealt with in the same way as other claims (see Regina (A) v Director of Establishments of the Security Service [2010] 2 AC 1). In the case of R v Shayler [2003] 1 AC 247 Lord Bingham noted as follows in this respect:

 

“The need to preserve the secrecy of information relating to intelligence and military operations in order to counter terrorism, criminal activity, hostile activity and subversion has been recognised by the European Commission and the court in relation to complaints made under article 10 and other articles under the Convention: see Engel v The Netherlands (No 1) (1976) 1 EHRR 647, paras 100–103; Klass v Federal Republic of Germany (1978) 2 EHRR 214, para 48; Leander v Sweden (1987) 9 EHRR 433, para 59; Hadjianastassiou v Greece (1992) 16 EHRR 219, paras 45–47; Esbester v United Kingdom (1994) 18 EHRR CD72, 74; Brind v United Kingdom (1994) 18 EHRR CD76, 83–-84; Murray v United Kingdom (1994) 19 EHRR 193, para 58; Vereniging Weekblad Bluf! v The Netherlands (1995) 20 EHRR 189, paras 35, 40. The thrust of these decisions and judgments has not been to discount or disparage the need for strict and enforceable rules but to insist on adequate safeguards to ensure that the restriction does not exceed what is necessary to achieve the end in question. The acid test is whether, in all the circumstances, the interference with the individual’s Convention right prescribed by national law is greater than is required to meet the legitimate object which the state seeks to achieve. The OSA 1989, as it applies to the appellant, must be considered in that context.”

 

  • There is in my judgment no need to set up any new or elaborate procedure to account for the particular difficulties raised by any permission application that may be made by the Security Service. Rather, it is a question of adapting the existing, well established procedure for such permission applications. The key adaptations will be the need to recognise the greater likelihood that the initial hearing will need to be without notice to the parties to the proceedings (although it will remain incumbent on the Security Service in each instance to justify a without notice application by reference to the principles set out in Re S (Ex Parte Orders) [2001] 1 FLR 308, KY v DD [2012] 2 FLR 200, and Re C (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1412) and the possible use thereafter of some species of closed procedure involving the deployment of special advocates when determining the application for permission.
  • As to the applicable principles for determining whether a closed procedure should be adopted (if requested), the Justice and Security Act 2013 s 6(11) provides for the making of a declaration in any proceedings (other than proceedings in a criminal cause or matter) before the High Court that the proceedings are proceedings in which a closed material application may be made to the court. No such provision is made however, in respect of proceedings in the Family Court. Further, the rules of court which govern the determination of an application for such a declaration, and any subsequent closed material application are those set out in the CPR Part 82. By CPR r 2.1(2), CPR Part 82 does not apply to family proceedings and CPR Part 82 is not otherwise incorporated into the FPR 2010.
  • In the circumstances, whilst it would appear possible to transfer family proceedings to the High Court in order to secure for the court a statutory jurisdiction to consider an application for a declaration pursuant to the Justice and Security Act 2013 s 6 that those family proceedings are proceedings in which a closed material application may be made, absent the incorporation of CPR Part 82 into the FPR 2010 there are at present no procedural rules for determining that application or any subsequent closed material application in the context of family proceedings.
  • Historically however, and notwithstanding it being seemingly well-established that the fundamental principle that a party is entitled to the disclosure of all materials which may be taken into account by the court when reaching a decision adverse to that party can only be qualified or overridden by statute, and even then only expressly and not by implication (see R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex p Simms [2000] 2 AC 115 at 132 and R (Morgan Grenfell & Co Ltd) v Special Comr of Income Tax [2003] 1 AC 563 at [45]), it is clear that special advocates have been utilised on a limited number of occasions in family proceedings to deal with issues of disclosure of sensitive material (see Re T (Wardship: Impact of Police Intelligence) [2010] 1 FLR 1048 at [31]-[34] and [112] and BCC v FZ, AZ, HZ and TVP [2013] 1 FLR 974 at [13] to [48]). In A Chief Constable v YK and Others [2011] 1 FLR 1493 at [112], whilst declining the use of special advocates in that case, Sir Nicholas Wall observed that “there will be undoubtedly be circumstances in family proceedings in which they are appropriate”. The President’s Guidance entitled Radicalisation Cases in the Family Courts dated 8 October 2015 and the President’s Guidance entitled The Role of the Attorney General in Appointing Advocates to the Court of Special Advocates in Family Cases dated 26 March 2016 contemplates the use of closed hearings and special advocates in family proceedings.
  • In the circumstances (and whilst there may remain an argument to be had as to whether the use of some species of closed procedure in the Family Court is permissible absent express statutory provision for the same, or in family proceedings in the High Court pursuant to the Justice and Security Act 2013 absent any rules of procedure governing the same having been promulgated) at any initial hearing of an application by the Security Service for permission to disclose the court will need to consider, inter alia, the following matters:

 

i) Whether the application for permission is properly made without notice in the first instance. The application should contain brief reasons for seeking to pursue the application initially without notice to the parties by reference to the principles set out in Re S (Ex Parte Orders) [2001] 1 FLR 308, KY v DD [2012] 2 FLR 200, and Re C (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1412;

ii) Whether the Security Service invite the court to determine the application for permission on the basis of a closed procedure utilising special advocates;

iii) Whether the application is appropriate to be dealt with by means of the use of a closed procedure utilising special advocates having regard to the guidance set out in Re T (Wardship: Impact of Police Intelligence) [2010] 1 FLR 1048, A Chief Constable v YK and Others [2011] 1 FLR 1493 BCC v FZ, AZ, HZ and TVP [2013] 1 FLR 974, the President’s Guidance entitled Radicalisation Cases in the Family Courts dated 8 October 2015 and the President’s Guidance entitled The Role of the Attorney General in Appointing Advocates to the Court of Special Advocates in Family Cases dated 26 March 2016.

iv) Any further directions for the hearing having regard to the court’s decision in respect of the foregoing matters, again having regard the guidance in the authorities and Practice Guidance enumerated at (iii).

 

 

And here’s a photo of Rupert Penry Jones for Spooks fans  (gratuitous, yes, but I’m sure that a Margot Robbie tenuous connection will come up soon enough to balance it out)

 

Richard Armitage was good, but Rupert was THE GUY

Richard Armitage was good, but Rupert was THE GUY

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Secret decision to remove

(No, I’ve not asked Christopher Booker to do a guest blog, but this is a case which is worthy of attention, given how much press coverage the Italian C-Section case received. I am quite surprised that this made it through the Lord Nueberger view of article 8 and what the word necessary means in that context)

A Local Authority v C 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4036.html

This is unusual, because it is an application that the Local Authority made BEFORE the birth of the child. I have only ever seen one of these before, the one referred to in the judgment Re D 2009.

    1. The local authority’s application is, therefore, for a without notice order which is not to be served on the mother that:

(a) she lacks capacity to make decisions relating to the future care of her child when born;

(b) it is lawful as being in the best interests of her child when born for its Claimants, its servants or agents immediately to remove the child from the mother’s care and to maintain that separation pending a Court considering the Claimant’s application from an emergency protection order or interim care order;

(c) it is lawful for the minimum necessary force to be used, if required, in the course of effecting and maintaining such separation;

(d) it is lawful for the police to assist in the carrying out of the order by utilisation of their powers pursuant to section 46 of the Children Act 1989; and

(e) it is lawful for the Claimant to withhold from the mother its intention to remove her child from her immediately following birth and, in this regard, not to involve the mother in the planning process for her baby.

(I note that it is a shame that the order accompanying the judgment is not published, since (b) is interesting. It seems as though that might be akin to an Emergency Protection Order made before the baby is born, to take effect at birth. Edit – actually what it does is tell the police (d) that they can lawfully remove under a PPO.  That raises even more questions, since the existing law is that Police Protection ought to be behind making an EPO or ICO application in the pecking order – Liverpool v X, for example)

The mother in this case was said to have profound mental health problems and other issues

Mother has long-standing mental health problems and an IQ of 64. I have read a report from her treating psychiatrist. Her diagnosis is of paranoia and psychosis. She also abuses drugs. She is described as challenging, and she can be volatile. She has had two previous children, both of whom were removed from her very early in their lives. The elder was removed from her care in 2007 aged three weeks, when mother physically injured that child by causing twisting injuries to his arms and bruising to his chest. Both those children now live with those children’s father. She is now pregnant again, by a different father, with an estimated delivery date of 22nd September 2013.

What were the arguments for not telling her?

    1. The local authority perceives there to be a grave danger to the unborn child immediately after birth, in the light of the mother’s mental health problems and the increasingly worrying presentation which has manifested itself to her obstetrician, to social workers and to others. She is undoubtedly incapacitous in some respects, the extent to which is not clear because she has not been assessed. She is likely to have understanding in a number of respects, particularly those aspects of her own health care and her own wishes and feelings about her child which do not require sophisticated intellectual understanding.
    1. Her consultant obstetrician found a very marked deterioration in her presentation. He describes how her usually more placid demeanour has become more and more aggressive, hostile, confrontational and oppositional, during the monitoring of her pregnancy. She has had, until recently, a fairly trouble-free pregnancy and her two previous deliveries were normal. She has had some internal bleeding. It is not clear how accurate her description of the severity is of that. There is a fear there may be problems with the attachment of the baby’s placenta. She became very agitated when he needed to examine her and refused to be examined. She is not currently medicated or accepting her medication, and this cannot take place until after the birth. She showed pressure of speech; she swore, was verbally aggressive and she had what the obstetrician called “an outburst”. She was threatening. A number of minor issues were raised by her which it was impossible to “de-escalate”. He is extremely worried that the mother will not be compliant with staff during the birth process as a result of her discussions with him. I have been referred to his notes recorded in an internal meeting.
    1. If professionals attempt to hold any form of conversation with her on a topic with arouses her emotion she becomes hostile very quickly. All the professionals who have been dealing with the mother are concerned that her mental health is currently deteriorating.
    1. Her consultant psychiatrist reports that it has proved impossible to have a coherent rational conversation with her. She is “very thought disordered”. The psychiatrist anticipates a struggle if the mother is asked to hand over the baby at birth. He believes that the risk to the baby when born would be high if the mother were to be allowed to hold the baby. He also infers that the mother’s mental health was not as severely effected at the time when her older child was injured since she was not known to mental health services at that time.
    1. All those who have had dealings with her think it highly likely that the mother would inadvertently harm the baby whilst attempts are made to remove it from her.
  1. The view expressed by all the professionals is that if she is told about any plan to remove the baby at birth or after birth (under an emergency protection order or interim care order) this will exacerbate the problems with her mental health and “increase the already risky situation that is likely to occur following the birth”. She is presently in a psychiatric unit and arrangements are being made for her to undergo her delivery at a local hospital.

You should also note that the mother was not represented at THIS hearing, even through the Official Solicitor  (the agency who act on behalf of parents who lack capacity to instruct a solicitor). This was discussed, here

I raised the question with Mr Jones during the course of his carefully presented argument as to whether or not it would be appropriate for me to indeed appoint the Official Solicitor (if he so agreed) to act on behalf of this mother, and for the Official Solicitor to be informed of the nature of the application (or indeed any order), in order that representations could be made to the court. However, I perceive that the Official Solicitor, or indeed any legal representative acting on behalf of a party, incapacitous or not, cannot be bound to withhold information which comes to their notice from their client. And it seems to me that this mother probably has the capacity to understand the nature of this application and that the local authority intends to remove the child from her. In my view, the only basis upon which a legal representative can agree not to disclose information to their client is if that client consents to that course of action, and in order to obtain such consent the Official Solicitor would have to alert the mother to the nature of these proceedings. Mr Jones tells me that the authority shares that concern.

So, the order was made, using the authority of Re D, and the principles set out within that judgment

    1. I have come to the conclusion from the documents which I have read and the submissions that I have heard, that this is indeed a highly exceptional and unusual case and that the history of the mother’s mental health problems, her mistreatment of her other children (and there are other assertions of ill-treatment as well as the injury to the baby), the mother’s increasing volatility, irritability and inability to accept the concerns of others and indeed her deteriorating mental health, do give rise to an imminent, serious and present danger to the child when it is born, in particular of an inadvertent injury to the child if the child is sought to be wrested from her.
    1. It seems to me that the only way in which that risk and danger can be guarded against is by way of an order that the baby be removed immediately upon delivery. I understand and acknowledge what a drastic step this is, how deeply distressing this will be to this mother (as it would indeed be to any mother newly delivered of a child), and I am in no doubt that she will understand what is happening to her in these circumstances. But I am persuaded, and indeed now convinced, that there is sadly no other way of safeguarding the interests of this child than by making an anticipatory declaration as I am asked, in order that intervention can take place at the earliest possible opportunity.
    1. Weighing up the options (as I must do), removal is the one which safeguards the child’s interests whereas non-removal does not.
    1. This will not deprive the mother of an opportunity to be heard on an application for an emergency protection order or interim care order at the earliest possible date.
  1. I recognise that the first moments after a child’s birth are particularly precious and can never be recovered, but nonetheless the opportunity to have her case heard at the earliest possible moment will go some way to preserving the mother’s opportunity to have a relationship with her child.

It seems therefore, that what the Court did was use the inherent jurisdiction to authorise removal of the baby at birth PENDING a very fast application for an Emergency Protection Order.  The Judge makes it plain that the EPO application must be ready to be heard very swiftly

In Mr Jones’ draft order he refers to an application for an emergency protection order or an interim care order. This local authority is in no doubt as to the basis of its potential application and the application must be prepared now and must be lodged at the first possible moment during court opening hours after the child is born. If I say ‘immediately’, that means that it does not go down by courier; it means that nobody is still checking for spelling mistakes, it means that it is all sorted out and it is all ready to go and it is with the court at the drop-box or in the court office. I direct that the local authority contacts its local Court where the application is to be issued to ask that special arrangements be made for receipt of this emergency application.

I have some problems with this judgment and decision (not as a matter of law, the Judge followed Re D and balanced things but as a matter of principle and human rights).  The remedy here for the removal at birth is that the mother has the opportunity to challenge within a few hours that decision at the EPO hearing. But how realistic is that?

Firstly, she is going to be in a state of complete shock at the removal, which will be a total surprise to her.  (I know that lawyers could look at the history and say “well, an EPO application was likely” but from mother’s perspective, if social workers have been working with her and never said that the baby would be removed, she might well think that she will keep the baby)

Secondly, she is also in the immediate aftermath of childbirth, a process which is fairly stressful, painful and somewhat discombobulating  (that is a huge understatement) – not putting one in the best shape to get dressed and get on a bus to court

Thirdly, when she gets to Court, she is not entitled to instruct a solicitor to represent her, as she doesn’t have capacity

Fourthly, the Official Solicitor hasn’t been warned of the pending application so that they will be ready at court to represent her

So a vulnerable woman, with mental health problems, in the immediate aftermath of childbirth will be in Court, reeling from the shock of removal and representing herself at a contested removal hearing.

Forgive me if I don’t think that this is terribly fair.

In addition to that, the legal tests for an Emergency Protection Order are rightly very high, following Re X, and are particularly high when the Court is only hearing one side of the story (as here). Shouldn’t the Court, when making a pre-emptive EPO using the inherent jurisdiction have to meet an even higher burden on the evidence than Re X?

I don’t blame the LA here – the facts of the case make this a very tricky and difficult decision, and they did place it before a Court for consideration. Nor do I blame the Court, who applied the existing principles, had all of the evidence when I have only seen a flavour of it, and had a hard judgment call to make.  But I do think, and I suspect many of my regular readers will think the same, that this mother has not been fairly treated. Is the fact that she would react very very badly to the news of the plan for removal really sufficient to take from her her article 6 right to a fair hearing about that removal?

Do we have a proper system in place for mothers who have profound mental health problems, not least because often their drugs to control their condition aren’t conducive to being taken in pregnancy? Shouldn’t we be doing more? What are the safeguards for people like this mother?

(I don’t think this will be opening floodgates – the 2009 decision was viewed by most lawyers who read it as being something that would only be used in the most dramatic and extreme circumstances. I’m not sure these are those, however.  I do honestly think that this case probably justifies more public debate than the C-Section case – at least she had legal representation, even if one could argue that she didn’t get much of a say in it )

“Ex parte removal by the back door”

A discussion of the Court of Appeal decision in Re L (A Child) 2013

 I will begin this discussion by being frank. I do not like this decision. I do not like it on a train, I do not like it on a plane. I do not LIKE green eggs and ham.

 I feel deeply uncomfortable with it, and hope sincerely that it is not used as precedent for any future decisions. I hope that it rests with the peculiarly unusual facts of this case only.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/179.html

 In very brief terms, the central issue was this. The Court had profound concerns over a number of months about a child and had a wealth of information about difficulties in the parenting provided to the child. The Court, faced with a shift in the Local Authority stance that the time had come to remove the child, used the powers under section 37 of the Children Act 1989 to make an Interim Care Order, which allowed the Local Authority to remove the child.

 So far, nothing terribly questionable. The facts of the case justified the making of an Interim Care Order, they probably justified removal, and the Court had the power to make an ICO under section 37 of the Children Act 1989 although no application had been made.

 My issue with the case is that what actually happened was the Local Authority deciding that if they placed the mother on notice that they intended to make an application for a Care Order / Interim Care Order, that the child would not be safe.  They obtained a hearing before the Judge, to which the other parties were not invited and did not attend and had no knowledge of.

 

The Court looked at the section 7 report prepared by the Local Authority, which made plain their escalation of concerns, their intention to issue care proceedings and their fear of what mother might do if given notice of that intention, heard from those representing the LA and made a section 37 direction and an Interim Care Order, with a view to a hearing being listed at which the parents could challenge that ICO.

 

  1. On 22nd January 2013 I granted Mr and Mrs S permission to appeal. At that time the understanding that they had, together with their counsel, was that at the without notice hearing the judge had, then and there, made the full 8 week interim care order. In the absence of a transcript of all save for the judge’s final “on notice” judgment, the understanding was that the “on notice” hearing that followed was relatively short, concluding in a judgment in which the judge sought to justify the steps that had already been taken at the “without notice” hearing.
  1. For the purposes of the present hearing we now have a full transcript of the without notice hearing and the on notice hearing together with a short memorandum from counsel, Miss Anna McKenna for the local authority, who appeared before Parker J on 14th December and again before us at this hearing. The greater clarity that those materials provide indicate that some time between 1 p.m. and 1.15 p.m. the s 7 report was handed in for the judge to read in her chambers. At about 1.50 p.m. the local authority team went into court for the “without notice” hearing. Miss McKenna’s recollection, which is confirmed by the transcript of the hearing which runs to just over two sides, is that this hearing lasted a matter of no more than 5 minutes. The judge stated that she had read the s 7 report and was contemplating making an interim care order but questioned the power to do it at a without notice hearing. The potential to utilise s 37 is raised by the judge and the scheme that was apparently adopted is encapsulated in one short exchange:

Miss McKenna: You can make a s 37 placing the child into our care, take the matter immediately and hear inter partes arguments.

Mrs Justice Parker: Including an application for discharge. Could I discharge the care order on that basis?”

  1. There is then a short discussion about security arrangements and the decision that the local authority have taken. The judge then twice states that she is keen to get “everyone in”. At the conclusion Miss McKenna says “may I take it that a s 37 direction has been made?” to which the judge replies “yes, a s 37 direction and a care order, and for the purposes of the transcript I am satisfied that there is a real risk of significant harm to this child if I do not make an interim care order prior to Mrs S understanding that this local authority is wishing to take care proceedings. There is no doubt about that.”

 

 

And the Court of Appeal felt that this was permissible and justified

 

In circumstances where, as I have held, the judge was justified in holding that this child’s safety required immediate protection by means of compulsory removal from her home, a submission that the procedural path chosen by the judge was technically not available to her is only likely to succeed if there is no escaping the procedural points that are made. This is not such a case. The course adopted by the judge is not excluded by any provision in the CA 1989, the FPR 2010 or elsewhere.

Mr Tolson accepts that, in an emergency, the court is not required to follow the pre-proceedings protocol in PD12A. He accepts that if an application had been made either for an emergency protection order or an interim care order it would either be commenced in, or transferred immediately up to Parker J in, the High Court where these long running proceedings were pending (Allocation and Transfer of Proceedings Order 2008, Art 5(3)). Given that M was a ward of the High Court, the local authority would in any event require Parker J’s permission before making an application for an emergency protection order or an interim care order and, before such an order was granted, Parker J would have to order the discharge of the wardship.

Whilst in another case, of course, the alternative steps that I have described could be taken, the fact that an alternative route exists does not mean that the s 37 route chosen by the judge was impermissible. To my mind, the legal requirement for the case to come before Parker J before any application for a public law order could be made, demonstrates the arid nature of the appellants’ technical challenge. Mr Tolson does not submit that Parker J could not have made an interim care order on 14th December or that, if the situation was properly regarded as an emergency, she could not have done so despite non-compliance with PD12A; his submission is simply that a different route should have been followed. It would, in my view, have been permissible for Parker J simply to have made the interim care order upon the local authority undertaking to issue their application that afternoon or the following morning. Finally, if the October s 7 direction had been made under s 37 (as a number of previous directions had been) no jurisdictional issue would exist.

In the unusual circumstances of this case, I am entirely satisfied that Parker J, who had concluded that M’s safety required an immediate order, was justified in using s 37 to achieve that outcome.

 

This is my problem, in a nutshell.  Where a Local Authority wish to initiate care proceedings and they think that the risks of doing so on notice are too great, there is a mechanism for making an application ex parte and having it heard before a Judge.

 The mechanism is to make an ex parte Emergency Protection Order application.

 And because the nature of such an order is draconian, and because the risks of making an order without the parents being there and represented are so serious and risk a breach of article 6, there are incredibly stringent requirements of the Local Authority, who have to demonstrate extraordinarily compelling evidence to do so, pace RE X (A CHILD) sub nom RE X (EMERGENCY PROTECTION ORDERS) (2006) [2006] EWHC 510 (Fam)

It sits extremely badly with me that in private law proceedings (albeit ones that are about to become public law proceedings) a Local Authority can go in and see the Judge ex parte   [not least because they have no locus standi to make any sort of such application] and that a decision can be made which is in practice an ex parte Emergency Protection Order using section 37 of the Children Act, without any of the protective mechanisms of Re X.

I also think, for me, there is a wealth of difference between a Judge weighing up the facts of a case and reaching for section 37, and a Local Authority effectively asking the Judge to exercise the section 37 power to make an ICO without there being an application on the table.

I’ll make it plain, on the facts of this case, which the Court was extremely familiar with, there was a considerable argument that the removal was the right thing to do. There was some very peculiar stuff happening with this poor child, and the watershed moment had been reached.

And I suppose one takes into account that unlike a traditional EPO application where the Court knows nothing of the case but what the applicant tells them, the Court here had a wealth of knowledge.  I have pretty little doubt that HAD the application been framed as an ex-parte Emergency Protection Order application   [there’s sadly quite a bit of song and dance to how you get that heard by the High Court Judge who knows the case, rather than in the Family Proceedings Court] it would have been given and a judgment delivered that would have been safe from appeal. BUT it would have had to have had the Re X safeguards.

Or if the Court of Appeal had said, it is acceptable to use section 37 in this way, but the applicant should have the same duties as set out in Re X and the Court should approach the section 37 request in the same way, where the application is made ex parte.

 I really don’t like this decision, and for me, this is the second recent time that the Court of Appeal have looked at the ability of the Court to make an Interim Care Order (sanctioning removal of a child from parents without the parents having had sight in advance of the Local Authority case and a threshold document) using section 37 as the hook, and have taken a very permissive “the law doesn’t prevent this, so go ahead” stance, rather than focussing on the issues of natural justice and saying that it is a tool to be used with extreme care.

I probably would not have allowed the appeal, since the decision to remove was probably the right one, but would have made it plain that a Court in future faced with any such ex-parte consideration of using section 37, should have firmly in mind the principles of Re X.  

The Court of Appeal don’t, for me, seem to have contemplated that it was never envisaged that the Court would make a section 37 order and ICO without the parents being present or represented at a hearing, because it would TAKE PLACE IN PRIVATE LAW PROCEEDINGS to which they are parties.  It was never envisaged that a Local Authority would be having an ex parte hearing in proceedings where they had no locus (having been asked to compile a section 7 report).

Imaginary written submissions

[These are imaginary written submissions, in relation to an application for an Emergency Protection order  – in reality, one wouldn’t have the opportunity to make them, but they bear some resemblance to what the advocate representing the mother might have said in addressing the bench, though almost certainly in less florid and melodramatic terms.  I have been very careful, as any advocate would, not to misrepresent any facts]

  1. This application for an Emergency Protection Order is made by the Local Authority. The mother has had very limited notice of the hearing, and very limited opportunity to see the case put against her. She has had to defend her position and persuade the Court not to make this most draconian of orders without having the opportunity to see the Local Authority case in writing, or to put into writing her own account of events.

It is for those very reasons that the Courts have set down authorities that making an order of this kind is draconian, and requires “compelling evidence”,  particularly, the decision of RE X (A CHILD) sub nom RE X (EMERGENCY PROTECTION ORDERS) (2006) [2006] EWHC 510 (Fam)

  1. I will come on to those matters in a moment; but the Court should have in mind the context that to remove a child from a parent at any stage requires cogent evidence that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold is made out, but that beyond that, that the decision to remove is a proportionate one to make far in advance of assessments or a final hearing bearing in mind the alleged nature of the risk, and that to do so at an Emergency Protection Order stage requires extraordinarily compelling evidence that it is effectively the only thing to do, it is an order of last resort.  And that it should only be contemplated if imminent danger is actually established.
  1. The legal context is then set out in Re X, and the predecessor case, also Re X. In X Council v B (Emergency Protection Orders) [2004] EWHC 2015 (Fam); [2005]1 FLR 341,  

      Quoting from the earlier case :-

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’.

 

 

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

  1. So there must be a serious emergency, to justify having such an important hearing in such a rush, and there must be compelling and detailed evidence that an EPO is the only real course of action, and the applicant has to establish imminent danger; the burden of proof is on them to prove that there IS, not on the parent to prove that there ISN’T.
  1. Let us look at what the Local Authority claim this “emergency” is.  The child is thirteen months old.  It is said by them that he has been known to Social Services throughout his life, and that is true. It is also said by them that he has spent a period of time in voluntary foster care, and that is also true. He was in voluntary foster care for around two months, but has been at home with mother for nearly six months since then.  There have been periods of his life where he has been on the child protection register – the same is of course true of many children.
  1. It is accepted that there are positive reports from the health visitor and childminder, and the social worker accepts that the mother’s presentation around the child, and the child around her, is illustrative of a loving relationship.
  1. They say that the ‘emergency’ triggering event, is that yesterday, the mother took the child to a hospital appointment, and that the child had visible bruises.  
  1. That is also true. But what is also true is that the doctor who examined him has said is that the child was unwell and miserable and probably had a viral infection, that he had a history of aggressive behaviour including head-butting the floor, and that there is nowhere within the medical report a conclusion that those bruises were non-accidental, or likely to be non-accidental, or could possibly be non-accidental.  
  1. The best evidence about these bruises comes from the paediatrician – she saw the bruises, she saw the child, she took the history, she is after all, the expert in these matters. That’s the evidence before the Court, and it concludes that the bruises were caused accidentally. We deal in evidence, not mere suspicion.  Where there is suspicion and it is relied upon, there must be evidence to support that suspicion.
  1. The Local Authority say that there is a history of previous bruising, and again, that is true. But it is not for them to put two and two together and make sixteen. The doctor examining him saw the child, took the history from mother, read the previous history, and if the doctor felt that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the bruises were non-accidental, then she would have said so when asked to prepare this report for Court.
  1. The case has been brought to Court, for what I have to remind the Court is the most draconian type of order, requiring compelling evidence, because the social worker has made her own diagnosis that the doctor, who is qualified to examine children and draw conclusions, has got this wrong.
  1. Well, in the spirit of generosity, perhaps the doctor has got this wrong. Perhaps, and this is not the mother’s case at all, there is a history here which needs looking at with a fresh pair of eyes. The mother is confident that another paediatrician will come to the same conclusions and that these lingering suspicions will be removed. 
  1. But to REMOVE this child from mother’s care, because the paediatrician might have got this wrong, cannot be the right thing to do. If the Local Authority consider that there is something here which needs to be investigated, then they can issue an application for a care order, set out their concerns and their evidence for those concerns on paper, and the Court can consider whether an independent paediatric assessment of the child is warranted.  That is an argument for another day.
  1. What these circumstances do not add up to, in any way shape or form, is the sort of compelling evidence that this child has been suffering significant harm or is likely to do so, and that he should be removed from his mother’s care and put in foster care, much less so on such short notice, with such a paucity of evidence before the Court.  
  1. The Local Authority point to some historical bruising – seven months ago, there was some bruising. The mother says that this was caused in play with some other children. A medical report at that time felt that it was suspicious and might be non-accidental.  The child came into foster care during a police investigation – the mother cooperated with that, and as we have heard, two months later the child came home.
  1. What they try to do now, is to add that, where they have a medical report which does give rise to some legitimate concern, to the situation today, where they have a medical report that raises no concerns at all, and try to force the two things together. As I said earlier, this is a case of trying to make two and two make five.
  1. Respectfully, they cannot do that. If we had been here seven months ago, with the report from the doctor saying there were suspicious bruises, then perhaps there would be a case to deal with. But something can’t be an emergency, if you wait for seven months to bring it up. Something can’t require the court to urgently intervene to protect the child if the LA had him in care and were happy to send him home five months ago.  And something that the paediatrician who saw the child yesterday already knew about and had read in the medical records, when they decided that the child was safe to go home from hospital with his mother, can’t now become evidence that the child is not safe at home and has to be removed. 
  1. If the previous bruises made the paediatrician yesterday look at the bruises with a more cynical and suspicious eye, then that is one thing, but that isn’t what happened. In the light of knowing about those previous bruises, the paediatrician was satisfied that what mum was saying, what her own eyes showed her – an aggressive hyperactive child with a temperature and a virus who was head-banging, had got those bruises by doing just that.  
  1. The Local Authority essentially say, “well, she should have done”, but that is neither here nor there. In terms of actual evidence, she didn’t. There is no medical opinion that those bruises seen yesterday were caused non-accidental.
  1.  This isn’t an emergency. The child is at home with mum, safe and well. The hospital didn’t feel the need yesterday to say “this is risky, we can’t send him home”.  
  1. The child doesn’t need protection. There is no evidence of significant harm here. The highest it can be put is that the Local Authority would want a fresh medical opinion looking at all the notes.
  1. There is no need for an order, particularly the most draconian order that can be made by a Court. 
  1. Is the evidence here “extraordinary compelling”?   Have the Local Authority actually established imminent danger?   In setting out why the evidence of the social worker, who has not seen these bruises, should be preferred to that of the independent expert paediatrician, who has, have the Local Authority provided evidence which is “full, detailed, precise and compelling”?  With “detailed evidence and properly articulated reasoning”?
  1. In my respectful submissions, they have come nowhere near, and the application should be refused.

 

 

Well, unless you have been under a rock for a few years, you will know that the name of the child in the case is Peter Connolly, and you probably twigged that very early on.   

 

You will also know that the Local Authority DID NOT issue an emergency court application, on either the day the paediatrician saw the child or the day after.

 

If they had, would it have saved Peter? Probably not, as you can see here, the case against making the EPO is overwhelming.   I have to be candid and say that if they had rung me, with the medical opinion being as it was, I would have advised that an EPO had no prospect of success. It wasn’t even finely balanced.

 

You may be thinking that I have stacked the deck here, by making it an Emergency Protection Order, where the bar is so much higher following the Re X decisions than the test for an ICO. 

 

Well, I haven’t stacked the deck, because there were just two days, and only 1 full working day between the paediatrician seeing Peter and him being killed. So an Emergency Protection Order was the only order that Haringey could have applied for that would have had him out of the home before he was killed.

 

If such an application had been made, it would have been resisted, along similar lines to this – the test for an EPO is very high, it needs extraordinarily compelling evidence, the Court need to be satisfied that there is actual evidence of imminent danger, and that the paediatrician who examined the child didn’t make a diagnosis of NAI.

 

That’s not to defend Haringey – there were clearly mistakes made, largely at the point when having got an earlier paediatric report saying non-accidental bruises, they didn’t issue. Nor did they issue at the point where they had the child in foster care and the point came where he was going home to mother unless they got a Court order.

 

Nor is it to castigate those who would represent a parent in this situation. Far from it, those are exactly the points that should have been made, and any barrister or solicitor representing a parent against those facts would have been pretty shabby if they hadn’t left the court room with their client going home with the child.

If I’d been representing Peter’s mother on that day, with those facts, I would have fought to make sure the EPO wasn’t made. And it would have been the right thing to do, regardless of how it later turned out. The Court have to decide cases on evidence, and in this case, the medical evidence to justify an EPO wasn’t there.

 

My point is that it would have been extraordinarily hard to save baby Peter’s life AT that critical point, the last chance to intervene to save him simply would not have worked. If the LA had flown in the face of the paediatric evidence and sought an EPO, they would not have got one. The best they could have hoped for would be that there would be an ICO hearing a week later. By which time it was too late.

 

From what information there was, at the last possible moment to save him, you would not have persuaded a Court that he needed to be taken into foster care there and then.  It is very easy to make all sorts of different decisions in hindsight, but I do believe that it is worth bearing that in mind  – the media portrayal is that this was an inevitable course of action that could have been averted at any time, but I would suggest that things often appear inevitable when you are working back from a known outcome.  If you had been there, at an EPO hearing on that day, with the facts that were known at the time, you would have been appalled if the Court had granted the EPO.  

 

[of course, had the paediatrician seen all that was there to be seen, then firstly Peter would have remained in hospital instead of going home, and secondly, there would have been compelling evidence of imminent danger, and the whole case is transformed]