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Here come the Hofstetter

Extraordinary, juice like a strawberry

The Court of Appeal in Re S-F (A child) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/964.html

Manage to go through the gears from – it might be helpful to see the Agency Decision Maker’s Hofstetter decision record as to how the decision as to adoption was reached to ‘it is good practice for the LA to provide that’ to ‘it is bad practice if they don’t provide it’ in the space of a single paragraph.

So from here on out, it is bad practice for a Local Authority not to file and serve the Hofstetter record when they lodge a placement order application.

Also, I’ve got this gold ring with writing on it that I need you to get rid of if you have a moment, the one that says “One ring to rule them all” – so if you could just dispose of that for me, that’d be just peachy. Thanks!

One does not simply walk into Mordor Family Proceedings Court…

(The Hofstetter document case http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2009/3282.html Hofstetter and Another v London Borough of Barnet 2009

132.I appreciate that the Agency Decision Makers are very busy and the potential advantages both in saving time and resources, and in avoiding arguments based on differences of expression, that flow from them adopting the reasons for a recommendation. But in my view before that course is taken the Agency Decision Maker must consider with care, in the light if his or her role and the wider information he or she has, which of the reasons underlying the recommendations he or she is adopting and why this is the case.

133.Perhaps particularly when, as here, the recommendation for the qualifying determination and the decision in the case are the same, I suggest that, with a view to ensuring that the Agency Decision Masker approaches the making of the decision in the case, and thus a reconsideration of the case, with an open mind, and as the decision maker, it would be a good discipline and appropriate for him or her to:

i) list the material taken into account,

ii) identify the key arguments on both sides,

iii) ask whether he or she agrees with the process and approach of each of the relevant panels and is satisfied as to its fairness, and that both panels have properly addressed the arguments,

iv) consider whether any information he or she has that was not before a relevant panel has an impact on its reasons or recommendation,

v) identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendations that he or she does, or does not, wish to adopt, and

vi) state (a) the adopted reasons by cross reference, repetition or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for his or her decision, when informing the prospective adopters of that decision.

This is a fact and issue sensitive exercise. But in my view it, or a similar approach, should assist the Agency Decision Maker to identify the issues, the factors that have to be weighed and importantly his or her reasons (rather than those of others) for the decision that he or she is charged with making as the Agency Decision Maker )

Here is what the Court of Appeal say (in Re S-F) about it now being bad practice if the ADM minutes of the decision making process are not filed and served. Note the line about the record being ‘susceptible of cross-examination’


11. The permanence report and the agency decision maker’s record of decision contain the required analysis and reasoning which is necessary to support an application for a placement order. They are disclosable documents that should be scrutinised by the children’s guardian and are susceptible of cross examination. It is good practice to file them with the court in support of a placement order application. Given their importance, I would go further and say that it is poor practice not to file them with the court because this is the documentation that records in original form the pros and cons of each of the realistic care options and the social work reasoning behind the local authority’s decision to apply for a placement order.

Ryder LJ also reminded practitioners about Re B-S (in case anyone has forgotten it) but does so with punchy language

The proportionality of interference in family life that an adoption represents must be justified by evidence not assumptions that read as stereotypical slogans. A conclusion that adoption is better for a child than long term fostering may well be correct but an assumption as to that conclusion is not evidence even if described by the legend as something that concerns identity, permanence, security and stability.

And stresses that the evidence and analysis has to be centred around the particular child, not merely relying on general thinking for children of similar ages and characteristics. What is right for THIS child, and why is that said to be right?

In order to have weight, the proposition that adoption is in the best interests of the child concerned throughout his life and is preferable to long term fostering should be supported by a social work opinion derived from a welfare analysis relating to the child. If appropriate, the conclusions of empirically validated research material can be relied upon in support of the welfare analysis, for example: research into the feasibility and success of different types of long term placements by reference to the age, background, social or medical characteristics. As this court has repeatedly remarked, the citation of other cases to identify the benefits of adoption as against long term fostering is no substitute for evidence and advice to the court on the facts of the particular case.

The Court of Appeal also criticised the LA for stopping their family finding once they were aware that an appeal was pending – the appeal took ages to be heard, and therefore the Court didn’t have up to date evidence about the family finding process. (Candidly, I’d have done the same as this LA – you’re not going to find any matches for a child whilst there’s an appeal pending, and you can’t do anything with a potential match even if you find one. But don’t do that in the future – keep up the fruitless and time-consuming search for a match, just so you can tell the Court of Appeal that no prospective adopters want to be matched with a child whilst they know there is an appeal pending and that nobody knows how long the appeal process will take)

5. It is a matter of regret that in the six months that has intervened between the order complained of and the appeal hearing the local authority did not see fit to undertake concurrent planning in order that they might know about the success or likelihood of success of a search for an adoptive placement. The appeal after all is being heard at a time when the local authority would have abandoned its search for adoptive carers, the child having been with his foster carer for six months. The irony of that circumstance appeared to be lost on the local authority until it was pointed out. It is no good saying that appeals should not take so long. I am sure everyone would agree but local authorities have statutory care planning and review obligations and that includes consideration of the adverse impact on a child of delay. If it is the case that a welfare analysis necessitated a time limited search for adoption, the same analysis should inform the local authority’s planning process over the same time period

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Payne v Payne – rumours of my death have been much exaggerated

 

But now, it looks as though they are finally correct.

If you aren’t familiar with Payne v Payne, it was a Court of Appeal decision about a mother wanting to leave the country with a child and start a new life abroad. The Court of Appeal had provided a set of questions to be posed

 

“(a) Is the mother’s application genuine in the sense that it is not motivated by some selfish desire to exclude the father from the child’s life?…. Is the mother’s application realistic, by which I mean, founded on practical proposals both well researched and investigated? …

(b) Is [the father’s opposition] motivated by genuine concern for the future of the child’s welfare or is it driven by some ulterior motive…What would be the extent of the detriment to him and his future relationship with the child were the application granted? To what extent would that be offset by extension of the child’s relationships with the maternal family and homeland?…

(c) What would be the impact on the mother, either as the single parent or as a new wife, of a refusal of her realistic proposal?…”

 

You can see that those questions drive the Court in many cases to approve the mother moving to say Australia, even though the impact on the child’s relationship with father would be devastating.

 

Payne v Payne would have to go down as one of the least-loved decisions of the Court of Appeal, and occasional efforts are made by the Court of Appeal to backtrack from it – although with difficulty, because it would have needed a Supreme Court decision or a change in statute to do so categorically.

 

The usual efforts have been to create a new category of case to which Payne v Payne doesn’t apply.  And so many Court hearings are taken up with debate as to whether the case before the Court is a  “K v K” case, or a “Re Y” case or a “Payne v Payne” case   (and that taxonomic debate can have a huge bearing on the outcome)

“[60]. There is another lesson to be learnt from this case. Adopting conventional terminology, this was neither a ‘primary carer’ nor a ‘shared care’ case. In other words, and like a number of other international relocation cases, it did not fall comfortably within the existing taxonomy. This is hardly surprising. As Moore-Bick LJ said in K v K, “the circumstances in which these difficult decisions have to be made vary infinitely.” This is not, I emphasise, a call for an elaboration of the taxonomy. Quite the contrary. The last thing that this very difficult area of family law requires is a satellite jurisprudence generating an ever-more detailed classification of supposedly different types of relocation case. Any move in that direction is, in my judgment, to be firmly resisted. But so too advocates and judges must resist the temptation to try and force the facts of the particular case with which they are concerned within some forensic straightjacket. Asking whether a case is a “Payne type case”, or a “K v K type case” or a “Re Y type case”, when in truth it may be none of them, is simply a recipe for unnecessary and inappropriate forensic dispute or worse. It is to be avoided.”

 

For almost the entire time that Payne v Payne 2001 has been authority, Judges have been making speeches deprecating it and forecasting that it would be properly overturned.

In the snappily named   Re F (A child) (International Relocation Cases)(DF and NBF) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/882.html

 

The Court of Appeal overturn the decision of a Judge who had followed the Payne v Payne test and posed those questions in the judgment. Not because the case had been wrongly classified as a Payne v Payne rather than K v K or Re Y, but just because the Court of Appeal rule that the proper approach IN ALL Children Act cases is to follow the welfare paramountcy principle as the major factor, with adherence to the guidance given by the Courts in authority cases but never losing sight of the fact that the welfare paramountcy principle is, erm, paramount.

This is one of those cases that we are seeing a lot with the Court of Appeal as it is presently constructed  – the case before it is used as a vehicle to deploy new policy, rather than any real argument that the Judge in a particular case was “wrong”  instead it is the Court of Appeal using a particular case as a method of delivering a binding speech about policy for similar cases in the future.

 

I am not sure how a Judge could be “wrong” in considering, as this Judge did, all of the relevant authorities on relocation, applying those principles and answering within the judgment the questions that Judges are told to ask themselves and answer.   Any Judge could have been unlucky enough to be overturned on this, as the Court of Appeal had just been waiting for a good opportunity to put an end to Payne v Payne.

 

 

43. Reduced to the barest essentials the guiding principles and precepts are as follows. The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration. That is the only true principle. In deciding, in a case such as this, where a child should be located it is necessary for the court to consider the proposals both of the father and of the mother in the light of , inter alia, the welfare check list (whether because it is compulsorily applicable or because it is a useful guide) and having regard to the interests of the parties, and most important of all, of the child. Such consideration needs to be directed at each of the proposals taken as a whole. The court also needs to compare the rival proposals against each other since a proposal, or a feature of a proposal, which may seem inappropriate, looked at on its own, may take on a different complexion when weighed against the alternative; and vice versa.

  1. For the reasons given by my Lord, in the present case the judge’s reliance on the Payne v Payne criteria led her away from carrying out the necessary overall welfare analysis that was needed

 

If you are a proper law geek and you are wondering how the Court of Appeal can strangle Payne v Payne when it was a Court of Appeal decision and stare decisis applies  (i.e the Court of Appeal is bound by Court of Appeal decisions unless the Supreme Court or statute changes), then here is the answer

 

 

  1. The ratio of the decision in Payne was more nuanced in the sense that the questions were always intended to be part of a welfare analysis and were not intended to be elevated into principles or presumptions. Regrettably that is not how they were perceived and the best intentions of the court were lost in translation. The caution expressed by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P in Payne went unheeded, namely that guidance that had been derived from authorities such as Poel v Poel [1970] 1 WLR 1469 was being expressed in “too rigid terms” and ‘unduly firmly’ with an over emphasis on one element of the case. I respectfully agree with her and with the benefit of hindsight the continued use of the Payne guidance by courts without putting it into the context of a welfare analysis perpetuated the problem.
  2. Furthermore, in the decade or more since Payne it would seem odd indeed for this court to use guidance which out of the context which was intended is redolent with gender based assumptions as to the role and relationships of parents with a child. Likewise, the absence of any emphasis on the child’s wishes and feelings or to take the question one step back, the child’s participation in the decision making process, is stark. The questions identified in Payne may or may not be relevant on the facts of an individual case and the court will be better placed if it concentrates not on assumptions or preconceptions but on the statutory welfare question which is before it, to which I will return in due course.
  3. The approach which is now to be applied could not have been more clearly stated than it was in Re F where Munby LJ said at [37] and [61]:

    “[37] There can be no presumptions in a case governed by s 1 of the Children Act 1989. From the beginning to the end the child’s welfare is paramount and the evaluation of where the child’s interests truly lie is to be determined having regard to the ‘welfare checklist’ in section 1(3)”

    “[61] The focus from beginning to end must be on the child’s best interests. The child’s welfare is paramount. Every case must be determined having regards to the ‘welfare checklist’, though of course also having regard, where relevant and helpful, to such guidance as may have been given by this Court”

 

 

For those, such as Ian (Forced Adoption) who are not fans of the word ‘holistic’, there’s a bit at the end of the judgment where McFarlane LJ who has inadvertenly popularised the term rather deprecates its overuse (and misuse). He points out that it is not a new or novel creation, but a restoration of the way that the law had worked and decisions HAD been made before a “linear method” had taken hold and moved us away from a proper practice of looking at the whole of the relevant evidence and issues and making a decision that was in the child’s best interests.

 

  1. The word ‘holistic’ now appears regularly in judgments handed down at all levels of the Family Court. This burgeoning usage may arise from my own deployment of the word in a judgment in Re G (Care Proceedings: Welfare Evaluation) [2013] EWCA Civ 965; [2014] 1 FLR 670 where, at paragraph 50, I described the judicial task in evaluating the welfare determination at the conclusion of public law children proceedings as requiring:

    i. ‘a global, holistic evaluation of each of the options available for the child’s future upbringing before deciding which of those options best meets the duty to afford paramount consideration to the child’s welfare.’

  2. Having heard argument in this and other cases, I apprehend that there is a danger that this adjective, and its purpose within my judgment in Re G, may become elevated into a free-standing term of art in a way which is entirely at odds with my original meaning.
  3. In the judgment in Re G my purpose in using the word ‘holistic’ was simply to adopt a single word designed to encapsulate what seasoned Family Lawyers would call ‘the old-fashioned welfare balancing exercise’, in which each and every relevant factor relating to a child’s welfare is weighed, one against the other, to determine which of a range of options best meets the requirement to afford paramount consideration to the welfare of the child. The overall balancing exercise is ‘holistic’ in that it requires the court to look at the factors relating to a child’s welfare as a whole; as opposed to a ‘linear’ approach which only considers individual components in isolation.
  4. Reference to ‘a global, holistic evaluation’ in Re G was absolutely not intended to introduce a new approach into the law. On the contrary, such an evaluation was put forward as the accepted conventional approach to conducting a welfare analysis, as opposed to a new and unacceptable approach of ‘linear’ evaluation which was seen to have been gaining ground.
  5. In the context that I have described, it is clear that a ‘global, holistic evaluation’ is no more than shorthand for the overall, comprehensive analysis of a child’s welfare seen as a whole, having regard in particular to the circumstances set out in the relevant welfare checklist [CA 1989, s 1(3) or Adoption and Children Act 2002, s 1(4)]. Such an analysis is required, by CA 1989, s 1(1) and/or ACA 2002, s 1(2) when a court determines any question with respect to a child’s upbringing. In some cases, for example where the issue is whether the location for a ‘handover’ under a Child Arrangements Order under CA 1989, s 8 is to take place at MacDonalds or Starbucks, the evaluation will be short and very straight forward. In other cases, for example a case of international relocation, the factors that must be given due consideration and appropriate weight on either side of the scales of the welfare balance may be such as to require an analysis of some sophistication and complexity. However, whatever the issue before the court, the task is the same; the court must weigh up all of the relevant factors, look at the case as a whole, and determine the course that best meets the need to afford paramount consideration to the child’s welfare. That is what, and that is all, that I intended to convey by the short phrase ‘global, holistic evaluation’.

 

 

 

Note also that whilst Ryder LJ emphasises and endorse the ‘balance sheet’ approach of the Court having a tabular document setting out the pros and cons of each option, McFarlane LJ deprecates that

Finally I wish to add one further observation relating to paragraph 29 of Ryder LJ’s judgment where my Lord suggests that it may be helpful for judges facing the task of analysing competing welfare issues to gain assistance by the use of a ‘balance sheet’. Whilst I entirely agree that some form of balance sheet may be of assistance to judges, its use should be no more than an aide memoire of the key factors and how they match up against each other. If a balance sheet is used it should be a route to judgment and not a substitution for the judgment itself. A key step in any welfare evaluation is the attribution of weight, or lack of it, to each of the relevant considerations; one danger that may arise from setting out all the relevant factors in tabular format, is that the attribution of weight may be lost, with all elements of the table having equal value as in a map without contours.

 

It will not amaze anyone to know that I am firmly with McFarlane LJ on this.  A balance sheet approach can easily distort a case  – you could produce a table that has 2 cons and 14 pros, but the cons could outweigh the pros because of the weight attached to those two things, whereas some of the pros could be fairly trivial in significance. A visual image of a table with 2 cons and 14 pros, however, is going to lead to an impression that the option is desireable and that the balance is firmly in its favour.

 

As the third Judge, Clarke LJ merely says this, in relation to the weighing up exercise

The court also needs to compare the rival proposals against each other since a proposal, or a feature of a proposal, which may seem inappropriate, looked at on its own, may take on a different complexion when weighed against the alternative; and vice versa.

 

the issue of whether Balance Sheets are, on balance, good or bad, remains a live issue to be resolved.

 

Experts and fairness

The Court of Appeal decision in Re C (a child) 2015 raises a number of important practice points. There are some important NEW things, which I’ve indicated with a NEW   subheading.  The NEW thing on litigants in person (that the judicial training and best practice is for them to take the oath at the start of the hearing so that all of their representations are effectively evidence and on oath), is a substantial new development. I can also see that where one party is represented and the other not, that the unrepresented party will perceive some unfairness in one party having sworn that everything they say in Court shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and the other party not having given the same oath.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/539.html

 

This arose from a dispute over contact (Child Arrangements) between a mother who was represented by counsel and a father who was appearing in person and for whom English was not his first language. The case came before the Magistrates and mother, through counsel, made a request that father should undertake a psychological assessment.

There was no formal application and none of the requirements of Part 25 had been complied with.  Nor did the Court approach it on the correct statutory basis – that it is for the person seeking an expert to be instructed to satisfy the Court that it is necessary.  This was appealed to a circuit Judge, who upheld the decision.

 

As the Court of Appeal said

It is a matter of some surprise that both of these decisions were made as if the statutory scheme and the Rules simply did not exist. That is unacceptable and it is necessary to explain why, so that the same error does not occur again.

 

Some very quick practice points:-

 

1. The father could not be compelled to undertake a psychological assessment against his will. The original order was that father should  ‘submit’ to a psychological assessment, telling words.

The order made by the magistrates also fell into error in two other respects a) in the way in which it was worded so as to direct the father to undertake what was a medical assessment and b) in the manner in which the costs of the expert were to be provided for. I can take the first error shortly. It is an elementary principle that a competent adult cannot be ordered to have a medical procedure. A psychological assessment of the kind anticipated by the direction made in this case is a medical procedure. If psychological expert evidence is necessary and, as is likely if it is going to have any weight, it involves one or more of the adults or children in the family, the direction should be that the parties concerned ‘have permission to instruct ….. etc’. That should be accompanied by a warning explained to the parties in court about the negative inferences that the court can draw if a party fails to co-operate or comply. That warning should be included in the record that forms part of the court’s order i.e. as a recital.

 

What a Court can do is indicate that a psychological assessment is necessary, and invite a parent to participate in it, and advise the parent that they may not be able to allay concerns if they don’t participate. I.e if there is compelling evidence that a parent has a psychological problem and that instructing a psychologist would allow that evidence to be countered, or a proper understanding of the nature and degree of the problem and prognosis for change isn’t available, that might remain a concern of the Court when it comes to making final decisions.

NEW

The Court of Appeal suggest that it is good practice to include in the order a judicial warning about the consequences to the party in not engaging with the assessment (which must include parents who have agreed to the assessment, in case they do not turn up to appointments)

 

Only if the evidence justifies the necessity should permission be given to adduce expert evidence. Only in that circumstance should a party be at risk of a negative inference being drawn from a failure to comply. It is good practice to include the risk of a negative inference being drawn from non-compliance as a recital to an order giving permission.

The Court making an order compelling father to submit to an assessment that he did not agree to submit to, in itself would have been sufficient to win the appeal – since father wasn’t in agreement, the order made was improper.

2. The costs were split equally, even though father was a litigant in person (and would thus be paying his share himself, whereas mother’s would be on legal aid) without any exploration of whether he could afford it.

The costs of the expert were expressed to be apportioned equally between the parties with the expectation that the mother’s costs would be provided for by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). No attempt was made to ascertain father’s financial position with the consequence that his ability to pay was unknown. One must also observe that because part 25 was not complied with the court did not know whether the report would cost £4,000 or £10,000. One might think that was a matter of some importance. Likewise, it was an unwarranted assumption that the LAA would pay half the costs. There was no indication from them by way of prior authority or otherwise to that effect and the reasons given by the magistrates came nowhere near that which would ordinarily be required to satisfy their guidance (not least because neither part 25 of the Rules nor the statutory criteria in section 13 had been complied with).

 

3. The Court wrongly approached it as being the father’s obligation to show why the assessment wasn’t necessary. AND in their reasons simply recited the mother’s submissions without engaging in any analysis

  1. A flavour of the proceedings can be ascertained from this exchange between the chairman of the bench and the father in response to Ms. Slee’s application and submissions:

    Q “The mother is making an allegation that she believes she cannot agree to contact because she believes you may have a psychological problem that needs addressing”.

    A “But that is wrong”.

    Q “Well, that has yet to be proved. What I would like you to do, yes, it is to address the court as to why you think that is not necessary…………”.

  2. The obligation was placed on the father to demonstrate that a report was unnecessary. That was simply wrong. In the subsequent exchanges between the parties and the legal advisor there is regrettably an inference that because the mother has made her allegations then without anything further, let alone any evidence, the father must justify his position. There is no reference to any evidence by anyone and no consideration in that context of a proper and fair process.

 

AND

  1. The written reasons for the decision given by the magistrates are as follows:

    “We agree with [the mother] that any report in these proceedings should be independent and instructed by the court not by either of the parties. We consider that a report on [the father] is necessary in order for us to progress contact further. We have been presented with a number of different applications in this case and we have made little progress since February 2014. We need to ensure that contact is safe for [the child] and if contact progresses we will need to be sure that [the child] can be safe in the care of [the father] outside of a contact centre. We have concerns about the way in which [the father] is dealing with this application, for instance the videoing of [the child] within the contact centre, a complete breach of contact centre rules and the number of applications made to this court with the inability to focus on the contact application. We therefore consider that in order to rule out any psychological issues, we require a report in relation to [the father]”.

  2. That was no more than a recital of the mother’s case without analysis. It was not an analysis which had regard to the evidence or the criteria set out in s13(7) of the 2014 Act. The magistrates did not reason why they disagreed with the cogent advice of the FCA as they were obliged to do having regard to the terms of the statutory scheme and the procedural code.

4. The Court of Appeal will be slow to intervene on case management decisions of a Court, but where they have not followed the procedure and law, the Court of Appeal will intervene if asked.  Therefore, a properly formulated Part 25 application is essential  (particularly if the instruction is contested)

I entirely accept that case management is an art best practised by the judge who has conduct of the proceedings and that this court should be very slow indeed to intervene to substitute its own view. That said, welfare and procedural justice are key components of the task and if they are missing this court will be bound to intervene. I need go no further than to repeat the conclusion of the President at paragraph [37] of Re TG:

“37. None of this, of course, is intended to encourage excess on the part of case management judges or inappropriate deference on the part of the Court of Appeal. There is, as always, a balance to be struck. As Black LJ went on to observe in RE B, para [48]:

“Robust case management…..very much has its place in family proceedings but it also has its limits.”

I respectfully agree. The task of the case management judge is to arrange a trial that is fair; fair, that is, judged both by domestic standards and by the standards mandated by Articles 6 and 8. The objective is that spelt out in rule 1.1 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, namely a trial conducted “justly”, “expeditiously and fairly” and in a way which is “proportionate to the nature, importance and complexity of the issues”, but never losing sight of the need to have regard to the welfare issues involved.

 

NEW

5. Protection for litigants in person

 

The Court of Appeal discussed the training that the judiciary have had to protect litigants in person. They point out that it is good practice to put the litigant on person on oath at the start of the hearing, so that all of their representations are classed as evidence. Not having had the judicial training, I was unaware of this. It is important to know this, so that if you are in Court with a litigant in person you know whether the Court has taken that step (or formally decided not to and set out a short explanation as to the reason for the deviation)

  1. I shall digress for a moment to consider the means by which a fair process can be afforded to a litigant in person whose language is not English, particularly in a hearing where the other party is represented. There are professional statements of good practice which already exist to ensure that a party in this position is afforded proper access to justice. The implementation of the family justice reforms has included teaching provided by the Judicial College to judges about that good practice. Magistrates sit in the Family Court as judges of that court in accordance with the Crime and Courts Act 2013. They are afforded the same teaching as professional judges. I shall simply take note of the training they have had. The practice that is recommended is that litigants in person are sworn at the outset of the hearing so that their representations can be used as evidence. They should each be asked to set out their case (preferably without interruption and in a fixed time window) and they should be encouraged by the court to answer any relevant propositions put by the other party. The court should identify the key issues for them and put the same issues to each of them at the beginning or end of the statements they are invited to make.
  2. The court should ask the applicant to reply to any matters he or she has not covered before making a decision. Questions which either party want to ask of the other party, assuming that the representations are to be relied upon as evidence, should be asked through the judge where the questioner is a litigant in person so that inappropriate control is not exercised by one party over the other and irrelevant questions can be avoided.
  3. This was not the process used by the magistrates and their legal advisor. Given that such a process might have facilitated a fairer hearing for the father in this case, it is regrettable that it or a similar appropriate process was not used. Give the number of litigants in person in the Family Court the time may have come for this process to be formalised into practice guidance or a practice direction.

 

 

The really sad thing in this case is that there have been three hearings about a psychological assessment, when it appears that the chief complaint against father was that he took photographs during his contact. That particular nut was cracked with a hydrogen bomb rather than the proverbial sledgehammer.

 

  1. This court knows from the transcript and from a Cafcass report of 9 September 2014 which was before the magistrates that the FCA had concluded that there were no safeguarding issues, that the risk of domestic violence was low and that the child enjoyed contact with his father. The FCA’s aim had been to achieve fortnightly unsupervised contact in the community in due course and there was no obvious reason why that would not have been practicable or in the child’s best interests.
  2. In that context what had the father allegedly done? He had photographed his son in the contact centre setting which had led to the sessions being suspended because that was a breach of the centre’s rules. He had made an allegation about the maternal grandfather which I think amounted to excess chastisement (which is an allegation not yet been determined by a court), and he had made his applications to the court. As the magistrates’ reasons record he was criticised by the mother for his behaviour during contact and for his inability to focus on and take advice about the applications before the court.

 

Removal from grandparents under Interim Care Order

This is a curious appeal (I have to say that my gut feeling is that the grandparents were damn unlucky to lose this appeal, but of course the Court of Appeal have the benefit of seeing the papers and hearing the full argument. And each time I read the appeal judgment, my view that the grandparents were damn unlucky increased.  )

 

Re T (Children) 2015

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed144754

There are two issues of wide import

 

1. That the test for removal under an ICO from grandparents is exactly the same as for removal from parents.

[Most of us thought this and worked on that premise, but it is helpful for the Court of Appeal to formally confirm it –  in short terms – the child’s safety must require immediate separation]

2. That the original trial Judge had not been fair in curtailing the time for the parents to seek a Stay application before the Court of Appeal – and had gone too far.

 

A stay, for those readers who are not lawyers, is an application that can be made to say “Don’t take the action that the Judge ordered, because I intend to appeal that order, and things should stay the same way as they are now until that appeal can be heard”  (think of it like a ‘stay of execution’)

In this case, a judgment concluding that Interim Care Orders were made and that the children could be removed by social workers was announced on Friday 30th January. Counsel for the grandparents immediately applied for a stay  (don’t remove the children until I can get before the Court of Appeal) . The Judge granted a stay until 2.30pm on Monday 2nd February, but didn’t send out his judgment until 1.00pm on that Monday. Even if counsel happened to be free and immediately available to look at the judgment the second the email arrived, that only gave 90 minutes to read it, draw up an appeal notice and lodge the appeal. Oh, and get before an Appeal Court to ask them for a stay. And have that application heard and decided. Ninety minutes doesn’t perhaps seem like a fair amount of time for that.

Mr Elliott of counsel seems to me a top bloke, but I don’t actually believe that he is the Fastest Man Alive (as anyone will know, that is Barry Allen. And yes, The Flash is faster than Superman)

 

except maybe Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash

Although counsel asked for the stay to be continued for longer, the Court were only prepared to grant him an extra ninety minutes. Thus, by the time that the grandparents case for an appeal was able to be considered, the children had already been removed – that must have massively damaged their prospects of success.

If the Court had been reasonable and granted the stay for say 24 hours after delivery of a judgment that was known to be likely to be appealed, that injustice would not have occurred.

14. Before descending to the merits of the appeal itself, it is necessary to dwell for a short time on the procedural progress of the appeal and in particular upon the paternal grandparents’ application for a stay of the interim care order to allow them to issue papers in the Court of Appeal and make application to this court for an extension of any stay until at least the permission to appeal application could be determined.

15. The sequence of events is that the judge, as I have indicated, announced his decision to make the interim care order on Friday, 30 January, but did not hand down his judgment until it was circulated by email to the advocates shortly after 1 pm on Monday, 2 February. On the application of counsel, Mr Mark Elliott, who has conspicuously and very effectively stood up for the interests of the paternal grandparents in these proceedings, the judge granted a stay on Friday, the 30th until 2.30 on Monday, 2 February. It became clear during the course of the morning of the Monday that preparation of the judgment was to an extent delayed and the judge therefore extended the stay to 3 pm on that day.

16. At the hearing which took place shortly after the judgment was circulated and I should indicate for these purposes the scale of the judgment, it runs to some 31 closely reasoned pages and amounts to 120 paragraphs the judge was asked to extend the stay until 3 pm on the following day, 24 hours later. However, the judge declined to do so and was only prepared to extend the stay until 4 pm on that day, 2 February. Counsel, Mr Elliott, those who instruct him and his clerks, were engaged in a process of trying to make contact with the Court of Appeal in order that their application for a further stay might be considered by this court. They were told that such an application could only be entertained if a formal notice was filed, and it simply was not possible for them to get the paperwork in order by 4 pm, when the judge’s stay expired.

17. The Local Authority were mindful of the procedural and professional difficulties that I have described, and they in fact allowed a further hour’s extension to 5 pm, but at 5 pm on 2 February, the children were removed from the paternal grandparents’ care. At shortly before 7 pm, Mr Elliott was able to make an oral application to the out of hours Lord Justice on duty on that night, but by then the children had been removed and the stay application fell to be considered in the colder light of day subsequently, and on that basis it was considered by me on 7 February, when at the same time I initially refused permission to appeal, and so the question of a stay did not arise.

18. I go through that procedural chronology for this reason: Mr Elliott as his fourth ground of appeal complains that the sequence of events and the limited stay granted by the judge was profoundly unfair to his clients, and also I think his submission is that it was not a procedural course which was in the best interests of the children. It effectively prevented an application for a stay being made to this court until the children had been removed.

19. In short terms, I think Mr Elliott’s point is very well made. This was not a case, happily, where the children were in any situation which could be described as immediate risk of physical harm. There was no emergency in that sense. The children had been living for a very substantial period of time in the grandparents’ home. The grandparents, we have been told, despite some concerns on the part of the social workers to the contrary, had not behaved in any unreasonable or worrying way in the intervening period between the Friday, when they heard that the order was to be made, and the Monday when judgment was handed down.

20. From the perspective of this court, it is difficult to see why Judge Meston felt unable to grant a stay of sufficient length to enable an application to be made to this court. It is well known, and has been the subject of judicial comment by judges of this court over a significant period of time, that judges at first instance, in a case which does not have the characters of a 999 emergency, should be encouraged to establish a short but reasonable stay to their orders in cases such as this so that an application can be made to this court. Judge Meston, hearing the case as he was on a Monday, might reasonably have contemplated a stay measured in the length of two or three days to allow an application to be made to this court as I have described, and not to do so seems to my eyes to be entirely unwarranted.

21. It is not – I do not think Mr Elliott argues it in this way – a ground of appeal that would lead me to hold that the judge’s overall order about the making of the interim care order should of itself be set aside, but insofar as I need to, I would agree entirely with the criticism of the judge’s process that is made in ground four.

 

On the facts of the case itself, the removal was not an emergency one – the Court had decided that the children’s needs were not being met but their safety wasn’t in jeopardy.

For my part, I’m not convinced that the ‘child’s safety requires immediate separation’ was borne out, but the Judge thought that it was, and so did the Court of Appeal.

 

My reading is more that the Local Authority were arguing that their assessment of the children’s needs was being hampered by them being with their grandparents and that removal into foster carer would allow for a better assessment. (I have heard that argument posited before, and I’ve always thought that it doesn’t meet the legal test for removal)

26. In addition, it is plain that Judge Meston in the course of his judgment considered that the plan to have these two children assessed in a neutral venue with skilled foster carers was a helpful step for the Local Authority to take. It would provide helpful, vital, information for those charged with drawing up any plan for the children’s future. It would also, if the grandparents were to become once again the full time carers of the children, give the grandparents much needed information about the sophisticated needs of these young children.

27. But again, it is plain on a reading of the judge’s judgment, and it is the submission of the Local Authority and the guardian in this case, that the judge did not make the order simply because he favoured the process of assessment that was available; he made the order, it is submitted by those who oppose the appeal, because he considered that the test of “safety demanding immediate separation” was met.

28. It is therefore necessary to see what the judge did or did not say about the level of harm to which the children were currently exposed in the grandparents’ home. Before descending into detail, it is helpful to summarise the case that is put by the Local Authority and the guardian. They do not assert that the grandparents themselves are fresh sources of significant harm to the children.

29. The case that is put is that these children have been profoundly damaged in an emotional and psychological way by the experience that they have previously lived through, and that in the care of the paternal grandparents, the need for enhanced parenting is not being met, and that despite their best endeavours the grandparents are simply not able to provide the sort of care that the children need, that the children’s behaviour is deteriorating and has been seen to deteriorate over time and contact which is supervised at times when the mother has observed them, and also more generally when observed by social workers. The Local Authority’s case, to put it in lay terms, was simply that “enough is enough”, the time has come when it is no longer in the children’s interests to be exposed to further deterioration in their emotional wellbeing.

 

[I interrupt. This is smacking to me of that rather insidious ‘reparative care’ argument…]

30. In the course of his submissions, Mr Hand has taken the court to a number of parts of the judge’s judgment where he refers to evidence about harm to the children that he has heard from the social worker and from the children’s guardian, and to findings that the judge has made. It is not necessary for me to turn to those parts of Mr Hand’s submissions which in my view did not advance his case to any great extent, but at paragraph 108 of the judgment, the judge said this:

“The nature of the harm suffered by the children is now clear enough, although the continuing risks to the children are less easy to measure; but in my judgment the risks are correctly seen to be significant, particularly if the children’s needs are not properly understood and managed by the grandparents, and particularly if the father is not seen by them as a source of risk, and/or if the conflicts between the two sides of the family remain or revive. The father’s hostility to the mother and their immature relationship was a striking feature of the evidence. The concerns about the grandparents’ attitude of the social workers is another worrying feature. Only further assessment will show whether the grandparents have developed, or can develop, some insight which can be put into practice.”

The judge had already made findings in a number of places about the need for the children to have enhanced parenting. He said at paragraph 107:

“They are also said now to require reparative care, with a high standard of skill, insight and consistency.”

[Yes, there’s the reparative care bit]

31. Looking back to an earlier stage of the judgment, in paragraph 92, the judge there lists the findings that the Local Authority sought in relation to the grandparents. Most of those are not directly relevant to the issue of harm to the children now, but the judge does say this at subparagraphs 9, 10 and 11:

“(9) The Local Authority point to the deterioration in the children’s behaviour since September shown by the mother’s statement, the contact records and the school reports.

There is no doubt that there have been serious problems in the children’s behaviour which was noted by almost all the professionals. As was said by the social worker, it was not suggested that the grandparents have been the cause of this behaviour but that their ability to manage it is limited. As was said by RP, J has sought attention by a level of negative behaviour which is not normal for the behaviour of a four year old, and she described his behaviour as escalating without strategy and routine.

(10) The Local Authority contend that the paternal grandparents struggle to set appropriate boundaries for the children. In the parenting assessment J was noted to be violent to L without there being any reprimands or other consequential for his action. In general his behaviour is challenging.

Clearly the behaviour of J, in particular, has been remarkably difficult for the grandparents to deal with, and if it continues there will be serious implications for his development and for the relationship between him and his sister.

(11) The Local Authority submit that the children have suffered significant harm and disruption in their lives to date because of the care provided by the parents, and that the children have a heightened need for stability and consistency and require reparative parenting. L also has special educational needs and requires better than good enough parenting which the grandparents are not in a position to meet. In this respect it is submitted that the paternal grandparents are not in a position to meet those needs for the rest of the children’s minorities.

There is no dispute that the children have suffered significant harm and disruption and there can be no dispute that they have a particular need for stability and consistency and require reparative parenting. The evidence overall does raise very real doubts about the abilities of the grandparents to meet the children’s particular needs.”

32. Of that material, Mr Hand in particular draws attention to subparagraph 10, where focus is placed upon the behaviour of J and the fact that the grandparents find that behaviour remarkably difficult to deal with. Within that subparagraph, I would stress the following; the judge says:

” … if it continues, there will be serious implications for his development and for the relationship between him and his sister.”

Pausing there, that is a plain highlighting by the judge of a profoundly important long term factor in the case. The starting point for any consideration of a child’s welfare is that it is normally likely to be in his or her interests to be brought up with and continue to live with any siblings. What the judge identifies at subparagraph 10 is a potential for J’s behaviour, if it continues to deteriorate or even be maintained at its current level, to call into question his ability long term to find a home with his sister.

33. The judge, having made those particular findings, moves on in his judgment to cast them within the test of identifying safety requiring immediate separation. The judge says this at paragraph 103:

“At this stage and on the evidence available I do not propose to rule out the paternal grandparents from further consideration as potential carers for the children (or either of them). They are devoted grandparents who have been prepared to take on the children, and they might have taken a more constructive position had they had legal representation at an earlier stage and perhaps, thereby they might have obtained more support from the Local Authority. They almost certainly now represent the only chance of keeping the children within their birth family. Although there is considerable force in the criticisms of the grandparents it is necessary to be cautious before deciding that they are not, and could not become, a realistic option (even if that turns out to be an option to be considered for only one of the children). At a final hearing the realism or otherwise of that option is likely to depend upon (among other things): (a) evidence that their attitude to the inevitable constraints and intrusions of Local Authority involvement really has changed, and that any improvements are not superficial as the social worker suspected they were; (b) further (and better) evidence about the grandmother’s medical condition and prognosis; and (c) the availability of effective measures to protect the children from harm in the longer term.”

There the judge, as well as stating that he is not ruling the grandparents out, does identify serious deficits in their ability to care that require attention in terms of further evidence at the hearing.

34. Turning to the harm in relation to the children, the judge says this at paragraph 108:

The nature of the harm suffered by the children is now clear enough, although the continuing risks to the children are less easy to measure; but in my judgment the risks are correctly seen to be significant, particularly if the children’s needs are not properly understood and managed by the grandparents, and particularly if the father is not seen by them as a source of risk, and/or if the conflicts between the two sides of the family remain or revive. The father’s hostility to the mother and their immature relationship was a striking feature of the evidence. The concerns about the grandparents’ attitude of the social workers is another worrying feature. Only further assessment will show whether the grandparents have developed, or can develop, some insight which can be put into practice.”

35. Drawing matters to a conclusion, the judge describes his analysis at paragraphs 113, 114, 115 and 116, before stating his conclusion at 119:

“113. I accept the fundamental arguments advanced by the Local Authority and guardian that it is now essential and urgent for the long term needs of the children to be assessed to inform the final care plans, and that in the circumstances of this case the necessary assessment cannot properly be carried out while the children remain in the care of the paternal grandparents.

[interruption – of course, that’s not a safety issue]

114. Secondly, the Local Authority and guardian argue that the evidence of the children’s continuing and deteriorating behaviour, not least towards each other, shows the extent to which the children have been damaged in their upbringing and shows the limited ability of both paternal grandparents to understand and manage the children’s situation and needs. In essence the contention of the Local Authority and guardian was that the situation is bad and could get worse; and although there has been no obvious emergency that requires immediate removal of the children, there has been a growing level of concern and the situation is serious and urgent enough to justify such a removal.

115. In looking at the evidence overall including the incidents and difficulties indicating harm to the children and the risks of harm, I have tried to assess whether these are really long term welfare concerns, rather than concerns which involve a current risk to safety.

[That’s really the nub of the case – these could all be categorised as long term concerns, rather than immediate safety ones]

116. I accept the evidence of the social worker and guardian that things cannot remain as they are. The concerns of the Local Authority are valid and are justified by the evidence. The need to understand, manage and address the problems and needs of L and J and the potential for further damage to them outweigh the arguments for leaving the children with the grandparents in the hope that the grandparents continue to control their attitude to the Local Authority and their reluctance to cooperate, and in the hope that the grandparents can shortly acquire the skills and insight they lack.

119. In the light of all the evidence I have concluded that there is sufficient concern about the children’s emotional and psychological safety to justify the orders sought for the reasons advanced by the Local Authority and guardian. I have therefore decided that it is necessary and proportionate to approve the proposals of the Local Authority for removal of the children.”

Given the importance of a finding that the child’s safety require immediate separation, this seems somewhat thin.

36. Mr Elliott in his submissions to the court accepts as a matter of fact that the judge did identify harm of the nature that I have now described, and did seek to cast it in the context of current safety needs, but he submits that the element of harm that is identified simply does not come within what the case law requires. He says this is emotional harm and at no stage does the judge identify why at that date, in January 2015, the children required removal from the home because of the impact on their emotional wellbeing, when that had not been sought at an earlier stage and when the court was going to look at the whole question of the children’s future wellbeing only some four months further in the future. He submits that the judge simply did not achieve findings that got as far as identifying the children’s immediate safety needs, in emotional terms, requiring removal on that day.

37. I am bound to say, when I granted permission to appeal and when I heard Mr Elliott’s submissions this morning, I too could readily identify the dislocation that he draws attention to between the judge on the one hand saying “I do not rule these grandparents out as long term carers,” but on the other hand saying nevertheless the children’s circumstances require immediate removal.

38. Having now had the benefit of being taken to the detail of the judgment by Mr Hand in the way that I have described, I take a contrary view. The judge declined to rule out the grandparents at that stage for reasons to do with their long term capacity to be carers of the children. For the judge, the jury was still out on the question of whether or not the grandparents could bring themselves to meet the needs of the children long term, and the issues that the Local Authority had sought to identify, which included matters to do with the grandmother’s health, the ability of the grandfather to devote himself more fully to the care of the children alongside his laudable and clear desire to work hard in his chosen trade, and other matters, were long term issues that required further investigation.

39. They are, I now accept, separate matters from the immediate wellbeing of the children, and I can see how this experienced family judge, who had become immersed in the evidence of this case over the course of five days, who said that he was considering the test of safety requiring immediate separation, could come to the view that the children’s safety in emotional terms did indeed require separation at this stage.

40. For me, the elements of the evidence that I have drawn attention to, that we have been led to by Mr Hand, establish the context within which the judge’s decision can be seen to be justified in evidential terms, and also justified as a conclusion. In particular, paragraph 92 subsection 10, to which I have already drawn attention, is striking. The judge there is identifying the status quo in the grandparents’ home, where J was behaving in a way that the grandparents found remarkably difficult to deal with, but also in a way which had “serious implications for his development”, and which might, if it was allowed to continue and consolidate, pass the point of no return so that the option of this boy being able to grow up in the same home as his sister might be lost, in terms of safety in emotional terms, requiring immediate separation. To my eyes, that point alone would justify the order that the judge made.

41. Secondly, I have already described the approach of the judge and the experience of the judge. Where a judge correctly identifies the legal test, says he is applying it, and says he has the evidence which justifies that conclusion, and is able in the course of the judgment to refer to that evidence, this court should be slow to interfere and say he is wrong. There is no indication here that there was an error of principle in the judge’s conclusion, and to my mind he should be given a substantial margin of respect by this court in having conducted the exercise that he said he had undertaken.

I think the grandparents were unlucky here – I would have been fairly confident about their appeal had I been them, and fairly doubtful if I had been for the Local Authority.  Interesting that MacFarlane LJ thought that in and of itself – J’s behaviour might lead to him and his sister not being able to be placed together in the future as being sufficient for a finding of ‘safety requires immediate separation’.  I see that particular formulation being deployed in future cases.  How does one assess a ‘might’?  Is it necessary to show that it is more likely than not to happen, or is it sufficient to be a risk that cannot sensibly be ignored?

This is what Lord Justice Ryder had to say on the issue

44. The judge identified the correct test in principle. He was perhaps less clear in a detailed judgment about his analysis of the findings that he made and the prima facie evidence that existed. This court has, however, been assisted by the submissions of counsel for the Local Authority, the children’s guardian, and the appellant paternal grandparents. It is now sufficiently clear that the judge accepted the evidence of the Local Authority witnesses and the analysis of the children’s guardian that the children had suffered significant emotional harm in the care of their parents, and importantly that that harm had continued in the care of the paternal grandparents. The behaviour of the children as between each other, in particular from the child J towards his sister, had continued and deteriorated in the paternal grandparents’ care, to the extent that one of the risks identified was that as a consequence of their behaviour, the children may have to be separated such that they might not be able to be cared for together by anyone. That was capable of being characterised as a safety question that demanded immediate separation; i.e. to put it colloquially, enough was enough. 

Let us hope that ‘enough was enough’ does not become the latest soundbite to be shoved into every submission and skeleton argument in the next six months.

Note also the continuing trend of the Court of Appeal to move away from where they were on appeals post Re B, where a judgment needed to be a stand-alone document explaining and making plain why a decision had been made to a position where now the Court of Appeal are willing with a judgment that is thin in places to open up the luggage of the case and have a good rumage around to see if there are garments within that could cover the barer patches of the judgment so as to preserve its modesty.

Court of Appeal – split hearings aren’t to be used for ‘whodunnits’

Not their exact words, you understand.

These are their exact words:-

 

  1. The hearing at the end of which the findings were made was what is known as a ‘split hearing’ i.e. a hearing limited to a discrete issue of fact without a full analysis of the welfare context. Counsel for the parties before this court acknowledged that the decision to have a split hearing which was taken by a different judge when different advocates were involved cannot have been right given that the issue to be decided was perpetration in the context of an incident of harm, rather than whether the harm occurred.
  2. It is unnecessary for this court to do other than refer to the clear guidance on the point that has been firmly and repeatedly given by this court but just as repeatedly ignored, see for example In the matter of S (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 25 at [27] to [31]. There is no discrete issue that would determine the proceedings in a case like this where harm has been suffered and the perpetrator of that harm is unknown. The social work assessments of those in the pool of potential perpetrators may cast important light on the allegations that are to be determined and upon the reliability of those in the pool and the other witnesses and materials that are available

 

Re BK-S (children) (Expert evidence and probability) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/442.html

If you were wondering which appeal judge was standing up for Lord Justice Ryder’s lead decision in the little-loved Re S (a child) 2014 which effectively banished split hearings for anything other than the most serious case (even though split hearings were invented by the Children Act advisory committee and endorsed by the House of Lords)… well, you aren’t really wondering that, are you?

 

[If you are, then I would like to talk to you about my new business opportunity, where investors get to buy tonnes of gold for the price of grammes of gold. This gold will be all yours when the Sun enters its supernova phase.  The price of gold will likely to increase all the time that your investment is maturing, making this an even more profitable venture. It really is a once in a lifetime investment opportunity]

It is an interesting case in itself, a 6 month child who had been administered (by an adult) doses of an anti-psychotic medication over a period of time. It was established by toxicology reports and medical evidence that the child had been given this drug, Olanzepine, and that it had caused him significant harm. The only real issue was whether it had been given by father, mother or paternal grandfather.

 

The parents were separated, and thus there was quite a clear log of who had been caring for the child on particular days. And the expert called (and then re-called) was able to give quite detailed accounts about how the test results showed the level of Olanzepine, and how Olanzepine has a half-life  (i.e if someone takes 100 milligrams of  X time, there would be say 50 milligrams, and after 2X time, 25 milligrams, and so on), such that calculations can be done to work back from the level to calculate when the drug was taken. Or in this case administered.

The difficulty was that all of that information on half-life is based on adults. For a child of six months, the half-life might be different. It might react more quickly, or more slowly, or have greater symptoms.  The reference to Tanoshima here is the name of a study – both are on single children, because obviously there are ethical medical issues on giving anti-psychotics to 100 infants to see how quickly it comes out of their system.

 

  1. When Professor Johnston was recalled on 28 May 2014, the following oral evidence was adduced:

    “Q. [..] There are two reported studies. One that says a half life is 11.6 hours in a 28 month old child. The other one is 13.72 hours for a child of 17 months.

    A. Yes.

    […]

    Q. Can we safely assume – and I mean with almost certainty – that the half life of [Z] would have been less than 21 hours?

    A. I think that would be a reasonable assumption.

    Q. Yes. I think you also said in your previous evidence that it would be a reasonable assumption to take the 13.7 in the Tanoshima case as well?

    A. Yes.

    Q. Would that be right? So if I were for instance to take 18 hours, that would be safe as well?

    A. Yes.”

  2. The judge accepted the evidence that was adduced in the following passage in his judgment:

    “Professor Johnston agreed that to assume a half life between 21 and 13.7 hours would be likely, but that working on a half life of 18 hours in those circumstances would be safe.”

 

On reading that, I can instantly see the appeal point. If the half-life was taken by the Judge as being probably 18 hours, but between 13.7 hours and 21 hours, and that took one person OUT of the pool of perpetrators and made it more likely than not that the other person administered the drug, then an alternative reading of the evidence given might be

“So it is very difficult to be sure of the half-life of Olanzepine in a child of this age, because the research deals with only two children, and both are much much older. It would be unwise to place reliance on hard and fast numbers to resolve this problem”   (my words, but I guess that’s what counsel had been driving at with those questions)

The Court of Appeal considered that the Judge had not been wrong to follow the expert evidence and to make the finding that Olanzepine had been administered to the child on a date when mother had been in hospital with the child and father had not been present – thus that the mother had been the person who administered the drug to him.

Appeal, Special Guardianship Order to a stranger

 

The Court of Appeal in Re H (a child) 2015 considered the decision from a circuit Judge, Her Honour Judge Wright, to make a Special Guardianship Order to a woman who knew the mother through church as opposed to placing the child with the father.  From the material before the Court, it appeared that the prospective Special Guardian had been observed with the child for about an hour.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/406.html

 

This case, as it deals with how to conduct the balance properly, and making it plain that all of the strictures of Re B, Re B-S et al still apply (as it involves the permanent removal of a child from a parent) makes for an interesting comparison with the Court of Appeal in Re E-R (a child) 2015   where they made it even more explicit that in private law disputes, there is no broad presumption that a natural parent is the best person to care for a child.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/04/27/no-broad-presumption-in-favour-of-a-natural-parent/

 

The Court of Appeal (rightly so in this case) were critical that the PLO process had not been properly followed. These weren’t nitpicking complaints, but actually went to the heart of why the case had been decided in a flawed way and why there had to be a re-hearing.

 

There had been no continuity of judiciary, no continuity of representation, the parties had not properly identified the issues and hence the Judge had not been able to properly narrow the issues at IRH, and critically proper thought had not been given as to whether the expert in the case ought to be asked to either provide an addendum or to be called to address what was really the key issue in the case.

Could this father, having undergone therapy and developed insight, now care for this child to a ‘good enough’ standard, or did the expert’s prior report indicating that he would need to have another person alongside him to co-parent still stand?

  1. The threshold for jurisdiction described in section 31 of the Children Act 1989 was necessarily constructed on a broad basis having regard to the fact that there were issues of fact and likelihood of harm relating to both mother and to father. The local authority’s case against father was that he was not capable of caring for his daughter because of his autism, the effect of stress on him, the specialist skill required to deal with H’s chromosome disorder and the risk that he presented to H’s emotional wellbeing.
  2. The risk that it was said father presented was based in part on matters determined in the earlier proceedings and in part on new allegations. The risk was made up of (1) that which it was said flowed from an allegation that father left H in the care of her mother when the couple separated, (a risk which was mitigated by the fact that he chose to inform the local authority through the dedicated nursery workers), (2) that which arose out of the abusive relationship between the parents, the physical elements of which he denied, and (3) that which would arise if father was unable to engage with H as her primary carer. The judge held that the findings sought by the local authority which were sufficient to satisfy the threshold had been proved. There was undoubtedly ample justification for that conclusion based on the mother’s conduct alone. What is sadly missing from the judgment is attention to the detail of the findings that the judge made against the father so that there can be a proper understanding of the nature and extent of the risk that existed in the father’s care for the purpose of a welfare analysis.
  3. The judge identified in her judgment the key issue in the case which was the question whether father was capable of caring for H on his own, about which there was an adverse assessment conclusion supported by the analysis of the children’s guardian. Closer examination reveals that the opinion upon which the judge relied was that of a Dr Campbell, a consultant neuropsychologist who was an expert witness in the 2011/12 proceedings and who had then advised that father would need another person alongside him to co-parent H. The judge records that opinion and the fact that father disagreed with it on the basis that he had received therapy, had developed insight and had changed.
  4. Although the judge set out the fundamental disagreement on the key issue, no-one had thought in advance of the final hearing to identify whether the issue was important enough for Dr Campbell to write an updating report or even to be called to be cross examined on behalf of the father. No-one took any steps during the hearing to question how the disagreement was to be resolved. There was no application to call Dr Campbell. If the social worker and guardian were asked for their opinions during examination and cross examination this court was not taken to their answers and the judge did not rely on any of the detail of their evidence in her judgment to suggest that the issue was addressed. Furthermore, it was conceded before us that the social work assessments and analyses in this case could not substitute for or update the forensic opinion of Dr Campbell. The witnesses did not have the skill and expertise to do that.
  5. The consequence is that the judge did not give the lack of agreement that existed the importance that it deserved and that was because there were fundamental flaws in case management before the final hearing. The issue was not identified nor was there any identification of the evidence and the witnesses whose materials would go to that issue. A part 25 application to adduce expert evidence had been unsuccessful during case management and the assessment material appears to have taken the issue as being concluded when it was not. In fact the part 25 application seems to have been misguided, asking as it did for alternative adult psychological assessment. What should have been asked for was up to date evidence from Dr Campbell and given that his opinion was part of the local authority’s case, they should have made application for it, paid for all or some of it and taken the lead in giving instructions for it.
  6. In discussion before this court, the advocates acknowledged that the lack of judicial continuity was compounded by the lack of continuity of representation of the parties such that essential steps including mandatory advocates’ discussions before hearings were missed. Had there been judicial continuity it is at least likely that these issues would have been addressed.
  7. There are cases where a judge’s firm acceptance of evidence can lead this court to acknowledge that the reasoning process implicit in that acceptance is sufficient to deal with the key issue identified. Suffice it to say that having regard to the other issues in the case, to which I shall now turn, no-one seriously pursued a submission that the judge’s reasoning was sufficient or that any gaps could be filled by reference to the evidence that was accepted by the judge

 

The underlined portion of paragraph 16 is important – the LA here were relying on Dr Campbell’s conclusions that the father could not be a sole carer for H, and the Court of Appeal took the view that it was they who were responsible for updating Dr Campbell and getting fresh evidence before the Court whether the change of circumstances changed his view (and moreover, responsible for paying for that)  – rather than the father, as it was his case that he had changed.

Worth bearing in mind.

 

I found it a little odd that the Court of Appeal were not even more interested in threshold, which seems on the thin side post Re A and Re J (particularly given that this child had been with father as a sole carer during the six months of the care proceedings)

  1. The background to the case is as follows. As the judge recorded, the local authority had been involved with the family since before H’s birth. There were previous care proceedings within which, in April 2011, H was placed in foster care. She moved to her parents’ care one year later. In June 2012 a supervision order was made which reflected the success of a residential assessment and the subsequent placement of H at home. The order was extended until February 2014. It was an important element of the care plan that the parents’ care was to be supported by the father’s family and members of the mother’s church because each parent on their own was assessed to be unable to care for H. H was subsequently diagnosed as having a condition known as ‘chromosome 16’ which is linked to developmental delay and speech, language and learning difficulties. She has delayed development and is vulnerable to seizures. Her needs have been assessed to be high, requiring a level of parenting that is better than ‘good enough’ and carers who are ’emotionally available’ to help her make sense of her experiences.
  2. The triggering incident which led to these proceedings occurred on 5 January 2014 when the police were called to a shopping centre in West London. H had been left unaccompanied inside the centre by her mother who had been smoking a cigarette outside the main entrance. H’s father was not present and was unaware of what had happened. The incident was investigated by a social worker who discovered that the parents’ relationship was breaking down. By late January, H’s mother was insisting that the father should leave the home and on 26 January 2014 he did so, leaving H in her mother’s sole care. Despite increased local authority support the care of H by her mother rapidly broke down. That led to a trial agreement between the parents and the local authority for collaborative care by the parents under the supervision of the local authority which was to be provided for by renewed care proceedings that were issued on 7 March 2014.

 

The father also produced evidence from professional bodies and groups – given that what was being said was that his autism (in whole or in part) was why he could not parent as a sole carer and needed another adult to provide day to day support and care. The Court of Appeal were critical that this evidence was not properly analysed in the judgment – yes, the Court could have decided that it did not tip the balance in favour of the father, but to do so, it would have to have grappled with the evidence and set out an analysis of why it was found not to tip the balance.

 

18. Furthermore, there were independent elements of the evidence available to the court which might have impacted on all three opinions.

  1. The independent evidence that was available came from Mencap, the National Autistic Society and from father’s two siblings. The judge heard no oral evidence about any of the support that was on offer from those who could provide it. On the written materials she came to the following conclusion:

    I do not accept the support offered by way of his family, MENCAP, and NAS would be sufficient to meet [H’s] need for a co-parent to assist [the father] if she were to remain in his care in the longer term

  2. First of all that recognised the importance of the key issue I have identified, about which the only other relevant conclusion to which the judge came was:

    “The difficulty he has is that, as was made clear in the previous proceedings, he does not have a reliable person who can provide primary care for [H], who will be attuned to her changing needs, and with whom he can work in partnership. Sadly, the evidence from the parenting assessment, [the social worker] and the guardian’s (sic) indicates [H] remains at risk of harm in her current circumstances.”

  3. The judge went on to consider what the position would be if father was not supported and also two other aspects of the case that are relevant, namely the father’s understanding of the need to act quickly if H had a seizure and what was described as a negative “snapshot” from the guardian derived from her only visit to father’s household during the extensive period that he successfully cared for his daughter with the support of family members. None of this was decisive. The key issue in the case remained whether father needed a co-parent and if not, whether the nature and extent of the available support was sufficient.
  4. It is clear from the judge’s judgment that she had read materials from the interest groups referred to above and from the father’s relatives. It is not at all clear what part, if any, they played in her analysis. That is because the analysis is missing. It is possible that no-one wished to cross examine the authors of the documents and that their contents were taken as agreed. An alternative explanation is that the local authority took the pragmatic view that they disagreed with the contents or that the contents did not address the issue and that cross examination would not take the evidence any further. Either position would have been acceptable and understandable but given the disagreement on the key issue it would have been helpful to know whether or not the content of the documents was agreed and how that was factored into the welfare analysis. I also find it difficult to accept that a value judgment about a co-parenting or caring supporter in a contested case can be definitively made without hearing some limited oral evidence from that person in the absence of agreement or a case where the proposal is not realistic.

 

A further criticism was that the father had wanted to call evidence from family members and had had this request refused. I know that this is an issue that greatly troubles Ian from Forced Adoption, so I will set out the Court of Appeal’s ruling on that (which he will like)

It is one of the grounds of appeal to this court that the judge declined to hear oral evidence from the paternal family, i.e. evidence other than that of the father. The paternal aunt and uncle attended court on the third day of the final hearing with the intention of giving that evidence. We were told that the evidence would have gone to answer some of the questions that the local authority social worker and the guardian had about the merits of the support that the father had. It is difficult to know whether that is right. The judge rejected the application for reasons that are unclear. They were neither expressed in the judgment nor in the detailed order made by the court. The reasons may have been appropriate but if not expressed the impression given is that the judge treated the father’s case as if it was not a realistic option.

 

If a Court is going to refuse to hear evidence from witnesses, they will have to give reasons for that, and set out very clearly in the judgment why that was decided.

Ryder LJ was very clear that the problems in this case and judgment arose fundamentally from a failure to have a proper IRH

  1. All of these issues should have been addressed by the court and the parties at the issues resolution hearing when a different judge briefly had conduct of the case. It was at that hearing that the SGO option is first identified in a recital to an order. Although there is a reference to a SGO, the question of whether a SGO should be made is not then identified as an issue to be determined as it should have been on the face of the case management order. It is not until the final order of the court that the issue is identified as one for resolution. The importance of that is not merely technical. For an SGO to be made there are steps that have to be taken. The steps are part of a regulatory scheme that provides protections for the child involved and for those with parental responsibility and those who seek to obtain it. Furthermore, it is important that the court identifies the realistic options before the court so that the evidence can be focussed upon those options thereby providing the material for the judge to consider in the welfare analysis.
  2. At first sight of the papers one could be forgiven for wondering what compliance there had been with the rules in the preparation there had been for the final hearing. The local authority did not amend the care plan to make the proposal for special guardianship until 2 October 2014 and the detail of the transition plan to move H from the care of her father to A was not provided until the first day of the final hearing. The IRH had taken place on 23 July 2014 when all of those materials should have been available. I assume that no-one was taken by surprise because there was no application to adjourn the final hearing on that basis but the extended period from July to October, which was inappropriate in itself, should have been used to regularise what was happening so that it did not occur at the last minute.

 

The Court of Appeal were unhappy that there had not been a proper Special Guardianship report, which is of course a statutory requirement.   There is something VERY IMPORTANT in this bit, which is going to make 90% of my readers groan  – the Court of Appeal rule that if an SGO is sought, there should be an application. Rather than, as usually happens, the Court is asked to make it of its own motion.  Either the prospective special guardian or the LA should make a formal application.  [And that s10(9) applies to such applications – which in a practical sense means that anyone other than a person with whom the child has lived for at least a year, or has a residence order  OR has consent from everyone with PR to make the application, is going to need leave of the Court]

 

{There’s a slight bit of wiggle room here It is only where parties agree that an application for a SGO should be dispensed with that the section 14A(6)(b) CA 1989 power can be exercised without good reason.    so if everyone agrees, you could still ASK the Court to rule that a formal application isn’t needed. Given that there is an application fee, and the Court service is financially straitened, I’m not sure I’d count on that. At the very least, you are going to need to know prior to IRH whether the Court is going to agree to use that power, or insist on a formal application and possibly a s 10(9) application. Remember that both can easily be foreced by one parent saying that they resist. }

 

  1. What was happening was that the local authority were seeking to persuade the court to make a SGO. Although the court has power to make such an order of its own motion in accordance with section 14A(6)(b) CA 1989, that should not be the default position. Such a process can, as it nearly did in this case, give rise to procedural irregularity for lack of notice. The special guardian or the local authority on her behalf should have made the application. The important procedural hurdle of the satisfaction of the test in section 10(9) CA 1989 would then have been addressed. It is only where parties agree that an application for a SGO should be dispensed with that the section 14A(6)(b) CA 1989 power can be exercised without good reason. In any other case, the use by the court of this power must be reasoned. The parties in this case did not agree and the use of the power was assumed not reasoned.
  2. In accordance with section 14A(8) CA 1989 the local authority must prepare an SGO report and by section 14A(11) the court cannot make a SGO without such a report. The statutory purpose is a very real protection. The contents of such a report are set out in a regulatory scheme which is to be found in the schedule to the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005, which is designed to ensure that necessary questions are addressed before controlling parental responsibility for a child is vested in a person other than a local authority. Such a report was never directed to be prepared in this case because no SGO application was ever made.
  3. In her judgment the judge accepts that a report, a support plan and an addendum report which she identifies are sufficient for the statutory purpose. It is only because there is a concession before this court that the content of an earlier ‘connected person’s assessment’ of A fulfil those requirements that this court has not moved on to question whether the assessment was sufficient for its purpose. During case management, the court should have addressed the question directly. On identifying that one of the realistic options that the court was being asked to consider was special guardianship, it should have made directions in the prospective application including for the SGO report and any relevant evidence. If a report which is being or has been prepared is to be deemed to satisfy the regulatory and statutory requirements, then the case management judge should say so: allowing anyone who disagrees to be heard given the statutory importance that is attached to the report. In other words, the assertion must be scrutinised. By section 14C(1) CA 1989 the holder of a SGO shares parental responsibility with the parents of a child but has the right to override the responsibilities of the parents. Such an order is a significant step in a child’s life that is intended to have long term consequences and the protections that surround it should be respected.

 

The final major criticism was that given that this was a stark choice between two options (dad or prospective SGO) the Court had not properly allowed the father to challenge the assertions that the SGO would be able to care for the child.

  1. The final element of this appeal that is troubling is the judge’s treatment of the special guardian. The judge was apparently of the opinion that it was not appropriate for the father to ‘compete’ with the special guardian. I can understand the point she was making, namely that it would be undesirable for the two potential carers of H to be engaged in an adversarial exchange when subsequently they might have to work in partnership. However, the father was entitled to the procedural protection of being able to cross examine witnesses about the capability of A to care for his child. If that was not to be A herself and I reserve judgment on that question until it is a live issue on which a case turns, then it should have been the assessor.
  2. One of the authors of the connected person’s assessment to which I have referred was called to give oral evidence. Unfortunately, she was the assessor who provided information about the birth family. The separate assessor who provided the information about A was not called to give evidence and accordingly there was no cross examination on the question of the capability of A to care for H.
  3. All of this stemmed from an assumption generated in poor case management that the special guardian was a realistic option and the father was not. That was not this case. At the time of the final hearing H had been living with her father for more than six months. It was accordingly incumbent on the court to undertake a comparative welfare analysis. That is missing and would have been difficult to construct on the evidence that was heard.
  4. The errors that I have described are fatal to the determination made by the judge. As a consequence, at the conclusion of the hearing before this court we allowed the appeal, set aside the special guardianship order, imposed an interim care order on an undertaking to file a new interim care plan to abide the event of an application to restore the status quo ante or an urgent re-hearing. We made case management directions to expedite the identification of the issues, evidence and witnesses at a new IRH.

The Court of Appeal was very damning in Ryder LJ’s final remarks

  1. I have set out the catalogue of problems in this case in rather more detail than might usually be necessary because it is essential that the rules and practice directions of the court are applied. They are there for a purpose. Casual non-compliance is not an option precisely because further harm will likely be caused to a child.

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

 

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

 

 

Re BP and SP v Hertfordshire 2014

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

iii. caused an unnecessary change of placement for P;

 

  1. father is unlikely to change his behaviour;

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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