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Making Special Guardianship Order before child has lived with prospective carers

This Court of Appeal decision raises a number of interesting and important issues.

(It doesn’t have anything amusing in it or any 80s references, but you can’t have it all.  If you want, you can momentarily imagine that this is some litigation involving Barry Chuckle and Jimmy Krankie having a dispute as to who gets custody of a tiny hedgehog in a hat and that the key pieces of evidence involve (i) Jean Claude Van Damme doing the splits in the witness box (ii) how many ferrets Fred Dineage can pop down his trousers and (iii) the enduring mystery of exactly how much smack Zammo Maguire hoped to obtain by stealing and pawning Roland Browning’s alarm clock, thus making Roland late for an exam.  It  has none of this.  I remain on the lookout for such a case)

 

P-S (Children) [2018] EWCA Civ 1407 (18 June 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/1407.html

 

Essentially, the Court at first instance, was invited by the LA and the Guardian to make Special Guardianship Orders to grandparents for two children – S aged 2 and P aged 5. The parents were seeking the return of the children to their care – it had been a FDAC (Family Drug and Alcohol Court) case and the parents had withdrawn from that process – the judgment does not deal much with the parents case, as it was not the subject of the appeal.

 

[The parents had withdrawn from the Court process, thus at final hearing it was only the Local Authority and the Guardian playing an active part, both of whom supported the making of SGOs]

 

The Court declined to make Special Guardianship Orders, in part relying on a letter circulated by Keehan J to Judges on the Midlands Circuit to the effect that

“a special guardianship order should not be made, absent compelling and cogent reasons, until the child has lived for an appreciable period with the prospective special guardians.”

 

The Court instead made a full Care Order – in effect deciding that the Local Authority, in consultation with the grandparents, should decide the point at which the case should come back before the Court with an application for a Special Guardianship Order. That also, in effect, envisaged the Care Order being a short-term order, rather than the permanent or long-term order that it is commonly viewed as.

 

The Court of Appeal judgment deals with a number of issues :-

 

  1. The need for solid evidence-based research about whether SGOs being made before a trial placement are a beneficial or adverse approach
  2. The status of the guidance given by Keehan J – and the representations made to the effect that it was being followed by the Courts in the Midlands circuit as though it were binding upon them
  3. What role prospective Special Guardians should play in the Court process
  4. What approach the Court should take, where potential suitable carers come forward late in the process.

 

All of this is useful.

 

 

 

  1. There are three strands to the errors that all represented parties before this court identify in the family court’s decision: a) the lack of any adequate reasoning for making care orders rather than interim care orders or special guardianship orders, b) the reliance of the judge on informal guidance that was neither approved guidance nor peer reviewed research capable of being scrutinised or challenged by the parties and c) procedural unfairness. I shall take each in turn. The court is mindful of the fact that each of the represented parties before it (except S’s father) have taken the same position in respect of each issue and accordingly the court has tested with the interveners each of the propositions in respect of which they would otherwise have reached a consensus.

 

 

 

  1. The propositions about which there is a large measure of agreement are as follows:

 

 

 

 

  1. The judge was wrong to make care orders: no party who was present supported the making of the same and on the merits and in particular having regard to the un-contradicted special guardianship assessments, the care orders were disproportionate;

 

  1. b. The judge’s characterisation of the care orders that were made as ‘short term care orders’ was wrong in principle given that there is no statutory mechanism for the making of time limited care orders or orders that will be discharged on the happening of an event, including the expiration of time;

 

  1. The judge was wrong to rely upon the extra-judicial guidance of Keehan J to the effect that children should live with proposed special guardians for a period of time before a court entertains an application for an SGO;

 

  1. The judge was wrong not to make provision for effective access to justice for the grandparents by their joinder, the disclosure of documents to them, time for advice to be taken by them, the facility for them to take a proper part in the proceedings, an adjournment or otherwise.

 

  1. It is helpful to trace the judge’s reasoning by setting out how he came to his conclusion in his judgment. The following extracts are sufficient:

 

 

 

 

 

“1….It is not a case in which I must consider rival realistic options in terms of the children’s future placements. Instead, the main question for me to resolve is the appropriate legal order which should govern a placement with the children’s respective paternal grandparents……

 

 

7.…the local authority and the Guardian contend that the children’s placements should take place under special guardianship orders………During the trial it has largely been left to me to raise concerns as to whether special guardianship orders in favour of the two sets of grandparents would be premature…….

 

 

  1. In this case the children might be placed with the paternal grandparents under either a care order, a special guardianship order, or a child arrangements order. These are very different orders. A care order creates parental responsibility in the local authority which, under section 33(4) of the Act may be exercised by the local authority if they are “satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare”…….

 

 

  1. Section 14A provides for those who may make an application for a special guardianship order…….the grandparents come within the definition of those who may apply for a special guardianship order.

 

 

  1. There is also a power for a court to make a special guardianship order of the court’s own motion. That power is found at section 14A(6)(b).

 

 

  1. ……It suffices to say that during my time as designated family judge here at the Central Family Court I must have made upwards of 30 special guardianship orders. I have, however, yet to encounter an application for such an order. On every occasion I have been invited by the local authority, whether opposed by another party or unopposed, to make the order of my own motion. That is not just the default position, but it appears to be the universal practice amongst authorities who use this court centre. This is the largest family court centre in England…….My purely personal impression is that the practice has changed in recent times.

 

 

  1. Whilst I do not suggest that these children should be the subject of care orders for their minority, the real balance in the case is in my judgment between special guardianship orders now and care orders (although not interim orders). The care plan under such care orders would be that if all goes well, then applications for special guardianship orders should follow in due course. By the expression ‘in due course’ I mean ‘when the new placements are regarded as settled and working well for the children’. In this case that might perhaps be in about a year from now…….

 

 

  1. ……both sets of grandparents have been assessed in accordance with the Statute and the accompanying Regulations. The assessments are positive……

 

 

  1. My first concern is, however, that neither child is currently living with the proposed special guardians. During the course of argument, I mentioned that, last year, a letter had been written to interested parties by Keehan J, the Family Division Liaison Judge for the Midlands Circuit. It discussed the use of special guardianship orders. The view promulgated by Keehan J, as a result of a meeting with the chairs of the Circuit’s Local Family Justice Boards, was that “a special guardianship order should not be made, absent compelling and cogent reasons, until the child has lived for an appreciable period with the prospective special guardians.” Such guidance is not, of course, binding upon me but in passing I observe, with some deference, that it appears to amount to sound common sense……

 

 

  1. All this leads me to believe that someone has to be in charge of a process which oversees not just the move of the children to a new home, and their settling in, but also the implementation and progression of a closely controlled contact regime in circumstances where it is unclear what the parents’ reaction will be to the children’s move and equally unclear as to how they will handle time with the children in the very different circumstances which would apply……

 

 

  1. 30. The next matter which concerns me is the position of the grandparents – within these proceedings as well as towards the children. As I listened to the case being developed, I did so in the complete absence of the grandparents – of the proposed special guardians. They were not parties. They were not represented. They were not present. They were not intended to be witnesses. Had an application been made – properly sponsored by the local authority which after all is the prime mover in this change to the children’s lives – then the grandparents would have been parties, represented, present and witnesses……

 

 

31 ….I have had the conduct of this case since the IRH on 3 February 2017. I could then have (i) made the grandparents parties (although that would not necessarily have secured representation for them); (ii) asked them to file a statement; (iii) invited them to give evidence; (iv) encouraged a special guardianship application at that stage. I did not take any of these steps, nor was I invited to do so……In truth, however, with the exception of my concerns surrounding their lack of participation in the process, the grounds on which I propose to reject the local authority case for special guardianship orders would have remained whatever step had been taken at the IRH. I know a great deal about the grandparents. I am not making special guardianship orders, but it is not because I lack information about the proposed special guardians.

 

 

  1. I invited the grandparents into court before they spoke to the professionals (all of whom were of course advocating special guardianship) so that at least they could hear the guardian, the representatives and myself debating the issues as the guardian gave evidence. They spoke with professionals afterwards. The result of this exercise was that they confirmed their wish to be special guardians immediately and for the children not to be subject to care orders…….I remain concerned, however, as to the process here. I am not convinced that the grandparents have been sufficiently involved. It is stating the obvious to observe that the effect of making an application to a court is to involve the applicants closely in the process.

 

 

  1. A short-term care order meets many of the concerns expressed in the previous paragraphs…..It is common ground that the transfer of the children to the grandparents, which is happening as I write this judgment, will not be delayed for want of special guardianship orders, or by any further assessment process.

 

 

  1. ……There would remain untested placements.

 

 

  1. ……the Guardian…….emphasised that “there was enough of a relationship that it is not an impediment to a special guardianship order…….”

 

 

The Court of Appeal considered this carefully

 

 

 

16.It is evident that the judge recognised that the only realistic placement options that he had were with the paternal grandparents. His concern was the viability of those placements: not because they were unassessed but because they were untested in the specific context of the possible interference with them by the children’s mother and the father of S. It was in that context that on the merits the judge wanted to be assured that the control and parental responsibility which vests in special guardians would be sufficient to manage the relationship with the parents. The alternative was control and parental responsibility being vested in the local authority through care orders. The problem to be solved was whether the relationships and capabilities of the grandparents were strong enough or needed to be supported and tested before SGOs were made.

 

 

 

  1. The solution to the problem was in the choice of order: SGO, care order or interim care order and an adjournment. The route to the solution lay in an evaluation of the evidence including oral evidence from professional witnesses, the parents and the proposed carers i.e. the paternal grandparents. It is clear from the judgment and from a transcript of the judge’s discussions with the advocates during the hearing that the judge had the problem and the solutions in mind. What was missing was a route to the preferred solution. Having identified the problem and the range of solutions the judge did not go on to evaluate that evidence. That necessarily meant that the propositions advanced in the discussion and the conclusions reached in the judgment take the form of assumptions that were not reasoned and which are now challenged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. As I remarked at [16] and [17] it was the absence of any testing of the assumptions raised in discussion which created the problem with which this court now has to grapple. The judge was concerned about the relationship between the grandparents and each of the children in the context of continuing discord with the mother and the father of S. It is also right to note that it was not until the commencement of the appeal before this court that the special guardianship support plans were agreed between the local authority and the grandparents. The judge identified what were potentially adverse factors to balance against the positive factors in the special guardianship assessments which might lead to the conclusion that a trial placement of the children was required before vesting parental responsibility and control in the grandparents. That deserved more than a cursory analysis not least because the local authority and the children’s guardian had come to a clear and agreed contrary opinion on the basis of rigorous assessment material that apparently demonstrated that the positives outweighed the negatives.

 

 

 

  1. In order to test the assumptions the judge had described in his discussion with the advocates, he could have heard evidence about them and from that drawn conclusions. The judge records in his judgment that he heard some oral evidence but it is plain from his judgment that such evidence as there was either did not touch on the issues that he was raising or was unhelpful. That may be unsurprising given that the local authority and the children’s guardian disagreed with the judge and were agreed among themselves and also that no advocate was pursuing the issues the judge wanted to pursue. In that circumstance, as inquisitorial tribunals know, there must be an enhanced caution in a judge not to ‘simply’ rely on his or her own pre-conceptions or opinions and to ensure that as provisional conclusions are formed in judgment they are adequately tested so that they are soundly based on evidential conclusions.

 

 

 

  1. It would also have been legitimate, if properly reasoned, for the judge to conclude that he needed more evidence with the consequence that the time for the proceedings might need to have been extended. In order to come to either conclusion the judge needed to identify the risk that he sought to protect the children against and reason the options that were open to him on the evidence. He ought to have tested his own assumptions and the opinions of the professional witnesses in oral evidence and by hearing evidence from the paternal grandparents. He would have been assisted by evidence from the mother and the father of S but, as has sadly been the case more than once in these proceedings, they had absented themselves and the judge was left with a history from which only inferences could be drawn. Had the judge reasoned his concerns on the evidence he would have had a proper basis for conducting an evaluation of the benefits and detriments of each order that was available to him.

 

 

 

  1. In that context, it is not surprising that the judge’s evaluation of the merits of each option and the available orders was incomplete. The judge agreed with the parties that a child arrangements order was not in the interests of either child and he was right to do so on the merits. No-one pursues that option before this court. That left SGOs, full care orders and interim care orders with an adjournment.

 

 

 

  1. I agree with the paternal grandparents of S that if and in so far as the judge needed more time to ensure that the relationship of the grandparents with the child and the parents was such that it was in the interests of each child to make an SGO, that could, if reasoned, have been an appropriate basis upon which to adjourn the proceedings

 

 

 

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What this judgment is not

Once in a while, I come across a line in a judgment that makes me pull up sharply. Whilst my eyes rove over the screen full of Brussels II and run of the mill sets of care proceedings, every now and then you find a diamond in a sea of coal.
This is one of those.

18.What this judgment is not – Although I realise it may seem somewhat odd to include a paragraph under that heading I consider that it is necessary to do so.

Okay, you had me at hello.

This is a judgment by His Honour Judge Wildblood QC

Re ABC (A child) 2017
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2017/B75.html

So, what is this judgment not?
Therefore this judgment is not:

i) A determination by me of the merit of the grandmother’s complaints. The Local Authority, in its submissions, stresses that point whilst, at the same time, having made submissions and filed evidence to suggest that the complaints are not valid (see the submission and the social worker’s statement that were filed for 20th October 2017). I also note that, in the case of re B [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam) the now President, Sir James Munby was in a not dissimilar position (see para 49 of the judgment). As I stressed on 20th October 2017, the issue is not whether the grandmother’s complaints are correct for I am not in a position to decide that. The question is whether the grandmother should have the right to tell her story and now, whether as part of the telling of it, the Local Authority should be named.

ii) A means of stimulating public debate. My job as a Circuit Judge is to apply the law to the facts that are relevant to the issue before me. I have read the whole of the judgment in very recent case of Re B [2017] EWCA Civ 1579 and note, in particular, what is said in paragraph 27.

iii) An attempt by me at setting any sort of precedent or guidance even on a local scale. Not only would general guidance be way beyond my station or pay-grade. It would also be presumptuous and wrong. There is no new point of law or principle that arises in this case and my decision is entirely case specific. The decision that I have to make requires a very careful judgment call. As the President himself said in A v Ward [2010] EWHC 16 (Fam): ‘The present dispute is only part of an on-going debate as to where in the family justice system the lines should be drawn, where the balance should be struck, as between the often starkly opposed arguments, on the one side in favour of preserving the traditional privacy and confidentiality of family proceedings and on the other side in favour of greater ‘transparency’, to use the vogue expression. My duty here is to determine the present case according to law – that is, the law as it is, not the law as some might wish it to be’.

iv) An attempt by me to push or contain the boundaries of transparency. Not only do I have no interest in doing that but it is not for me to do.

Flipping that question round, it appears that what the judgment IS is a decision about whether a grandmother in care proceedings who put herself forward as a carer should be allowed to publish her complaint about her allegations of mistreatment by the Local Authority AND subsequently whether the Local Authority should be named.

2.At a hearing on the 6th October 2017 I made a special guardianship order in favour of a grandmother in relation to her grandchild. At that hearing she expressed profound dissatisfaction about the way in which she had been assessed and treated by the Local Authority during the currency of the proceedings. The parents each supported the grandmother in what she said. The guardian had filed a report supporting some of the points that the grandmother raised also. The Local Authority did not agree with what the grandmother said.

3.The grandmother, who is a litigant in person, stated that she wished to make her story known to others. I explained to her the availability of the complaints procedure under Section 26(3) of The Children Act 1989 but explored with her whether she was seeking to publish an anonymised account of the statement that she read out in court that day. She told (the Court) that she was.

So the complaint, if allowed to be published, must be read in the context that the Court have not resolved one way or the other whether it is a justified complaint. The Court have not had to rule on whether she is right or wrong. The Court did place the child with her, and made a Special Guardianship Order, but did not give a judgment about her specific complaints.

The Judge did rule that the Local Authority in question were wrong in their analysis of the legal position. It’s quite common for Local Authorities to operate under the same misconception (in fact, if you don’t actually have the authorities in front of you to analyse, I’d say that conservatively 95% of Local Authority lawyers (including myself from time to time) would have fallen into exactly the same trap. It is one of those areas where what we all think the law is does not equate with what the law actually is.

19.The law that applies – As the Local Authority submission suggests, the answer to the issues before me do not lie in statute. Although there are statutory restrictions on the publication of information from family proceedings heard in private (e.g. in section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 and section 97 of The Children Act 1989) those restrictions are, in any event, subject to any specific leave given by the court in a particular case. The same applies to the resultant restrictions that arise under Chapter 7 of Part 12 of Family Procedure Rules 2010 and PD 12G of those rules.

20.Where proceedings have come to an end Section 97 (2) of the 1989 Act does not operate and Section 12 of the 1960 Act does not operate to prevent disclosure of the names of parties to proceedings held in private. In the case of Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam), [2004] 2FLR 142 (which I cite below) there is an analysis of just this very point but I do wish to cite paragraph 24 of the decision of the President, as he now is, in A v Ward [2010] EWHC 16 (Fam) immediately:

‘It is convenient to start with what I said in British Broadcasting Corporation v Cafcass Legal and others [2007] EWHC 616 (Fam), [2007] 2 FLR 765, at para [12]: “It was – correctly – common ground between counsel that: (i) The care proceedings in relation to William having come to an end, the restrictions imposed by s 97(2) of the Children Act 1989 no longer operate: Clayton v Clayton [2006] EWCA Civ 878, [2006] Fam 83, [2007] 1 FLR 11. (ii) The only relevant statutory restrictions are those imposed by s 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960. (iii) Section 12, although it … imposes restrictions upon discussion of the facts and evidence in the case, does not prevent publication of the names of the parties, the child or the witnesses: Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam), [2004] 2 FLR 142. (iv) Accordingly, unless I agree to exercise the ‘disclosure jurisdiction’ (see Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam), [2004] 2 FLR 142, at [84]) [nothing] … (to the extent that it contains … material the disclosure of which would otherwise constitute a breach of s 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960) can be published, and unless I decide to exercise the ‘restraint jurisdiction’ there will be nothing to prevent the public identification of the social workers, the police officer, the treating doctors and the expert witnesses.” [25]. No-one dissents from what I went on to say (at para [13]) namely that: “both the disclosure jurisdiction and the restraint jurisdiction have to be exercised in accordance with the principles explained by Lord Steyn in In Re S (A Child) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2004] UKHL 47, [2005] 1 AC 593, sub nom Re S (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2005] 1 FLR 591, at [17], and by Sir Mark Potter P in A Local Authority v W, L, W, T and R (by the Children’s Guardian) [2005] EWHC 1564 (Fam), [2006] 1 FLR 1, at para [53], that is, by a ‘parallel analysis’ of those of the various rights protected by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 (the Convention), which are engaged, leading to an ‘ultimate balancing test’ reflecting the Convention principle of proportionality’.
21.I cite that passage (and more, later, from Re B) because the Local Authority’s submission appears to me to be advanced on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law as it applies to the naming of the Local Authority. The Local Authority submitted, on that and the other issues, that ‘these proceedings were brought under The Children Act 1989 and were heard in private. Publication of information relating to the proceedings, unless specifically authorised by a court, is a contempt of court’. The whole of the submission that was written by the Local Authority appears to be based on that erroneous contention and, further, makes no mention of the point that arises from the above passage from A v Ward and the passages that I cite below from Re B and other cases. As was the case in Re B, the boot has been put on the wrong foot by the Local Authority.

And therefore there was no reason why the grandmother could not share her story. The sole issue for litigation was whether she should be prevented from naming the Local Authority concerned.
Why in general should local authorities be named in judgments? The press made the following representations


29.I also find it very helpful that the officers of the press have made the following submission: ‘The case of B: X Council v B is also relevant – see http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed866 In that case [at para 14 onwards] Mr Justice Munby said as follows:

14 “There will, of course, be cases where a local authority is not identified, even where it has been the subject of stringent judicial criticism. A recent example is Re X (Emergency Protection Orders) [2006] EWHC 510 (Fam), [2006] 2 FLR 701. But current practice shows that local authorities involved in care cases are increasingly being identified. In addition to the two cases I have already referred to, other recent examples can be found in British Broadcasting Company v Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council and X and Y [2005] EWHC 2862 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 101, Re Webster, Norfolk County Council v Webster and others [2006] EWHC 2733 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 1146, Oldham MBC v GW, PW and KPW (A Child) [2007] EWHC 136 (Fam) and Re Ward, British Broadcasting Corporation v Cafcass Legal and others [2007] EWHC 616 (Fam). No doubt there are others.

15. I propose to adopt the same approach here as that which I set out in Re B. Is there some proper basis for continuing the local authority’s anonymity? In my judgment there is not.

16. In the first place, as the local authority very frankly accepts, whatever anonymity it enjoys is somewhat precarious, given the fact that the solicitors in the case have all been publicly identified. More importantly, however, I cannot see that there is any need to preserve the local authority’s anonymity in order to protect the children’s privacy and identities. Disclosure of the name of the local authority is not of itself going to lead to the identification of the children. In this respect the case is no different from Re B and Re X.
17. The real reason why the local authority seeks to perpetuate its anonymity is more to do with the interests of the local authority itself (and, no doubt, the important interests of its employees) than with the interests of the children. That is not a criticism of the local authority’s stance. It is simply a statement of the realities.

18. I can understand the local authority’s concern that if anonymity is lifted the local authority (or its employees) may be exposed to ill-informed criticism based, it may be, on misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the facts. But if such criticism exceeds what is lawful there are other remedies available to the local authority. The fear of such criticism, however justified that fear may be, and however unjustified the criticism, is not of itself a justification for affording a local authority anonymity. On the contrary, the powers exercisable by local authorities under Parts IV and V of the Children Act 1989 are potentially so drastic in their possible consequences that there is a powerful public interest in those who exercise such powers being publicly identified so that they can be held publicly accountable. The arguments in favour of publicity – in favour of openness, public scrutiny and public accountability – are particularly compelling in the context of public law care proceedings: see Re X, Barnet LBC v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998 at para [166].

19. Moreover, and as Lord Steyn pointed out in R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex p Simms [2000] 2 AC 115 at page 126, freedom of expression is instrumentally important inasmuch as it “facilitates the exposure of errors in the governance and administration of justice of the country.” How can such errors be exposed, how can public authorities be held accountable, if allowed to shelter behind a judicially sanctioned anonymity? This is particularly so where, as in the present case, a public authority has been exposed to criticism. I accept, as the local authority correctly points out, that many – indeed most – of the matters in dispute in this case were never the subject of any final judicial determination, but the fact remains that in certain respects I was, as my judgment shows, critical of the local authority. And that is a factor which must weigh significantly in the balance: see Re X, Barnet LBC v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998 at para [174].

20. In my judgment the balance here comes down clearly in favour of the local authority being identified.”
30.Further, they submit as follows: ‘As recognised in section 20 of the President’s Practice Guidance of January 2014 – Publication of Judgments, where a judge gives permission for a judgment to be published the public authority should be named in the judgment unless there are compelling reasons why they should not be so named. We would therefore wish to make the point that in published family judgments, it is highly unusual for a council not to be named’.

31.Finally, there are many other points of assistance from the decision of A v Ward [ibid] but I would wish to make mention of the following:

i) Professionals who give evidence, including social workers, cannot assume that they will do so under a cloak of confidentiality. There are very obvious reasons why that is so. Balcombe LJ said in Re Manda [1993] Fam 183 at p195: “if social workers and others in a like position believe that the evidence they give in child proceedings will in all circumstances remain confidential, then the sooner they are disabused of that belief, the better.”

ii) Proceedings where there are suggestions that a child might be adopted (as there were here) raise issues of exceptional gravity which are of great public interest and concern. ‘It must never be forgotten that, with the state’s abandonment of the right to impose capital sentences, orders of the kind which judges of this Division are typically invited to make in public law proceedings are amongst the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make. It is a terrible thing to say to any parent – particularly, perhaps, to a mother – that he or she is to lose their child for ever’ – see Re L (Care: Assessment: Fair Trial) [2002] EWHC 1379 (Fam), [2002] 2 FLR 730, at para [150].

iii) In Para 133 of the judgment, the President said this: ‘the law has to have regard to current realities and one of those realities, unhappily, is a decreasing confidence in some quarters in the family justice system – something which although it is often linked to strident complaints about so-called ‘secret justice’ is too much of the time based upon ignorance, misunderstanding, misrepresentation or worse. The maintenance of public confidence in the judicial system is central to the values which underlie both Article 6 and Article 10 and something which, in my judgment, has to be brought into account as a very weighty factor in any application of the balancing exercise. And where the lack of public confidence is caused even if only in part by misunderstanding or, on occasions, the peddling of falsehoods, then there is surely a resonance, even for the family justice system, in what Brandeis J said so many years ago. I have in mind, of course, not merely what he said in Whitney v California (1927) 274 US 357 at page 77: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” I have in mind also his extra-judicial observation that, and I paraphrase, the remedy for such ills is not the enforced silence of judicially conferred anonymity but rather the disinfectant power of exposure to forensic sunlight.

In the particular case, the arguments against naming the LA were as follows:-

The principal arguments that have been advanced are these:

i) Naming the Local Authority will increase the risk of the family being identified. The guardian, without analysing the point at all in any of the submissions, relies on this point. The Local Authority relies on it heavily. On behalf of the guardian it is submitted: ‘The Guardian’s view on balance is that disclosure of the identity of the local authority in this case will increase the risk of so called “jigsaw identification” of the child and its family’. She does not evaluate the risk. Nor does the Local Authority.

ii) The grandmother has a right of complaint under section 26(3) of the 1989 Act. The guardian submits: ‘The Guardian questions the motivation and proportionality of naming the local authority in this case. The grandmother of course has an avenue to complain about specific issues through the complaints procedure under S.26 of the Children Act 1989. She feels that the issue of assessment of Special Guardian’s is an issue of national public interest and that there is a need to open up the dialogue regarding assessment of kinship carers generally in respect of transparency, support and preparation through the assessment process. It is not an issue confined to this local authority’.

iii) On the facts of the case, one of the family members involved, it is said, is unlikely to be able to understand the need for confidentiality and would be likely to respond indiscreetly to press enquiry.

iv) A refusal to allow the Local Authority to be named is a ‘minor interference with Article 10 rights and is consistent with existing legislation’.

v) Disclosure of the identity of the Local Authority would lead to the Local Authority having to issue a response and that, in turn, would lead to ‘an unseemly and unhelpful trial by media’ and an ‘increased risk of jigsaw identification of the child’.

vi) Adverse publicity when no findings have been made against the Local Authority ‘would run the risk of making retention and recruitment of social workers more difficult and, therefore, of damaging the service provided for children in the area’. Although I was not referred to it, I do bear in mind what is said by McFarlane LJ in Re W [2016] EWCA Civ 1140 at paragraph 88 and onwards.

vii) The points of principle of public importance are those that the grandmother wishes to raise in relation to how family members are treated when they seek to care for family children in care proceedings. The naming of the Local Authority is not necessary for those issues to be aired.

And the arguments deployed in favour OF naming the Local Authority


The main arguments advanced are:

i) Those that arise from the authorities that I set out above. I will not repeat them. Within the submissions of the press was this: ‘The clear starting point is that a public body can have no expectation of anonymity in any reports that are permitted unless there is some justification for departure from the default position – it is for the Local Authority to make out a case, not for a journalist to establish a positive public interest in identifying the LA. Local Authorities are routinely identified in judgments’.

ii) The arguments about the suggested risk of jigsaw identification are advanced without analysis of fact or research. The reality is that, in the immediate locality of the grandmother, it will be easy for those who know the family to identify it even on the basis of the anonymised statement; the identification of the Local Authority will add nothing to that. The further reality is that, amongst the grandmother’s close friends and family, her story will already be apparent. For others, living in other areas of the Local Authority (e.g. the north of the Local Authority area) the naming of the Local Authority will not help at all in identifying the family. On a national level, naming the Local Authority area will be a matter of no significance at all to people from other areas (e.g. Birmingham or Newcastle-on-Tyne) and could not be taken as identifying the family. Given the demography, geography and population of the Local Authority identification is unlikely to take place beyond those who are likely already to know the family’s identity. I note this submission of the Press officers (which shows the extent of their researches in my opinion): ‘The fact the infant will be in the care of its grandmother is also not significant enough to identify this family. Such an arrangement is neither unusual, nor unexpected in this country. The 2011 census puts the number of children in England being cared for by a family member at 153,000, and of those, around 76,000 are being looked after by a grandparent (https://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/kinship-care-state-of-the-nation-2016). In 2017, it was reported in Community Care magazine that since 2010 there had been a 220% rise in special guardianship orders (http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2017/04/27/special-guardianship-orders-used-safely/). It is, we suggest, safe to assume that a good proportion of those being appointed as special guardians are grandparents’.

iii) The difficulty that the member of the family may have in dealing with the issues discreetly will arise whether the Local Authority is named or not. Naming the Local Authority does not increase or decrease the risk that the family member will be identified within the local community.

iv) It is utterly wrong in fact and principle to say that the non-disclosure order sought is only a minor interference with the grandmother’s Article 10 rights. The Local Authority’s approach seems to be based on its misunderstanding of the principles of law (i.e., in Re B language, on which foot the boot is) and also its failure to consider any of the relevant decisions of the President that I have set out above. To say to this grandmother that she was not allowed to name the Local Authority involved would be a very major interference with her right to expression under the Convention.

v) Insofar as there is a risk of identification, that risk is outbalanced by the importance of the freedom of expression enshrined by Article 10 (1). Further, the grandmother (who will be caring for the child and is an intelligent woman) and the mother both support that identification. I consider that their submissions about the Article 8 rights of their own family carry significant weight.

vi) There is a real and genuine interest within the local community in knowing how its Local Authority is acting. That is part of the democratic process. Members of a local community, like this grandmother, should be able to raise their complaints and concerns about local institutions.

vii) It would be quite wrong to try to limit the grandmother to the use of the procedure under Section 26(3) of the 1989 Act or any other complaints procedure. It is for the Local Authority to justify non-disclosure of its name and it is not for the Local Authority to dictate the means by which the grandmother exercises her Article 10 rights. By way of example – could it really be said in the Crown Court that someone who wished to complain about the treatment she had received in a prosecution must exhaust the police complaints procedure first?

viii) The suggestion that naming the Local Authority will result in a trial by media is riddled with errors of principle and fact. First, the press are the eyes and ears of society and press reporting cannot be swept aside on the basis of trial by media. Second, the emotive term ‘trial by media’ is not apposite – the issue is whether a member of the public should be able to voice a complaint against a local and public institution. Third, the extent to which there is a dispute within the public domain will depend on how the Local Authority chooses to conduct any response within the ambit of the law. Fourth, even without naming the Local Authority, it is highly foreseeable that some form of response will be made by the Local Authority and any response that is given should not be conducted by it behind a veil of anonymity.

ix) The court must not be seen to act as a shield for other public institutions.

x) There is no attempt by anyone involved in this case to identify specific social workers in the material that is made public. Naming the Local Authority does not mean that it becomes necessary to name the individual social worker and I have had no requests or suggestions that this should occur.

xi) The issues of importance are not confined to those relating to the treatment of family members in care proceedings. The issues that arise will be of most interest to those who live in the locality of this Local Authority and relate to how the authority is performing. Local issues matter (see the passage in from Re S above).

The Court felt that the case for naming the Local Authority was overwhelming (and having allowed a brief period to allow them to consider whether to appeal) and therefore named them.

36.Opinion on naming the Local Authority – In my opinion the arguments in favour of naming the Local Authority are overwhelming. I do not think that the Local Authority has got anywhere near justifying the non-disclosure of its identity. I accept each of the arguments advanced in support of that disclosure in the terms that I have set out above and consider that the authorities that I have cited point very strongly to it being ordered. I depart from the views of the guardian and of the Local Authority for the reasons stated within the accepted arguments that I have set out above in favour of disclosure. I do not think that the Local Authority or the guardian has given the issues or principles covered by this judgment sufficient or correct analysis.

The grandmother’s statement is appended to the judgment – again, the caveat is that these are the things that she wished to say about how she felt she was treated, and they are not a set of judicial findings.

Contextual statement as drafted by the parties

This statement is written by a capable and educated grandmother who has successfully raised her own family as a single parent and recently put herself forward to be assessed as a Special Guardian for her infant grandchild. The circumstances were such that it was not going to be possible for the parents to care for the baby and the alternative would have been an adoptive placement.

It can be seen that she felt unsupported through the assessment and that it was a difficult and protracted process. While rigorous assessment is of course important in the process of considering family members as prospective special guardians, what this grandmother writes raises important questions about whether there needs to be a re-evaluation by local authorities nationally of how family members putting themselves forward in these situations can be better prepared, informed and supported through the process.

The grandmother’s statement

These are the facts that I would like to disclose to the press, concerning my experiences during the assessments for a Special Guardianship Application and the events that have followed.

This has been an extraordinary experience to me, even though in the course of my life I have previously had to face some remarkably difficult challenges .It is important to me that some good should come from what has happened in this case, to this baby, her parents and to me.

It has seemed that the local authority is unused to being questioned or called to account for their conduct, decisions or even their misinformation. Emails are frequently not acknowledged, questions not answered most of the time. When false information or advice is given it leads to a great deal of anxiety and sometimes extra costs. This has happened throughout this process. Yet no one takes responsibility for their actions. It struck me that social workers are unused to the clients they work with demanding to be treated with respect, honesty and efficiency. There is a reliance on procedure without examining the particulars of a situation.

The reasoning which led to the local authority initial decision to contradict their very positive first report about me was a very narrow interpretation of my character and behaviour. It seemed there was only one way to show commitment and as I had expressed it a different way I was not committed. It was put to me that I had failed because I had not wanted to take the baby straight home from hospital. That I ought to be expressing that I wanted her. I reason that this is a vast decision for anyone to make, and that to respond purely emotionally or instinctively would be a less appropriate way to decide. I have been very open about my deliberations and judged negatively for that. Instead of helping to explore and understand, pejorative notes were taken and not discussed with me to further understand. I was even required to sort out all the typo errors in the first report which is most unprofessional.

I have responded robustly to the addendum report. I would add, however, that I was shocked by the references to identity and attachment, which do not bear examination. Indeed, I felt obliged to explain the meaning of a smile in small babies to the independent social worker such was the degree of her misunderstanding of this. As a final flourish, it was put to me by her that I ought to express commitment in the absence of clear health understanding or a financial assessment, which I felt was an outrageous transfer of responsibility from the local authority to me for their failings.

A complex issue which I feel has been inappropriately dealt with is the baby’s health. Both her parents have health difficulties which may complicate her future health. They may also have a huge impact on my capacity to cope in the future. The local authority followed their set routines in this area and failed completely to respond to my concerns that I needed to have as much knowledge as possible. This desire to have information was to guide my decision but also to ensure the best care now for this vulnerable child. Early investigations would have led to greater understanding. For example, a simple blood test could have been informative on one aspect of this. I fail to believe that this is not possible in complex cases.

A financial assessment is an integral part of this process. I have been given numerous accounts of how this works, how no finance would be offered, that I was ineligible even for assessment. I had to use voluntary agencies and research on line for the facts. The first social worker simply failed to turn up for an appointment to assess me. The baby’s social worker took a few notes and didn’t tell me the outcome though indirectly I was informed I was ineligible as I have some savings, which is completely incorrect. Ultimately, after explaining the process to the uncommunicative unit responsible, I have been offered some support. Following further unacknowledged emails to add information to my case, which explained my understanding of the assessment guidelines, further support has been offered. Is this an acceptable way for this to be conducted? It has led me to have to delay giving notice to my employer until I had discussed the outcome with a solicitor, leaving the baby in care for weeks longer.

There have been unexplained delays, which cannot be helpful for a baby awaiting a permanent placement. Weeks would pass without explanation, or even communication. Was this a suitable case for a newly qualified social worker who would move on, to be followed, by a part time person who would be away on leave without informing those concerned?

I have wondered how this would have ended if I had been a less vocal, expressive or determined person. I am under no doubt that this baby may have been adopted, that others may be, because many people who find themselves in this position do not have the personal resources to cope effectively. It has left me utterly exhausted and feeling shattered by the lack of kindness and understanding I experienced in such a painful context. To add insult to injury, I am accused of being problematically subject to stress by the social worker for the baby in her final statement.

I need to put this process behind me. I will, but I would hope that by airing these facts that those concerned might improve their practice. The central cog in this process needs to be well informed, efficient and dare I say kind, in such a sensitive situation. Their actions have cost me around £700 in legal fees which ought not to have been needed. I could have left this court with no financial support if I had not undertaken to investigate independently and share my knowledge with the local authority, to press for adherence to the D of E guidelines.

Ultimately, and above all, this baby has remained far longer than was justifiable, in foster care. Her parents have experienced a protracted agony of uncertainty. And, we go forward without full medical understanding. I would like to pay tribute to the exemplary care of the foster mother who has loved and cared for this baby and to the Guardian for her faith in my integrity.

The Order of Special Guardianship has now been made. I will love and care for this baby in every way. She will enjoy contact with her parents and develop a positive sense of Identity, drawing on the love of her family and our wonderful friends.

The new Special Guardianship Regulations

As trailed at the start of the year.

The Special Guardianship ( Amendment ) Regulations 2016

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2016/111/contents/made

 

These have been introduced by the Government, in response to their consultation about Special Guardianship Orders and the feeling arising from that consultation that some additional factors needed to be included within Special Guardianship reports.  The new additions come into effect for any report that was commissioned (either by request by prospective Special Guardians or ordered by a Court) AFTER 29th February 2016.

That does raise the possibility that someone who asks for an SGO assessment on 28th Feb ends up with a slightly different one to a person who asks for it the next day.

The original Special Guardianship Order Regulations 2005 set out all of the matters that need to be included in a Special Guardianship report, and they add up to sixty eight items in all.

 

The new Regs add

In the section about the child

 

any harm which the child has suffered;

any risk of future harm to the child posed by the child’s parents, relatives or any other person the local authority consider relevant;

And adds to the part about assessing the child’s needs – current or in the likely future

In the section about the prospective Special Guardians

 

an assessment of the nature of the prospective special guardian’s current and past relationship with the child

[Meaning that the report will look at what the special guardian means to the child and vice versa, over and above the pure genetic relationship – one would assume that a prospective special guardian who had spent time babysitting or caring for the child or having regular visits would thus compare favourably to one who was genetically related to the child but had never met them. ]

And on the assessment of parenting capacity of the Special Guardian

an assessment of the prospective special guardian’s parenting capacity, including:

(i)their understanding of, and ability to meet the child’s current and likely future needs, particularly, any needs the child may have arising from harm that the child has suffered;

(ii)their understanding of, and ability to protect the child from any current or future risk of harm posed by the child’s parents, relatives or any other person the local authority consider relevant, particularly in relation to contact between any such person and the child;

(iii)their ability and suitability to bring up the child until the child reaches the age of eighteen;

 

[This is incorporating a concept of reparative parenting into the assessment.  As I’ve said before, one person’s reparative parenting is another person’s social engineering, so we probably won’t know how this is going to work until the Court of Appeal tell us]

The changes are pretty sensible to me. They are additional factors to an existing pool of sixty eight factors. As Special Guardianship is intended to be a permanent solution for children, it must be right that the likelihod of the placement enduring permanently is considered.

The Regulations say nothing about how much weight any of these new factors have to be given within the assessment, just that they are mandatory factors to be identified and considered.

The real crux is in drawing together the factors and making a conclusion. I’m sure that some will argue that there can be no hard and fast rules about what is to be given what weight, and some will argue that as Parliament (or rather Government, as this is by way of Regulation not Act) has spoken and felt it necessary to include these additional factors that they should be assumed to carry some weight and force within assessments, for good or ill.

 

As these are Regulations, they do not impose on the Court a duty to particularly take these matters into account, although they will be delineated specifically within a report now rather than inferred or pieced together through other matters. It would be a somewhat churlish Court that ignored them completely. As I’ve said, it is the weight to be given, and particularly how far the reparative care element is taken that is likely to be the subject of litigation and debate.

 

[We are, I think, a month after the Minister ‘unveiled’ the major changes to adoption law, without seeing a glimpse of what lies under the veil. Maybe tomorrow.]

Adoption and Islam : Milton Keynes and the Diet of Worms

 

If you want the recipe for Milton Keynes v X and Y 2014 it is this

 

 

  1. Open can
  2. Decant worms from can
  3. Liberally distribute worms everywhere

 

[Quick disclaimer – this post and the case deal with issues of faith. I am a heathen unbeliever, and I’m afraid that flippancy is something of a knee-jerk reaction for me. I have genuinely tried to rein that in, and be respectful of other people’s faiths. I may inadvertently have failed to do that, or accidentally said something which will annoy or upset people of any faith. That’s not my intent. I don’t have beliefs myself, but I respect those who do.  The same will be true of the comments – keep them respectful please]

 

The case is here

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B102.html

 

It is a decision from a District Judge, and I actually think that it is a very good judgment – it is thorough, analytical and has a very good innovation of putting a real-person-friendly summary at the end of each section.

 

I think that it does lose it in the last few paragraphs, notably because you can’t actually tell whether the Judge has made a final order and if so what it is, but it was undoubtedly a difficult case to wrestle with.

 

Let me stress, that as a decision from a District Judge, it is not binding authority (other than being binding on the particular case concerned), but the DJ is right, it raises important wider issues and the Judge was right to publish it.

If I have the Judge’s gender wrong, I apologise, I had to take a guess at it. In doing so, I realised that my stock gender attribution for Circuit Judges is female and for District Judges male, soI deliberately flipped that around.

 

The central dilemma in the case is this – in a case involving children of Muslim parents, once the Court has decided that they cannot go home, is it right to weigh into the balance when deciding about adoption the Islamic beliefs about adoption?   And can those beliefs tip the balance?

 

It is somewhat odd that the case doesn’t refer to the lead authority on this very point, which is Newcastle v Z 2005. [Not the Judge’s fault, she ought to have been taken to it by someone]

 

In the Newcastle case, Mr Justice Munby, as he then was, had to look at this very issue. In that case, he had to look at whether mother was ‘unreasonably withholding her consent’ to adoption, given that her chief objection was based on her faith.

 

 

40. It is clear that the mother has a very deep and utterly genuine commitment to Islam.

 

41. That was apparent from the views she expressed in the course of her evidence, from the way in which she gave that evidence and, indeed, from the way in which she handled and kissed the Quran before taking the oath. I intend no offence when I say that her beliefs come over as the simple, unsophisticated and unquestioning faith of a woman who, despite her twenty-five years in this country, is still very much, I suspect, located socially, emotionally and religiously in the peasant society of Kashmir from which she sprang. But what is clear, and needs to be recognised, is that her faith is both very real and very important to her

 

[Thank goodness that he intended no offence, when describing her basically as a simple peasant girl with unsophisticated beliefs]

 

42. Her religious objections to adoption were simply but passionately stated. She considers adoption to be against her religion. She believes that the Quran – much of which she knows by heart – says that it is a mother and father’s responsibility to bring up their children and that adoption is wrong.

“Adoption is not allowed by Islamic law. My religious beliefs would therefore prevent me from giving my consent even if I thought that adoption was best for S which I do not.”

 

She believes that if a child is adopted then when he dies his soul will not get peace. She believes that if S is adopted, not merely will he lose his inheritance rights to certain family land in Pakistan but that she, in consequence, will not be able to go on Haj. She recognises that the Quran permits Kafala, which she describes as being very much like foster care, but says that Kafala is very different from adoption, as the child keeps the surname and inheritance rights of the biological family. She says that the Quran does not permit the full separation of a child from the family as happens with adoption.

 

 

[Haj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, which all followers of Muslim have to make once in a life-time. It is a core part of the faith. If the mother had not already undertaken Haj, and would be forbidden from doing so if her son was adopted, this would be very significant for her faith. But then, blood transfusion is forbidden by the Jehovah’s Witness faith, and that has never cut any ice with the High Court. And of course, the Courts have been ready to reject faith-based arguments from Christians about all sorts of things over the last few years]

Mr Justice Munby (as he then was) analysed some material and documents that explored the religious implications of adoption for those of the Islamic faith, concluding this:-

 

 

46. In broad outline all this material is to much the same effect. There is no adoption in our sense of the word in Islam, but Kafala is well established in Islam as a means of providing care to children, allowing a child to benefit from the care of a good home whilst at the same time losing neither his family name nor his rights in his birth family. Kafala is best understood as the long-term fostering of a child without the right to kinship. Under Kafala the “adoptive” family never takes the place of the biological family, whose ties to the child are never severed; the “adoptive” family are trustees and caretakers of someone else’s child. The Quran (33:4-5) specifically reminds “adoptive” parents that they are not the child’s biological parents:

 

“Nor has He made your adopted sons your (biological) sons. These are but (figures of) speech uttered by your mouths …

Call them by their father’s names; this is more equitable in the sight of Allah. But if you know not who their fathers were (call them) your brothers in faith and your friends”.

 

 

The Judge in Newcastle v Z accepted that these were the mother’s genuine faith-based beliefs about adoption and that they were a genuine part of Islamic faith.

 

48. As I read him, the expert in the case before Charles J treated adoption as something not recognised by the Sharia and also, it would seem, as something prohibited by the Sharia, in the sense that the natural rights which a parent has in relation to his or her child do not include the right to agree to adoption. But there is nothing in any of the materials I have been shown to suggest that to give up a child for adoption constitutes a wrong or a sin exposing the parent to penalty or punishment. The only reference to sin in this context that I have been shown is in the Quran (2:233) where the following appears:

 

“And if you both (parents) decide, by mutual consent and counsel, upon separation, you will incur no sin if you decide to entrust your children to foster-mothers, you will incur no sin provided you ensure in a fair manner, the safety of the child which you are handing over.”

 

49.  That said, this case is not to be determined by reference to some abstract principle of Islam but having regard to the mother’s own religious and other beliefs. The fact is – and I so find – that the mother believes (and believes that in so believing she is a good Muslim) that if S is adopted then when he dies his soul will not get peace, and she likewise believes that if he is adopted she will not be able to go on Haj. Those beliefs may or may not be borne out by the Quran and the Sharia, but they are the mother’s beliefs. And they are also, I am prepared to accept, beliefs that can conscientiously be held by a devout Muslim as the mother believes herself to be.

 

 

Nonetheless, the Judge in Newcastle v Z still went on to rule that the mother was ‘unreasonably withholding her consent’.   This bit of the judgment may call to mind angels dancing on the head of a pin, as the Judge rules that she is ‘reasonable’ but ‘unreasonable’ at the same time, but this was the nonsense of the 1976 Adoption Act, where the need to rule that a parent was behaving ‘unreasonably’ in objecting to non-consensual adoption led to a great many hearings where salt was rubbed into wounds.

 

51. The mother’s religious beliefs are in themselves reasonable – that I entirely accept – but she is nonetheless, in all the circumstances of this particular case, acting unreasonably in relying upon them as a justification for refusing consent to her son’s adoption. The mother’s religious views demand respect and call for particular and sensitive consideration, but at the end of the day the question is whether, having regard to the evidence and applying the current values of our society, the advantages of adoption for the welfare of S are sufficiently strong to justify overriding the religious and other views and interests of the mother. In my judgment they are. A reasonable parent in the mother’s position, even one holding the mother’s particular religious views, would nonetheless accept that adoption is in the best interests of her English son. The mother, in my judgment, is acting unreasonably in taking the other view.

 

 

We now don’t have the ‘unreasonably withholding her consent’ test, as the test for finally making a Placement Order is that either the parent consents, or the Court decides that the child’s welfare REQUIRES that consent be dispensed with.

 

It is that little word ‘REQUIRES’, which some years ago the previous President said was a ‘common sense English word’ (Re P) and has now been developed post Baroness Hale’s minority (but hugely influential) judgment in Re B, into the ‘nothing else will do’ principle; carrying on its back all of the proportionality concepts.

 

As outlined in Re B-S (see about one blog post in four from the last twelve months, and if you have not so far heard of Re B-S, then you’ve got quite a bit of reading to catch up on. Have you just been in Court with His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, by any chance?), the Court has to avoid a linear approach and to look at the pros and cons of each placement option. The Court can’t simply rule out a parent based on the negatives and then go to adoption as being what is left; the negatives of adoption and the positives of placement with a parent have to be taken into the mix.  The faith implications surely have to go into that balancing exercise, rather than as the Judge did in Newcastle acknowledge that they existed but that they played no real part in any actual decision.

 

So, the question is, post Re B-S, is the approach of Newcastle v Z still good law?

 

It would have to be the case that the parent’s genuinely held religious beliefs about adoption would have to go into the negatives column on the option of adoption. They probably (?) don’t, of themselves defeat adoption as a possibility, because if so adoption would just be ruled out for any child of Muslim parents.  One can readily see that being abused by people as a ‘get out of adoption free card’  by converting at the doors of Court.

 

So, Newcastle stands up on it not being determinative, but I suspect that in a finely balanced case, it might be a very important factor.

 

That raises some questions of its own – if the incorporation of that factor is capable of tipping the balance in a finely balanced case, then children of Muslim parents are potentially being treated differently to those of non-Muslim parents.   Possibly a case could involve two half-siblings, one half-Muslim and one non-Muslim. Are those children in the SAME case to be treated to different standards? What about a case where the parents are not Muslim, but the grandparents are? What about if only one of the grandparents is Muslim? Where do you stop? Where the child is 1/8th Muslim? 1/16th ?  How devout do the parents have to be? Is it intrusive and offensive to even enquire about that?

 

 

In the Milton Keynes case, the Judge was taken to the Islamic beliefs about adoption (they are similar to those expressed in Newcastle, but there are some interesting additions  – for example that the central figure in Islam had himself adopted a child)

 

 

The children here had a Muslim mother and a non-Muslim father

 

102. I am concerned that one form of long term placement that has not been realistically explored by the Local Authority, or by the Guardian, appears to be Special Guardianship, which the Guardian considers only in the context of a family member being appointed as special guardian and the Local Authority considers not at all. This case, I recall, concerns two boys who are Muslim; and X in particular is taking a serious interest in his Muslim heritage.

 103. The author “Huda” writing on the website Islam.about.com expresses the matter in this way:

 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said that a person who cares for an orphaned child will be in Paradise with him, and motioned to show that they would be as close as two fingers of a single hand. An orphan himself, Muhammad paid special attention to the care of children. He himself adopted a former slave and raised him with the same care as if he were his own son.

However, the Qur’an gives specific rules about the legal relationship between a child and his/her adoptive family. The child’s biological family is never hidden; their ties to the child are never severed. The Qur’an specifically reminds adoptive parents that they are not the child’s biological parents:

“…Nor has He made your adopted sons your (biological) sons. Such is (only) your (manner of) speech by your mouths. But Allah tells (you) the Truth, and He shows the (right) Way. Call them by (the names of) their fathers; that is juster in the sight of Allah. .”

(Qur’an 33)

Of course, in English law, an adoption order has the effect of making the adopted child, for all purposes the child of the adopters. There undoubtedly are observant Muslims who are prepared to accept the idea of adoption, in the same way that there are undoubtedly Roman Catholics who accept the laws of divorce. But it must plainly be right to respect the view of any devout Muslim, who says in the face of that teaching contained in the Qur’an that adoption as understood in English law is unacceptable.

 

 

The Judge in Milton Keynes referred to the philosophy underpinning Special Guardianship Orders, which in part were a solution for the faith-based difficulties with adoption. She quoted the White Paper

 

 

5.8 Adoption is not always appropriate for children who cannot return to their birth parents. Some older children do not wish to be legally separated from their birth families. Adoption may not be best for some children being cared for on a permanent basis by members of their wider birth family. Some minority ethnic communities have religious and cultural difficulties with adoption as it is set out in law. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children may also need secure, permanent homes, but have strong attachments to their families abroad. All these children deserve the same chance as any other to enjoy the benefits of a legally secure, stable permanent placement that promotes a supportive, lifelong relationship with their carers, where the court decides that is in their best interests.

 

5.9 In order to meet the needs of these children where adoption is not appropriate, and to modernise the law so as to reflect the religious and cultural diversity of our country today, the Government believes there is a case to develop a new legislative option to provide permanence short of the legal separation involved in adoption. This view was strongly supported by respondents to the consultation on the PFU report.

 

 

This is, frankly, a bloody good point. Part of the rationale for introducing Special Guardianship Orders were that there are sections of the UK population that have a faith-based objection to adoption as it is practised in the UK. Surely if that’s the case, then it ought to be considered as a solution in such cases?

 

 

The Local Authority in this case were saying that there simply isn’t a pool of ‘prospective Special Guardians’ in the same way that there is a pool of foster carers or prospective adopters. Special Guardianship really only represented a solution for children who needed permanent homes outside of the family if there were existing people in the children’s lives (wider family or foster carers) who would be suitable and willing to have a Special Guardianship Order. You can’t HUNT for Special Guardians, you can only find a person who is able to care for the child and then ask them whether Special Guardianship is something they would want to do.

 

(In short, the Court can’t make Special Guardianship Orders generically and ask the Local Authority to find the right people at a later stage, it can only look at the right people and decide if a Special Guardianship Order was the right order)

 

The Judge wasn’t taken with that argument

 

it appears to me to be entirely unacceptable, and to put the cart before the horse, for a public authority to say “We haven’t got in place mechanisms to implement a measure provided by Parliament, and therefore we do not even propose to try”.

 

 

The solution that the Judge favoured was that the current foster carers be approached, with a view to permanently caring for these children under a Special Guardianship Order. It makes perfect sense to me for this enquiry to be made (and frankly, one would expect that it HAD been made prior to the final hearing)

 

I would invite the Local Authority to give careful consideration to the matter, and to whether it would not be more appropriate to regard long term placement with the existing foster parents as the outcome which would best meet the boys’ needs if permanency in it can be achieved.

 

I would ask the Local Authority specifically to amend their care plans to clarify timescales and the criteria on which they would seek to move the boys from their existing placement, and to make it explicit that the boys will not be separated from one another and will not be accommodated in short term placements

 

 

In a more general sense, there’s another time at which the Court might be weighing up Special Guardianship v adoption; and that is in a case where the parents are seeking leave to oppose the making of an adoption order.

 

The High Court dealt with that earlier this year in Re N (A child) Adoption Order 2014 (see this post https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/05/10/special-guardianship-versus-adoption/   )

 

 

There are some key strands to be drawn together then

 

  1. In seeking leave to oppose adoption, Re B-S says that when measuring whether a parent’s application has ‘solidity’, one is not looking at just whether they would get the child back, but whether they could persuade the Court to make another order.
  2. The Court can impose a Special Guardianship Order on a person who doesn’t want one – there is clear Court of Appeal authority from the very first batch of Special Guardianship cases (Re S) that the Court could look at someone who had applied for adoption and make a Special Guardianship Order instead

 

  1. The Courts accept that there is a genuine faith-based objection in the Islamic faith to adoption as it is practiced in the UK

 

  1. Part of the rationale behind Special Guardianship was to resolve that faith-based objection

 

  1. From Re N, the High Court have set down a marker that it was due to ‘exceptional circumstances’ that they did not acquiesce to father’s request that the Court make an SGO as an alternative to adoption.

 

I have already indicated that this is an exceptional case. If it were not an exceptional case, I doubt whether an adoption order would have been appropriate”

 

 

It would seem to me, and I am no expert, just an opinionated law Geek, that the door to successfully challenge an adoption application on religious grounds and substitute it for a Special Guardianship Order is at the very least ajar, if not coming off its hinges.

 

 

Do Local Authorities, Guardians and Courts have to bear that in mind when considering making the Placement Orders in the first place? Do adopters who are considering taking on children with Muslim parents need to be advised that this placement might be susceptible to a successful challenge? Is there a need for a national recruitment and register for people willing to care for Muslim children for life under SGOs?

 

 

In the words of Chandler Bing – “Can open. Worms. Everywhere”

relatives and 26 weeks – a reported Auntie Beryl case

 

It has been a vexed issue ever since the 26 week guillotine came in, heightened by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal’s emphasis on adoption as ‘last resort’ where nothing else will do  – what is a Court actually going to do when a relative comes forward at week 20, week 22, week 24, and assessment of them would derail that all-important timetable?  This is something I dubbed the “Auntie Beryl” question, and it is one that crops up in these cases around the country.

We won’t really know until a Judge somewhere tells Auntie Beryl that she is too late, that she should have come forward sooner, that she can’t be assessed, and makes an adoption order. Then that will be appealed and the Court of Appeal will try to square that circle of “26 weeks” with “nothing else will do”

In this case, which is the first to touch on this point since it became a genuinely difficult issue  (since pre 26 weeks, the assessment would ordinarily be done), the High Court attempted to deal with it.

Re K (A minor) 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4580.html

The grandparents in the case put themselves forward as alernative carers really early on, just after the child was born. A “guardedly positive” viability assessment was prepared.  At a hearing in March 2013, the grandparents decided with a heavy heart that they weren’t able to offer a permanent home and withdrew.

However, by 6th March when the case came on at this court, grandmother and grandfather had come to the conclusion, I am sure with an extremely heavy heart and sadness and feelings of regret, that it was not right to pursue the application. The grandmother wrote on behalf of herself and her husband to the Circuit Judge. She wrote that that it was the hardest letter she had ever had to write, that they loved K and have a bond with him, but they want what is best for him. She said that although it broke their hearts, they had to put their feelings to one side and focus on K. She said that health issues which had not initially seemed significant enough to affect them caring for K, had come to the fore during the assessment process. She was having tests for Multiple Sclerosis, and the results so far were pointing towards an MS diagnosis. The grandfather, who had had a heart attack two and a half years previously, had started having chest pains. They had done a lot of soul searching, and after a lot of deliberation and tears, decided that it was unfair to K for them to put themselves forward as carers. They could not give him 100 per cent, which they believed he deserved. They wanted him to have the very best in life, and if they truly believed they could give him this, they would still be seeking special guardianship. But they had to be realistic, so that he could have a happy, loving, secure and stable upbringing. If their health deteriorated any more, it would be hard to meet all his needs. They would always have him in their hearts, and drew strength from knowing that he would have a happy loving childhood with a family that loves him. It would be unfair for him to live with them if he would then have to live with someone else because they were unable to care for him. They hoped that K would understand when he is older that they had done this for him, to give him the best possible life.

 

In due course, having completed assessments of the parents, the Local Authority’s plan was for adoption.

Today is 8th May 2013. Last Friday, the grandparents, through their solicitors, issued their application, returnable today. The grandmother wrote another letter to the court. She wrote that they had not expressed themselves correctly in her previous letter. They were 100 per cent committed. They had wanted to tell the judge the real reason that they were pulling out but could not, because they were scared that at a later date when K was older, he would read the letter and it would upset him. She said that they did have some health problems, but that the real reason for withdrawing was that they were terrified that if they were awarded special guardianship there was nothing to stop K’s mother or father seeking and obtaining custody of K. Then he would have been subjected to their lifestyle and would have been at risk. They have since learned that this could not happen because the parents’ legal aid funding had ceased and they would never be able to make an application. They had always thought and believed that K deserved to stay with and have the benefit of his loving, large, warm and close natural family, and this would be best for him emotionally.

 

The May hearing was pushing very close to the 26 week deadline. It certainly would not have been possible to undertake the Special Guardianship assessment within that period – in fact, the assessment would have required another 12 weeks, pushing the case from a six month case into a nine or ten month case.

The Court had a hearing to decide whether to grant the grandparents leave to apply for a Special Guardianship Order (i.e to delay the final hearing to obtain that assessment) and heard some limited evidence from the grandmother.  The Court referred to the case law in relation to applications for leave (although personally, I think the caselaw cited is somewhat out of date, and there is substantially more recent authority making it plain that it is a more nuanced procedure balancing all of the factors rather than Re M 1995’s rather ‘soundbite’ approach – the Court of Appeal in Re B (A child) 2012 [2012] EWCA Civ 737  – in fact, the Court of Appeal say that rather than s10(9) containing a ‘test’ or anything like a ‘test’ to be crossed it simply tells the Court to have ‘particular regard’ to certain factors, whilst other factors can by implication be weighed in the balance too)

The Judge concluded

    1. I am sure that this application is entirely well meant and good-hearted. But it is emotional, unconsidered, unrealistic, and not thought through, I suspect that the prospect of losing contact with K has been a very powerful factor here.

 

    1. No doubt in March the grandparents reached their considered but painful decision to agree to a firm plan for this little boy for adoption with difficulty, but focussing on the child. I am afraid that whatever the love that the grandparents have for K, that their approach at the moment is not child-focussed in the objective way required. The grandparents know very well that they cannot properly commit themselves to this task. This came through in the grandmother’s evidence, when she had to face up to reality. They know that their health problems are important. They are aware of the potential disruption which could be created for K, particularly by his father, but perhaps by the mother too when she is in a less sanguine state of mind, for the rest of K’s minority. Although Mr. Taylor quite rightly stresses the benefits of this warm and close family, that was available in March when they made their decision.

 

  1. I am satisfied that there is a very significant risk that the proposed application will disrupt K’s life to such an extent that he would be harmed by it. I am quite satisfied having had the opportunity to assess in sharp and painful focus what the problems are likely to be, that this application has no real prospect of success. So I do not simply bring the guillotine down on the basis of 26 weeks. This is a summary decision but it is welfare based nonetheless, and based on an evaluation of the facts. It is for me to factor in all these considerations in K’s interests. Therefore I refuse the application.

 

Not quite an Auntie Beryl case in that the Court felt that there was enough information to say in effect that the grandparents application was not going to be successful even if the proceedings were delayed – rather than there being a paucity of information about the family member due to late presentation.

Parker J then gave some general guidance

    1. Cases where relataives or friends come forward at the last minute are likely to present the greatest challenges to the court in complying with the 26 week limit. The Court has a duty to consider whether there are alternatives to a care order. But in my view the court is entitled to dismiss such an application without detailed assessment and must take into account delay.

 

    1. Some measures may assist the court to manage such applications :-

 

a. Orders must record that parents have been advised that failure to identify family members at an early stage is likely to preclude their assessment and that the case will not be adjourned.

b. Where a relative has come forward and then withdraws a court should record that that person understands that this is their final decision and is unlikely be revisited without the strongest justification.

c. Any application for further assessment or joinder by a relative or other person must be resolved very swiftly. Such applications will usually be able to be dealt with on paper. Oral evidence, to be adduced only if necessary and proportionate, should be short and focussed.

“The peril of Auntie Beryl”

As the 26 week time limit comes upon us (being introduced by Parliament, the President’s revised PLO guidance and behind the scenes pressure on Courts and Local Authorities via the “Stick of Statistics” TM   – not necessarily in that order), I have been musing about the elephant in the room, of what happens when late in the proceedings, the Court is presented with a suitable relative, Auntie Beryl.

 For what it is worth, I think delays in court proceedings are caused by one or more of these things :-

 (a)   Parties (including the LA) being late in filing documents and this having a domino effect

(b)   The expert report being late, and the whole carefully built timetable collapses round people’s ears

(c)   There is a material change in circumstances  (an unexpected dad emerges, or a relationship ends or begins, or someone you thought was going to be fine relapses into drug misuse, or falls pregnant, or has some sort of unpredictable illness or disease)

(d)   A relative comes forward at the eleventh hour and has to be assessed

(e)   The evidence is all ready, but the combination of accommodating social worker, Guardian, expert and more importantly Court time, means that you have to wait 3 months for a hearing

 I think the intention of the revised PLO  (which you can find here http://www.adcs.org.uk/news/revisedplo.html  )   is to try, as much as one can, to eliminate (a) and (b), and the hope is clearly that if you have much crisper and tighter and fewer Court hearings, there will be less backlog and more judicial availability for (e)    – though it would have been nice to see something spelling out exactly what the Court service is going to do about (e)  – save for having Listings offices run by Capita…

 (c )  is probably the stuff that ends up coming into the bracket of exceptional cases that get an extension to the 26 week limit, or at least where this is actively considered.

 So that leaves the elephant in the room, where it looks as though a child MIGHT be able to be placed with a family member, but doing that assessment will take the proceedings outside of the 26 weeks, because the family member has been put forward late on.

 I suspect, and am already seeing this, that the Courts will try to tackle this by very robust directions at early Court hearings, along these lines :-

“The parents shall, by no later than                       , identify in writing to the Local Authority (to be copied to all parties) the names and contact details of any person that they put forward as a potential permanent carer of the child. Any person put forward after that date will ONLY be considered with the leave of the Court and the parent would need to apply to Court for leave for such assessment evidence to be filed and would need to provide VERY cogent reasons as to why they were not put forward within the deadline period set out in this paragraph”

 

 That looks pretty strong, and will no doubt be backed up by the Court leaning forward and stressing to the parents just how important it is to focus their minds right NOW on who might be able to care for the children, if the assessments of them are not positive.

 But, human nature being what it is, at some point, lawyers and parents and Judges will be faced with an Auntie Beryl coming forward at week 18 or 19, when the LA have announced that they won’t be rehabilitating to parents and will be seeking an adoptive placement. Auntie Beryl, on the face of it, seems like she might be suitable – she doesn’t have any convictions, or history of children being removed, or any major health issues, she has a house in which the child could live, and so forth. So there is a positive viability assessment, but still a lot to be done – more than could be done in the time we have left.

 The six million dollar question, which the Court of Appeal will be grappling with pretty quickly after the revised PLO comes into force I suspect, is

 When a parent puts forward a family member late, and the assessment of that family member would push the case outside 26 weeks, what does the Court do?

 

The immediate “26 weeks or bust” approach suggests that the Court will say, “too late, you had your chance, you had the stern warning on day 12 to cough up the names, you can’t leave it until the assessments are in and the LA are talking about adoption”

 So, what happens if they do that?

 For these purposes, we will assume that the assessment of the parents is negative (since if it were positive, there would be no need to delay matters to assess Auntie Beryl) and that we are dealing with a child under six.

 The alternative care plan is therefore adoption. 

Can an application for a Placement Order be made when there is a viable carer who has not been assessed?

 

The Local Authority have a duty, pursuant to section 22(6) of the Children Act 1989

 s22 (6)  Subject to any regulations made by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this subsection, any local authority looking after a child shall make arrangements to enable him to live with—

 (a)  a person falling within subsection(4); or

 (b)  a relative, friend or other person connected with him,

unless that would not be reasonably practicable or consistent with his welfare.

 

The LA can’t, it seems to me, determine that placement with Auntie Beryl isn’t consistent with the child’s welfare if all they have is a positive viability assessment, they have to go on to do something more, EVEN IF the Court has made a Care Order.

 Before the adoption agency can decide that adoption is the plan for the child, and thus make the application for a Placement Order, they have this duty under the Adoption and Children Act 2002

 Section 1 Considerations applying to the exercise of powers

 (4)The court or adoption agency must have regard to the following matters (among others)—

 (f)the relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant, including—

(i)the likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so,

(ii)the ability and willingness of any of the child’s relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child’s needs,

(iii)the wishes and feelings of any of the child’s relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.

 

And again, how can the adoption agency decide that Auntie Beryl can’t provide the child with a secure environment if all they have is a positive viability assessment? They have to have a full assessment.

 Thus, even if the Court determined that they were not going to allow time for Auntie Beryl to be assessed, because she has come late into the proceedings, that won’t allow the LA to simply discount her and issue a Placement Order application.

 Unless they have done sufficient to satisfy themselves that Auntie Beryl is NOT suitable, they can’t commit to a plan of adoption and no such plan could be put before the Court. Neither can they commit to “Placement with Auntie Beryl” until they have sufficient information to be satisfied that this has good prospects of success.

 Therefore, the Court cannot have a hearing by week 26 at which a Placement Order could be made.

 

 If the Court can’t consider a Placement Order application, what can it do?

 

The Court would be left, I think, with these three options :-

1. Taking the information that is available about Auntie Beryl and taking a punt on her, by making a Residence Order (or an SGO – but bear in mind that the Court cannot make a Special Guardianship Order without a Special Guardianship report   – and the Court won’t have one of those between week 18 and 26    RE S (A CHILD) NO.2 (2007) [2007] EWCA Civ 90 )

 

2. Adjourning the proceedings in order for a Special Guardianship report to be filed and served, which will push the proceedings outside of 26 weeks.  

 

3. Determining that the Court is in a position to make a Care Order, with the care plan being that the Local Authority will assess Auntie Beryl and the child will remain in foster care pending that assessment.

 

[And of course option 4 of placement with parents, but we are dealing here with those cases where the Court has the material to determine the issue of rehabilitation to parents, since in those cases Auntie Beryl isn’t important]

 

My concern is that option 3, in a post PLO world (and more importantly a world where the Judges know that their performance on timescales is being gathered and measured), becomes superficially attractive. The case concludes, it concludes in time, the Care Order is made, and Auntie Beryl becomes the Local Authority’s problem.

 Of course, it doesn’t actually resolve the future for the child, or end the proceedings with the parents knowing what will happen, and it almost invariably will lead to satellite litigation   (either the assessment of Auntie Beryl is positive, whereupon the LA will want to shed the Care Order and get an SGO or residence order made, OR it is negative, in which case the LA will put the case before their Agency Decision Maker and in due course make an application for a Placement Order)

 The only advantage option 3 has over option 2 is determining the proceedings within a 26 week timetable. There might have to be a judgment that works hard to say that the no delay principle is more important than the no order principle  – but that isn’t the only problem.

 

Get your inchoate, you’ve pulled

 

Is a care plan which at heart is “either this child will be placed with a family member OR adopted, and we don’t yet know which”  actually a legitimate care plan? Is it in fact, an inchoate care plan?

 Inchoate care plans are bad, m’kay? Not good for the Court to hand over the keys to that sparkling vintage E-type Jag to the Local Authority without having a clear idea of where they intend to drive it.

It seems so to me, even on the new Children and Families Bill reworking of care plans as being  “don’t sweat the small stuff”    model

 Section 15 of the draft Children and Families Bill

 

(1) For section 31(3A) of the Children Act 1989 (no care order to be made until court has considered section 31A care plan) substitute—

“(3A) A court deciding whether to make a care order—

(a) is required to consider the permanence provisions of the section  31A plan for the child concerned, but

(b) is not required to consider the remainder of the section 31A  plan, subject to section 34(11).

(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A), the permanence provisions of a section 31A plan are such of the plan’s provisions setting out the long- term plan for the upbringing of the child concerned as provide for any of the following—

(a) the child to live with any parent of the child’s or with any other  member of, or any friend of, the child’s family;

(b) adoption;

(c) long-term care not within paragraph (a) or (b).

 

And it does not seem to me that even with that more limited scrutiny, a care plan which doesn’t identify whether the plan for the child is to live with a family member or in an adoptive parent, is sufficiently clear.

 Let’s see what the law says about inchoate care plans (underlining mine) and from Re S and others 2002:-

 99. Despite all the inevitable uncertainties, when deciding whether to make a care order the court should normally have before it a care plan which is sufficiently firm and particularised for all concerned to have a reasonably clear picture of the likely way ahead for the child for the foreseeable future. The degree of firmness to be expected, as well as the amount of detail in the plan, will vary from case to case depending on how far the local authority can foresee what will be best for the child at that time. This is necessarily so. But making a care order is always a serious interference in the lives of the child and his parents. Although article 8 contains no explicit procedural requirements, the decision making process leading to a care order must be fair and such as to afford due respect to the interests safeguarded by article 8: seeTP and KM v United Kingdom [2001] 2 FLR 549, 569, paragraph 72. If the parents and the child’s guardian are to have a fair and adequate opportunity to make representations to the court on whether a care order should be made, the care plan must be appropriately specific.

    100. Cases vary so widely that it is impossible to be more precise about the test to be applied by a court when deciding whether to continue interim relief rather than proceed to make a care order. It would be foolish to attempt to be more precise. One further general point may be noted. When postponing a decision on whether to make a care order a court will need to have in mind the general statutory principle that any delay in determining issues relating to a child’s upbringing is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare: section 1(2) of the Children Act.

    101. In the Court of Appeal Thorpe LJ, at paragraph 29, expressed the view that in certain circumstances the judge at the trial should have a ‘wider discretion’ to make an interim care order: ‘where the care plan seems inchoate or where the passage of a relatively brief period seems bound to see the fulfilment of some event or process vital to planning and deciding the future’. In an appropriate case, a judge must be free to defer making a care order until he is satisfied that the way ahead ‘is no longer obscured by an uncertainty that is neither inevitable nor chronic’.

    102. As I see it, the analysis I have set out above adheres faithfully to the scheme of the Children Act and conforms to the procedural requirements of article 8 of the Convention. At the same time it affords trial judges the degree of flexibility Thorpe LJ is rightly concerned they should have. Whether this represents a small shift in emphasis from the existing case law may be a moot point. What is more important is that, in the words of Wall J in Re J, the court must always maintain a proper balance between the need to satisfy itself about the appropriateness of the care plan and the avoidance of ‘over-zealous investigation into matters which are properly within the administrative discretion of the local authority’. This balance is a matter for the good sense of the tribunal, assisted by the advocates appearing before it: see [1994] 1 FLR 253, 262.

 

 It seems very clear to me, that waiting for the assessment of Auntie Beryl removes that obscurity and uncertainty in the case, and that this uncertainty is NEITHER inevitable or chronic – it can be resolved by making a direction for the filing of the report.

So, the revised PLO doesn’t erode this, nor would the introduction of the Children and Families Bill as currently drafted – the Court still have a duty to look at the ‘placement’ aspect of care plans, and it appears very strongly that a care plan that is “either Auntie Beryl OR adoption” is inchoate.

 Well that’s fine, we can just overturn the decision about inchoate care plans, and say that it is fine to have “either or” care plans.  Just let’s not worry about inchoate care plans anymore, we’ll just airbrush the whole concept out. The slight stumbling block there is that the passages above are from the House of Lords, and thus it isn’t open to lower Courts to overturn it.

 Oh-kay, so we are just going to interpret Re S very widely, to mean that a Court can and should think about whether it is right to make a Care Order rather than an interim care order where the care plan is inchoate, BUT it is not a prohibition on making a Care Order where the plan is inchoate, they don’t go that far.

 And, you know, before Re S, the former President (Wall LJ) had made Care Orders in a case where he declared the care plans to be inchoate but still decided that making care orders was the right course of action RE R (MINORS) (CARE PROCEEDINGS: CARE PLAN) (1993) [1994] 2 FCR 136 

 

Although that predates Re S, it was specifically referred to by the House of Lords (though they call it Re J, it is the same case) and endorsed, so it is good law for the proposition that a Court is not BARRED from making a Care Order with an inchoate care plan.   [Or is it? The House of Lords seem to draw a slight distinction between inchoate care plans, and care plans where the future is not certain because there are things which can only be resolved after the care order is made]

 

This is what the House of Lords say about Re R/Re J

 

  97. Frequently the case is on the other side of this somewhat imprecise line. Frequently the uncertainties involved in a care plan will have to be worked out after a care order has been made and while the plan is being implemented. This was so in the case which is the locus classicus on this subject: In re J (Minors)(Care: Care Plan) [1994] 1 FLR 253. There the care plan envisaged placing the children in short-term foster placements for up to a year. Then a final decision would be made on whether to place the children permanently away from the mother. Rehabilitation was not ruled out if the mother showed herself amenable to treatment. Wall J said, at page 265:

‘there are cases (of which this is one) in which the action which requires to be taken in the interests of children necessarily involves steps into the unknown … provided the court is satisfied that the local authority is alert to the difficulties which may arise in the execution of the care plan, the function of the court is not to seek to oversee the plan but to entrust its execution to the local authority.’

In that case the uncertain outcome of the treatment was a matter to be worked out after a care order was made, not before.

 I suspect there may be dancing on the head of a pin to try to make ‘auntie beryl cases’ the Re J style of uncertainty, rather than the Re W style of uncertainty that is neither inevitable nor chronic.

It seems then, that it is POSSIBLE for a Court to make a Care Order, even where the care plan is “either Auntie Beryl OR adoption”  and even though it achieves nothing of value for the child  (since the uncertainty is there, the timing of the assessment and any applications will be no longer controlled by the Court, there will be the inevitable delay of reissuing and listing for the second wave of litigation  – whether that be for SGO or Placement Order application.

 But even more importantly, and from an article 6 point of view – how certain is the Court that the parents  (who would be represented and able to challenge the making of SGO or Placement Orders if the care proceedings continued, under their existing certificates) would get public funding in “stand-alone” applications for an SGO or a Placement Order?

 My reading of the Funding Code  (and I am not a “legal aid” lawyer) suggests that it might well not be a “non-means, non-merits” certificate for a parent faced with an application for Special Guardianship or Placement Order that is a “stand alone” application, rather than one taking place within ongoing care proceedings  -where the public funding, or “legal aid”  is covered by non-means non-merits certificates  – for the uninitiated, “non-means, non-merits” means that a person gets free legal representation in care proceedings by virtue of the sort of proceedings they are NOT based on what money they have (means) or the chances of them being successful (merits) 

 Again, underlining to assist with clarity, mine

 

20.28 Other Public Law Children Cases

1. Other public law children cases are defined in s.2.2 of the Funding Code Criteria. The definition of these proceedings excludes Special Children Act Proceedings and related proceedings. The fact that proceedings involve a local authority and concern the welfare of children will not, of itself justify the grant of Legal Representation. The Standard Criteria and General Funding Code (as varied by s.11 of the Code and including criterion 5.4.5) will apply. The proceedings include:

a) appeals (whether against interim or final orders) made in Special Children Act Proceedings;

b) representation for parties or potential parties to public law Children Act proceedings who do not come within the definition of Special Children Act proceedings in section 2.2 of the Funding Code – this includes a local authority application to extend a supervision order (which is made under Sch.3 of the Children Act 1989);

c)other proceedings under Pt IV or V of the Children Act 1989 (Care and Supervision and Protection of Children);

d) adoption proceedings (including applications for placement orders, unless in the particular circumstances they are related proceedings); and

e) proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court in relation to children.

 

(d) seems to me to cover stand alone Placement Order applications, and they would be a matter for the discretion of the Legal Aid Agency  (oh, also, they wouldn’t be a devolved powers application, where the lawyer can just say “yes” and get on with it, it would need to be a full-blown application and waiting for the Legal Aid Agency to say yes or no)

 

Special Guardianship orders as stand-alone would be classed now as private law proceedings, and I think you can guess how the parents funding on that would go

 20.36 A special guardianship order is a private law order and the principles in s.1 of the Children Act 1989 will apply as will the Funding Code criteria in 11.11. This includes the no order principle which will be taken into account when considering prospects of success. Regard will also be had to the report of the local authority prepared in accordance with s.14A of the Children Act 1989 when considering an application for funding. When considering an application for funding to oppose the making of a special guardianship order, the way in which the proposed respondent currently exercises their parental responsibility and how this will be affected by the making of an order will also be considered.

 

 To quickly sum up then :-

 (a ) Declining to extend the timetable to assess Auntie Beryl won’t let the Court go on to determine a Placement Order application

(b) The Local Authority would be legally obliged to assess Auntie Beryl before they could even ask their Agency Decision Maker to make a decision about adoption

(c)  Making a care order with a care plan of “Auntie Beryl OR adoption” is almost certainly inchoate

(d) It almost certainly opens the door to parents to challenge that decision, given what the House of Lords say about inchoate care plans and  specifically “If the parents and the child’s guardian are to have a fair and adequate opportunity to make representations to the court on whether a care order should be made, the care plan must be appropriately specific.”

 

(e) There seems to be a very foreseeable chance that if the Court make the Care Order, the parents may not get the public funding to be represented to subsequently challenge or test any application for SGO or Placement Order, funding that they would have had as of right if the Court had made Interim Care Orders and had the assessment of Auntie Beryl before considering those orders  

 (f) There must be scope for an article 6 claim that losing the ability to be legally represented to challenge whether your child might be adopted PURELY so that the Court could make a care order (on an inchoate care plan) just to satisfy the 26 week criteria is, you know, slightly unfair.

 (g)     Changing this so that it is workable only requires changes to  – a House of Lords decision,  two pieces of Primary legislation (maybe 3, if you just want to allow Courts to make SGOS in cases where they feel it is right without having a full blown SGO report), the private law funding code and the public law funding code. 

 So, job’s a good un.

 [If you are representing someone in a case where the Auntie Beryl issue crops up, “you’re welcome!”  I think the answer for the Court is to identify what issues it would need the LA to deal with in a report on the carer and to get this done as swiftly as is fair and reasonable]

 

You can’t take it with you?

 

 

A knotty issue about Special Guardianship

I was asked a question about Special Guardianship today, and as I had entirely two different answers within the space of ten minutes, I thought it might be worth a discussion.

The questioncan be simplified (ha!) to this :-  “If a Special Guardian appoints a guardian to have PR for the child in the event of their death, would that stand up if a parent challenged it?”

 

 

My initial reaction was that the PR from Special Guardianship Order (like that of Residence and unlike that of adoption or being a birth parent) exists so long as the order exists, and thus it isn’t something which can be left to someone else in a will.

 

My second reaction was, that perhaps Parliament did intend to give Special Guardians such a power, it being an order more in character with “adoption-lite” than the “Residence plus” it has become in practice.

 

My third reaction was “I don’t know, I’ll have to find out”   which is my favourite sort of thing.

 

 

Well, firstly, there’s nothing in the Special Guardianship provisions which says that the order ends if the Special Guardians die.  (One might have thought, given that this is an order often made to people who are considerably older than the children concerned, that it should have been at least contemplated)

Here are the things that stop a Special Guardianship Order being in force :-

1. The Court granting an application to discharge under s14D

 

2. The Court making an order to discharge under s14D of its own motion

 3. That is all.

 

I find it a little bit bizarre that, for example, making a residence order to the father or mother wouldn’t discharge the SGO, but there you are.

 

According to Hershman McFarlane “Children Law and Practice”  the making of a Care Order does NOT discharge the Special Guardianship Order   (D904)  and I can find nothing to contradict them.  Common sense and logic says that surely it must, but the constructors of the legislation omitted it entirely. The making of an SGO does, however,  discharge an existing Care Order.  s91(5A)  .

 

This immediately makes me think that it is THEORETICALLY possible for a Court to make an SGO, pause for breath and make a Care Order. Who has ‘super PR’ in those circumstances?

Which wins

 

14C Special guardianship orders: effect

(1)The effect of a special guardianship order is that while the order remains in force—

(a)a special guardian appointed by the order has parental responsibility for the child in respect of whom it is made; and

(b)subject to any other order in force with respect to the child under this Act, a special guardian is entitled to exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility for the child (apart from another special guardian).

 

 

OR

 

33 Effect of care order.

(1)Where a care order is made with respect to a child it shall be the duty of the local authority designated by the order to receive the child into their care and to keep him in their care while the order remains in force.

(2)Where—

(a)a care order has been made with respect to a child on the application of an authorised person; but

(b)the local authority designated by the order was not informed that that person proposed to make the application,

the child may be kept in the care of that person until received into the care of the authority.

(3)While a care order is in force with respect to a child, the local authority designated by the order shall—

(a)have parental responsibility for the child; and

(b)have the power (subject to the following provisions of this section) to determine the extent to which

(i)a parent, guardian or special guardian of the child; or

(ii)a person who by virtue of section 4A has parental responsibility for the child,

may meet his parental responsibility for him.

The first says that the SGO may exercise their PR to the exclusion of anyone else with PR, the second says that the LA PR trumps everyone elses.  Which of them actually has the trump card?   Forget irresistable force versus immoveable object, this is two irresistable forces meeting head-on.

 

 

If you are a Judge, and you feel mischievous, or you’re up for retirement and just want to go out with a bang, please make an SGO, pause and then make a Care Order, so that I can see what the answer to this is.

[The wording of s14C  also raises interesting theoretical problems where the SGO is made to two people, grandma and grandpa, say, and they then separate. Whose s14C power trumps whose?]

 

But, you are saying, surely the order discharges if the child dies?  Well, to all extents and practical purposes yes, but legally speaking, no.

 

Section 14 (C) (5) of the Children Act 1989  imposes a duty on Special Guardians to notify the parents of the child if the child dies

(5)If the child with respect to whom a special guardianship order is in force dies, his special guardian must take reasonable steps to give notice of that fact to—

(a)each parent of the child with parental responsibility; and

(b)each guardian of the child,

but if the child has more than one special guardian, and one of them has taken such steps in relation to a particular parent or guardian, any other special guardian need not do so as respects that parent or guardian.

 

Implying that in law, the concept of them continuing to be a Special Guardian (rather than “the former Special Guardian” ) exists.

 

 

Anyway, back to the issue.  So there’s nothing specific in the Act that says the SGO ends with the death of the Special Guardian.  Again, in practice, their exercise of the order is of course curtailed, unless Derek Acorah is on hand to impart their wishes and feelings with a Scouse flavour.

 

 

Can they appoint a Guardian to look after the child after their death?

 

 

Yes   (underlining mine)

 

 

(4)A guardian of a child may appoint another individual to take his place as the child’s guardian in the event of his death; and a special guardian of a child may appoint another individual to be the child’s guardian in the event of his death].

(5)An appointment under subsection (3) or (4) shall not have effect unless it is made in writing, is dated and is signed by the person making the appointment or—

(a)in the case of an appointment made by a will which is not signed by the testator, is signed at the direction of the testator in accordance with the requirements of section 9 of the Wills Act 1837; or

(b)in any other case, is signed at the direction of the person making the appointment, in his presence and in the presence of two witnesses who each attest the signature.

(6)A person appointed as a child’s guardian under this section shall have parental responsibility for the child concerned.

 

 

But hang on, what if the Special Guardian dies, and the birth parents are still alive?  Doesn’t their existence trump the appointment?

 

Again, my underlining to aid with clarity

 

S5 (7)Where—

(a)on the death of any person making an appointment under subsection (3) or (4), the child concerned has no parent with parental responsibility for him; or

(b)immediately before the death of any person making such an appointment, a residence order in his favour was in force with respect to the child or he was the child’s only (or last surviving) special guardian,

the appointment shall take effect on the death of that person.

(8)Where, on the death of any person making an appointment under subsection (3) or (4)—

(a)the child concerned has a parent with parental responsibility for him; and

(b)subsection (7)(b) does not apply,

the appointment shall take effect when the child no longer has a parent who has parental responsibility for him.

 

 

So, a father appointing a guardian after his death would not have that guardian appointed where the mother was still alive (or vice versa), but a SPECIAL GUARDIAN who appoints a guardian for the child has that guardian’s pr kick into life as soon as the Special Guardian dies.

 

There’s a procedure in section 6(7) of the Children Act 1989 for an application to dismiss a person as a guardian  (and indeed even the guardian themselves can do this).

 

Sadly, I can’t find any caselaw where this has actually happened. Boo.  I would LOVE to be wrong, please let me know if so.   The only piece of caselaw in the whole Hershman McFarlane chapter on guardianship (which I have never read before today) is a 1959 case, saying that where there are two guardians   (yes, the Court can appoint an unlimited number of guardians) and they are in conflict, one should step down.

 

 

But what I don’t believe is the case is that the ‘super PR’  (or more accurately, the power under s14C

 

 

(b)subject to any other order in force with respect to the child under this Act, a special guardian is entitled to exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility for the child (apart from another special guardian).

 

 

Passes to the guardian.  I think it is just PR, putting the guardian and the birth parents on a more equal footing.

 

A guardian being appointed doesn’t stop the parent seeking a residence order in their own right.  (It would be interesting, given what I suggest about whether the SGO remains in force, whether the parent has to have LEAVE to make such an application)

 

If the Court were dealing with a residence/contact/specific issue dispute, between a guardian and a birth parent, I’m not sure I would have confidence as to whose views would win out, I think it would be entirely a merit-based decision.

 

So, the ultimate answer to the question originally posed

 

“If a Special Guardian appoints a guardian to have PR for the child in the event of their death, would that stand up if a parent challenged it?”

 

Is “maybe”

 

And I managed to be wrong twice in ten minutes, despite seemingly having covered all the bases.

 

Or as the Reverend Lovejoy said “…ooooh short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but…”