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A tale of two Telegraphs

 

Two recent stories in the Telegraph about Court cases.

 

The first, here

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/11412971/Why-dont-the-family-courts-obey-the-law.htmlr

 

is from a writer that you all know Christopher Booker.

 

Mr Booker’s story here is that a mother in care proceedings lost her child at an interim stage because of ‘one small bruise’ and was not allowed into the Court room during most of the hearings, and that this was because of their lawyers.

 

On a court order, the two boys were taken into care, and over the following months, through several court hearings from which the parents were excluded by their lawyers

 

Last April, the couple were summoned to a final hearing to decide their sons’ future. The mother was represented by lawyers she had been given by Women’s Aid, which works closely with the local authority. As an intelligent woman, studying for a university degree, she and her partner arrived early at the court, for what was scheduled to be a five-day hearing. They were armed with files of evidence and a list of witnesses they wished to call, all of which they believed would demolish the local authority’s case.

But the mother describes how they were astonished to be told by their lawyers that again they would not be permitted to enter the court. Half an hour later, the barristers emerged to say that the judge had decided that their two boys should be placed for adoption. There was no judgment for them to see, and no possibility of any appeal against his decision. This Wednesday the couple will have a final “goodbye session” with their sons, never to see them again.

 

 

Mr Booker names His Honour Judge Jones as the judge behind this story. [He doesn’t quite give him that courtesy, instead assuming that he is on first name terms with a Judge who he’s about to rip apart in a national newspaper]

 

Now, there are two distinct possibilities here.

 

  1. Everything that Mr Booker reports here is true.
  2. What Mr Booker reports is not what happened and something has gotten lost in the telling of the story.

 

As ever with Mr Booker, he doesn’t make it explicit that there’s a single source for his story, but I can’t see a second source anywhere. Now, that doesn’t mean that it won’t turn out to be true, but I’d feel happier when dealing with extraordinary claims to see confirmation of the story from more than one source.

 

We simply don’t know until we see the judgment from His Honour Judge Jones. In fact, if the latter of those two possibilities is true, we may not even recognise the judgment as relating to this case at all.

 

It would be utterly wrong, and utterly appealable, for a Judge to make an Interim Care Order removing a child from parents without letting them into the court-room, and utterly wrong, and utterly appealable for a Judge to make a Care Order and Placement Order without allowing the parents into the Court room and allowing them to have their opportunity to fight the case if they wished to. If this happened, it would be tremendously wrong.

 

If what Mr Booker says is what actually happened, then he is utterly right to rage against it and I would join him in his rage. If I was a betting man, my money would be on the second possibility, and that he has not been given a full and complete account of what happened.

 

HOWEVER, and I will be absolutely fair to him, if he had told the story of the case before HH J Dodds where the parties attended the first hearing and the Judge made three Care Orders in a five minute hearing, I would not have believed that either, and Mr Booker would have been right and I would have been wrong.

 

I would have said so had that happened. He is also right to draw attention to that Court of Appeal decision about HH J Dodds, and it does highlight that sometimes things happen in Courts that fly in the face of everything you believe and that really unfair things can happen to people. If it happens to you, it is small consolation that it is rare and shouldn’t happen, it must be utterly devastating. Some of the people who come to Mr Booker, or any of the other campaigners, are coming with completely truthful accounts of dreadful injustice, and it is important that they have somewhere to turn, someone who will listen to them.

 

As George Orwell said – We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

 

And although I’m not asserting that Mr Booker or any of the campaigning groups are either rough men, or would be willing to visit violence on anyone, you hopefully get the general thrust of the point. In being willing to listen to the stories of injustice that people tell them, they provide a mechanism for injustice to come to light, and that is an important thing.

 

I hope that Mr Booker is wrong here, but I accept that he could be right, and if he is, it is important that people hear of it.

 

Sometimes Judges do behave in appalling ways. Sometimes social workers do too. So sometimes, the sort of stuff that Mr Booker rages about does happen, and when it does, he is right to be bloody cross. Even if I think that sometimes Mr Booker is the boy who cries wolf, there are wolves in the world, and that boy was eventually right.

 

If and when I see a case from HH Judge Jones that relates to Care Orders, involving Denbighshire Social Services, two boys and a bruise, I will update you. Perhaps Mr Booker is right. If he is, it is a scandal and I will commend him for bringing it to light. If he is mistaken, then no doubt there will be a correction and an apology, not least to a Judge who has been accused of acting in a way that would make anyone reading it think much less of him.

 

 

[Here is an idea, which I’m sure won’t be taken up – if a parent comes to a journalist with a story that sounds extraordinary about the way they were treated in Court, get the parent to sign an authority allowing the journalist to approach the solicitor representing them, and for the solicitor to read the proposed article and tell the journalist whether that’s an accurate depiction of what really happened, or if the facts have got a bit mixed up]

 

 

Second case

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11412861/Judge-refuses-mothers-plea-to-treat-terminally-ill-son-saying-he-should-be-allowed-to-die.html

 

In which Mrs Justice Hogg, sitting in the Court of Protection made a declaration that the hospital could lawfully stop treating an 18 year old with a brain tumour, even though that withdrawal of treatment would end his life and his parents were arguing that the treatment should continue.

 

Now, this is a story which feels much more solid. It is easier to believe when reading it that what it says happens is what happened. (Booker’s story may well turn out to be true, but it has question marks over it that this one does not)

 

The hearing was in public, which makes it a lot easier for a reporter to put out a strong story with sources – in this case, there are quotations from the judgment and comments from both sides, and the report gives the sense of what a difficult decision this must be either way. It also has the sense of being the sort of thing that happens in the Court of Protection – these are the sort of decisions that have to be taken, the evidence heard and issues raised are consistent with the way one might imagine such a hearing to take place.

 

Again, until we get the judgment, it is difficult to analyse whether the Judge was right or wrong in making that decision – we simply don’t have enough of the key pieces of information or to see how the Judge balanced the competing arguments. So when it comes up, I will share it with you, and we can have the debate – hopefully it won’t be long.

 

It is hard not to have an emotional response however, and my sympathies on an emotional level are with the parents. I don’t think there tend to be many such decisions that go with the heart rather than the head (or with the parents rather than the medics) and I tend to think that the wishes of the family ought to carry rather more weight than they often seem to at the moment, as an overall criticism of these decisions rather than saying that the Judge in this particular case got it wrong.

 

It will be interesting to see how the Judge dealt with the right to life issue, article 2 being something that binds the Court as a public body, and that being an unqualified right. There are previous decisions which do sanction this withdrawal of treatment, largely connected to the right to die with dignity

 

It does make me somewhat uncomfortable that where a family want that for a person it is generally resisted, but when the medics want it and the family oppose it, it generally happens. Is the judiciary too deferential to the views of medical professionals? That’s a much wider debate.

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the judgment from court of protection in the caesarean section case

 

This is Mostyn J’s decision (see the two Untimely Ripped posts, and most of the press since Sunday if you don’t know the background)

 

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/media/judgments/2013/re-aa-approved-judgement

 

I think the note from Mostyn J is important to read

 

NOTE BY MR JUSTICE MOSTYN (4 December 2013)
Although no-one has sought to appeal the judgment dated 23 August 2012 during the last 15 months, or to have it transcribed for any other purpose, I have decided to authorise its release together with
the verbatim transcript of the proceedings and the order made so as to inform and clarify recent public comments about this case.
It will be seen that the application to me was not made by the local authority or social workers.
Rather, it was an urgent application first made at 16:16 on 23 August 2012 by the NHS Trust, supported by the clear evidence of a consultant obstetrician and the patient’s
own treating consultant psychiatrist, seeking a declaration and order that it would be in the medical best interests of this seriously mentally ill and incapacitated patient, who had undergone
two previous elective caesarean sections, to have this birth, the due date of which was imminent (she was 39 weeks pregnant), in the same manner.
The patient was represented by the Official Solicitor who instructed a Queen’s Counsel on her behalf. He did not seek an adjournment and did not oppose the application, agreeing that the
proposed delivery by caesarean section was in the best interests of the patient herself who risked uterine rupture with a natural vaginal birth. I agreed that the medical evidence was clear and,
applying binding authority from the Court of Appeal concerning cases of this nature, as well as the express terms of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, made the orders and declarations that were sought.
Although I emphasised that the Court of Protection had no jurisdiction over the unborn baby, I offered advice to the local authority (which were not a party to or represented in the proceedings, or
present at the hearing) that it would be heavy-handed to invite the police to take the baby following the birth using powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989. Instead, following the birth there
should be an application for an interim care order at the hearing of which the incapacitated mother could be represented by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor
Okay, there’s quite a lot in that, so let’s break it down :-
1. The application for the Court to rule that the surgeons could undertake a C-section was made by the health authority, not by social workers
2. Social workers weren’t a party to the proceedings or represented
3. The mother was represented through the Official Solicitor and by Queen’s Counsel
4. The Court heard evidence that the mother was seriously mentally unwell and incapacitated  (not quite Brooker’s “panic attack”)
5. The decision about the C-section was on the basis of very clear medical evidence that it would prevent a uterine rupture
6. Mostyn J gave advice to be communicated to the local authority social workers, that any decision about removal of the baby should take place at a Court hearing with the mother represented through the Official Solicitor
 rather than the police exercising their powers to remove for a period of 72 hours and place the baby in the care of social workers
7. The decision about the C-section was made lawfully, taking the statutory matters into account and following the clear principles already established in English law   (i.e there isn’t anything dramatically new about what happened here, in relation to the Court of Protection decision)
Now, there is still a public debate here about point 3, and I am sure that John Hemming MP would still wish to have it. Although the mother was represented through the Official Solicitor and had a very very experienced and senior barrister representing her; as the mother did not have capacity to instruct a solicitor and tell them what she thought about the operation, the Official Solicitor did not oppose the application.  (I know that Mr Hemming MP taes the view that this procedure is unfair for vulnerable people and there is a disconnection between the mother and those who are purportedly representing her. It is a tricky one, and worthy of further debate. However, what was done here is the usual process with a person lacking capacity – even slightly more so, given that Queen’s Counsel was instructed.
What there ISN’T here, is the smoking gun that the Sunday Telegraph and others following in their wake were hinting at (or indeed expressly saying) that the C-section had been done at the behest of social workers to facilitate an easier time of removing the child into care.  Let’s see if the Press correct that.
There is STILL a genuine debate to be had about the circumstances in which the child was removed – but the Local Authority made an application to the Court (as Mostyn J had advised) and it seems very likely that the mother was represented through the Official Solicitor for that hearing (they already being seized of the situation).  Let’s wait and see what that judgment says – of the three judgments, that is probably the pivotal one, since it will illuminate whether the evidence and the risks involved really required this baby to be removed whilst mother was unconscious and recovering from her operation.
(I may come back to the judgment, but wanted to get it up so that people could read it for themselves)