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Ellie Butler drawing together some strands and discussion

This post is a collaboration between myself, Lucy Reed of Pink Tape, Sarah Philimore of Child Protection Resource and Louise Tickle who is a freelance journalist – you have probably seen her pieces on family Justice in the Guardian.


You can also read it here

Ellie Butler – drawing together some strands and discussion


Several family lawyers have been discussing this case on Twitter, and it was suggested to us that it might be helpful to draw together a document with some important questions and our answers. We won’t necessarily agree on everything, but even our disagreements might help with the debate.

This post is a collaborative post to which a number of people have contributed. We would welcome others responses to the specific questions we’ve set – email with your replies.

We are Lucy Reed (barrister and author of the Pink Tape website  Sarah Phillimore (barrister and author of the Child Protection Resource website – for a discussion of the principles the courts must apply when trying to find out in family cases how a child has been hurt, see this post), Andrew Pack  (local authority lawyer and author of the Suesspicious Minds website and Louise Tickle, freelance journalist writing for the Guardian newspaper.

On the evidence that Hogg J heard at the time, what do we think about the finding that the father didn’t cause the shaking injury to Ellie?

Andrew Pack:

When I read the judgment about the shaking injury at the time, it looked to me like a solid and fair analysis of very complicated medical evidence. What causes that sort of head injury in infants is very complex and very controversial, and medical science is moving on all the time. Doctors in this field are talking about it all the time – a decade ago, the medical consensus was that these injuries could NEVER be caused by birth trauma and now we now that birth causes these bleeds on the brain (albeit to a lesser extent) in 50% of births. Reading the Court of Appeal decision in the criminal case, where the conviction was overturned, they highlighted some really unusual aspects about this particular case which would have given more doubt than is usual even in this very controversial field – Hogg J then had added to that the fresh medical evidence about the cyst, and whether that would have been a causing or contributory factor.  I think that the Court had the benefit of the best experts around, arguing both sides, and all of the evidence, and making the finding that the LA had not proved that it was more likely than not that father shook the child was the only safe one to make.  One might argue that the Judge did not give sufficient weight to father’s criminal history of violent behaviour and whether that might have tipped the balance if it was very finely balanced. Reading her analysis, I don’t think that she viewed the evidence as that finely balanced.  She was, on the evidence, confident that father had not done this.

Sarah Phillimore:

I agree with this. I don’t think the Judge can be faulted for how she treated this evidence.

Lucy Reed:

I also agree. The judge heard a large number of the most eminent experts in their respective fields, in some cases several from a single discipline – ophthalmologist, ENT, paediatrician, radiology, neuro-radiology, neuro-surgery…She also heard the evidence of the parents, which she took a particular view on – she thought the father convincing. The law is : if, having heard all the evidence, she was unpersuaded that it was more likely than not that the injuries were inflicted she should determine the infliction not proved – and exonerate the father of those acts.

What do we think about the exoneration speech and letter?

Andrew Pack:

As a matter of law, once the Judge has found that the LA didn’t prove their case about the shaking injury the legal finding is that father did NOT do it. Professionals working with the family would have been told of that legal finding and that the father could not be treated as a risk as a result of the head injury/shaking injury. The Judge clearly felt that father HAD been exonerated and that he had NOT caused the head injury, and her language reflected, I think, her view that the removal of Ellie and his imprisonment had been a miscarriage of justice. From the Serious Case Review, I think you can see that the strength of language that she used made professionals feel that they were being given the message of ‘back off’ and the parents felt that they were bullet-proof. That may have made professionals feel that when they were encountering behaviour that they found concerning they were powerless to act. I think it was a bit too strong at the time but not wildly out of order, and of course with the benefit of hindsight, it was far too strong and could have been couched more carefully – that there were other residual issues about the father that still presented a risk.

Sarah Phillimore:

This is the issue that troubles me. Yes, if there was no evidence that he caused the injuries in 2007 on either the civil or the criminal standard of proof, then as a matter of fact, no one could say that he did. But this was a man with – as I understand it – a clearly documented history of violence, who had served a three year prison term? ( I think – I have not been able to re-read the 2012 judgment as I understand it was removed from publication on line and has not been returned.). I do not know how that history was presented or what weight the Judge put on it. But, in the light of that history, and that the LA were clearly justified in being worried about the initial injuries caused to Ellie when she was a baby, I do not understand why the Judge thought it was appropriate to remove the LA from further oversight of this case and require that a letter setting out Butler’s ‘exoneration’ was sent to other agencies. The Judge found he had NOT hurt Ellie when she was a baby. She did not make findings about his propensity for violence and his criminal history. It may not have been appropriate to do that, particularly if the LA had not relied on these issues to prove their case. BUT. They were clearly part of the background and should, in my view, have given pause for thought before going down any route of widely publicised ‘exoneration’.

This issue also brings into focus some more general concerns about the standard of proof in care proceedings being the ‘balance of probabilities’. I appreciate the arguments that it is not always compatible with the need to protect children, if we insist on proof beyond a reasonable doubt. However, my concerns arise about the subsequent status achieved by a ‘finding of fact’ on the balance of probabilities. The courts are clear that a binary system operates; something is true or it is not. Therefore a finding of fact against a parent can determine the whole course of the proceedings. Parents are required to ‘accept’ the findings with little time for reflection, or risk the LA – and the court – ruling them out entirely as lacking ‘insight’. On serious and life changing matters, I do not feel comfortable with ‘truth’ being established as 51% more likely than not. As the Judge was operating in Butler’s case on the ‘balance of probabilities’ this also should have given some pause for reflection before being keen to ‘exonerate’ him and establish him as an entirely safe and responsible parent.

Lucy Reed:

There is a question as to how the exoneration letter came to be drafted and how it came to be expressed more broadly than the judgment itself. I’ve raised this in my blog post on Pink Tape here. The main issue for me though is the interpretation / response to the exoneration. Ben Butler was exonerated of the physical injuries. The LA elected not to appeal or to argue that he was culpable in any other way. The suggestion in the SCR is that professionals were paralysed by the exoneration. Some time passed before the LA conceded the balance of the threshold, and decided not to pursue findings on any broader threshold risks – from the judgment it is easy to infer that the LA took the reasonable view that to pursue such findings would have served no purpose, partly because the subsequent assessment of the parents was positive and this made it unlikely that the judge would find the threshold crossed on the basis of behaviours that on one view were attributable to the parents being wrongly accused and unlikely (based on the assessment) to endure. The more I consider this point the more I think it would be very illuminating to see the assessment report itself.

I don’t fully understand why, after proceedings had concluded and Ellie returned home, the exoneration should have made professionals feel like the couldn’t / shouldn’t pursue matters of concern. In any event, it appears (based on the SCR) that that subsequent events and information were assessed as not being sufficient to cross the threshold to move into child protection / proceedings, so I’d query what ongoing impact the exoneration had.

Louise Tickle:

I agree with Sarah on this. The psychological impact on on professionals working with Ellie of that letter could not have been anything but one of profound reluctance and fear of stepping in, and being torn to shreds by their own managers and in court if Butler and Gray had protested – which of course they would have done, and I believe in the case of the school raising concerns, did. This was a very senior judge, the LA had fought very hard, and lost. Where, really, were they to go at that point, without fresh evidence of harm reaching a high threshold – and how were they to be able to make assessments given total lack of access, and fear of what would be forthcoming if they were to seek such access?

Were the other issues that could have amounted to threshold properly dealt with, or did the non finding on shaking dominate?

Andrew Pack:

I think this really is the million dollar question. In the first fact finding hearing before Hogg J, the case was all about the head injury, and all of the evidence called and 95% of the documents looked at would have been about that. Having failed to prove that, there was of course still the convictions for violence to consider. Those offences were not against children, so they would not automatically mean that father would have posed a risk to a child, but it was material which needed to be considered in detail in an assessment and could have satisfied threshold.  That, coupled with the child’s presentation around father and the grandparents evidence COULD, have led to a decision that despite the finding on the head injury, Ellie wasn’t going to be moved from grandparents.  I would like to see the threshold document with the findings sought, and to have more clarity about which ones the Judge was specifically asked to make findings on and heard evidence about, and which were simply not put to her as a result of her very clear finding on the head injury and the direction of travel.

Sarah Phillimore:

I agree with this. If this was presented as a ‘single issue’ case – i.e. did he hurt Ellie as a baby, that would seem – with hindsight – to be a mistake. But of course, Judges can only decide the cases before them.

Lucy Reed:

The press coverage at the time focused heavily on the physical injuries but other matters of concern were known about and before the court, but were not the subject of findings. It is arguable that the other matters could have potentially amounted to threshold but the fact and force of the exoneration may have affected decision making about whether it was going to be a good idea to pursue them. The critical question is whether the other matters were presented and pursued and if not why not – and whether any thought was given to reframing threshold after the exoneration. Following the ISW assessment the balance of threshold was crossed. Although we don’t have the threshold document itself it appears from the judgments that the fact of the fathers convictions was not pleaded as a threshold risk in itself. The question of suspected domestic violence / control in the parents relationship was raised and evidence was heard – but the judge made no ruling on this evidence and adjourned off for further assessment. By the time the matter returned to court the LA were not pursuing findings and nobody seems to have asked the judge to record or make findings in respect of this evidence. The first judgment records that evidence was heard but does not record its extent or cogency. It is reasonable to assume that if the evidence was compelling and of high concern this would not have been dropped and would have been the subject of judicial comment or findings. But we don’t actually know.

Was the decision to have Independent Social Workers (ISWs) deal with not just the assessment of whether Ellie should move from her grandparents but the actual social work of the move unusual, and did this make a difference?

Andrew Pack:

The Judge was clearly taking into account that during the earlier hearing, the parents had been substantially criticised by the Local Authority for not accepting that father had injured Ellie and the working relationship was very strained. Having made the finding that father was exonerated, it was put to her, and she agreed, that any assessment by the Council would be ‘doomed to failure’.  That’s strong, but I think it wasn’t unreasonable to ask for the assessment as to whether Ellie should go home to be done by Independent Social Workers. What is much harder to understand is why those ISWs were also charged with doing all of the direct social work with grandparents, Ellie and parents, to prepare Ellie for the move and do the social work visits. The Serious Case Review shows that that agency were not given clear background information and essentially just had the judgment exonerating father – was it clear enough to them that this man had a history of violent offending? Might that have made them more concerned about the visits where they now report that he had been angry and unable to calm down for 10-15 minutes for some of these visits? Or, in the absence of knowing about his convictions for violence, did they assume that this was justifiable frustration about the process from a man who on that judgment had lost his child and been wrongly sent to prison and was still not reunited with his child?  I think that consideration should have been given to a fresh social work team within London Borough of Sutton doing the social work (ISW to do the assessment is fine) or if that wasn’t possible, perhaps a neighbouring authority.  ISW assessment work and direct social work with a family are very different. I think that the Judge got that wrong. At the time, I’d score that decision a 4 out of 10 (it was unusual and a bit strange at the time) and obviously in retrospect it was a major factor to the Court not having the proper evidence about Ellie after the fact finding judgment.

Lucy Reed:

I agree with Andrew. There is a big difference between an independent social work assessment and an independent agency taking over social work responsibility. I’m not sure whether the court intended them to perform this broader role or whether this got mixed up in the process of instruction or at some later stage – perhaps the LA / professionals took the view that they were being ousted for all purposes. It’s unclear whether the ISWs considered themselves to hold this broader responsibility (I’d say doubtful). It’s concerning to learn that over this period the Guardian was off sick and no cover provided. This may well have had a significant impact on the way in which the assessment was carried out and monitored.

Why did grandparents have to pay £70k for legal costs, can anything be done?

Andrew Pack:

The grandparents had parental responsibility by virtue of the Special Guardianship Order, so if these had been care proceedings (the Local Authority wanting to take Ellie away from them) they would have had free legal representation. Because instead this started as a rehearing of a fact finding, and then proceedings primarily regarding a younger sibling not cared for by the grandparents, the grandparents didn’t get legal aid, had to pay their own costs and eventually ran out of money. Grandparents representing themselves, up against two of the best family law Silks around, and a Judge who was viewing Ellie’s case as a miscarriage of justice to be put right – it certainly wasn’t a level playing field. I would strenuously argue for reform of the law here – these grandparents had been caring for Ellie for a long time and doing it well, and if they were to lose her against their will and what their eyes and ears were telling them was right, then they should have had lawyers to fight the case.  A starting point would be for the Ministry of Justice to write the grandfather a cheque for the full amount of his costs – it is bad enough that he lost Ellie, he shouldn’t have lost his life savings too.

Sarah Phillimore:

I agree with this. Ellie had lived with them since she was a very small baby. It is simply wrong in a civilised society that they were left in this position. It wasn’t a level playing field.

Lucy Reed:

This is a problem for grandparents AND parents – even where a parent or other adult has care of a child, public funding is means and merits tested for anything other than the main care proceedings. So, applications to discharge care or placement orders, to appeal or to apply to revoke placement orders or oppose adoption orders, standalone applications about special guardianship or any other private law application – no matter how complex – are means and merits tested. The threshold to be ruled out on means grounds is low so it is easy to be ineligible whilst still being unable to pay.

Judicial accountability and unwillingness to participate in the serious case review (SCR).

Andrew Pack:

I don’t think that the judiciary should routinely participate in Serious Case Reviews. Judicial independence is very important, and the way that SCR’s are conducted, with all parties being very honest about what happened, what could have happened differently, what lessons can be learned, don’t sit entirely comfortably with the judicial role, and the need for them to be independent and to NOT be a part of the professional agencies charged with child protection. However, in a case like this, where the child dies in a placement that the Court have not only sanctioned, but sanctioned in the teeth of opposition from grandparents and social workers, I think that it was unwise for the Judge not to at the very least have spoken with the authors of the Serious Case Review. There needs to be some mechanism for the most exceptional cases of this kind. Likewise, the family judiciary knew of this case 2 years before the verdict – yet the Judge was still given difficult family cases to decide, and they had no press statement or comment. It gives the distinct impression that the judiciary aren’t scrutinising this decision and accepting any part in this tragedy, and that’s a bad impression to give to the Press and public.

Sarah Phillimore:

I agree with this.

Lucy Reed:

On a human level it would be immensely helpful to hear the judge’s view in hindsight, and an explanation of what was going through her mind. But I agree that there are sound constitutional reasons why that should not happen. It’s really important that a judgment is an authoritative and final explanation of a decision or a set of findings. That’s an important protection for adults and children and I think that if alongside a judgment there is a public rumination about what might have been wrong about a judgment then the judgment loses its specialness and the authority of the court is lost. I think it’s right that where a judgment is wrong it can be appealed, and where material new evidence arises a finding can be revisited. That happened in this case when new medical evidence pointed towards a miscarriage of justice against Ben Butler, and of course with hindsight many people are now reappraising the exoneration finding.

For me though the corollary of saying that a judge should not participate in an SCR is that there must be meaningful transparency in terms of the judgments and process. We don’t have that in this case because the judgments have been pulled and the public can’t appraise the judgments or case documents against the SCR. Having seen some of the judgments in this case it seems to me that there is some tension between some of the accounts given and views expressed in the SCR and in media reports and the content of the judgments themselves. I think that constitutionally the public need to have access to this material.

Louise Tickle:

I don’t agree with this. I cannot see why the judiciary should have zero accountability when every other actor in the case has had to answer for their decision making and judgement calls. I think, in response to Lucy’s point, that the authority of the court is only as good as the public’s confidence in it. I do not think public confidence in the judiciary has been increased by this case, but worse, I think it has been even further damaged by the position taken by the President that a judge simply will not enter into the processes of examination as to why she acted in ways that went, in some people’s view, far further than was required, on a standard of proof that can be hardly said to truly exonerate anyone. Particularly anyone with the previous, safe, criminal convictions for violence that Ben Butler had. Overall, I cannot see why any part of our society’s agencies should be above questioning and scrutiny. A child has died. The ‘specialness’ of the judiciary is an irrelevance and an abuse of privilege in this extreme circumstance, if there is something to be learnt by other judges and indeed the rest of us. It is not about demanding heads on plates – it about Hogg’s thought processes and levels of risk aversion and judgement relating to facts and evidence she was appraising that could, if it were to be known, be reflected upon, considered, discussed and learned from. We do not get better understanding of failures by refusing to look at what let up to them. And judges have vast powers. The more power you have, the more accountable you should be when something very terrible goes wrong.

What pieces of information are we still lacking? Should for example suitably anonymised medical reports be in the public domain so press and public can see how complex and difficult the medical evidence is?

Andrew Pack:

I think we need the judgments available to the public and put in one easily accessible place – the Court of Appeal criminal judgment, the fact finding judgment from Hogg J, the second judgment from Hogg J where she decided that Ellie would live with Jennie and  Ben, and very vitally the judgments from King J about Ellie’s sibling after Ellie had died. At the moment, we don’t know whether King J reconsidered Hogg J’s exoneration at all, or whether it proceeded just on the evidence about Ellie’s death. Nor do we know what the outcome was for Ellie’s sibling– of course we shouldn’t have name or details of the sibling’s address, but I think there’s public interest in whether the child was placed with the grandparents and if not why that was decided. I think that unusually in this case, there is justification for the entire court bundle to be available to be seen. Obviously one has to be careful about any photographs and we don’t want prurient rubber-necking, but there is such public unhappiness about this decision that seeing the medical reports would, I think be justified.

Sarah Phillimore:

I agree with this.

Lucy Reed:

I agree also. I would in particular like to see skeleton arguments or written opening / submissions presented to the court at the rehearing, threshold documents filed at particular times, position statements and orders.

High Court gets into the groove


They had style, they had grace

Lots of lawyers in this case

Setright, Verdan, Renton too

Adam Wolanski, we love you

Ladies with an attitude

Fellows that were in the mood

Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it

Write a skeleton, there’s nothing to it




The laboured opening may tell you that this piece is about the High Court case in Ciccone v Ritchie (No 2) 2016 involving the singer Madonna, and the film-maker Guy Ritchie, and their son.  [And no, it is not a request for a section 37 report arising from the Judge having had to view the film Castaway that they made together, though that did cause Significant Harm to anyone who saw it]


I’m going to start with how the Judge ended, because I think it is powerful and moving stuff, with much wider application than just these two celebrities.

  1. Finally, I would say this. For all the interesting legal argument and great learning that is apparent from the admirable skeleton arguments and submissions of leading and junior counsel, at the root of these proceedings (and, I venture to add, the proceedings in the United States) is a temporary breakdown in trust. For all the media coverage, comment and analysis, this is a case born out of circumstances that arise for countless separated parents the world over.
  2. The court should always be the option of very last resort when parents cannot agree matters in respect of their children. Whilst the law provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes between parents in respect of their children it is but a blunt instrument when compared to the nuanced virtues of calm discussion and considered compromise between those involved, accepting that this latter path can be a hard one on which to embark, and to sustain, in the context of relationship breakdown. It is for this reason that during the course of the proceedings on each side of the Atlantic Judge Kaplan and myself have repeatedly urged the parties to adopt a consensual approach to resolving the matters of dispute between them for the benefit of Rocco.
  3. Within this context I renew, one final time, my plea for the parents to seek, and to find an amicable resolution to the dispute between them. Because agreement is not possible today does not mean that agreement will not be possible tomorrow. Most importantly, as I observed during the course of the hearing, summer does not last forever. The boy very quickly becomes the man. It would be a very great tragedy for Rocco if any more of the precious and fast receding days of his childhood were to be taken up by this dispute. Far better for each of his parents to spend that time enjoying, in turn, the company of the mature, articulate and reflective young man who is their son and who is a very great credit to them both.


In terms of points of law, there are some worthwhile passages about transparency – this Court case has attracted a lot of media attention in America, because there are ongoing proceedings in New York (where it seems the Press were allowed to come into the hearings, report what was said and even print a still photograph)  – should this judgment be published at all, should there be anonymisation – how exactly CAN you anonymise a case where there is already so much within the public domain, and where anyone with half a brain can identify who the parties are, even if you gave them just “M” and “F” initials?

I do like that the key American decision on transparency in these circumstances is actually called Anonymous v Anonymous


Publication of Judgment

  1. I set out the principles applicable when deciding whether or not to publish a judgment pursuant to the President’s Guidance in my judgment in H v A (No 2) [2015] EWHC 2630 (Fam) and I shall not repeat them in detail here. In summary:
  1. i) The public generally have a legitimate, indeed a compelling, interest in knowing how the family courts exercise their jurisdiction.

ii) Paragraph 19 of the Practice Guidance makes clear that in considering whether to publish a judgment the judge shall have regard to all the circumstances, the rights arising under any relevant provision of the European Convention on Human Rights, Art 8 (respect for private and family life) and Art 10 (freedom of expression), and the effect of publication upon any current or potential criminal proceedings.

iii) The exercise of discretion concerning the publication of the judgment will be a simple case management decision to be taken at the conclusion of the judgment and following a broad consideration of the applicable principles with basic reasons;

iv) When conducting a balancing exercise between Art 8 and Art 10, the court applies the four propositions identified by Lord Steyn in Re S (A Child) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2005] 1 AC 593 at [17]. In applying what Lord Steyn described as the “ultimate balancing test” of proportionality it is important that the court consider carefully whether the order that is being sought is proportionate having regard to the end that the order seeks to achieve;

v) Within the balancing exercise, the child’s best interests are not paramount but rather are a primary consideration. Those best interests must accordingly be considered first, although they can be outweighed by the cumulative effect of other considerations;

vi) In undertaking the requisite balancing exercises, the impact of publication on the children must be weighed by the court. Whilst in many cases it will be demonstrated that publicity will have an adverse impact on the child, this will not be the position inevitably. In particular, in each case the impact on the child of publication must be assessed by reference to the evidence before the court rather than by reference to a presumption that publicity will be inevitably harmful to the child.

vii) When the court is considering whether to depart from the principle of open justice it will require clear and cogent evidence on which to base its decision. Some of the evidence on which the requisite balancing exercise is undertaken will necessarily involve a degree of speculation although there comes a point where evidence is not merely speculative but pure speculation.

  1. With respect to the latter point, and noting the difference in emphasis between the two jurisdictions, in reaching her decision that there were no compelling reasons to close the proceedings in New York Judge Kaplan cited the following passage from the decision of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, First Department in Anonymous v Anonymous 158 A.D.2d 296 (1990) as follows:
    1. “The unsupported speculation by her counsel as to the deleterious effect the media coverage might have on the child is simply inadequate to overcome the strong presumption that court proceedings be open to the public.”


Publication of Judgments

  1. Balancing the competing Art 8 and Art 10 rights, I am satisfied that my judgment of 3 February 2016 following the hearing on 21 December 2015 and this judgment should be published. I am further satisfied that, in the exceptional circumstances of this case and subject to some limited redaction, the judgments should be published without anonymisation. The reporting restrictions in this case will continue to be governed by the order that I have already made and will apply to the reporting of my published judgments. My reasons for so deciding are as follows.
  2. The starting point in this case must be that it will simply not be possible for the court to produce an anonymised version of the judgments such as to eradicate the risk of jigsaw identification. Given the high level of publicity the world over in respect of this case, to produce a judgment that gives rise to no risk of jigsaw identification would result in a judgment that could not even indicate the dates on which the proceedings were heard. Within this context, and in the very particular circumstances of this case, I accept Mr. Wolanksi’s submission that in light of the level of information already in the public domain concerning this case, it is unrealistic to think that the judgments given by this court could be anonymised to the extent required to ensure the parties were not identified whilst at the same time remaining a means by which what the court has done in this case can be understood by the public at large.
  3. In these circumstances, I am satisfied that the choice for the court is to publish the judgments without anonymisation or not to publish them at all.


The key legal issue was whether a party who makes an application under the 1980 Hague Convention then needs leave of the Court to withdraw it.

The Court ruled that there does need to be an application to withdraw and for the Court to grant leave.


The Law

Permission to Withdraw

  1. FPR 2010 r 29.4 provides as follows in respect of permission to withdraw an application:
    1. 29.4 Withdrawal of applications in proceedings

(1)     This rule applies to applications in proceedings –

(a) under Part 7;

(b)     under Parts 10 to 14 or under any other Part where the application relates to the welfare or upbringing of a child or;

(c)  where either of the parties is a protected party.

(2) Where this rule applies, an application may only be withdrawn with the permission of the court.

(3) Subject to paragraph (4), a person seeking permission to withdraw an application must file a written request for permission setting out the reasons for the request.

(4) The request under paragraph (3) may be made orally to the court if the parties are present.

(5) A court officer will notify the other parties of a written request.

(6) The court may deal with a written request under paragraph (3) without a hearing if the other parties, and any other persons directed by the court, have had an opportunity to make written representations to the court about the request.

  1. The question to which this case gives rise is whether FPR 2010 r 29.4 applies to applications in proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention and, if so, what the test is for giving permission to withdraw in such cases.
  2. As set out above, there is no authority precisely on this point. In respect of proceedings under the 1980 Convention some authorities appear to have proceeded on the basis that permission to withdraw is not required (see AA v TT (Recognition and Enforcement) [2015] 2 FLR 1) and some on the basis that it is required (see Re G (Abduction: Withdrawal of Proceedings, Acquiescence and Habitual Residence) [2008] 2 FLR 351 at [16] setting out the terms of an order made earlier in those proceedings and the recent decision of the President in Re D (Children)(Child Abduction Practice) [2016] EWHC 504 (Fam)). In none of those cases however, was the court requested to consider whether the permission of the court to withdraw was mandated by r 29.4 in this context.
  3. Anecdotally, my (admittedly limited) experience suggests that many practitioners do consider that the permission of the court is required to withdraw applications in proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention and I have certainly endorsed a number of orders which provide for such permission in cases where an applicant has decided, for whatever reason, not to proceed.
  4. The remaining authorities on permission to withdraw concentrate exclusively on public law proceedings under Part IV of the Children Act 1989 (see Re N (Leave to Withdraw Proceedings) [2000] 1 FLR 134, WSCC v M, F, W, X, Y and Z [2011] 1 FLR 188 and Redbridge LBC v B and C and A (Through his Children’s Guardian) [2011] 2 FLR 117). These authorities make clear that in public law children proceedings, where the threshold is capable of being crossed the test for whether permission should be given for care proceedings to be withdrawn is the welfare of the child.
  5. However, care must be taken in relying on these authorities in the context of the question at issue before this court. First, those authorities were decided under the Family Proceedings Rules 1991 r 4.5 which, as detailed below, differs substantially from FPR 2010 r 29.4. Second, and importantly, the conclusions in those authorities that the question of whether care proceedings should be withdrawn is a question which concerns the welfare or upbringing of a child, and that the test for whether permission should be given is the welfare of the child, are grounded firmly in the fact that the upbringing of the child is the main question falling for determination in such proceedings (see London Borough of Southwark v B [1993] 2 FLR 559 at 572).
  6. It is important to note that the procedural requirement of permission for the withdrawal of proceedings is not limited to cases involving children, either in FPR 2010 r 29.4 or more widely. FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(a) applies r 29.4 to applications in proceedings under Part 7 of the FPR 2010, namely applications in matrimonial and civil partnership proceedings, and is not qualified as only applying where the application concerns the welfare or upbringing of a child. Accordingly, pursuant to FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(a) permission is required to withdraw an application for a marriage or civil partnership order governed by FPR 2010 Part 7 notwithstanding the proceedings do not concern the welfare or upbringing of a child. There are also other areas of law where permission is required to withdraw an application in proceedings. For example, under the Insolvency Act 1986 s 266(2) a bankruptcy petition may not be withdrawn without the leave of the court.
  7. Finally, and within this context, when considering both the scope of the application of FPR 2010 r 29.4 and the test for permission under it, it is very important to read FPR 2010 r 29.4 in its proper context. That context includes the fact that the FPR 2010 represents a new procedural code with “the overriding objective of enabling the court to deal with the case justly, having regard to any welfare issues involved” (FPR 2010 r 1.1). The court must give effect to the overriding objective when it exercises any power under the FPR 2010 (FPR 2010 r 1.2(a)) and has a duty to further the overriding objective by actively managing the case (FPR 2010 r 1.4(1)). Pursuant to FPR 2010 r 1.2(b) the court must also seek to give effect to the overriding objective when it interprets any rule.


  1. I have come to the conclusion that FPR 2010 r 29.4 does apply to applications in proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention, governed as they are by FPR 2010 Part 12 Chapter 6 and that, accordingly, the permission of the court is required to withdraw such proceedings. My reasons for so deciding are as follows.
  2. In my judgment this is the plain meaning of FPR 29.4(1)(b). FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(b) provides that r 29.4 applies to applications in proceedings “under Parts 10 to 14 or under any other Part where the application relates to the welfare or upbringing of a child“. I am satisfied that r 29.4(1)(b) is to be read disjunctively and that the words “where the application relates to the welfare or upbringing of a child” are intended to qualify only the words “any other Part” and not the words “under Parts 10 to 14“. I am reinforced in this view by the fact that Part 10 to Part 14 of the FPR 2010 deal with a wide range of applications that do not, or need not concern the welfare or upbringing of a child.
  3. Whilst it might be argued that the use of the phrase “any other” in r 29.4(1)(b) demonstrates that Parts 10 to 14 are included in r 29.4 only in so far as they apply to applications concerning the welfare or upbringing of children, if this had been the intention I am satisfied that those who drafted the rules would have said so expressly, rather than leaving it to be implied in circumstances where, as I have said, those Parts also deal with applications that need not, and often will not, concern the welfare and upbringing of children. Further, pursuant to FPR 2010 r 1.2(b) when interpreting r 29.4 I must seek to give effect to the overriding objective in FPR 2010 r 1.1. In my judgment reading r 29.4 in this context further militates against this latter interpretation.
  4. FPR 2010 r 29.4 represents a broadening of the type of applications in respect of which permission is required to withdraw when compared with the Family Proceedings Rules 1991. The previous rules, in the form of Part IV of the FPR 1991, made provision for permission to withdraw proceedings only in relation to proceedings under the Children Act 1989 (FPR 1991 r 4.5). For example, although FPR 1991 r 2.8 permitted the discontinuance of a petition for divorce, judicial separation or nullity before service of that petition, the rules made no provision for the proceedings to be withdrawn following service. By contrast, whilst pursuant to FPR 2010 r 7.9 an application for a matrimonial or civil partnership order may be withdrawn at any time before it has been served by giving notice to the court in writing (reflecting the provisions in FPR 1991 r 2.8), pursuant to FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(a) following service the permission of the court is required before such an application can be withdrawn. Neither FPR 2010 r 29.4(1)(a) or FPR r 29.4(1)(b), which deals with applications in proceedings where either of the parties is a protected party, are not qualified as only applying where the application concerns the welfare or upbringing of a child.
  5. Within the foregoing context, in my judgment interpreting r 29.4 as including within its scope all of the applications governed by Part 10 to Part 14 of the FPR 2010, as opposed simply to those concerned with the welfare or upbringing of a child, is consistent with the overall aim of the FPR 2010 generally and in particular the aim of FPR 2010 Part 1, which requires the court to actively manage the case so as to further the overriding objective of dealing with it justly, having regard to any welfare issues involved.


The Judge recognised and acknowledged that where a party seeks permission to withdraw an application under the Hague Convention, it is next to impossible to conceive of a scenario where the Court would refuse and make them press on.

It would not serve the ends of justice to compel a party to pursue an application under the 1980 Hague Convention that they wish to bring to an end. Indeed, whilst not ruling out such a course of action entirely, it is very difficult indeed to think of a circumstance where the court would compel an applicant in proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention to pursue an application they have indicated they wish to withdraw. Further, having regard to the overriding objective, there are positive merits in this case to permitting the mother to withdraw her application in this jurisdiction. As I observed during the course of the hearing, at present the existence of parallel proceedings in two jurisdictions, before two judges with two sets of lawyers is introducing unnecessary and unhelpful complexity and hindering attempts at settlement, as well as incurring considerable expense. Accordingly, I give permission for the mother to withdraw her proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention.


Finally, just for style points, I have to give a nod to Mr David Williams QC for this turn of phrase

The mother accepts that the Supreme Court of the State of New York has jurisdiction in this matter. The father made clear during the course of this hearing through Mr. Verdan that he, likewise, accepts that the New York Court has jurisdiction, albeit at the outset of the hearing Mr. Verdan submitted that this court should make certain substantive welfare orders in respect of Rocco. Whilst in his Skeleton Argument Mr. Setright undertook an analysis of the jurisdictional position in this case (including an analysis of habitual residence) and submits that this court should, upon the withdrawal of these proceedings, give certain procedural directions aimed at any future applications made in this jurisdiction, he does not suggest at this time that Rocco disputes the jurisdiction of the court in New York. Within this context, and with respect in particular to orders originally sought by the father, Mr. Williams submitted that it would be wrong for the English court to seek to “park its tanks” (to use his phrase) on the front lawn of the United States by taking any steps beyond those necessary to effect the withdrawal of the proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention.



Appeal about the transparency in the Poppi Worthington case


At first glance, this looked a bit  “Let me just fix this stable door, it is SO much easier without the horse being in here getting in the way and standing on my foot“, but the appeal was actually heard in November  BEFORE the re-hearing of the fact finding, and it is just that we’ve only today had the judgment itself.

I know that some people were curious about how much material was allowed to be reported (for example Poppi’s name, and the name of the father) and some were curious about the ‘live’-tweeting aspects and the Press being present during the hearing itself.

Re W Children 2016

Mr Justice Peter Jackson had given a decision about his plans as to what could or could not be published, in advance of that re-hearing and what role the Press could play.  The Guardian appealed that decision, supported in part by the father. The mother and Local Authority were neutral.

The Court of Appeal were asked specifically to consider what role the welfare of the children had to play in a decision about reporting and press attendance. They bravely duck that question  (to be fair, I think it ends up being a conflict between some  authorities one of which is a House of Lords case, so it has to be resolved ultimately by the Supreme Court). Given that the Guardian’s case was largely based on the degree of openness and transparency here being inimical to the welfare of the other children, that decision was pretty fatal to the appeal.

  1. During the hearing of the appeal we accepted the jointly argued approach of counsel and that, in turn, was the basis upon which we came to the decision on the appeal which we announced at the conclusion of the oral hearing. In the process of preparing this written judgment, however, I have come to the preliminary view that there may be a conflict, or at least a tension, between the apparently accepted view that welfare is not the paramount consideration on an issue such as this, on the one hand, and Court of Appeal authority to the contrary on the other hand. As this present judgment is a record of the reasons for our decision announced on 23rd November 2015 and that decision was based upon the children’s welfare not being the paramount consideration, I do no more than flag up this potential point which, if it is arguable, must fall for determination by this court on another occasion.
  2. The key authorities to which I am referring are a criminal case in the House of Lords, Re S (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [2004] UKHL 47; [2005] 1 AC 593, a private law family case in the Court of Appeal, Clayton v Clayton [2006] EWCA Civ 878; [2007] 1 FLR 11 and a public law child case in the High Court, Re Webster; Norfolk County Council v Webster and Others [2006] EWHC 2733 (Fam); [2007] 1 FLR 1146.
  3. Although, in my view, a reading of those cases may give rise to a potential point relating to the paramountcy of the child’s welfare, which, as I have stated, must fall for determination on another occasion, it is not necessary to go further in this judgment and consider the matter in any detail.


Counsel for the Press association (the always excellent Caoilfhionn Gallagher) set out the case for openness and transparency in this case very well  – and it really explains why so much was allowed to be reported in this case.

a) In the unusual circumstances of this case, the judge’s decision on publicity and reporting is entirely justified for the reasons that he gave after giving careful thought to the submissions of each party;

b) In general, there is a strong principle in favour of open justice which has long been regarded as integral to protecting the rights of those involved in court proceedings, and as essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice;

c) The President of the Family Division has drawn attention to the importance of transparency in the context of family justice in Practice Guidance Transparency in the Family Courts: Publication of Judgments [2014] 1 FLR 733 and in a 2014 consultation document Transparency – Next Steps;

d) The Practice Guidance identifies two classes of judgment, (i) those that the judge must ordinarily allow to be published and (ii) those that may be published; the present case falls into category (i) and there is therefore a strong presumption that the final judgment should be published in due course;

e) There is already an extremely strong public interest in transparency being applied to this case at this time;

f) The Appellant’s acceptance that paragraph [1] to [100] of the July 2014 judgment should be published, which contains a summary of the medical evidence, renders illogical her opposition to the publication of the remaining paragraphs (albeit in a redacted form);

g) There is already substantial publicly available information regarding the injuries that Poppi sustained prior to her death and the fact that her father had been arrested with respect to an allegation of sexually abusing Poppi. Reference is made to the clip of media reports provided to the court;

h) Daily news reporting is justified against the backdrop summarised in (g) above and is justified in this ‘highly unusual’ case. In any event the judge will retain some measure of control over reporting through the ability to impose a retrospective embargo if some particularly sensitive material is disclosed in court;

i) The challenge relating to the judge giving judgment in public is misconceived as the judge did not make any such direction. His proposal to sit in private, with the media in attendance, prior to publishing the judgment was entirely proportionate in the circumstances.


The Court of Appeal concluced that this was unusual, but that Poppi was  ahighly unusual case, given that so much was already within the public domain. They largely upheld Mr Justice Peter Jackson’s decision, albeit limiting the amount of medical information that was to be published from the original finding of fact judgment (you may recall at the time that the judgment published initially had such huge chunks redacted from it that one couldn’t see what father was alleged to have done and it was left to astute reading to see that taking a sample swab from father’s penis suggested something very dark. )  They also said that tweeting from Court would have to wait until the end of the day, when the Judge could consider anything unusual arising from the evidence and give directions about it.


  1. Ms Gallagher accepts that daily reporting of a child protection case was unusual, but she submits that this has now become a highly unusual case in terms of there being a second fact finding hearing in circumstances where a good deal about the case is now in the public domain.
  2. During the hearing the court asked for more detail of the arrangements that the judge had put in place to maintain some control on the material that could be reported by press representatives who were attending court. The judge’s proposal was that if, for example, a witness were to give unexpected evidence, the disclosure of which might unnecessarily breach the Article 8 rights of the children, or more generally cause them unnecessary harm, the court could embargo that part of the evidence from that which could otherwise be reported. The wording of the judge’s order on this point was that ‘such reporting is subject to any further directions given by the court concerning what can and cannot be published if an issue arises during the course of the hearing’.
  3. In considering the appeal on this point, the starting point must be that the introduction of a facility for daily reporting of an ongoing fact finding hearing in a child protection case is indeed highly unusual. It is not profitable to debate whether this is or is not the ‘first’ such case. For my part, in a slightly different context, I recall that there was widespread national media reporting day by day of the sad case of Re RB [2009] EWHC 3269 (Fam); [2010] 1 FLR 946; other judges will no doubt be aware of other cases. Be that as it may, no party submits that Jackson J was acting outside his powers by permitting daily media reporting. For the reasons that I have given at paragraph 37, such a course was plainly within his discretion.
  4. In circumstances where, as the Appellants have accepted, the final judgment will be published in due course, the issue of daily reporting relates to the quantity and timing of reporting rather than to reporting the facts of this case as such in principle. It is a matter that calls for a proportionate approach, over which a trial judge is entitled to exercise a wide margin of discretion; as I have stressed, in the present case that is particularly so with respect to this trial judge at this stage in this trial process.
  5. Although I must confess to having a feeling of substantial unease at this degree of openness at the start of an unpredictable fact finding exercise, I am clear that it is simply not possible to hold that Jackson J is wrong in his analysis of the issue and his decision to grant media access to this degree. I am, however, sufficiently concerned about the laxity of the terms of the order dealing with daily reporting as it is currently drawn to stipulate that a further sub-paragraph be added to that part of the order in the following terms:

    ‘such reporting (whether by live reporting, Twitter or otherwise) may not take place until after the court proceedings have concluded on any given day, in order to ensure that the court has had an opportunity to consider whether any such additional directions are required.’

    The purpose of this new provision is, hopefully, self-explanatory in that it allows for stock to be taken at the close of the court day so as to identify any aspect(s) of the evidence which should be subject of embargo before any reporting, of any nature, can take place.

  6. The grounds of appeal relating to whether or not the judge should sit in public to deliver his judgment were not pursued and therefore fall away.
  7. For the reasons that I have given, I would therefore allow the appeal to the very limited extent of (a) requiring the removal of reference to any of the medical evidence from the edited 2014 judgment, and (b) inserting a tighter requirement in the court order relating to the control of daily reporting.




Inaudible and jigsaw identification [Contains Agatha Christie Christmas spoiler gag]

You may be aware of the President’s guidance on Transparency, which sets out those judgments which ought to be published on Bailii, which is a site that is available for members of the public to use as it does not charge a fee or require a subscription.  The guidance sets out that all committal judgments should be published, and that’s a laudatory aim. It must be right that if a Family Court or Court of Protection are sending someone to prison (or even if they were asked to do so and said no) that the facts are put in the public domain so that they can be reported and debated.

You may be less aware that I’ve seen five examples since the Transparency guidance was published, of judgments going up on Bailii for all to see where the anonymisation process was insufficient.  For example, I have seen the real first names and ages of the children accidentally go in, the real address and name of a mother’s boyfriend said to pose a risk, the real surname of someone accidentally go into the Reporting Restriction Order judgment saying that the surname was not to be revealed, and in the worst example, a case that ended with the children going off for adoption accidentally leaving in one paragraph the real name of the mother.  In each of these cases, I and others have contacted Bailii who acted very swiftly in taking them down and making the corrections.  It isn’t Bailii’s job to proof read the judgments – they publish the transcript that a Judge has sent them saying that “This is okay to publish please” or similar.

Accidents can happen.

The process is that the judgment is transcribed, the Judge checks it carefully and makes any corrections, and then the corrected version goes onto Bailii, where it is available for anyone to look at. Sometimes that careful process can be a bit slow – when there’s a story in the news and you know that there’s been a Court case sometimes that careful process means that it takes weeks to get the proper judgment available to read and discuss and the newsworthy event is long forgotten then, and whatever slant the Press put on it becomes the definitive version.

But of course, Judges are people, and people under pressure. They have to read huge amounts of material, have to make complex and emotionally difficult decisions, and they have to listen to lawyers drone on and on for about six hours a day, which must be pretty close to intolerable.


Being a Judge could drive you to U.N.Owen methods of resolving stress

Being a Judge could drive you to U.N.Owen methods of resolving stress


[Apologies to those who haven’t watched it yet.  Apologies to those readers who were hoping for the Aiden Turner towel photo instead of this one]


So you can see perhaps that a Judge pressed for time could miss a stray reference – redacting a document is tricky and it takes time and concentration – and usually a second pair of eyes.  I’ve no doubt at all that the mistakes I’ve mentioned above were just honest mistakes that slipped through. Nonetheless, even an honest mistake can still be costly to the persons involved whose privacy ends up being breached.


This one, however, doesn’t entirely feel like it was checked at all before it went to Bailii.


Newcastle City Council v P and ABC 2015


A shame, because the bits that aren’t  (inaudible) are largely very good, and it raises an important and interesting legal issue about the extent to which in a committal hearing which is to the criminal standard of proof, hearsay evidence (which is admissable in Court of Protection and family cases) can be relied upon, and also where the primary source of the evidence is from a person who lacks capacity.  It could have been a very helpful precedent. I don’t think any lawyer could safely hand this up to a Judge and invite them to draw any conclusions, because there are just too many gaps.


I’m not meaning to single this particular Judge out for a hard time – I think it is more broadly indicative that in amongst the many pressures on Judge time, perhaps checking transcripts of judgments comes lower down on the list of priorities that the President’s guidance really made allowances for.

Winding your way down on Baker Street

The Court of Protection, in Aidiniantz v Riley 2015 were dealing with a high level of conflict between family members relating to the affairs of an 88 year old woman who lacked capacity to manage her own finances and other matters as to where she should live.


The family had been the creators of the Sherlock Holmes museum in Baker Street, which one imagines does quite well and probably has been doing even better in recent years as both Hollywood, US television and the BBC have each had their very own popular version of the character.


At the hearing, the Judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, found that the press were in attendance. It emerged that the press had been sent a press release about the case – that press release was not a neutral one approved by the Court but a partial, tendentious and sensationalised one.


  1. A preliminary point arises about the extent to which the proceedings can be reported. They were heard in private, in accordance with the Rules, at a hearing at which members of the press were in attendance. Two questions now arise: should the press be allowed to report the hearing, and should there be a public judgment naming the parties? Submissions have been made by the parties and by David Barrett and Mario Ledwith, journalists representing the Telegraph Media Group and Associated Newspapers respectively.
  2. It is relevant that on 25 September a media alert was issued by a PR company, notifying members of the media that this hearing would be taking place. The alert is in highly partisan terms, and includes lengthy quotations attributed to Stephen. It was this that brought the journalists to court.
  3. The respondents, having initially denied that they were responsible for the arrival of the press, were then faced with the press alert. They say that it was issued on the instructions of Mr Siddiqi and that the quotes from Stephen are not genuine but were invented by Mr Siddiqi to convey Stephen’s views. They say that they did not know what Mr Siddiqi had done until the hearing was under way.
  4. I have not heard evidence about this aspect of the matter and it is unnecessary to reach a conclusion about it. Mr Siddiqi is described by the respondents as “a long-time friend/associate of the family who has closely followed and advised the family on their affairs.” I am, to say the least, sceptical that he was acting without the knowledge and approval of the respondents, but it makes no difference. Even if Mr Siddiqi did not tell them what he was doing, he knows them well enough to know that he was doing what they wanted. Indeed, Linda made all the points that appear in the media alert when giving evidence.
  5. The relevance of this is that it alerts the court to the risk that the proceedings will be used as a platform to publicise unproven allegations.



The Press were very candid that their interest in the story was not in the arrangements to be made about Grace Aidiniantz, but in the quarrel that was going on between the family – it was the fight that they were interested in.


The Judge had to balance those competing interests – privacy and freedom of the press, our old friends article 8 and article 10 who have been arm-wrestling one another ever since the Human Rights Act was passed.



In the film "Over the Top", the role of Article 10 is played by Mr Stallone

In the film “Over the Top”, the role of Article 10 is played by Mr Stallone


[Hey, if I HAD a google image of Johnny Lee Miller arm-wrestling Benedict Cumberbatch whilst both dressed as Sherlock Holmes, I would have gone with that. I have to work with what I have. Oh, wait…]



This is them just BEFORE the match. Referee out of picture saying "We want a good clean fight"

This is them just BEFORE the match. Referee out of picture saying “We want a good clean fight”


  1. As to the issue of publication of this judgment and the naming of the parties, Mr Tyler QC submits that:

    (1) Real weight should be given to the general rule that the hearing should be in private: Independent News Media Ltd. v A [2009] EWHC 2858.

    (2) There is scant genuine public interest in publication of the current proceedings. The press is avowedly not interested in the issues about Mrs Aidiniantz’s care, but in the family dispute.

    (3) Mrs Aidiniantz’s privacy and dignity should be protected, even though she is incapacitated.

    (4) John has brought these proceedings in good faith, and should not thereby be exposed to vilification by the respondents. His wife and children would also be affected by publicity, as might employees of the family business.

    (5) Litigants generally should not be deterred from approaching the Court of Protection by the fear of consequent publicity.

    (6) Public identification of the parties to this “private family dispute” is unlikely to bring reconciliation closer and is likely to fuel conflict.

  2. The position taken by the journalists is that: (1) This is the latest in a long line of public disagreements between the parties that have been extensively reported in the press, evidenced by news reports from 2013 onwards.

    (2) The disagreement about Mrs Aidiniantz’s health is not in itself of public interest but is the current forum for the ongoing family dispute, which is of public interest, particularly given the family’s business interests.

    (3) Anonymisation of the judgment would make it impossible for the press to report this latest chapter in the very public disagreements between the parties.

    (4) Blanket reporting restrictions are not required to protect Mrs Aidiniantz’s privacy and dignity. There is no intention to report details of her care arrangements or medical condition, beyond saying that she is aged and infirm.

  3. There is in my view good reason for the court to publish its judgment in this case in a form that names the individuals involved:(1) Happily, very few families descend to the level of mutual acrimony that exists in this family. It is in the public interest for the public, if it is interested, to see the consequences. It is in the public interest to know how the court process operates in a recognizable case. It is in the public interest to know what it all costs: in the past year this family has spent £270,000 on this branch of its litigation alone. It is not in the public interest to suppress all that information: on the contrary, knowledge of how one family has behaved may deter another family from behaving likewise.

    (2) In this case, publication of an anonymised judgment would be futile. So much information is already in the public domain that any anonymised judgment would inevitably be linked to the family. The press would be placed in an impossible situation in knowing what it could and could not report.

    (3) It is undesirable that there should be any greater difference of approach than is necessary between two courts dealing with different but related aspects of the same dispute. As recently as 4 June 2015, an extensive public judgment in relation to financial issues was given in the Chancery Division.

    (4) This is not just “a private family dispute”. These parties have repeatedly chosen to air their differences in the courts. There is little likelihood of reconciliation. A public judgment will not make matters any worse for Mrs Aidiniantz than they already are. The parties might even reflect on their future conduct if they know that it may come to public attention.

    (5) Mrs Aidiniantz’s right to privacy and dignity is undoubtedly an important consideration. Even though she herself will not be aware of publicity, her reputation is affected by it being known that she is at the heart of the family discord. However, in the overall circumstances, I do not consider that the publication of this judgment amounts to a significant further intrusion into her privacy. It contains little personal information and makes no criticism of Mrs Aidiniantz: on the contrary, any fair-minded reader would be bound to feel sympathy for an elderly parent in her situation.

  4. The contents of this judgment can therefore be published, but there will be no other reporting of the hearing.



The Judge sets out all of the background, for those who are interested. He then gives his decision, saying that unusually this is a case where in determining what is in Grace’s interests he can give no weight to the views of the family


  1. Discussion
  2. It is not disputed that Mrs Aidiniantz lacks capacity to make decisions about the matters in issue within the meaning of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and I so find. I also consider that as a result of her circumstances she is a vulnerable person in need of the protection of the court.
    1. It therefore falls to the court to make decisions in Mrs Aidiniantz’s best interests, applying the provisions of s.4 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. In doing so, it must consider all the relevant circumstances and, in particular, take the following steps:
    • Consider whether it is likely that Mrs Aidiniantz will at some time have capacity in relation to the matter in question.
    • So far as reasonably practicable, permit and encourage her to participate as fully as possible in the decisions affecting her.
    • Consider Mrs Aidiniantz’s past and present wishes and feelings, the beliefs and values that would be likely to influence her if she had capacity, and the other factors that she would be likely to consider if she were able to do so.
  • Take into account the views of anyone engaged in caring for Mrs Aidiniantz or interested in her welfare as to what would be in her best interests.
    1. As to the first three of these matters:
    • While it is possible that if Mrs Aidiniantz’s physical health improves she may recover some degree of decision-making capacity, this is not foreseeable at the present time.
    • Mrs Aidiniantz has participated as fully as possible in the decision-making process by means of the involvement of Mr Gillman-Smith, Ms G and Ms Gieve.
  • Mrs Aidiniantz is someone with strong family values, whose already much-reduced ability to assert herself has long been overborne by the ferocity of the family conflict. She would want to be at home if it were possible. She would want to have normal, easy relations with all her children if it were possible.
  1. The obligation to take into account the views of those caring for Mrs Aidiniantz or interested in her welfare takes me to the heart of the difficulty in this case. I am aware of the views of her four adult children and have set them out above.
  2. Having done that, I have concluded, uniquely, that I should attach no weight at all to their views about their mother’s welfare. These children have, in my view, forfeited the right to have their views taken seriously on the question of what is in their mother’s best interests. They have no insight into her obvious longing for peace. The evidence of John and Linda showed only bitterness and contempt for each other. Neither side sees how important the other is to their mother. None of them reflects on their own behaviour. Instead, every action is dictated by the wish to get the better of the other. I have referred to John’s aggressive efforts to get Stephen and Ruth out of 1 Parkgate Road and his willingness to put his mother in a home he knows nothing about. I have referred to the respondents’ blatant attempts to obstruct John’s contact. As soon as Mrs Aidiniantz’s voice was heard by outsiders, however faintly, they physically removed her; in 2014 it was to Linda’s home, and a year later to the day it was to Florida. That trip was a blatant defiance of the court’s intentions and it is a measure of their lack of insight that the respondents imagine that it would be seen in any other way.
  3. Nor can I attach weight to the views of Ms AH. Normally the views of a professional carer in the midst of a family dispute will be of value, but she has become too emotionally involved and partisan to see where Mrs Aidiniantz’s best interests lie.
  4. I have some sympathy for Mrs Aidiniantz’s sister Ruth, but she is in the same camp as Linda, Stephen and Jennifer and has not been able to moderate their behaviour.Decision
  5. Turning to the issues and taking account of all the circumstances, I conclude that it would not be in Mrs Aidiniantz’s interests to return to 1 Parkgate Road. In the first place, I accept the evidence of Ms G that she needs the care package that is on offer at the nursing home. Two medically qualified staff are needed at all times. Ms AH and those she enlists to help her are unqualified and unsuited to demonstrating the necessary professional standards. Secondly, and more decisively, it is impossible to approve an arrangement that returns Mrs Aidiniantz to her home when her children have turned it into a warzone. If John took over 1 Parkgate Road, things would be no better. Mrs Aidiniantz needs a safe haven from her children’s activities, and that is what she has found in the nursing home. She would not have this respite in a setting that was controlled by either camp.
  6. The family collectively has the means to pay for Mrs Aidiniantz’s care in the nursing home. When promoting their preferred options, both John and Linda said that they would pay for them if necessary but would expect a contribution from the other. Now that the identity of the placement has been resolved, the family should act in accordance with that principle.
  7. As to contact, I will adopt the plan supported by the nursing home and the Official Solicitor for separate daily visiting by both sides of the family. Outings that are acceptable to the home on medical grounds can take place, but I suggest that visits to 1 Parkgate Road are approached with caution.
  8. Each side of the family can bring whoever they want with them during their contact times, provided the home is content with this. There is no more reason to prevent John from bringing his family than to prevent Jennifer from bringing hers. If she is invited by the respondents, Ms AH can visit from time to time, but she will not be resuming her role as a carer. If anyone thinks it is a good idea for Mr Siddiqi to visit, they can share their time with him.
  9. I note that the Official Solicitor proposes that visiting should be restricted to family members and that contact with others can take place on trips outside the home. He expresses concern about the role played by Ms AH and Mr Siddiqi. There is in fact no sign of any harm having come from their few visits to date and, given the way in which the family members themselves behave, I cannot share the view that the exclusion of other partisans would allow Mrs Aidiniantz to feel “free of influence”. The management of the home should be left to manage these issues.
  10. While Mrs Aidiniantz resides at the care home, there is no need for a welfare deputy. The management of the home will protect her day-to-day interests.
  11. Finally, I shall not appoint a property or affairs deputy, nor require the Official Solicitor to carry out further financial inquiries into Mrs Aidiniantz’s affairs. I agree with the Official Solicitor that any financial abuse of the elderly is a serious matter, but that here a third party investigation would be complicated, expensive and unlikely to be of benefit to Mrs Aidiniantz, whose needs are currently being met. I will make the appropriate orders for the reception of her modest pensions. Other disputes about money, property and shares can be pursued by her children elsewhere if that is their choice.Costs
  12. The parties can make submissions on costs, and I will consider them on their merits. I will nonetheless indicate my current thinking in an attempt to foreshorten matters and save further expense.
  13. The parties’ costs are, broadly: John £104,000

    Respondents £110,000

    Official Solicitor £57,000

    The Official Solicitor has been given security from the parties equally for the full amount of his costs. There is no reason why the public should bear any of those and I expect to order that the Official Solicitor’s costs will be met equally by the parties.

  14. As to costs as between the parties, the normal rule is that there should be no order. Each side rightly cautions the court against assuming that because there are so many allegations and counter-allegations it is a case of “six of one and half a dozen of the other”. I make no such assumption but nevertheless reach the conclusion that there is little to choose between these parties in regard to their litigation conduct and their conduct towards their mother. While the respondents’ conduct during these proceedings has been even worse than the applicant’s, it would be unrealistic to separate these matters from the overall history. Any departure from the ‘no order’ principle would probably be in the form of an order that each side should pay the other side’s costs as a mark of the court’s indignation.





"Benedict! HEY Benedict, you bum! What happened to the good clean fight I asked for? That ain't ARM wrestling"

“Benedict! HEY Benedict, you bum! What happened to the good clean fight I asked for? That ain’t ARM wrestling”

I am sailing, I am sailing – judicial recusal


Given how much fun the last case about judicial recusal was to write about, I was pleased to see a new one.


This one, Mackay v Mackay 2015, relates to what is presumably a big money divorce. As the amounts of money are discussed as £X million and £Y million, we can’t be sure exactly how much money, but a decent estimate is that it is at least two million, and probably quite a bit more.


In this case, Holman J was made aware of a situation.


I personally have had no prior involvement in this case whatsoever prior to today. Very early in the hearing today, Mr Valentine Le Grice QC, who appears today on behalf of the husband (but does not act for him generally in these proceedings), said that there were certain facts that he, Mr Le Grice, had been informed about that required to be drawn to my attention in case they impacted upon the appropriateness of my dealing with this case at the substantive hearings. There has been no suggestion, nor could there be, that I should not deal with this directions stage of this case today. I was somewhat surprised to hear that, since the full names of the husband simply do not impact upon me at all and, to put it bluntly but colloquially, I have simply never ever heard of him before. Further, when the husband came into court, he is not somebody who, frankly, I have the least recognition of, or the slightest recollection of ever having met; nor, indeed, do I have the slightest recognition of the wife, who is also in court.


My interest was massively piqued here. If the Judge doesn’t know the names of the parties, and doesn’t recognise their faces, under what scenario could there possibly be a suggestion that the Judge might have to consider whether it was appropriate for him to continue?   (I have to confess that the idea of some sort of Eyes Wide Shut masked ball scenario came to mind, but of course it isn’t that)

I am a very open judge and I have never concealed, for instance by entries in “Who’s Who” and Debrett’s “People of Today”, that one of my recreations is sailing. I was told that the husband is also keen on sailing. I have been told that he thinks that in the more distant past he has competed in boats racing against boats in which I myself was also racing. Whether or not that is so is, frankly, completely irrelevant to the situation with which I am now faced. However, I was also informed that the husband knew that I am a member (as I am) of a certain sailing club. He is not a member of that club. He is a member of another sailing club of which I am not a member, but the question was raised whether, through my membership of the sailing club, I might know or have friendship with certain sailing friends of the husband.


Certainly the fact that at some point in the past, the husband might have seen Holman J’s catamaran, or what have you, either sail off into the distance or whistle past it at a rate of knots during a race is neither here nor there.

Whether they might, as fellow afficiandos of the sail, have some mutual friends, is a possibility.

  1. A list containing 14 names was then produced to me. It is right to say that I recognised as names every name on that list. The majority of the people named I do not personally know at all. One or two of the others on the list I know very slightly or have met at some stage in the past. None of that, frankly, impacts on me at all. However, there is one name on the list which for the purposes of this judgment I will call “AB” (although those are not the person’s actual initials). I was told that he is somebody whom the husband knows well. I was told that, in the past, there have been business dealings between, or involving, the husband and AB. I was told that the husband currently meets AB about once a month and met him as recently as about two weeks ago. I was told that in the past AB has stayed at these parties’ villa in the south of France whilst participating in a sailing event.
  2. On behalf of the wife, Mr Nigel Dyer QC said on instructions that she did not appreciate that, and doubts whether, the true strength and extent of the connection between the husband and AB is as great as has been described by Mr Le Grice. Without hearing oral evidence on the point, which would be disproportionate and extraordinarily invidious, I have to take the state of affairs as being as described by Mr Le Grice.
  3. AB is not someone whom I would describe as a close personal friend of mine. He is, however, someone whom I have known for many years. There is, undoubtedly, friendship between us, friendship also between him and my wife, and friendship between me and his wife. He and his wife are people whom I and/or my wife meet from time to time in the sailing social context, and we and AB have numerous other mutual friends in common.
  4. The question that arises is whether that connection of a shared mutual relationship with AB is such that I should not have further involvement in this case. The expressed position of Mr Le Grice on behalf of the husband was that he was merely drawing these facts to my attention so that I should be aware of them. There was no application by Mr Le Grice that I should recuse myself as a result of them.
  5. The position of the wife, after Mr Dyer had had an opportunity privately to discuss the matter and take instructions from her, was that she was not concerned about this mutual relationship and that she did not apply that I should recuse myself


Well, that’s that then. The father knows AB fairly well, and AB also knows Holman J fairly well. Neither father nor mother say that this intersection would make Holman J unsuitable to hear the case. That’s that.


Aha! Not quite.  If you’ve been following the Appleton v Gallagher divorce case, you may have picked up that there is something of a schism in the High Court about divorce and publicity.   On the one hand, represented by Mostyn J, is the school of thought that there should be no publicity in divorce proceedings unless the case itself represents case law and that divorcing celebrities or millionaires should not have their innermost financial affairs set out by the Press just because they are getting divorced. On the other hand, represented so far chiefly by Holman J, is the transparency camp, which is publishing the details in judgments and thus the Press have access to it.   The Appleton v Gallagher case is going up to the Court of Appeal to see who might be right.


If you are a millionaire or celebrity who wants privacy then, at the moment, you might well prefer that your divorce is not dealt with by a pro-transparency  Judge, or one who you think might be pro-transparency.


The Wife makes this implied motivation explicit.


  1. The position of the wife did, however, go further than that. One of the applications that was issued by the husband on 11th September 2015 and returnable today was for orders to do with privacy. He sought orders that the hearings in October and February should be heard not only in private, but with the press and media excluded; and, further (most unusually in my experience) some advance order as to the terms in which any judgment might ultimately be couched. To exclude the press even from a hearing held in private is these days a strong step, and one which can only be taken in tightly circumscribed circumstances provided for in the relevant rules and practice direction; but it is known at the Bar that I am a judge who favours as much openness as possible in all court proceedings. Mr Dyer, frankly, speculated that the purpose of the husband in even referring to the possibility of overlapping friendships was a device deliberately aimed at causing me to recuse myself.
  2. It is, indeed, of the utmost importance that judges are very astute to spot, and not be trapped by, attempts to manipulate the identity of a judge for whatever purpose. Obviously, there may be judges who are believed to make high awards or low awards, and it is only too easy for a party who is seeking a low or a high award respectively to try to manipulate the position so that that judge is unable to hear the case. Similarly, it would, indeed, be intolerable if parties could manipulate the position so as to obtain or avoid, according to where their interests lay, a judge who favours openness in legal proceedings as opposed to secrecy. I am very alive to that risk.
  3. Unquestionably, if nothing had been said today about this shared interest in sailing and the possibility that there may be some overlapping friendships, then I would have continued to deal with this case and there could not have been the slightest difficulty. The fact is that the point has been raised. The fact is that it has been identified that amongst the friends or associates of the husband is this person, AB, who is also a friend of mine.


(In short, is this sailing issue, a well-disguised attempt at forum shopping?)


  1. The leading authority on the circumstances in which a judge should recuse himself probably remains Locabail (UK) Limited v Bayfield Properties Limited and others [1999] EWCA Civ 3004, a judgment of the court consisting of the then Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls and Vice-Chancellor. The situation with which I am faced today is not one that falls within the principles which are the focus of that judgment. There is no question in this case of my having any kind of interest in the outcome of these proceedings and, in my view, no question in this case of any possible objective or apparent bias. Indeed, at paragraph 25 of their judgment in that case, the Court of Appeal were at pains to list many circumstances upon which, at any rate ordinarily, no objection could soundly be based. But at paragraph 21 of the judgment there is reference, albeit passing, to a judge recusing himself, “If, for solid reasons, the judge feels personally embarrassed in hearing the case.” Further, the broad approach at paragraph 25 is as follows:

    “In most cases, we think, the answer, one way or the other, will be obvious. But if in any case there is real ground for doubt, that doubt should be resolved in favour of recusal. We repeat: every application must be decided on the facts and circumstances of the individual case.”

  2. I have given very careful consideration indeed to this matter. Apart from some obvious situations where I actually knew a party concerned, I can only recall one occasion in the over 20 years in which I have been a full-time judge, in which I have felt the slightest need to recuse myself for considerations of this kind. In that case, I had a long-term friendship dating back to university with the brother of the husband in the case. Although the brother did not feature at all in the case, it did not seem to me appropriate that I should hear it. This case is more remote than those facts, but I have decided that I do, or might, “feel personally embarrassed” in hearing this case.
  3. I wish to stress that I believe myself to be an independent-minded and fearless judge. I do not doubt my ability to be detached and objective in decision-making. But the context of this case, as I have outlined above, does, or may, involve making a judgment about the integrity or probity, and possibly the very honesty, of this husband. I do not yet know much about the facts, nor, of course, how the evidence may turn out. But, at any rate at its highest, the wife’s case will involve a proposition that the husband deliberately failed to disclose the discussions that he was having for the sale of his company at that much greater value, and may well involve the proposition that, at some stage or another, he deliberately lied or, certainly, deliberately suppressed the truth. If there is a common friendship with AB, I do feel that it could be a source of personal embarrassment to me in my relationship with AB if I had to find that another friend of his had acted in a fraudulent, devious or untruthful way.
  4. There is the further consideration in this case that, currently, a two-stage hearing is envisaged, with some months between the first and second stage. Undoubtedly, during that interval, there will be occasions upon which I will be meeting AB, since, as I have said, he is a friend whom I do meet from time to time.
  5. It seems to me that what I have described does amount in this case to “solid reasons” why I personally, as I do, feel personally embarrassed about further involvement in this case. For those reasons, I must, as I now do, recuse myself from any further involvement in the case after today.


It seems a shame to me that we may be moving towards a scenario where a Judge can’t have interests, hobbies or pastimes outside of the law, for fear that they may bring them into a position where someone they met at “Jam Club”,  “Abseilers Anonymous” or simply someone who shares their love of “Yacht Rock” might be a friend of a future Party.


mmmm.... smoooth

mmmm…. smoooth



[I know, I had a perfect opportunity to crowbar in a photo of Nicole Appleton, and I decided instead to use a photo of people pretending to be Hall and Oates.  I did really want to use the Nicole Appleton photo, but then a voice in my head said  “I can’t go for that (no can do)” ]


The weakest recusal I’ve ever seen in real life was a Judge who recused himself from what was going to be a really desperately boring hearing on the basis that one of the parties had a job as an insurance salesman for Norwich Union (you can feel the dullness of this case seep out) and the Judge concluded that he would be potentially embarassed as he had once received an unsolicited telephone call from someone trying to sell him Norwich Union insurance and had put the phone down “more abruptly than perhaps was reasonable”, and it could not be excluded as a possibility that it was the Party in question.  If you can suitably anonymise them, I’d love to hear weak recusal decisions or even applications…

Removal of a child from prospective adopter


I have written about a few of these cases since Holman J’s decision in December 2014, but this one is rather out of the ordinary.


RY v Southend Borough Council 2015


Hayden J was dealing with two applications. The first was an application by RY, an approved adopter, to adopt a child who is about 2 1/2, a little girl named SL.  The second was the application by the Local Authority  (Southend) to remove the child from RY’s care, under section 35 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

Cases about section 35 are rather rare, and this one raises some unusual issues.

First things first, what does s35 say?


“35 Return of child in other cases

(2) Where a child is placed for adoption by an adoption agency, and the agency –

(a) is of the opinion that the child should not remain with the prospective adopters, and

(b) gives notice to them of its opinion, the prospective adopters must, not later than the end of the period of seven days beginning with the giving of the notice, return the child to the agency.

(5) Where –

(a) an adoption agency gives notice under subsection (2) in respect of a child,

(b) before the notice was given, an application for an adoption order (including a Scottish or Northern Irish adoption order), special guardianship order or residence order, or for leave to apply for a special guardianship order or residence order, was made in respect of the child, and

(c) the application (and, in a case where leave is given on an application to apply for a special guardianship order or residence order, the application for the order) has not been disposed of, prospective adopters are not required by virtue of the notice to return the child to the agency unless the court so orders”.

In plain English, where a Local Authority have placed for a child for adoption, if they ask for the child back, the adopter must hand the child back within 7 days.  UNLESS the adopter has already made an application to Court for adoption, or a Special Guardianship Order or a residence order (Child Arrangements Order), in which case it is up to the Court what happens.

In this case, RY had lodged her application to adopt SL BEFORE the LA asked her to hand the child back, so it was for the Court to decide.

By way of important background, SL was a very ill child.

  1. At birth SL was pale, floppy and had no respiratory effort or heart rate and required intensive resuscitation. Her first gasp was not until 20 minutes into life. Dr. Daniel Mattison, Consultant Paediatrician, identifies that SL had experienced hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy. This can result in a wide spectrum of disability and in SL’s case she has been left with a raft of problems. Firstly, quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which means that she has impaired movement and stiffness of all her limbs as a direct result of brain damage to the parts of the brain involved in movement, tone and posture.
  2. Secondly, she has global developmental impairment. Thirdly, she has gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. That is a condition where the stomach contents pass into the oesophagus causing symptoms. The stomach contents are acidic so the symptoms include pain from the acidic contents coming into contact with the oesophagus and the throat. They also include vomiting, feeding difficulties and respiratory problems if the stomach contents irritate the top of the windpipe or if small amounts enter the lungs. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is more common and may be more severe in children with severe neuro-disability like SL.
  3. Finally, Dr. Mattison considers that there is visual impairment as a result of the deprivation of blood and oxygen to those parts of the brain involved in vision.

One can see that absolutely anyone would have faced challenges in caring for SL and meeting her needs.

What the Judge found, by careful consideration of the facts, was that the matching process of RY and SL was optimistic.

RY had some considerable issues of her own, having been diagnosed with Ehler-Danloss syndrome, occasionally needing to feed herself through a gastrostomy tube and being in a power chair needing to use hoists to move herself out of the chair.  She also stated that she had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was 19.

None of that, of course, means that she is excluded from being a carer for a child, or from being an adopter, but it does mean that there were medical issues that needed some careful consideration in the assessment and matching process.

The fact that the assessment process identified that there had been views that RY’s physical problems were emotional or psychological in nature, at the very least ought to have meant that the adopter’s medical records would have been needed to be seen and commented on by a medically qualified professional.

I am not myself at all clear as to why that wasn’t the case.


12…the assessment report more generally – poses a number of questions. Most importantly, it does not address RY’s capacity physically to parent a disabled youngster as the child got older and heavier. It also has to be said that the possibility that RY’s health difficulties might have a psychological component were evident. It is easy, of course, to be wise with the benefit of hindsight, but nonetheless it seems to me that the enquiries made into RY’s physical and mental health were less than satisfactory.

  1. A number of reports were requested, including one from RY’s general practitioner and rheumatologist, but the nature of that enquiry appears to have been very limited and as RY on her own account has had very little recent contact with either in recent years, it is not surprising that little constructive information was forthcoming.
  2. Ms. Frances Heaton QC and Mr. Shaun Spencer, who appear on behalf of Southend Borough Council, absorb this criticism without demure. In their closing submissions they state as follows: ^

    “With regard to its own failure to consider these records, the adoption agency is cognisant of the fact that although not signposted in the regulations, a review of RY’s medical records is likely to have been beneficial during the adoption process”.

  3. They continue:

    “Where an adoption agency has referred a proposed placement to the adoption panel, the panel must consider the proposed placement and make a recommendation to the agency as to whether the child should be placed for adoption with that particular prospective adopter pursuant to regulation 32(1) of the Adoption Act Regulations 2005.

    In considering what recommendation to make the panel, (1), must have regard to the statutory duties imposed on the agency; (2), must consider and take into account all information and reports ^ passage of it; (3), may request the agency to obtain any other relevant information which the Panel considers necessary; and (4), may obtain legal advice as it considers necessary in relation to the case. Thereafter, in coming to a decision about whether a child should be placed for adoption with a particular prospective adopter, the agency decision maker must take into account the recommendation of the adoption panel and have regard to the child’s continuing welfare, pursuant to regulation 34(4) of the Adoption Act Regulations 2005″.

  • 16.Ms. Heaton and Mr. Spencer also identified the most recent Department of Education Statutory Guidance on Adoption, July 2013, drawing my attention particularly to para.4.15, which states:


      1. “Agencies have a duty to satisfy themselves that prospective adopters have a reasonable expectation of continuing to enjoy good health. The medical adviser should explain and interpret health information from the prospective adopter, their GP, and consultants if relevant, to facilitate panel discussion. The opinion of the prospective adopter’s GP and the agency’s medical adviser about the health status of the prospective adopter needs to be given sufficient weight by adoption panels and agency decision-makers. Mild chronic conditions are unlikely to preclude people from adopting, provided that the condition does not place the child at risk through an inability to protect the child from commonplace hazards or limit them in providing children with a range of beneficial experiences and opportunities. More severe conditions must raise a question about the suitability of a prospective adopter, but each case will have to be considered on its own facts …”



That seems to me very clear that an adoption medical of the prospective adopter would be required and that in a case where medical issues arise, the records would be needed.


This next part, for my mind, is the most worrying aspect of the case  – that these important aspects had not been properly considered because of the pressures on Southend (and one assumes other Local Authorities) to move adoptions through the system quickly to satisfy the Government driven statistics. But even more seriously, that where a Local Authority does not properly satisfy the Government as to performance, there are ‘penalties’

I have to be candid, I do work for a Local Authority. I don’t know about penalties for failure to meet the thoughts that Central Government have about performance (and frankly I wouldn’t know how to find out). The common-sense reading of this portion is that there are financial implications for a Local Authority who doesn’t get their adoptions through as quickly as Central Government thinks that they should.  Perhaps that is right, in which case it would be very worrying.  Perhaps someone has got the wrong end of the stick here.

  1. Counsel seek to explain the deficiencies of this agency’s process in these terms, they state:

    “The agency appreciates the strength of an argument that it failed to have sufficient regard to the matters required of it both by the regulations and the statutory guidance. In the context of that argument, the court understands the pressures on agencies quickly to match children with approved adopters as a result of government measures”.

  2. Ms. Heaton and Mr. Spencer say:

    “It is a reality of the situation that adoption agencies are being judged and measured by government departments on the speed of time taken to match children, poor performance leads to penalties”.

  3. They conclude:

    “This adoption agency recognises that these pressures may have resulted in proper scrutiny not being fully implemented in this case. I am offered reassurance that the agency recognises that a request to consider our wide medical records would have been beneficial to the matching process. I have been told that they intend to address this failing for the future by ensuring that the agency is more ready to be resistant to pressures and to identify at an early stage those cases which it considers to be exceptional where a ‘longer matching process is required’.”


The Judge was also perturbed about this :-


  1. I am not in any way in any position to evaluate the explanation proffered in the authority’s fulsome explanation. I was not, for example, aware that government departments were subjected to penalties where there had been too much delay in the time taken to match children, I confine myself entirely to observing what is little more than a statement of that which should be obvious.
  2. Children like SL are profoundly vulnerable. Social services and society more generally must be sedulous in its protection of them. The fact that there may be fewer welfare options available for such children must never mean the criteria for matching carers to them can ever be compromised. On the contrary, the obligations should be seen as even more rigorous. The matching of RY to SL was undoubtedly ambitious.



In any event, things became more serious, because what was asserted was that RY’s care was not merely deficient but actually harmful and indeed that the care of SL had reached the point where significant harm had been caused.

There were many issues in this regard, and the Judge was also critical that the document provided to RY that set out what portions of parental responsibility she was allowed to exercise and what she was not was a stock document and was ambiguous


  1. What is contemplated here is the granting of some but not all parental rights. The focus is on the child with the objective of permitting the prospective adopter to take day-to-day decisions in the sphere of health, education, religion, holidays and social activities. Here this local authority, in common with many others, I am told, issued a standardised pro forma document.
  2. In relation to health issues, it permitted RY to consent to emergency medical treatment. It did not permit her to consent to treatment including operations that require anaesthetic. It did permit her to take decisions in relation to any prophylactic treatment, including immunisations, decisions in relation to involvement in counselling or therapeutic services, agreement to school medical appointments and decisions in relation to dental treatment. It also provided for her to have decision making responsibility across a range of issues relating to education, day-care, religion, holidays and contact, had that been relevant. I need not look at those wider issues and I concentrate entirely, because it is in focus here, on the provisions relating to health. I have, to say the least, been greatly exercised by them. They are not to my mind a model of pellucid clarity.
  3. There has been much confusion by the professionals as to what the scope and ambit of RY’s parental responsibility powers in fact were. Having read the document I am not surprised. This document, particularly if it is, as I am told, issued widely, really requires refinement. Again I am reassured that Ms. Heaton has this in her sights. She submits that the adoption agency recognises that on reflection and with the benefit of hindsight, (a recurrent phrase) the use of this local pro forma document was not suited to the facts of this case. It is now, she says, recognised that what was required – and is likely to be required in cases such as this concerning any child with complex care needs – is “a bespoke s.25 parental responsibility document tailored to the individual circumstances and needs of the child being placed.”
  4. She goes on to offer the reassurance that in the light of this acknowledgement this Adoption Agency intends to review its own practices and procedures in relation to the identification of appropriate restriction on parental responsibility and to introduce bespoke PR documents in appropriate cases. It also intends to raise the issue with the British Association of Adoption and Fostering so that other adoption agencies may benefit from learning from the experience of this case. I would add to that my own view that the standardised document is itself lacking in clarity. The first two requirements permitting consent for emergency treatment and refusing to bestow consent to treatment including operations are not immediately capable of easy reconciliation and generate, to my mind, inevitable confusion. As I have said, they require some refinement though, of course, I recognise, in many cases, issues such as this will simply not arise.



The crux of this case was as to how RY behaved whilst SL was in hospital, which sadly given SL’s considerable health needs was something that happened often and would be likely to happen in the future. It was asserted that she was obstructive about the child’s feeding, resistant to medical advice, over-reporting of medical concerns, requested sedation for the child, adminstered oxygen when she was not trained to do so and discharged the child against medical advice.


  1. The local authority’s schedule posits six findings and four supplemental findings. The first is that during SL’s hospital admission, which commenced on 26 September 2014, RY repeatedly refused nursing observations such as taking blood pressure or temperature. The second is that RY repeatedly refused to allow medical advice in relation to SL’s dietetic requirements. The third is that RY repeatedly stopped or refused medication and treatments. The fourth is that RY demonstrated an inability consistently to accept medical advice. The fifth is that RY repeatedly requested treatments of her own motion or insists on treatment methods. And the sixth is that due to RY’s anxieties, she tends to focus her attention on unnecessary medical procedures or extreme outcomes.
  2. The four additions are that RY suctioned SL unnecessarily too vigorously and in an inappropriate manner. Secondly, that she repeatedly requested sedation medication for SL despite being told by at least two health professionals, Dr. Court and Sally Deever, that such may compromise her breathing. The third is that RY gave SL oxygen unnecessarily and inappropriately when she was not trained to do. And fourth, that SL suffered harm in RY’s care and was likely to do so if she were to return to her care. That last finding being essentially a composite of the earlier allegations.
  3. As I have already said, it is really a very striking feature of this case that so much of what is set out in that schedule is factually uncontentious. It is the gloss or interpretation that is put on it that has become the focus of disagreement during this case. In, for example, the first finding, namely that during SL’s hospital admission in September 2014 RY repeatedly refused nursing observations, there is agreement that she did indeed make such refusals.



Most of the factual matters, being supported by the medical reports provided by the hospital treating SL, were not in dispute. What was disputed was the interpretation to be placed on them, or whether they amounted to harmful behaviour rather than just genuine concern about a child who was undoubtedly very unwell.

  1. RY told me that she derived some satisfaction from the preparation of the food for her daughter that it was instinctive to her to want to do that and that I certainly understand, but as time passed it became all too clear that this preferred method of nutrition not only was unsatisfactory, it was falling manifestly and demonstrably short of meeting SL’s needs. The doctors and nursing staff and dieticians were plainly highly agitated that SL should have good quality calorific and nutritional food, particularly when recovering from her operation, and RY undoubtedly resisted it in the face of her own obviously inadequate regime long after it would have become obvious to the reasonable carer that this was simply not meeting this little girl’s needs.
  2. So obvious was it that, in circumstances which I really find to be truly extraordinary, the hospital required RY to sign a waiver abdicating their responsibility to her for providing SL’s proper nutrition. What I find so deeply alarming is that in this instance and in the other instance that I have just looked at, that is to say the failure to let nurses take temperature, blood pressure, routine tests, et cetera, how it was that RY’s will prevailed to the extent it did. I can only assume that her behaviour was as described so bizarre that it caused confusion in the ward and led to poor clinical judgments to be taken contrary to SL’s interests.
  3. Ms. Heaton put to RY directly on this point, “In those circumstances, how could RY be said to be putting SL’s interests first?” And to that, in my judgment, RY had no satisfactory answer. I simply do not believe that she has understood or is now able fully to understand why it was she behaves in that way, but there is no satisfactory explanation when properly analysed for this failure to meet that most basic of SL’s needs, her need for nutrition.
  4. As I have said, I do not find it necessary to work through each of the many examples contended for in the Scott Schedule of, for example, RY’s refusing medication and treatments, chiefly again because it is not disputed. One such example which stood out to me in the evidence was RY’s refusal to permit SL to take oramorph when moved onto the ward when in the intensive care unit. Oramorph, I was told, is a morphine-based medicine the objective of which was to downscale gradually the pain relief from the higher dosage that she hitherto had been receiving.
  5. RY told the hospital – and indeed told me – as Ms. Walker emphasises in her closing submissions, that SL “didn’t need anything for break-through pain”. It is one of a number of responses that causes Ms. Walker to comment on what she contends to be RY’s arrogance towards medical staff for how, says Ms. Walker, could RY possibly have been in a position to gainsay the medical advice and to assert from the basis of no medical knowledge at all and in a highly specialised area of medicine that this little girl did not need anything for break-through pain. Once again it was RY’s wish and not that of the doctors that prevailed. I agree with Ms. Walker that the evidence in relation to this can properly be described, as she does, “overwhelming”.
  6. I would also like to highlight the incident set out in the unchallenged statement of Ms. Leanne Mulholland, who is a Senior Sister at the Paediatric Emergency Department at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. In her statement of 7 May 2015, Ms. Mulholland tells me that she was the nurse in charge on the early shift of 14 July. Four areas of concern were handed over to her from the night staff.
  7. Firstly, there was the transfer of SL to the Paediatric Emergency Department in RY’s car directly contrary to the advice of the paramedic. A process which in and of itself caused a significant delay in admission as Mr. Unwin emphasises as a convenient forensic illustration of harm. Secondly, on arrival there was concern that RY simply refused initially to allow a full respiratory assessment to be performed. I am still unclear why that was, but it was ultimately completed as it manifestly needed to be. There was reported to Sister Mulholland a concern about the ambit of parental responsibility, which I have already looked at.
  8. Then there was the final area of concern; active discharge from the hospital against medical advice. That RY should do this at all, that she should feel knowledgeable and empowered enough to do it, even before she had been granted the Adoption Order and full parental responsibility, is profoundly troubling. This episode illustrates to my mind that RY had gone beyond behaviour that was merely capable of being categorised as bizarre but had, in truth, spiralled out of control. I find her judgment and her behaviour, was irrational, unstable and she had become, I am truly sad to say, a real risk to SL



There really was no way that Hayden J would have been able to grant RY’s application for adoption. He is very kind in his conclusions


  1. Ultimately, balancing what I have sought to identify as some really clear, captivating and obvious strengths that RY has and balancing those against the harm I have just outlined in summary, does not present to me a remotely delicate balance in determining the future for SL. The way ahead for her, whatever it may hold, is clear. The risk RY presents of harm or significant harm to SL is so real and serious and the potential consequences so grave that I find them to be wholly inimical to her welfare. It points clearly and determinatively in support of the local authority’s application under s.35(2) in effect refusing return to RY’s care. It follows, therefore, that I dismiss her application for adoption.
  2. In my lay view, RY has plainly some real emotional and psychological issues to address. I hope she is able to do so. I hope her family are able to help her to do so. In the meantime, it would not be safe, in my judgment, for her to be involved in the care of any child or vulnerable adult with disabilities.





Hayden J recognised that this was a case, where the system had not worked as it should and that a very vulnerable child had been exposed to more harm in the adoptive placement that had been intended to meet her needs, and there was thus a public interest in the case being reported


Cases of this kind generate real public concern and rightly so. In the past a judgment such as this would not have entered the public domain. It is hardly surprising therefore that public understanding of the Family Court process and confidence in it’s system had begun to erode. The Practice Guidance of the 16th January 2014 was intended to and has achieved immediate and significant change in practice in relation to publication of judgments in the Family Courts and the Court of Protection. In April 2013 Sir James Munby P issued a statement, View From the President’s Chambers: The Process of Reform, [2013] Fam Law 548 in which he identified transparency as one of three central strands of reform which the Family Justice System is currently undergoing. This is an ongoing process in which a balance between freedom of expression, protected by Article 10 ECHR and the rights of vulnerable children to privacy and security, protected by Article 8 is often a delicate one.


The fundamental argument was as to whether RY’s name should be reported.  Unlike a case where identification of a parent who has harmed the child inextricably identifies the child as well, and thus should not happen, here RY and SL did not share a name and identifying RY would not also identify SL.

The Court had come very close to identifying RY in the judgment, and the single factor which mitigated against it was RY’s intention to seek help for her own problems.

  1. I have already expressed my clear view that the link between publication of the identity of the carer and any adverse impact upon the child subject to these proceedings is tenuous. However, I think RY’s entitlement to the opportunity of therapeutic support, in private, which gives the process much greater prospects of success is so manifestly in both her own interests and those of society more widely that it weighs heavily in the parallel analysis of competing rights and interests in which the starting point is ‘presumptive parity’.
  2. In my judgement the need to protect RY’s privacy while she embarks on what I have no doubt will be a difficult and challenging therapeutic process is to recognise an important aspect of her own autonomy and dignity



That does obviously raise the prospect that in a similar case, where the adopter’s conduct was not as a result of psychological difficulties or there was not a recognition of those difficulties and an intention to seek help, that an adopter who harmed the child could be publicly named in a judgment. There would be reasonable arguments that this would be the right thing to do.