The case Re A and B (Prohibited Steps Order at Dispute Resolution Appointment) 2015 might have one of the dullest names concievable, but I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t become rather newsworthy. Wizardpc (regular commentator – you’re going to want to read this one)
Because fresh on the heels of the President of the Family Division telling us all that there’s nothing wrong with a father belonging to the English Defence League, we have a family Judge banning a UKIP Parliamentary candidate from bringing his children to election rallies. [And another family Judge overturning that on appeal]
It is a short judgment, so before anyone’s knees jerk too much, let’s all read it first.
The children are both under 10, this is an appeal from a decision of the District Judge in private law proceedings to make this order:-
i) By way of preamble, that the court held the view that it is inappropriate for young children to be actively engaged in political activities as they may be emotionally damaged by potentially hostile reactions from members of the public;
ii) By way of order, that neither parent is to involve the two youngest children actively in any political activity.
There were three older children who were not subject to these stipulations.
As a matter of law, can the Court do that? Well, section 11 of the Children Act allows the Court to set conditions about contact / time spent with a parent, and the powers are broad, or as here, a Prohibited Steps Order, where one parent can ask that another be prevented from doing something particular (almost anything) with their child – so long as they meet these three criteria
Is it a necessary and proportionate interference with article 8 right to family life?
Is it better for the child to make this order than to not make the order?
Is this the right order, considering that the child’s welfare is paramount.
So the Court has the legal power to make such an order – providing those tests are met. But can it be right to make such an order?
9. Procedure – The father says that:
i) The District Judge was wrong not to hear evidence or at least his full submissions in relation to the need for a prohibited steps order to this effect;
ii) The District Judge made incorrect assumptions about the factual basis for such an order;
iii) The District Judge wrongly dealt with the issue without the father having notice prior to the hearing as to her intention to consider making such an order;
iv) The District Judge did not give the father an opportunity to contend that the order was neither necessary nor proportionate.
10. The mother, who is in person, contends that 99.9% of parents would recognise that their children should not be involved actively in political activities and so the District Judge was acting sensibly and fairly when faced with a father who, she says, does not share that recognition. However, she accepted before me that the father had not been given the opportunity to argue his case before the District Judge and that he made it plain throughout that he did not agree to the order that the District Judge was proposing. The mother could plainly see the difficulties that arise in seeking to upholding the decision of the District Judge.
11. The Cafcass report – The Cafcass report is in the bundle. The following parts of it are particularly relevant:
i) The only mention of political activity in the report is at D5. There the Cafcass officer stated: ‘The mother has expressed concerns that the father’s political views and value base are influencing the children – particularly C who can be racist and homophobic. The father has allegedly enlisted the support of his children to distribute UKIP leaflets when they have spent time with him’. That is the only reference to political activity within the report.
ii) The views of the children, which are very fully explored by the Cafcass officer, do not record any complaint by them in relation to their father’s political activities or their involvement with them;
iii) The children are reported as having some other concerns about their father’s method of disciplining them but were observed by the Cafcass officer to be happy in their father’s company. The Cafcass officer stated at paragraph 27 that ‘it is my view that, on the whole, the children enjoy the time they spend with their father and this needs to be supported…my observations of the children with their father were positive’.
12. Statements – Both parties provided brief statements for the hearing before the District Judge. The father’s statement is dated 20th November and the mother’s dated 24th November 2014 (the day of the hearing before the District Judge). There was no application in relation to the father’s political activities or the children’s involvement in them and therefore the father’s statement makes no mention of this. The mother states in her statement at C8: ‘I would like it if he respected my wishes and promised the court that he will not use the children directly in any of his political activities. I would be prepared to abide by the same promise if he so wished. Although it is apparent that the court has failed to protect certain of the children from brainwashing, since [C] has been campaigning for UKIP, is a member of UKIP youth and [E] has also attended UKIP rallies and is intent on joining UKIP youth’.
13. That is as far as any prior notice of this issue went. The father saw the mother’s statement at court. He did not have any other notice prior to the hearing that this issue would be raised. It is therefore significant to note that there was no evidential material relating to any involvement or harmful consequences for the two younger children in relation to the father’s political activities.
It does appear that this issue was somewhat bounced upon the father – did he have proper opportunity to challenge it, and was there proper evidence before the Court as to political activity being harmful?
If one is saying that political activity is harmful to young children generally (as opposed to just toxically dull) then there a lot of babies who will be saved from being kissed by George Osbourne/Ed Balls/Danny Alexander (choose which candidate you most dislike / least admire). And to be perfectly honest, if it would remove any possibility in the future of the horror that was Tony Blair in his shirtsleeves drinking tea out of a mug with a picture of his kids on it – then, y’know, I can see an upside.
The worry with this is that a decision was made about whether the Court cared for the particular brand of politics espoused by the father – which is getting us into Re A territory to an extent. We see mainstream politicians regularly dragging their kids out for the cameras.
14. What happened at the hearing? Both parties appeared in person, that is without legal representation. I have studied the whole of the transcript of the hearing. I made sure that I read it through twice. Both parties were in person and the District Judge was faced with a difficult task in relation to parties who held strong views. I do not in any way underestimate the task that befell the District Judge and, by this judgment, pay tribute to her experience and exceptional industry. She knew this case well having been involved in it previously.
15. The following are some of the key parts of the transcript :
i) At page three there is the following: ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes, all right. One of the other issues she raises, and I know there is another issue in your statement that you want to raise in a minute, [father], I have not forgotten this, one of Mother’s concerns is, and she is quite happy to promise in the same way but she does not like the fact that the boys are being involved in your UKIP activities and she would like you to give an agreement that you will not involve them in your UKIP, for instance, C campaigning in [X town] recently she mentions. How do you feel about that?…FATHER: I’m totally unwilling to have her dictate anything what I’m doing with the children in that respect….THE DISTRICT JUDGE: She said that she would be prepared not to involve them in any political activities as well….Father: Well, she does. She indoctrinates them, you know, so I just don’t think this is on. C is very keen; he gets a lot out of it’.
ii) At page 4 the District Judge said: ‘I can understand where you are coming from because you are not a UKIP supporter, yes….MOTHER: Or any political party. Is it right for a child of A’s age to be going into school saying, “What did you do at the weekend? I’ve been to a UKIP garden party”, and the other kids go, “Hey, what?” they have no idea what she’s talking about. They shouldn’t know what she’s talking about because none of them at that age should know anything to do with politics. Isn’t that to do with abusing their childhood if they’re being pumped full of whatever political party?
iii) At page 5 – ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: As I have said, children will always be very conscious about what their parents’ political views are. Your political views may well be at the other end of the spectrum. MOTHER: But I wouldn’t dream of taking them to any political meetings or encourage them to leaflet on the streets. C was egged by somebody. Is that right? …THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Is that right? Was C egged by somebody?…Father: He was exceedingly amused to have an egg land somewhere near his feet on one occasion. MOTHER: I do not want the younger children put in that position.
iv) Also on page 5 – ‘MOTHER: And what about the younger children— THE DISTRICT JUDGE: No, I am just thinking—MOTHER : —who go into the classroom— THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes. MOTHER: Think about the teachers then who have to pick up the pieces, so and so’s brother was egged at the weekend. The other children are too young to be worried about this and it’s confusing for them’.
v) At page 8: ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: What have you been doing with A and B at the moment so far as UKIP is concerned?…FATHER: A and B have sat on the van while a couple of the others get out and do some leafleting, that’s happened about once. Then there was a garden party where they played in the garden a long way from a congregation where there was a speech going on, so they were happy and they were supervised and they didn’t feel embarrassed and we all left together. So they were not put in any sort of awkward or inappropriate situation and I wouldn’t do, of course…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: I mean what I would like to do is to make a neutral order which is that neither of you should involve A or B in your political activities. Now, going to a garden party, I do not regard that as political activity, that is a garden party, all right? Probably sitting on the van is not but what I am talking about is they should not be going out leafleting and actively taking part….FATHER: Well, I’m just amazed, I’m just amazed— MOTHER: [Inaudible – overlap of speech] A was encouraged to hand out a leaflet and somebody went up to her and just tore it up in her face. She’s a tiny, little girl. This is really mentally challenging for them. THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes, look. Father, I am not expressing any political views, it is not appropriate for me to express any political views but there are a lot of people in this country who have very strong feelings about UKIP and I would not want to expose your two youngest children to emotional harm because of how people might react to them if they get involved. That is how I am looking at it, because you must accept there are a lot of people who are dead against UKIP, you understand that?
vi) At page 9 and 10 – ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: I am worried about somebody throwing – all right, C is 15, if he is happy to get involved in UKIP then he is old enough to decide that but I am not happy with A and B being involved in political activity to the extent that somebody in front of their faces rips up a poster. That is emotionally damaging for them. That should not be happening to two little girls and I do not care whether we are talking about the Labour party, the Conservative party, UKIP, the Liberal Democrats or whatever. That should not be happening to two little girls…FATHER: Well, that’s three of us agreeing then, isn’t it?…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes….FATHER: So what’s the problem? I don’t see—…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: So I am going to make an order that neither of you are to involve the two younger girls actively in political activities, so I am saying to you garden party is not a problem, sitting on the van is not a problem but they are not going out actively taking part in your political activities because there are a lot of people out there who do not like UKIP and probably a lot of grown ups will not think about the impact on children’ .
16. There was no formal judgment given. The matter was dealt with as part of the discussion that took place at the hearing. There was no evidence given and the underlying facts were disputed, in particular, the extent to which the father does involve the children in his political activities and the extent to which this might have caused harm to them. The father wished to advance in full his arguments but the matter was cut short by the judge making what she perceived as a ‘neutral order’.
The Judge hearing the appeal, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC came to these conclusions (underlining mine, emphasising that the three ingredients I spoke of earlier weren’t present. That, combined with lack of fairness to the father in the procedure meant the appeal was successful and the order discharged)
28. My difficulties with this case are:
i) The father had no notice before the hearing that this issue would be raised as one that was argued, let alone governed by orders.
ii) The factual underlay behind the orders is disputed and there was no written or oral evidence before the court that related to the issues before it.
iii) The contentions that the mother raised in support of the order were contested and the father did not have an opportunity to answer them. If he was not to have notice of this application for an order and was not to be allowed to give evidence about it he was entitled to the opportunity to make full submissions about it. He expressed the wish to advance his side of the story on the issues that arose and did not get it.
iv) The Cafcass report did not raise this as an issue that required intervention and there was no professional evidence before the court that supported the necessity for such an order.
v) This was an important issue in the context of this case. The order made was a prohibited steps order. Such an order should only be made for good (and, I add, established) cause and for reasons that are explained as being driven by the demands of the paramount welfare of the children. I do not think that such orders can be justified in contested proceedings on the grounds of neutrality and I do think that the decision must relate to the specific children in question. In Re C (A child)  EWCA Civ 1412 Ryder LJ said: ‘A prohibited steps order is a statutory restriction on a parent’s exercise of their parental responsibility for a child. It can have profound consequences. On the facts of this case, without commenting on the wisdom of any step that either parent took or intended to take when they were already in dispute, and in the absence of an order of the court, father had the same parental responsibility as mother in relation to his son. Once the order was made, he lost the ability to exercise part of his responsibility and could not regain it without the consent of the court. That is because a prohibited steps order is not a reflection of any power in one parent to restrict the other (which power does not exist) it is a court order which has to be based on objective evidence. Once made, the terms of section 8 of the Children Act 1989 do not allow the parents to relax the prohibition by agreement. It can only be relaxed by the court. There is accordingly a high responsibility not to impose such a restriction without good cause and the reason must be given. Furthermore, where a prohibition is appropriate, consideration should always be given to the duration of that prohibition. Here the without notice prohibition was without limit of time. That was an error of principle which was not corrected by an early return date because that was susceptible of being moved or vacated unless the prohibition also had a fixed end date. The finite nature of the order must be expressed on the face of the order: R (Casey) v Restormel Borough Council  EWHC 2554 (Admin) at  per Munby J’.
vi) Further, the District Judge was being asked to make orders that were invasive of the Article 8 rights of the father and of the children to organise their family lives together without interference by a public authority unless that interference was necessary and proportionate. That issue was not examined.
vii) Oral evidence is not always necessary (see Rule 22.2 of The Family Procedure Rules 2010). However there must be some satisfactory basis for an order if it is to be made. Otherwise the justification of the order is absent.
29. The form of the order made – The order that was made merely states that ‘neither parent is to involve the two youngest children, A and B, actively in any political activity’. I am personally in no position to cast stones on the drafting of injunctive orders in the light of what was said in Re Application by Gloucestershire County Council for the Committal to Prison of Matthew John Newman  EWHC 3136 (Fam) but I think that there are very real difficulties about the form of the order that was made in this case.
30. By reason of Rule 37.9(3) of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 it is a matter of discretion as to whether a prohibited steps order should contain a penal notice (In the case of …a section 8 order…the court may’…attach a penal notice). I am concerned that this order did not make plain the consequences of any disobedience, the duration of the order or the activities that were prohibited. I realise that the District Judge said that garden parties would not be covered but I think that, if this order was ever to be enforceable in any way, it needed better definition. At a DRA there would have been very little time to examine that, I appreciate. District Judges lists are stretched to snapping point.
31. The conclusion that I have reached, therefore, is the decision of the District Judge was procedurally irregular and cannot stand. I therefore give permission to appeal and allow the appeal. I direct that there be a rehearing of the issues that have been raised in this appeal before me. Paragraph three of the order of the District Judge is discharged.
I think, regardless of what you might think about UKIP, the appeal was correct. The issues had not been properly explored and the father had not had proper opportunity to challenge what was a very unusual request, made at a hearing which was really only intended to set up the necessary directions to get the case to a substantial hearing.
I already have fond thoughts of His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, having read a lot of his judgments, and this made me think even better of him – this is very nicely done.
34. Finally, I will release this judgment on Bailii. By this decision I mean no offence at all to the very experienced District Judge for whom I wish to record my appreciation and thanks. In choosing my words when explaining why I am allowing this appeal I hope that I have displayed an understanding of the motto ‘do as you would be done by’ – who knows, tomorrow another court might hear an appeal from me.
[This case shows some of the risks of jigsaw identification – I’m sure I could work out UKIP Parliamentary candidates in the West country with five children and identify this family very swiftly. I’m sure others can do the same, and probably will. Not here in the comments though, please. ]
6. Publication – An officer of the press is present in court. I have referred her to Rule 27.11 of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 and also to PD27B of those rules. I explained the law to her in the presence of the parties and adjourned so that she could read the Practice Direction and the rule. She was referred to Section 97(2) of The Children Act 1989 and also to section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 and confirmed her understanding of the limitations on any reporting of this case. I am not going to explain those limitations in this judgment. If any person, organisation or party is thinking about making any aspect of this case public, they should inform themselves of those limitations. If in doubt, an application should be made to the court because breach of the law would amount to contempt which would be punishable by imprisonment, a fine or sequestration of assets.
7. Anonymised information about this case has already appeared in the press today. The father expresses his views in the press reports, without revealing his identity other than as a father and UKIP candidate. That being so I have alerted the Judicial Press Office about this case and of my intention to place this judgment on the Bailii website under the transparency provisions. I think it essential that there should be a clear and immediate record of the basis of my decision. That being so I have had to type this judgment myself immediately at the end of the hearing under pressure of time.