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DAM (I wish I was your lover)



An appeal about the structure of a judgment and whether it was sufficiently deficient to warrant overturning the decision (I’m sure that combination of italicised words is already making David Burrows writhe in agony…. )


Re DAM (Children) 2018


(There are obvious alternative jokes about the way the case name sounds if you read it aloud, but you know me and pop music, I wasn’t going to be able to resist a Sophie B Hawkins reference)


But obviously, beware the eyes that paralyze



The decision being appealed was from HHJ Tolson QC.   The lead Judge in the Court of Appeal was Jackson LJ .   (If you ARE being appealed about the manner in which you construct your judgment, you probably would not elect Jackson LJ to be critiquing your judgment, in much the same way as you would not want Rodin turning up to your pottery class to tell you if your bodged-up clay ashtray is any good)



5.Judges hearing care cases in the Family Court are engaged in one of the most difficult of all judicial tasks. The decisions are of huge significance for children and their families. The evidence is often difficult and distressing, and the level of emotion high. Achieving good case management and timely decision-making, not just for the children in the individual case but for all the children who are awaiting decisions, is a demanding challenge for the specialist judges who undertake this work.



6.In every care case, the Children Act 1989 and the Human Rights Act 1998 require the court to address a series of questions. What are the facts? Has the threshold been crossed? If so, what order is in the child’s best interests? Is that outcome necessary and proportionate to the problem? There is much authority from the appeal courts about each of these questions but at its simplest every valid decision will answer them.



7.It is in the judgment that the judge’s reasoning is found. There is no one correct form of judgment. Every judge has his or her own means of expression. Different cases may call for different types of judgment. Some judgments will be given at the time and others will be reserved. What is necessary in every case is that the judgment should be adequately reasoned: Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 at [46]. That is a matter of substance, not of structure or form: Re R [2014] EWCA Civ 1625 at [18]. The judgment must enable the reader, and above all the family itself, to know that the judge asked and answered the right questions.



8.This is not to say that the structure of a judgment is irrelevant. A judgment that lacks structure or is structured in a confusing way makes the judge’s reasoning harder to follow and may raise the possibility that the process by which the decision was reached was faulty. Inevitably, that increases the possibility of an appeal.



There was an educational psychologist instructed in the case who seems to have had an idiosyncratic approach to her role


Dr Rothermel’s approach: – The judge described this as the most bizarre aspect of the matter. Having filed her lengthy report, she was directed on 18 July to provide copies of her notes and correspondence. She said that would take six hours and sought payment for it, having already exceeded her budget. She was then directed to bring the documents to court on the first day of the hearing. They amounted to more than a hundred pages of, in particular, email exchanges with the mother. The other parties made extensive criticisms of Dr Rothermel, and the judge summarised the material as revealing her to be an expert who had strayed far beyond her limited brief, advising the mother on the presentation of her case, gathering evidence for her and, when giving evidence, being an advocate for home education and for the mother. She disposed of the key elements of her instruction in what the judge described as a few bland lines.




36.The grounds of appeal included the contention that the judge was wrong to reject the evidence of Dr Rothermel as worthless in its entirety, and to conclude that the children had not been educated at home. This argument was not developed by Mr Twomey. In my view, the judge’s verdict on Dr Rothermel’s contribution was fully justified, and his finding of fact about the children’s lack of education at home could not be disturbed in this court.


Fundamentally, the appeal was based on the assertion that the trial Judge had wrongly approached the case as one that was decided on threshold, that having found threshold met he swiftly ruled mother out and announced his decision on orders and AFTER that, dealt with welfare matters including the welfare checklist and briefly.



33.Mr Twomey QC and Mr Boyd start their submissions with an analysis of the way the judge structured his judgment as showing that he had fallen into substantive error. They make these undeniable observations:





(1) The judge stated that the key to the case lay in the threshold criteria. [48]


(2) Having found the threshold to be made out [61], he immediately eliminated the mother [62] and announced his conclusion, stating that there was no other realistic option but foster care for D and A [63, 65].


(3) He did not carry out any welfare assessment, by balancing the advantages and disadvantages of placements at home or in foster care. He did not refer to the welfare checklist until [73], long after he had stated his decisions, and in doing so, he stated, “I check my conclusions against the welfare checklist.”


(4) When identifying factors in the welfare checklist, he did not mention (g), the powers of the court, such as an interim or final care order with placement at home, or injunctions or undertakings to ensure schooling and medical care, perhaps as conditions to a supervision order under Schedules 2 or 3.


(5) He made no proportionality crosscheck.

34.As a matter of law, Mr Twomey submits that the use of the welfare checklist as an afterthought is not compliant with s.1(4), which requires the court to have regard to the matters in s.1(3) when it “is considering” whether to make a care order. It must, he argues, be considered before a decision is reached, not afterwards. He also draws attention to the encouragement given by Baroness Hale to judges to address each of the factors in the welfare checklist in any difficult or finely balanced case so as to ensure that no particular feature of the case is given more weight than it should properly bear: Re G (Children) [2006] UKHL 43 at [40].



35.In an ambitious submission, Mr Twomey argued that the court was not entitled to make a care order separating the children from their mother without being satisfied that “nothing else will do”.


[For those who are not fluent in Judge, ‘ambitious’ here is not a compliment]


The Court of Appeal don’t explicitly mention Re B 2013, and the words of Lord Neuberger, which are what sets that particular hare running (in my respectful view)



  1. It appears to me that, given that the Judge concluded that the section 31(2) threshold was crossed, he should only have made a care order if he had been satisfied that it was necessary to do so in order to protect the interests of the child. By “necessary”, I mean, to use Lady Hale’s phrase in para 198, “where nothing else will do”. I consider that this conclusion is clear under the 1989 Act, interpreted in the absence of the Convention, but it is put beyond doubt by article 8. The conclusion is also consistent with UNCRC.


  1. It seems to me to be inherent in section 1(1) that a care order should be a last resort, because the interests of a child would self-evidently require her relationship with her natural parents to be maintained unless no other course was possible in her interests. That is reinforced by the requirement in section 1 (3)(g) that the court must consider all options, which carries with it the clear implication that the most extreme option should only be adopted if others would not be in her interests. As to article 8, the Strasbourg court decisions cited by Lady Hale in paras 195-198 make it clear that such an order can only be made in “exceptional circumstances”, and that it could only be justified by “overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare”, or, putting the same point in slightly different words, “by the overriding necessity of the interests of the child”. I consider that this is the same as the domestic test (as is evidenced by the remarks of Hale LJ in Re C and B [2001] 1 FLR 611, para 34 quoted by Lady Hale in para 198 above), but it is unnecessary to explore that point further


(Now of course in Re B, the care plan was adoption, and it might well be that those passages are intended to be read as ‘a care order where the care plan is adoption’, but the bare language is “should only have made a care order if satisfied that it was necessary to do so in order to protect the interests of the child and by necessary I mean ‘where nothing else will do’ “ )


I think there’s at least an argument to be had on that aspect. I have seen a Parker J case in which it was posited that this formulation applies to interim care orders as well, which I think goes too far.


The Court of Appeal don’t agree




(5) I reject the argument that a court considering whether to make a care order has to be satisfied that “nothing else will do”. A care order is a serious order that can only be made where the facts justify it, where it is in the child’s interests, and where it is necessary and proportionate. But the aphorism “nothing else will do” (which, as has been said, is not a substitute for a proper welfare evaluation and proportionality check) applies only to cases involving a plan for adoption. That is clear from the case in which it originated, In re M (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, which concerned an application for a care order with a care plan for adoption. It is clear, where it is not explicit, that all the justices were addressing a situation involving the severance of the parental relationship altogether, and not one involving physical separation under a care order, where the parent retains parental responsibility. That is confirmed by the summary given by the President in Re B-S:


“22. The language used in Re M is striking. Different words and phrases are used, but the message is clear. Orders contemplating non-consensual adoption – care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders – are “a very extreme thing, a last resort”, only to be made where “nothing else will do”, where “no other course [is] possible in [the child’s] interests”, they are “the most extreme option”, a “last resort – when all else fails”, to be made “only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do”: see Re M paras 74, 76, 77, 82, 104, 130, 135, 145, 198, 215.” [my emphasis]


I may be utterly wrong about the impact of Lord Neuberger’s words, but it is a shame that they weren’t considered explicitly, because that’s what gives rise to the suggestion that any order that permanently separates a child from birth parents has to be measured against that necessity and ‘nothing else will do’ yardstick.



On the other matters, the Court of Appeal decision is as follows:-


41.Despite the neat way in which the mother’s case has been presented, my clear conclusion is that the judge’s findings of fact, set out at paragraph 29 above, amply satisfy the threshold for making public law orders and adequately underpin the welfare decision. Taking full account of the matters that appear below, it has not been shown that the judge was wrong to conclude that the mother’s parenting falls so far short of what the children need, and that her approach is so ingrained and unchangeable, that care orders were necessary. He had an excellent opportunity to assess the mother’s personality and behaviour during the course of the proceedings. Nor is it irrelevant that there is now no challenge to the judge’s decision that M, who had grown up for 4½ years in her mother’s care, should remain with her father. The home circumstances that justified that decision were shared by the older children.



42.Dealing specifically with the criticisms of the judge’s approach, set out in paragraph 33 above:




(1) It was unwise of the judge to characterise the decision as one that turned on the threshold findings. The threshold is concerned only with harm, while the welfare checklist addresses a much wider range of factors. There are cases involving very serious abuse where the threshold definitively determines the outcome, but this was not one of them. Nonetheless, despite the way the judge expressed himself, his decision did not in fact rest on the threshold alone, but on all the welfare considerations mentioned in the judgment.


(2) The term “realistic options”, deriving from cases such as Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, ensures that time is not wasted on outcomes that are merely theoretical, so that attention can be focused on the genuine possibilities. In this case, the realistic options for D and A were placement at home or placement in foster care. The fact that one was discarded in favour of the other made it a rejected option, not an unrealistic one, and the judgment, read as a whole, shows that this is how the judge in fact proceeded.


(3) In the almost 30 years since it was devised, the ‘welfare checklist’ has stood the test of time and its value to decision-makers, as described in Re G, cannot be overstated. It is obligatory to have regard to its contents when considering what order should be made. That obligation will be discharged if it is evident that in substance all the relevant, significant welfare factors have been taken into account. I do not accept that there is an obligation to articulate a checklist analysis before announcing a decision. However, to omit any reference to the substance of the checklist, or to relegate the exercise until after the court has stated its conclusion, carries risks of the kind seen in this appeal.


(4) The absence of a point in the judgment where the judge can be seen to have drawn together the welfare factors for comparative evaluation is an undoubted weakness. However, analysis of the judgment as a whole shows that the judge did evaluate all the significant welfare factors, although not in a methodical order that would have made his reasoning easier to appreciate.



(6) To continue, I do not accept Mr Twomey’s submission that the judge did not consider the powers of the court, as required by checklist factor (g). He dealt with that matter squarely at paragraph 51 (see 31 above).


(7) I accept that the judge did not explicitly return to the issue of proportionality, but he clearly had it in mind from his self-direction and in my view his decision is not undermined by that omission.

43.I therefore conclude that the submission that the judge’s decision was wrong must fail.



The Court of Appeal did, it seems to me, consider that there were failings in the structure and approach of the judgment; but these were not such as to fatally flaw the judgment. A considered reading of the judgment answered all of the questions posited in the opening remarks in the appeal judgment and this piece.






44.I would also reject the submission that the decision was unjust because the form of the judgment amounted to a serious procedural irregularity. The judge gave a substantial judgment that, on close examination, adequately reasons his decision.



45.However, I am also in no doubt that permission to appeal was rightly granted. Had the judgment proceeded simply and methodically through the stages of the decision-making process, this might have been avoided. It should not be necessary for an appeal court to undertake a laborious explanatory exercise of the kind contained in this judgment. That can only affect the parties’ confidence in the decision. In the meantime, this family has been left in a state of uncertainty for a further four months and the costs of the appeal to the public purse have, we were told, amounted to some £37,000.


Dangerous Territory…. Assessment of a parent who is overseas

I have been somewhat sniffy about certain judgments this week, but once in a while I come across one that tackles a difficult issue and does so with compassion, verve and flair. This is one of those.


The Judge is Hayden J, and there is so much to admire in this short judgment.


Although some of the facts are very specific, I suspect that parts of this judgment will be of wider use to professionals and Judges picking their way through the potential minefield of assessment of a parent who lives in a place that the West might consider dangerous, and the issues that are thrown up.


London Borough of Tower Hamlets and D 2014



The father in this case lives in Somalia and would be unable to come to England to be assessed. The Local Authority had explored various options for assessing him in Somalia and had been unable to get any of them in place (we’ll come onto that detail later). The father had identified an independent social worker who might be able to conduct the assessment, and the issue before the Court was whether to grant such an assessment.


By way of backdrop, Hayden J summarises the principles in assessing parents or family members in this way


I approach the task by identifying three principles:


 i) every opportunity should be made to explore the potential for a child being cared for by a parent;

ii) this obligation (for it is nothing less) is a facet of both the child’s and the parents’ rights pursuant to Article 8 ECHR;

iii) in evaluating the reality of the available options and the ambit of the assessment that needs to take place, it is the welfare of the children that remains the paramount consideration.


Weighing the measures required actively to promote the upbringing of a child by his or her parents will be a matter which is inevitably sensitive to the facts of the individual case. It will not always be “necessary” for there to be, for example, a comprehensive assessment of a parent. There will be cases where from the outset the obstacles to a parent’s wish to care for a child, no matter how genuine or profoundly expressed, will be so substantial as to make it obvious that other options require exploration as a priority eg: another family member.



Whether an assessment is “necessary” will therefore depend on the facts. Here the Local Authority, supported by the children’s guardian, submit that for a wide variety of reasons the father cannot and need not be assessed. The father, who is living in Somaliland, cannot obtain access to the U.K. but is represented by Counsel. Mr Millington, on his behalf, has endeavoured to address the obstacles that the father faces.




Hayden J touches on what a different climate we live in now than the one that existed when the Children Act was put together.


I should observe that, to my mind, even the prescient architects of the Children Act 1989 could not have envisaged the considerable cultural changes that were to take place in the United Kingdom in the 23 years that followed the implementation of that Act. British society is now multicultural. Assessing parents and family members may, quite frequently does, involve considering individuals based anywhere in the world. I do not believe that the obligation to explore the family option for a child is weakened in any way by geography, although it can provide real challenges to already overstretched resources. The viability of these options must, from the outset, be evaluated rigorously and reviewed regularly. The need for such assessments must be addressed at the very beginning of proceedings. Late identification of potential family carers abroad may bring two fundamental principles of the Children Act into conflict, namely the desirability, if possible, of a child being brought up in its extended family (where parents are for some reason unable to care for the child themselves) and the need to avoid delay in planning for a child’s future. Neither principle should be regarded as having greater weight. The recent reforms to the family justice system have sought to emphasise why it was that the avoidance of delay was given statutory force by the Children Act and the real and lasting harm delay causes to children, particularly in public law care proceedings. There will, in my judgement, be occasions when the obstacles to assessment of family members abroad create such delays that to pursue the option will be inconsistent with the child’s own timescales. These are taxing and exacting decisions but they require to be confronted with integrity and without sentimentality.



Hayden J goes on to warn of the risks of cultural relativism


The court must also be alive to the dangers of slipping into cultural relativism. The fact that a family member may live in a country where there are high levels of crime for example, or terrorism, corruption, or civil unrest will undoubtedly be relevant to the overall evaluation of the factors set out in s.1(3) of the Children Act 1989, but to my mind they will rarely, if ever, be determinative in and of themselves. It is the care offered by the individual that weighs most heavily and not the challenges faced by the State in which he lives. In any event these will often be facets of the child’s own cultural inheritance.



[The Judge manages to compress into ten lines something that took me nearly two pages in my article for Jordans ]



The judgment then sets out the sad history of the case for these two children, which is desperate even by the nature of such cases, the mother having pleaded guilty to causing the death of their sibling by neglect – this neglect was also something that these children suffered from though not with such drastic consequences. {the details are terrible, including the paramedic saying that the child looked like someone from Auschwitz}


It then sets out the efforts that have been made to assess the father, who lives in Somalia.


The Parties attempts to address the International Obstacles



Earlier in these proceedings the local authority, guided no doubt by counsel, Ms. Cabeza, proposed to identify a Somali speaking social worker and dispatch her to Somaliland to undertake an appropriate comprehensive assessment, no doubt tailored to the particular cultural features of the father’s own domestic situation. However it quickly emerged that Somaliland would be too dangerous for the social worker to travel to. That information came from two sources: firstly, the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office (F.C.O) secondly from C.F.A.B. (Children and Families Across Borders) formerly, International Social Services. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised against all travel to Somaliland except two cities, Hargeisa and Berbera, to which the F.C.O. advise only “essential” travel. The F.C.O. offers guidance to British nationals, that is part of its function. It recommends that any British nationals in areas of Somalia to which it advises ‘against all travel’ should also leave. Similarly, any British nationals in the two towns that I have referred to, who are not there for “essential purposes”, are also advised to leave.



There is a ‘high threat’ in Somalia from terrorism including kidnapping. Terrorist groups have made recent threats against westerners and those working for western organisations. The FCO believes that this is a “constant threat”, and according to its intelligence there are terrorist plans “in existence” to attack westerners in Somaliland. It considers that terrorist attacks could be entirely indiscriminate. They could take place in crowded areas or at high profile events. They could involve government officials and places frequented by foreigners. As is known internationally, there is also a significant threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Aden.



The FCO advises that all areas in Somalia are suffering from significant food shortages and as a consequence there has been displacement of thousands of Somali people. The consensus understanding of the guidance is that where it refers to Somalia it also incorporates Somaliland, Somaliland itself not being internationally recognised. As a result of the food shortages there is a profound problem with food security which has led to dangerous levels of criminal activity not infrequently by armed militia. There have been murders, armed robbery and a number of incidents of kidnapping.



That already complex picture is further complicated by regular outbreaks of what is referred to “as inter-clan related violence”. There is particular tension on the Somali and Puntland border in the Sool and Sanaag regions which, on the map I have been shown, can be seen to be not far from where the father lives. That is the essence of the guidance given by the F.C.O. CFAB largely follow that guidance and advise that they have no international social services provision available at all in Somaliland.



Having considered that body of compelling evidence, the local authority inevitably concluded (rightly to my mind) that they could not send a social worker as they had originally envisaged. However they have been able to speak to the father on the telephone. All of this has informed their approach to the father’s desire to care for the children. On 2nd June Mr. Brian Sharpe filed a statement. Mr. Sharpe is the Local Authority’s court work case manager. He has oversight of all the Local Authority’s public law applications and his role is to work with social workers and their managers to improve standards and support good practice in their work with children who are the subject of care and supervision proceedings. In his statement Mr. Sharpe sets out, in a succinct and accessible way, the structure of the Local Authority’s reasoning informing its ultimate decision not to send a social worker to assess the father of the children.



Firstly, Mr. Sharpe emphasises (as in my view he is right to do and as I have already outlined) that the Local Authority had initially been prepared to send a U.K. social worker from a Somali background to undertake the assessment. He further stresses that their commitment to the assessment was evidenced by the fact that they had identified three Somali social workers working in the UK before in fact selecting a particular social worker. In addition they had explored the possibility of instructing an external, independent social worker. Mr. Sharpe set out how, on receiving the advice of the FCO and CFAB, the authority came to the conclusion that it would be simply unsafe for a social worker to visit Somaliland. The decision was taken by the Local Authority’s interim head of Children’s Services. Mr. Sharpe says that is an indication of the extent to which this Local Authority has subjected this matter to scrutiny, conscious as it is of it’s obligation to the children to explore, wherever possible, the option of children being brought up by their father. The conclusion was that it would be simply “reckless” to send a social worker to the area. A visiting professional perceived to be acting for the UK government was likely, on the available evidence, to be at increased risk. In the Local Authority’s view that was an unacceptable risk and, had that worker come to harm, Mr Sharpe considered “the Local Authority would be justly censured for acting against FCO advice”. I agree.





What else could be done? Those acting for father had a rather clever solution. Noting that the Foreign office guidance was that it was not safe for any British national or Western person to go to Somalia, they found an ISW with dual-nationality. [Let’s leave aside for one moment how we feel about sending two damaged children to live in a country where it is not safe for any Western person to visit…]



In relation to the FCO website entry which has been downloaded, copied and filed within these proceedings, Mr. Millington accepts that the advice is, “Against all travel to Somalia including Somaliland …”. However, he submits, the court should consider that the FCO advice is specifically tailored to British nationals and/or westerners generally. Mr. Millington said this is clear from the content of the website:



“Any British nationals in the area of Somalia to which the FCO advised against all travel should leave.”


Mr. Millington says the advice is directed to westerners and those working for western organisations. The constant threat of terrorist attacks identified in Mogadishu and the evidence before me of the existence of extant violence against westerners in Somaliland, is, it is said, really confined to westerners. To address this Mr. Millington identifies an independent social worker who is not, “a westerner” but has dual nationality, both British and Nigerian. This person, a Ms. Coker, has indicated that notwithstanding the parlous situation in Somaliland she would be content to travel there, undertake the assessment and do so on her Nigerian passport. However, there is no evidence at all upon which to substantiate the assertion that she would be less likely to be at risk as apparently a non-westerner whose purpose in Somaliland could be kept covert.



Furthermore, it is said that Ms Cole would be undertaking the assessment at the behest of the English court and therefore there should be no reason for anyone outside of the father’s immediate circle to be aware of this. I have been told that she has been referred to the CFAB and FCO guidance and is nonetheless still willing to travel. It is further submitted that if the court were to determine that there should be no further assessment of the father in Somaliland then given the likely problems with obtaining a visa, such a decision would effectively have the consequence of ruling him out of the children’s lives permanently as a long-term carer. Accordingly, it is submitted that so crucial is the assessment that it plainly falls within even the narrowest concept of “necessary” within the provisions to which I have alluded.



I have to say that if Ms Cole was willing to go to Somalia to do this assessment for the miserly Legal Aid Agency rate of £30 per hour, then she is a remarkable human being, and deserves a “big-up” . The Local Authority shared my doubts as to whether it would be safe for Ms Cole to undertake this assessment.


The local authority opposes any assessment of the father by an independent social worker. Mr. Sharpe did not accept the assertion that Ms. Coker was necessarily at lower risk than any British national merely by virtue of her dual nationality. Moreover he outlines some real practical issues: Ms. Coker would not be able to communicate directly to the father in his own language. He would require an interpreter and Mr. Sharpe says (in my judgment with some force) that the mere presence of the interpreter in these circumstances would draw attention to their situation and would heighten the risk to her. Logically, Mr Sharpe observes that it would therefore expose at least two people to risk: the social worker and the translator. In addition, it is said, the use of an interpreter will undermine the effectiveness of the assessment in the country. To my mind that is not a strong point. It will of course very much depend on the quality of the interpreter but the Family Court is used to taking evidence through interpreters, and to evaluating the nuances of language through translation.



More significantly, to my mind, it is also contended that there is an ‘irrevocability’ about any assessment undertaken in the circumstances contended for on behalf of the father. In the U.K., where assessments of prospective carers are undertaken with interpreters, the social work team aims to communicate with and to forge a working relationship with the family. The unfolding nature of this process, to paraphrase Mr. Sharpe, often provides an ongoing and continuing assessment throughout the course of the litigation itself. That simply would not be possible in these circumstances.



Moreover, it is submitted, that the pre-requisite to any recognised assessment model, however tailored to the particular circumstances (culturally and otherwise) of the case, is that there should be some background checks eg: in relation to what is on offer educationally, police checks and an assessment of what is available in healthcare and support. Mr. Sharpe considers these enquiries to be unrealistic and also suggests that they will further attract attention to the independent social worker and her translator and thus heighten risk.




The Court’s decision was that it could not sanction Ms Cole being sent out to undertake this assessment, whilst holding open the possibility that another solution might be found (perhaps involving the father coming to the UK to be assessed)


I have come to the clear conclusion that it would be no more appropriate for me to authorise Ms. Cole travelling to Somaliland to assess the father than it would be for me to sanction or encourage any other British national. However, to my mind, that is not the end of the matter, other options could be considered. More importantly in my view, is the obligation upon the parties and the court at this very early stage to look at the real viability of any proposals that the father seeks to advance through counsel.



The Court did however, set out the broader issues in relation to the damage these children had sustained (in particular that they HAD been receiving good care from their mother before that so drastically and dreadfully stopped, and the confusion that must have caused for them) and the significant needs that they have. The Court would have to, at final hearing, take account of both that and the circumstances in Somalia as part of the welfare checklist


I have taken some time to set out the circumstances in which the children were discovered in October 2013 because to my mind it is important not to divorce the facts relating to the requested assessment from the wider canvas of these children’s lives. Although they are coping well, they have been subjected to a profound trauma, not only the direct experience to themselves but the experience of losing their sibling. The ordeal they have endured is not merely one of truly profound physical neglect, it is also one of acute emotional deprivation.



Having likely received good care from their mother in the past it must have been very difficult for the children to comprehend why such care was no longer available from her. I do not require a psychologist or a therapist to tell me that it is likely that this period in their lives will take a long time to assimilate and for them to understand, if indeed they ever do. They are already being provided indirectly with therapeutic support via the foster carers who I have been told are providing an outstanding level of care, largely intuitively, as they are not specialist foster carers. The children are very lucky to have them, they have shown real insight.



In due course and when their futures have been settled by a decision of this court there is, I am told, to be a referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (C.A.M.H.S.). Conventionally, that will involve an initial assessment and most likely some program of specialist therapeutic intervention. This court also regularly hears that trauma in the early lives of young children often surfaces in adolescence where reactivation of mental health support and services is often required. This may be relevant when considering the legal framework for the longer term.



All this reveals a situation where the children face considerable challenges for the future. In evaluating the issue of assessment I also have to consider what is ultimately contemplated by the father’s application. Even if it were possible to surmount all the other obstacles identified, the proposal would be to take these children to a country and culture entirely alien to them and one in which the kind of therapeutic support they will need will be unavailable. The theoretical is ultimately eclipsed by the practical, the children’s needs and timescales cannot be accommodated by the father’s case. Logically, it is at this stage that the wider backdrop of the civil unrest in Somaliland becomes relevant, as part of the overall balancing of the factors in s.1(3) of the Children Act 1989.



I would not wish to discourage the father from applying for a visa if he chooses to do so. I am surprised that he has not already applied; Mr. Millington tells me that this is as a consequence of a misunderstanding on the father’s part and that he thought his solicitors would have applied for the visa. I have already expressed some scepticism about that explanation. Nonetheless, if he were to be able to obtain a visa to attend the hearing and to be available for assessment, I have no doubt that the local authority would and indeed should speak with him and assess in whatever framework available, such material as they can, in order that the father is provided with the maximum advantage to advance his case on behalf of his children.


Laying down a marker – the Court of Appeal speaks on analysis of welfare checklist

As regular readers will know, we had been anticipating the Court of Appeal in Re B S  to deal with issues of how appellant Courts were to tackle appeals in the light of the changes to the tests highlighted by the Supreme Court in Re B.

We hadn’t necessarily anticipated that the Court of Appeal would get under the bonnet of this issue before then, but to an extent, they have, in Re G (A child) 2013. The case really delves very carefully into an often overlooked aspect of the judicial decision-making – the welfare checklist.

The facts of the original case , determined by a District Judge (which was appealed, and then that appeal decision appealed to the Court of Appeal) aren’t really that important.

What is important is the Court of Appeal’s clear guidance as to how Judges in care proceedings are to tackle the task.

In broad terms, this is the order of events

  1. The Court must establish the facts and particularly to make findings on any relevant facts or disputed facts
  2. The Court must then evaluate whether on the basis of those facts, the section 31 threshold is crossed
  3. The Court should then apply the welfare checklist to the circumstances of the case
  4. If the case involves a plan of adoption, the Court should also apply the welfare checklist as set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to the circumstances of the case
  5. The Court should then consider proportionality when determining what order to make, and in an adoption case must specifically address the formulation set down by the Supreme Court in Re B  (in essence that ‘nothing else will do’

Nothing within that sequence of events is at all controversial or new. What might be new is the Court of Appeal’s focus on the welfare checklist and how that exercise must be approached judicially, and by any appellant Court looking at whether the exercise was approached.

In particular whether the approach of dealing with the welfare checklist in a linear way – by looking at the merits of the parents case against the welfare checklist and then only at point (g) range of powers available to the Court mapping out the pros and cons of the various options, is in fact the wrong way to go about things.

  1. The wording of certain elements of the welfare checklist must, I would suggest, involve a direct comparison of the relevant options that are being considered, for example:

(c) the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;

(e) any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;

(f) how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs.

  1. Under s 1(3)(c), consideration of the effect of any change in the child’s circumstances must involve considering, in the present case, not just the prospect of returning to the mother’s care but must include consideration of the effects, positive and negative, of placement in long-term foster care. Under s 1(3)(e), consideration of the risk of harm obviously will include the potential for future harm from parental care, but must also require evaluation of any risk of harm from the alternative option provided by ‘any other person’, namely the local authority as corporate parent, for example emotional harm as a result of long-term separation of a child from his parent. Under s 1(3)(f), when considering how capable ‘each of his parents, and any other person’ are to meet the child’s needs, again I would suggest that, alongside consideration of the parent’s capacity, there is a need to look at the strengths and detriments in the local authority’s capacity to meet his needs through long-term fostering.


What the Court of Appeal are saying here is that the Court must not simply look at the case for the child remaining with the parent, analyse this, and then if determining that this is not possible, move on to considering what type of order would be appropriate.  The Court cannot properly decide whether the child should be with a parent based on the pluses and minuses of THAT option, but must weigh into the balance the pluses and minuses of the OTHER options.

It is not, as they say, a linear exercise, but one of laying out the various options and comparing them alongside one another. When considering, for example, the ‘capacity of the parent or any other person to meet his needs’ the Court must not only look at what the parent could offer under no order or a Supervision Order, but what the Local Authority could offer (including any deficiencies) under a Care Order or Placement Order.

The structure of the welfare checklist, culminating as it does with the “range of powers available to the Court” seems to tempt the Court into approaching that comparison of the various orders only at that stage, but this would be the wrong approach.

They develop this further – underlining mine

  1. In most child care cases a choice will fall to be made between two or more options. The judicial exercise should not be a linear process whereby each option, other than the most draconian, is looked at in isolation and then rejected because of internal deficits that may be identified, with the result that, at the end of the line, the only option left standing is the most draconian and that is therefore chosen without any particular consideration of whether there are internal deficits within that option.
  1. The linear approach, in my view, is not apt where the judicial task is to undertake a global, holistic evaluation of each of the options available for the child’s future upbringing before deciding which of those options best meets the duty to afford paramount consideration to the child’s welfare.
  1. One only has to take an extreme example of the effect of linear consideration to see the potential danger for this approach. The linear model proceeds by evaluating and then eliminating each individual option in turn before selecting the option at the end of the line, without evaluation of its own internal merits or de-merits, simply on the basis that it is the only remaining outcome. Much therefore depends on which end of the line the selector starts the process. Conventionally those judges who deploy a linear approach start, for understandable reasons, with the option of rehabilitation to a parent and end with the option of a care or adoption order. If, however, for the purposes of observing the dangers in the process, one were to start at the other end of the line and look at long-term foster care or adoption first, and were then to rule that out on the basis that there are risks and negatives attaching to it, the linear approach would soon arrive at ‘rehabilitation to a parent’ as the only remaining option and select that without any consideration of whether that is in fact the best outcome for the child. All would agree that such an approach would be untenable. I hope, however, that this example demonstrates how inappropriate the linear model is for a judge who is tasked with undertaking a multi-faceted evaluation of a child’s welfare at the end of which one of a range of options has to be chosen.

And later

  1. A further concern about the linear model is that a process which acknowledges that long-term public care, and in particular adoption contrary to the will of a parent, is ‘the most draconian option’, yet does not engage with the very detail of that option which renders it ‘draconian’ cannot be a full or effective process of evaluation. Since the phrase was first coined some years ago, judges now routinely make reference to the ‘draconian’ nature of permanent separation of parent and child and they frequently do so in the context of reference to ‘proportionality’. Such descriptions are, of course, appropriate and correct, but there is a danger that these phrases may inadvertently become little more than formulaic judicial window-dressing if they are not backed up with a substantive consideration of what lies behind them and the impact of that on the individual child’s welfare in the particular case before the court. If there was any doubt about the importance of avoiding that danger, such doubt has been firmly swept away by the very clear emphasis in Re B on the duty of the court actively to evaluate proportionality in every case.
  1. In mounting this critique of the linear model, I am alive to the fact that, of course, a judgment is, by its very nature, a linear structure; in common with every other linear structure, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. My focus is not upon the structure of a judge’s judgment but upon that part of the judgment, indeed that part of the judicial analysis before the written or spoken judgment is in fact compiled, where the choice between options actually takes place. What is required is a balancing exercise in which each option is evaluated to the degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh its own internal positives and negatives and each option is then compared, side by side, against the competing option or options.

I think those words about “formulaic window dressing” are apt – and are similar in nature to the reinforcement of the Supreme Court in Re B that the Court have to genuinely look at and tackle proportionality and human rights, rather than just the stock phrases of ‘the interference with article 8 is proportionate and necessary in this case to safeguard the child’ without looking behind that stock phrase into what is genuinely meant and intended.  When the term ‘draconian’ is thrown about the Court room, which it is, and often– if one were somehow able to calculate all of the occasions when the word ‘draconian’ was uttered I think 85% or more would be in the Family Court;  it isn’t sufficient just to say the word, those present must feel the weight of what that word really means.

It becomes clear then, that the role of a Court in determining any application for public law orders is to get heavily stuck into the Welfare Checklist. The culture that has sprung up over years of the Welfare Checklist largely being extracted from the social worker’s statement with perhaps a few corrections or additions here or there, is unlikely, in the light of Re G to be sufficient.

This must be an comparative exercise balancing each of the options open to the Court and weighing them each against the other. It would be fair to say that most Welfare Checklists I have seen have been constructed more on the linear model, where one starts with an assumption that the child should be placed with the parents and analyses whether or not that is possible, rather than following each of the options through each stage and weighing each against the other. The weighing process, if any, tends to happen at the very end of the Welfare Checklist once the linear process has been undertaken (resulting in either ‘Yes, child can be with the parent’ or ‘no, the child can’t be with the parent’) when it comes to the Range of Powers available to the Court and positing which orders are appropriate on the basis of the linear process having ruled in or ruled out the child being with a parent.

Re G makes the Welfare Checklist even more important than it is at present, at the very time of course, that the PLO standardised documents take it out as a flowing self-contained part of the social work evidence and it vanished from Guardian’s reports long ago in all but very rare cases. Judges will now have to fish around in the social work statement for the social work analysis of the welfare checklist, scattered as it now is throughout the document rather than residing in one defined section.

As the Court of Appeal say in this case about the two Judges whose decisions were the subject of this appeal (underlining mine again)

Before moving on, I would like to acknowledge the strong professional sympathy that I feel for DJ               and HHJ                          who find themselves in the invidious position of having their judgments subjected to scrutiny by the Court of Appeal armed, as it always is, with 20/20 hindsight but, on this occasion, also armed with a strong decision from the Supreme Court that has been injected into the mix between their respective involvements in the case and this judgment. I wish to stress that the observations that now follow are made in this case because it provides the opportunity to do so, and not because there is anything in these two judgments which is worthy of additional individual criticism. My working life is now spent very largely in reading first instance, and less frequently, first level appeal judgments. The concerns that I have about the process in this case are concerns which have also been evident to a greater or lesser extent in a significant number of other cases; they are concerns which are now given sharper focus following the very clear wake-up call given by the Supreme Court in Re B. I therefore hope that DJ              and HHJ                      will be stoic and may see their judgments in this case as being the unwitting launch vehicles for what now follows, rather than its specific target.

I suspect that in the immediate future, advocates will be particularly alert during the passages of a judgment that deal with the welfare checklist, because the cursory race through it, or  formulation of “I adopt the welfare checklist as set out in the social work final evidence” will not be sufficient.

(Moving on from this, one MIGHT conclude that in order for Judges to properly and thoroughly analyse the weaknesses of the care that the State can provide for any particular child, some proper independent, neutral, rigorous and up to date research on delay, breakdown rates, abuse in State care,  the factors that are indicative of a successful or poor prognosis for children in State care or adoptive placements, children’s thoughts and feelings about being cared for by the State, how issues of loss endure or resolve for these children and outcomes for children in State care would be both extremely helpful and long overdue.  Otherwise there is a risk that the information is either overly rose-tinted or overly negative depending on who is providing it to the Judge)


Co-op (good with kids)

Co-operative Parenting Following Family Separation: Proposed Legislation on the Involvement of Both Parents in a Child’s Life

The Government has published its consultation document on reform of the law for private law children proceedings. Fortunately for me, private law isn’t my bag anymore  (once you’ve spent a day arguing about whether the contact should begin at 4.30pm or 5.00pm, the cut and thrust of private law advocacy tends to lose its appeal).

The consultation document is here:-

The whole nature of the consultation is interesting, because of course, we had a large Family Justice Review which made recommendations about private law, and the Government decided that it didn’t like the suggestion that the law shouldn’t change to bring in any concept of shared parenting. That’s of course, the Government’s prerogative – they took account of the reaction of the public, interested parties and the media to the suggestion that there be no introduction of shared parenting concept to legislation, and that reaction was pretty adverse.

So, this is another crack at a consultation.  (Only this time, the consultation is – in traditional government style – “We’re going to do this, which of these four ways do you want it precisely done?’  Oh, and we’ll make none of the options particularly desirable, but one on offer is less awful than the others, so that when that one triumphs in the consultation, we can imagine to ourselves that it was the overwhelmingly popular way to make this change)

Here are the four options :-

Four different approaches are presented below for amending section 1 of the Children Act 1989 in order to meet the Government’s objectives set out in paragraphs 4.1 to 4.6:

  • Option 1 requires the court to work on the presumption that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through safe involvement with both parents – unless the evidence shows this not to be safe or in the child’s best interests
  • Option 2 would require the courts to have regard to a principle that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents
  • Option 3 has the effect of a presumption by providing that the court’s starting point in making decisions about children’s care is that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents
  • Option 4 inserts a new subsection immediately after the welfare checklist, setting out an additional factor which the court would need to consider.

And in detail :-

10. Option 1 – The ‘Presumption’ Approach

10.1 Draft clause

This option would insert the following text as a new subsection after section 1(2) of the Children Act 1989 and before the ‘welfare checklist’:

“In the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (4A) the court is to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that the welfare of the child concerned will be furthered by involvement in the child’s upbringing of each parent of the child who can be involved in a way not adverse to the child’s safety”

11. Option 2 – The ‘Principle’ Approach

11.1 Draft clause

This option would insert a new subsection into section 1 of the Children Act 1989, after existing subsection (2) and before the ‘welfare checklist’, as follows:

“In the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (4A), the court shall have regard to the general principle that, irrespective of the amount of contact a child may have with any parent, the child’s welfare is likely to be furthered by the fullest possible involvement of each parent of the child in the child’s life”.

12. Option 3 – The ‘Starting Point’ Approach

12.1 Draft clauses

This option would insert a new subsection into section 1 of the Children Act 1989, after existing subsection (2) and before the ‘welfare checklist’, as follows:

In the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (4A), the court’s starting point is to be that the welfare of the child concerned is likely to be furthered if each parent of the child is involved in the child’s upbringing.”

13. Option 4 – The ‘Welfare Checklist’ Approach

13.1 Draft clause

This option would insert a new subsection immediately after section 1(3) – the welfare checklist – setting out an additional factor which the court would need to consider, as follows:

In the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) a court shall also, and in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4A) a court shall, have regard in particular to enabling the child concerned to have the best relationship possible with each parent of the child”.

The consultation ends on 5th September, so if you have an interest in this, I recommend speaking out.

My rough evaluation of the options are that option 4 is, well, how should I put this? You could add a new definition in the interpretation section of the Act  “Wishy washy”  and point straight to this new addition. It adds so little that it isn’t worth adding.  [Frankly, I think that the whole concept that Judge’s aren’t embracing shared parenting because the Act doesn’t expressly tell them to is fairly flawed, but if you want to bring in something to make the key role that both parents have in a child’s life explicit, you may as well bring in something that is more than a polite cough in a corridor)

Option 3 is less wishy-washy, but its a really long way from shared parenting – the suggestion is sort of that any sort of involvement will do.

Option 2 – well the glaring fault with it is this bit “ irrespective of the amount of contact a child may have with any parent”   – I really, honestly, truly, madly, deeply believe that parents aren’t litigating over children in order to get the Court’s recognition that their parenting is “really, really valuable for the child”, it is because they disagree about how much time each should spend with the child.  Contact, and the amount of it, is exactly the thing that people are litigating about.  I see this option being the one that parents who have Residence would favour, and those who are non-resident parents seeking contact (or shared residence) would consider almost worse than what we have now, because it seems to imply that small amounts of contact can still result in a great outcome for children.

Option 1 is the one that we will end up with, because it is the only one that is attractive to non-resident parents. Those lobbying on their behalf will go fairly universally for that one, whereas the anti-shared parenting or ‘cautious about shared parenting’ votes will be split between the other three. It is still fairly wishy-washy, even then.

Surely, if you’re introducing a concept of shared parenting  (and I am fairly neutral about whether that’s a good or bad thing) at least one of the options should be “When the Court decides where a child should live, or how much contact a child should have with a parent, the Court should strive to make an order that allows the child to have a meaningful relationship with each parent wherever possible and where the order made results in one parent spending a significantly greater proportion of time with the child than the other, the Court must have good reasons for doing so, and set them out in a judgment, and gender should never be a reason for that”

(or, even shorter –  There is a rebuttable presumption that a child should spend significant periods of time with each parent, and the Court must consider in each case whether a broadly equivalent amount of time would be the correct outcome.)

(I’m not claiming that this version is by any stretch of the imagination perfect, but if you’re consulting about changing the legislation to mean that the Court should give more attention to shared parenting concepts, shouldn’t at least one of the options be for something that might actually end up with shared parenting?   These four all look to be as meaningful as the parrot-fashion form of words that we waive article 8 in every single family case with precisely the same phrase each and every time and never once actually having regard to it)

If I were a lobbyist for any father’s rights group, I’d be mighty disappointed with what’s on offer. It looks to me like nothing more than a placatory gesture.  I’m not, by the way, advocating one way or the other on whether there should be a presumption or starting point of broadly equal time, but I can’t see how you can have a consultation about shared parenting without at least one of the options being that.

[I should have added, but am doing it now, that given that most private law cases will be dealt with by litigants in person, perhaps this principle should be set out in as plain English as possible, whereas the four options on offer all seem to be very ‘lawyer-y’ and will involve endless debate about shades of meaning)