About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Exceptional public funding

Picking up on my last post, in D v K and B [2014] EWHC 700 the court has asked that the Legal Aid Agency think again about treating the case as exceptional and granting public funding. Apparently even the following points have not yet persuaded them:


i) The seriousness of the allegations involved.

ii) The fact that if these issues were before a criminal court the Father would be prohibited by statute from cross examining the Mother in person. That is as a result of s34 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.

ii) The allegation of rape is one of a number of serious allegations that are made. Any analysis of that allegation would have to be placed in context. I find it very difficult indeed to envisage how a judge asking questions on behalf of Father would be able to do so in a way that he felt was sufficient.

iv) Fourthly and notwithstanding the provisions of Schedule 10 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (which I have considered, although they are not yet in force) taking into account the point that I have made in iii) above and the fact that the judge could not take instructions, I have difficulty in seeing how that statutory provision in Schedule 10 would be perceived as sufficiently meeting the justice of the case.

v) Where allegations of this seriousness arise it is very important that the respondent to the allegation is given advice. That advice cannot be given to him by the judge and could not be given to him by the representative of the guardian.

vi) The issue that arises is of very real importance to the two adults but also to this child. If the Mother's allegations are substantiated there is a very real prospect that they may prove to be definitive of the relationship between this child and her Father.

vii) In fact finding cases of complexity a judge is expected to give himself full and correct legal directions. It is vital that those legal directions are correct and take account of the positions of both of the parties immediately involved.

viii) Although enquiry might be made of the Bar Pro Bono Unit or indeed of the Attorney General to see whether arrangements might be made for D to have free representation or the Attorney General to act as amicus curiae neither of those solutions presents itself as likely to be available and neither is anywhere near as satisfactory as D having his own representation. I regard it as highly unlikely that either avenue of enquiry would produce representation in any event. In March this issue was being investigated further.

ix) As to the position of the Guardian's representative everything that I have said about the position of the judge applies in at least equal measure to the guardian's solicitor if not more so. The guardian's statutory role is to promote the welfare of the child. It is no part of the roles of the Guardian or of the children's solicitor to adopt the case of one party in cross examination or argument. After the fact finding case is resolved it is essential that both parties retain confidence in the guardian and in the institution of CAFCASS. I therefore cannot see that the Guardian or the child's solicitor could be expected to conduct cross examination on behalf of this Father.

Crossing the lines: Re C (2013) - procedural fairness


I thought I would offer a reminder about a case which has recently become very dear to my heart: Re C 2013 EWCA Civ 1412 and which gave rise to a number of interesting points about the way in which litigants in person could be better supported. It also shows that lines will be considered to be crossed when complainants in criminal proceedings will be compromised as independent experts

Incidentally this is one of the few cases last year where public funding was granted on an exceptional basis. Needless to say the father did not get public funding for any of the follow up:

Ryder LJ found that there had been a number of procedural irregularities throughout the proceedings which caused the decision to be unjust and wrong:

* Evidence that was adduced orally at a without notice hearing was not recorded on the face of the order, nor was a direction made that that evidence be transcribed or contained in a statement to be served on the respondent. Rule 18.10(2) FPR 2010 requires the service of evidence on a respondent in support of a without notice application unless the court orders otherwise. A respondent's right to set aside or vary a without notice order must be contained in a statement on the order (rule 18.10(3) ) which was not contained in the without notice order made.

* No explanation was given as to why the respondent's right to set aside or vary the without notice order was constrained to having to give 24 hours' notice.

* There is a need for exceptional urgency to justify a without notice order being made. There was no evidence within these proceedings of what was the pleaded exceptional urgency.

* The pre-application protocol for mediation information and assessment (PD3A) was ignored in its entirety. This protocol is not optional.

* The family court advisor became a complainant in criminal proceedings, as a result of the father's behaviour, following which he was arrested and charged with offences under section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986. It was wholly inappropriate for the family court advisor to continue to advise within the proceedings.

* The family court advisor filed a report which detailed allegations of fact by the mother against the father previously unknown to the court. It read as if the allegations were true and there was no doubt that the family court advisor believed them to be true. It was not highlighted that the facts had not been established by way of a fact finding.

* On the day of the contested welfare hearing the family court advisor filed and served a chronology of events without notice of intending to do so and without direction by the court. It was a detailed schedule of hearsay evidence. It should not have been admitted without argument as it was highly prejudicial and of questionable probative value.

* At the contested welfare hearing the family court advisor gave evidence from behind a screen. Although it was not inconceivable that a professional witness might require such assistance, an application on notice to the parties with full reasons as to why this was required should have been made.

* The assumption of alleged facts against the father when no fact finding exercise had been conducted resulted in the judge's welfare evaluation being based on a false premise.

Friday, 28 February 2014

RE N-L Post 3 of 3: Pauffley J on triage assessments and justice before speed

In which Pauffley J criticises the manner of obtaining evidence from an independent expert by means of a paper triage assessment commissioned in haste and without the expert meeting the mother:

29. My reading of the papers prior to the hearing on 28th January revealed causes for considerable anxiety as to whether there had been a fair and appropriate assessment exercise in relation to the mother's abilities to look after NL.

30. The letter of instruction to Dr van Rooyen invited her to undertake "a triage psychological assessment in respect of (the mother) by reading the papers, liaising with the Practice Manager and liaising with [the resource] (as necessary) and report upon (her) findings." She was asked, insofar as she was able, to provide her view in regards to (the mother's) history of drug use, the current treatment she's receiving and her prognosis for abstinence in the future." The second question of Dr van Rooyen invited her commentary upon what (the mother) would need to demonstrate in order to care for NL long term and her progress in achieving these goals. She was also asked to comment upon further advisable treatment and likely timescales.

31. There was no suggestion that it might be necessary for Dr van Rooyen to meet with the mother in order to provide her report. The terms of the letter make clear that what was being requested was a paper assessment supplemented by a telephone discussion with the Practice Manager, [named]. The mother, I should say, has never met [the Practice Manager].

32. Although it had been thought, on the part of the local authority at least, that it might be advisable for Dr van Rooyen to discuss the case with [the resource], her report makes clear she did not avail herself of that opportunity. In evidence, she said, according to the note, "I hadn't because of tight timetable."

33. That last piece of information leads on to consideration of exactly how and within what period, Dr van Rooyen's report came to be prepared. The letter of instruction is dated 31st October 2013. In the section headed "Timetable," it is recorded that the local authority's lead Solicitor understands that Dr van Rooyen was "able to file (her) report by 5pm on Thursday 31st October," that same day. The first hearing in the Family Proceedings court was scheduled for 1st November.

Dr van Rooyen's involvement – fundamental flaws
34. I am gravely troubled by the speed, the manner and the ambit of Dr van Rooyen's involvement. It simply cannot be right, fair or reasonable to commission an expert to provide what may turn out to be the pivotal evidence justifying separation of a neonate from his mother in the way that happened here.

35. It surprises and alarms me that Dr van Rooyen was asked, and was prepared, to provide a report during the course of a single working day, a terrifyingly tight timeframe, and on the basis of papers supplemented by a telephone conversation with a local authority professional who had never met the mother. I struggle to understand how Dr van Rooyen's apparently firm opinions, adverse to the mother, could have been formed given the complete absence of any kind of discussion with her or, indeed, any communication with [the resource].

36. To my mind, it is quite simply unacceptable for an 'independent' expert to be instructed in the way Dr van Rooyen was – to conduct such a scant inquiry in preparation for a hearing which was to have such wide ranging consequences for the child.


Rationale for the instruction
37. The reason why the local authority acted as it did, requesting Dr van Rooyen's assistance in preparation for the 1st November hearing, may be associated with the family justice reforms and the impetus to complete public law cases within 26 weeks. I have not conducted any kind of inquiry into exactly why the instruction for a "Triage Assessment" occurred but gained the distinct impression that this case is not an isolated instance, rather that similar practices have been applied in other proceedings locally so as to assist in ensuring the case achieves a conclusion within its allotted timeframe.

Discussion
38. Albeit in the context of care proceedings where the care plan is for adoption, the President has made it abundantly clear that justice must not be subverted by the requirement that public law cases be concluded within 26 weeks. In Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 he said – "Critical to the success of the reforms is robust judicial case management from the outset of every care case. Case management judges must be astute to ensure that the directions they give are apt to the task and also to ensure that their directions are complied with. Never is this more important than in cases where the local authority's plan envisages adoption. If, despite all, the court does not have the kind of evidence we have identified, and is therefore not properly equipped to decide these issues, then an adjournment must be directed, even if this takes the case over 26 weeks. Where the proposal before the court is for non-consensual adoption, the issues are too grave, the stakes for all are too high, for the outcome to be determined by rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable and justice thereby potentially denied."

39. More recently, in his 'View from the President's Chambers (7)' entitled "The process of reform, changing cultures" the President reiterated that message saying, "We must always remember that the PLO is a means of achieving justice and the best outcomes for children and, wherever possible, their families. It is not, and must never be allowed to become, a straightjacket, least of all if rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable risks putting justice in jeopardy."

40. My enduring anxiety in relation to this case is that in the frenzy of activity which preceded the first hearing in the Family Proceedings court, there was too much local authority emphasis upon securing an expert opinion to support removal from the mother and too little focus upon ensuring a just and fair assessment process. Justice must never be sacrificed upon the altar of speed.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Re NL Post 2 of 3 - Pauffley J on Justices' Reasons

In which Pauffley J directs that any practice involving the local authority preparing the justices' reasons should cease forthwith - with the President's approval:


64. The Family Proceedings Court, so I was informed, does not expect or require that such draft documents are circulated to the parties in advance of the hearing. Legal advisers do not routinely inquire as to whether the parties have received them before the hearing begins. According to Miss Watson, whilst local practitioners know about the court's expectations, none of these practices "sits easily" with the Solicitor members of the Joint Legal Team.

65. Whilst I might be able to understand why such methods may have been developed, I am profoundly alarmed by their existence. Informal inquiries reveal, anecdotally, that the practices I have described are not confined to this area but are widespread across the country.

66. The first matter for emphasis is that every parent is entitled, pursuant to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights to a fair trial.
Article 6.1 reads as follows – "In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgment shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interest of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice."

67. Seemingly, there were process failures in this case which significantly interfered with the most basic requirements for openness and transparency. There was, apparently, an established but largely clandestine arrangement between the local authority and the court which, to my mind, has considerable repercussions for justice and, equally importantly, the perception that justice will be done. It is fundamental that nothing is sent to the judge by one party unless it is copied simultaneously to every other party.

68. Equally and just as importantly, it is difficult to view the Justices as having been independent and impartial if, as happened here, they simply adopted the local authority's analysis of what their Findings and Reasons might comprise. The Court of Appeal has recently made clear that the wholesale incorporation of such a draft is impermissible: see Crinion and anor v IG Markets Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 587. As Sir Stephen Sedley observed,

"Unequivocal acceptance of one party's case has always posed a problem for judges. To simply adopt that party's submissions, however cogent they are, is to overlook what is arguably the principal function of a reasoned judgment, which is to explain to the unsuccessful party why they have lost…. (T)he possibility of something approaching electronic plagiarism is new, and it needs to be said and understood that it is unacceptable. Even if it reflects no more than the judge's true thinking, it reflects poorly on the administration of justice: for … appearances matter."

69. Just because there may be tacit acceptance on the part of many professionals within the family justice system that the practice which operated here exists, that does not mean it is right. It is patently wrong, must stop at once and never happen again.

70. I am reassured that whatever has occurred in recent years, it has not always been the case that, nationwide, local authorities have been required to provide draft 'Facts and Reasons' documents. I know from past personal experience that diligent legal advisers have provided legal and sometimes proper secretarial assistance to Justices in formulating their Reasons. I have been present whilst such judgments have been compiled.

71. Whatever else, it should always be remembered that in public law proceedings the local authority is the applicant. It is not and should never be seen as the decision maker. That is the role of the court. There is no room for confusion. Justice must be upheld. There is no scope for any dilution of that most fundamental concept.

72. The President of the Family Division, Munby P, has read and approved this section (paragraphs 57 – 71) of the judgment.

Can the system cope with this addition to the ever increasing list of factors likely to cause delay?

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Interim Removal Hearings - Pauffley J in Re NL Post 1 of 3

Pauffley J made some important points in Re NL (A Child) (Appeal: Interim Care Order: Facts and Reasons) [2014] EWHC 270 (Fam) about the manner in which interim hearings should be dealt with and evidence which will suffice to justify interim removal.

She reminds us of the:

three well known propositions derived from the Court of Appeal's decision in Re LA (Care; Chronic Neglect) [2010] 1 FLR 80 applicable to interim care orders. Firstly, that the decision taken by the court must necessarily be limited to issues that cannot await the substantive hearing and must not extend to issues that are being prepared for determination at that fixture. Secondly, that separation is only to be ordered if the child's safety demands immediate separation (my emphasis). And thirdly, that a local authority in seeking to justify the removal of a child from home necessarily must meet a very high standard – reiterating what had been said in Re K and H [2007] 1 FLR 2043 namely that "…at an interim stage the removal of children from their parents is not to be sanctioned unless the child's safety requires interim protection."

In a similar vein to Black LJ in yesterday's post she did not consider that the disruption to the foster placement argument should carry the day:

NL's move to a foster home on 2nd November is identified as a reason against reuniting him with to his mother. The Justices decided that such a change in his circumstances "may have an effect upon him. NL is very young and needs to form an attachment to his primary carers."

54. I found that evaluation both startling and disturbing. The fundamental principle is that wherever possible, consistent with their welfare needs, children deserve an upbringing by their natural parent(s). It seems to me wholly unwarranted to deploy the status quo argument as part of the reason for continuing an interim foster placement for a week old infant.

55. This case provides a good example of how once separation has occurred there can be a certain inevitability that it will be perpetuated. It is often and rightly said that the decisions taken about placement at the outset of public law proceedings are amongst the most significant. They can be and often are the most difficult. All the more reason, I would say, for immense trouble to be taken so as to ensure those decisions are based upon good evidence and fully justified. Anything less would be to ignore that a child, as the result of what occurs at the beginning of proceedings, may be denied the opportunity, ultimately, of remaining within his natural family.