Human Rights Act claims – where are we now?

23rd March 2017
BRISTOL CJC CPD SEMINARS
Section 20 and HRA claims in light of Hackney, Kirklees, Northamptonshire AND SW & TW

Sarah Phillimore St Johns Chambers www.childprotectionresource.online
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SUMMARY

The situation has been clarified with regard to the procedural requirements of any HRA application and we are getting more illumination about the appropriate level of damages. But fundamentally we have a situation where the law provides outcomes which are arguably unjust. This will mean case law may continue to contort as judges continue to try find a way around.

Breach of duty /Damages re section 20 misuse
The Hackney case provoked significant comment from both lawyers and social workers on line I don’t agree that it marks ‘the end of damages for section 20 claims’ but it is an important case:
• use of word ‘object’
• continued relevance of good practice directions
• comment on quantum of damages for HRA breach

The beginning of the end for viable HRA claims for the publicly funded (or even anyone)?
• Hackney is critical of level of damages
• Kirklees sounds the alarm re issue of costs/statutory charge
• SW & TW set out strict procedural requirements to make HRA application.

London Borough of Hackney v Williams & Anor [2017] EWCA Civ 26 (26 January 2017).

1) 8 children went into foster care for a few months after police intervention. The Williams’ initially signed a section 20 agreement . It is possible that their full legal rights, including this right of immediate removal, were not fully explained at the time. However, the parents quickly obtained legal advice and said they would consent to section 20 accommodation for a short time. The LA agreed that the children should go home but noted the bail conditions were still in place that prevented the parents from offering their children accommodation. The Williams knew they had the right to apply at any time to vary these bail conditions, but did not do so. Once the bail conditions were varied, the children returned home a few days later.

2) There were no criticisms of the initial police actions to remove the children for 72 hours. However, the subsequent action of the LA to accommodate the children saw the following 9 years spent in litigation as the Williams’ pursued various legal claims that their children had been wrongly removed.

Why did the Court of Appeal overturn the first instance decision?
3) In 2015 the first instance court held that the LA were liable to pay damages of £10,000 to each parent for breach of statutory duty and consequent interference with the parents’ Article 8 rights. The LA appealed and won.

4) The parents had argued that their consent to section 20 accommodation had been unfairly obtained and was not thus ‘true consent’. The Court of Appeal examined this claim from para 43 of their judgment, by looking at the guidance provided in both Coventry City Council v C [2013] EWHC 2190 (Fam) per Hedley J. and by Munby J in the earlier case of R (G) v Nottingham City Council and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust [2008] EWHC 400 (Admin)

5) However, as the Court of Appeal note at para 48 – good practice guidance does not have the force of law. Further, the circumstances of the Williams were markedly different to those of the mothers in the cited cases; in particular the fact that the bail conditions imposed by the police, over which the local authority had no control, prevented the children from living with them.

6) The Court of Appeal then considered the case law that had arisen since the decision in the Coventry case: Re B (Looked after child) [2013] EWCA Civ 964 (sub nom Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council v Others); Re W (Children) [2014] EWCA Civ 1065; and Re N (Adoption: Jurisdiction) [2015] EWCA 1112.

7) These cases all touched upon the issue of active objection or passive consent to section 20 accommodation. The Court of Appeal noted the President’s firm words in Re N ‘

The misuse and abuse of section 20 in this context is not just a matter of bad practice. It is wrong; it is a denial of the fundamental rights of both the parent and the child; it will no longer be tolerated; and it must stop. Judges will and must be alert to the problem and pro-active in putting an end to it. From now on, local authorities which use section 20 as a prelude to care proceedings for lengthy periods or which fail to follow the good practice I have identified, can expect to be subjected to probing questioning by the court. If the answers are not satisfactory, the local authority can expect stringent criticism and possible exposure to successful claims for damages.

8) The Court of Appeal commented that as the ‘good practice guidance’ was set out AFTER the Williams’s children went into foster care, they would need to examine the actual law. The key consideration was section 20(7) which sets out that a LA may NOT provide accommodation for any child if any person who has PR is willing and able to accommodate him and OBJECTS.

9) The Court of Appeal commented at para 68:

The word ‘consent’ does not appear within s. 20. There is no express statutory requirement upon a local authority to obtain a positive expression of consent from a parent before accommodating a child under the various provisions in s. 20(1), (3), (4) and (5), let alone any requirement for such consent to be in writing and subject to any of the various refinements that have been described in the case-law to which I have referred. Nothing that is said in this judgment is intended in any manner to detract from or alter the terms of the good practice guidance that has been given, principally by Sir James Munby P and Hedley J, in these cases; the obvious wisdom and good sense of their words are plain to see. The present case is, however, a claim for damages pursuant to s. 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998, in relation to breach of statutory duty under s. 20 of the 1989 Act and breach of rights under Article 8 of the ECHR. Insofar as breach of statutory duty under s. 20 is concerned it is necessary, in my view, for a claimant to go further than establishing that the actions of the local authority fell short of what, subsequently identified, ‘good practice’ might require; the authority must be seen to have acted in breach of the terms of the statute.

10) The Williams could not have offered accommodation. The statutory test was not whether they offered consent to section 20 accommodation, but whether they actively objected to it. They would only have been able to do that if they had applied to vary the bail conditions, over which the LA had no control. Therefore the Court of Appeal did not agree that there was a breach of statutory duty here and thus no damages should be paid.

11) The Court of Appeal made brief comment about the level of damages awarded at para 87 of their judgment. Having decided that no damages should be paid, they did not need to determine quantum but expressed the very clear view that £10,000 was too high in any event.

ANALYSIS

12) This case involved parents who could not offer a home to their children so long as the police bail conditions remained in place. The local authority did not impose these conditions and were not responsible for varying them – although there was some argument as to what information the local authority passed to the police. The parents may not have ‘consented’ to what happened to their children but even if they had made active objection, they could not have taken their children home unless and until the bail conditions were varied.

13) In such a situation I agree with the Court of Appeal that it is plainly wrong to hold the local authority to blame for a breach of its statutory duty. However, these are quite distinct and particular facts which acted to deprive the parents of the reality of any ability to object.

14) Sadly I am sure there are bound to be further cases where misuse of section 20 involves vulnerable parents, who did not understand or did not have explained to them what section 20 means. Those kind of cases are often coupled with a ‘drift’ for the child in foster care of many months before care proceedings are issued. In such circumstances there is likely to be a reasonable argument for a disproportionate and hence unlawful breach of Article 8. The existence of ‘good practice’ guidance about such issues of course does not have the force of law but can provide a useful benchmark against which to measure if the local authority have acted proportionally.

15) However, considering the impact of the statutory charge, the brief dismissal of £10,000 as an appropriate level of damages sounds an interesting warning for future cases which may well go to render HRA claims pretty hopeless in practice. European jurisprudence is clear that damages for human rights breaches are awarded to provide ‘just satisfaction’, not punishment for the wrongdoer. Therefore levels of damages are likely to be low.

Kirklees Council CZ (Human Rights Claim: Costs) [2017] EWFC 11 (16 February 2017)

16) A clear example of an unlawful breach of Articles 8 and 6 of the ECHR – the parents’ child was removed from their care as a new born baby and lived with grandparents for a few weeks. This was done without telling the parents what the plan was and repeatedly misleading the court about whether or not the parents did know and did agree.

17) Cobb J realised that the amount of damages – £3,750 to each parent and child – will inevitably be swallowed up by the statutory charge.

18) The costs in the case before Cobb are set out at para 46 of the judgment. They are horrifying. The ‘grand total’ is around £120K. This is all public money. The parents argued hard for the LA to pay their costs, realising the impact of the statutory charge. However, Cobb J refused; the LA it seems had made sensible and timely efforts to settle this case, realising that their conduct could not be defended.

19) His reasons are set out very clearly at para 58:
• The court’s wide discretion cannot be condensed to one option only (i.e. to make a substantive award of costs) simply in order to achieve a ‘just’ outcome’
• If it had been the intention of Parliament that damages awarded under the HRA 1998 would be exempt from the statutory charge, it would have provided for this in the revised Statutory Charge Regulations (2013); it did not
• the Claimants could not be insulated against the eventuality that the shortfall in any assessment would in itself lead to the obliteration of a modest award of damages;
• The award of non-pecuniary damages under section 8(3) is intended to reflect the Court’s disapproval of infringement of the claimants’ rights, in providing “just satisfaction” to the claimant; it is not intended to be, of itself, a costs award.
• Parliament has devised a legitimate mechanism for the recovery of the costs incurred from those who benefit from state-funded support to pursue their litigation, and however unfairly it may operate in an individual case, it must be respected;
• The court cannot disregard the parties’ litigation conduct in evaluating costs; the Claimants did not conscientiously attempt to settle their claims but the LA did The impact of the Northamptonshire case.

H (A Minor) v Northamptonshire County Council & Anor [2017] EWHC 282 (Fam) (17 February 2017).

20) This case involved an 8 year old boy ‘H’ who was placed in long term foster care with contact to his father. The LA had failed to issue care proceedings until 2016, despite clear and obvious concerns about the care H was receiving from about 2012, and had wrongly restricted H’s contact with his father. H’s solicitors issued a HRA claim and the LAA granted a separate public funding certificate, Keehan J having stated that this application should be made separately but determined alongside the care proceedings.

21) H’s solicitors sought clarification from the LAA as to the impact of the statutory charge upon such a ‘free standing’ HRA application. The LAA replied to say that ‘subject to the extent of the connection between the Human Rights action and the initial Care proceedings any Damages recovered as a consequence of the Human Rights proceedings will be subject to the Statutory Charge and it is possible that the liability will extend to the costs arising from the Care proceeding. The consideration of the connection is made once the settlement is reached, and would depend on the facts of the case’.

22) The LA then made an open offer to settle H’s HRA claim for £18,000. The court decided that it was not possible to agree the amount of damages unless first knowing what the LAA were going to do about the statutory charge; if the costs of the care proceedings were included, the statutory charge would consume the entirely of the agreed damages. The LAA were thus invited to intervene in the proceedings. They initially stated that they would apply the statutory charge. However, their eventual position ‘at the 11th hour’ was that they would NOT apply the costs of the care proceedings to the statutory charge.

23) Because the LAA had taken so long to confirm its position, the LA agreed to pay H’s costs only up until the date the LAA were invited to intervene. All costs incurred thereafter should be met by the Lord Chancellor’s Department. It was argued that the provisions of s.51 SCA and CPR r.46.2 clearly provide the court with the power to make a costs order against a third party and the behaviour of the LAA justified the making of such an order. Keenhan J agreed he had the power to make such an order and he would do so. He confirmed that £21,500 was the appropriate sum of damages to be awarded to H.

24) Keehan J made it clear that he understood and deprecated the impact of the statutory charge, commenting at paras 120 and 121 of his judgment.

The issue I raise, in the context of HRA claims brought by children, and by parents, during the currency of pending care proceedings, is whether it is just, equitable or reasonable that damages awarded to a child, or to a parent, as a result of breaches of his/her Convention Rights by one organ of the State should be recouped by another organ of the State in respect of public law proceedings which would otherwise not be recoverable. Public funding in such cases is non means tested and non merits based. Furthermore, save in exceptional circumstances, the local authority issuing the care proceedings is not liable to pay the costs of any other party: Re T [2012] UKSC 36.
I very much doubt that such a recoupment is just, equitable or reasonable. In the vast majority of cases the effect of the recoupment of the child’s or parent’s costs of the care proceedings will be to wipe out the entirety of the HRA damages awarded. In this event, the child or the parent will not receive a penny.

 

General guidance offered by Keehan J

25) He discussed the judgment of Munby J (as he then was) in Re L (Care Proceedings: Human Rights Claims) [2003] EWHC 665 (Fam), [2003] 2 FLR 160 which was expressly approved by and received the “whole-hearted endorsement” of the Court of Appeal in Re V (Care Proceedings: Human Rights Claims) [2004] 1 FLR 944, per Wall LJ at para 98. Re L drew an important distinction between those cases where HRA issues arise when care proceedings are on-going and where care proceedings have come to an end. In the latter case, the appropriate remedy may well be a free-standing application under section 7(1)(a) of the 1998 Act. However, if care proceedings are on-going, the President was very clear that HRA claims should be dealt with within the context of the care proceedings and by the court which is dealing with the care proceedings.

26) Keehan J was clear that the present case was an example of when it was permissible to issue a separate application for a HRA and that it was likely to be a tactical necessity if damages were sought, saying at para 115

…the decision in Re L, and the decision in Re V, may be distinguished from proceedings in which a HRA claim is pursued and damages are sought. Therefore, where the remedy sought in the HRA claim is not limited to injunctive or declaratory relief but includes a claim for damages, it is almost inevitable that those representing the Claimant will be well advised to issue separate proceedings and to seek the issue of a separate public funding certificate because of the potential applicability of the statutory charge in respect of any HRA damages awarded.

 

SW & TW (Human Right Claim: Procedure) (No1) [2017] EWHC 450 (FAM)

27) Another judgment of Cobb J, this sets out the ‘essential procedural points’ for making at HRA claim. See paragraph 3. Applications for ‘substantive relief’ should be issued as civil proceedings by way of a Part 8 CPR 1998 claim even if within existing CA proceedings.

28) Key points
a) claims for substantive relief such as declarations and/or damages should be issued formally, (NOT by introducing it in a skeleton argument!)even if made within existing proceedings; if the party is seeking to “rely on the Convention right or rights” (section 7(1)(b)) within the CA 1989 proceedings to influence the manner in which the family court exercises its powers, a lesser degree of formality contemplated by rule 29.5 may well be appropriate
b) A child claimant in HRA 1998 proceedings requires a litigation friend appointed under Part 21 of the CPR 2010; the appointment of a guardian or litigation friend for this type of claim is not effected under rule 16 FPR 2010. Cafcass cannot authorise its officers to act as litigation friends to children claimants, having regard to its functions, which are set out inter alia in section 12 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (CJCSA 2000) moreover, Cafcass does not, as a matter of policy, support Children’s Guardians acting as litigation friends in HRA 1998 proceedings;
c) It is therefore not appropriate for a Children’s Guardian who has been appointed in specified CA 1989 proceedings to act as an informal litigation friend, or ‘front’ the claim as if he/she is a litigation friend, in a related HRA 1998 claim. The status of litigation friend can only be bestowed following one of two recognised formal processes – either the filing of a certificate of suitability under Part 21.4(3)/Part 21.5(3) or pursuant to court order (Part 21.6);
d) Given that the CPR 1998 applies to these claims, the regime of Part 36 CPR 1998 (‘Offers to Settle’) applies to them;
e) The full costs regime in Part 44 CPR 1998 also applies, including (in contrast to the position in family proceedings) the general rule that ‘costs follow the event’ in HRA 1998 claims (CPR, Part 44.2(2)(a): “(a) the general rule is that the unsuccessful party will be ordered to pay the costs of the successful party”; see also CZ v Kirklees MBC [2017] EWFC 11 at [61]));
f) the publicly funded claimant in a HRA 1998 claim who is also publicly funded in associated (or ‘connected’: section 25 Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO 2012)) proceedings, is vulnerable to a claim for recoupment of the costs of both sets of proceedings by way of statutory charge from any award of HRA 1998 damages;
g) In HRA 1998 proceedings, the Legal Aid Agency may issue a publicly funded certificate for a claimant to pursue declarations only, and not damages, as it did in this case, for the father; if this is so, this may have implications for (a) entitlement to any public funded remuneration for the lawyers for the work done on seeking a damages award, (b) the extent to which the successful claimant can recover any costs referable to pursuit of the claim for damages from the Local Authority if they have not been authorised to expend costs in pursuit of the same, and/or (c) the ability of the LAA to recoup funds from the damages (applying the statutory charge) for work done in respect of which there was no public funding certificate;
h) PLEASE think hard about settling! This case illustrates once again that the cost of pursuing relief under the HRA 1998 can very swiftly dwarf, or indeed obliterate, the financial benefits sought. Many such cases are surely suitable for non-court dispute resolution (NCDR) ….Parties in cases of this kind would do well to remind themselves of the comments of the Court of Appeal in Anufrijeva v LB Southwark & others [2003] EWCA Civ 1406 [2004] 1 FLR 8 at paras 79-80:

Can anything be done to avoid the statutory charge?

29) Free standing applications (BUT note implications of increased procedural formality)
30) Costs orders – but bear in mind litigation conduct
31) Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 section 17(7) allows cash payments.
32) General wellbeing provision of the Local Government Act 2000 – section 2(4) allows the LA to give financial assistance to any person
33) Complaint pursuant to section 26 of the Children Act 1989

Damages awarded in other cases – RANGE approximately £3k-£70K

34) P, C, S v the UK [2002] the European court awarded each parent €12,000 for breaches of their Article 8 and 6 rights in a case which involved removal of a baby at birth. This case also has some useful commentary as to how damages should be assessed.
35) Northamptonshire CC v AS [2015] – damages £16K.
36) Ferrari v Romania in the European Court of Human Rights in April 2015 where a father was awarded €7,500 after the state failed to properly engage with Hague Convention proceedings and caused delay.
37) In re A (A Child) in August 2015, the mother was awarded £3,000 for unlawful removal of her child.
38) Medway Council v M and T October [2015] awarded £20K to both mother and child for unlawful use of section 20 accommodation under Children Act 1989.
39) B (A Child) [2016] EWFC B10 January 2016 – £5K awarded for 3 year delay in revoking placement order that meant B lost out on developing a relationship with his siblings.
40) Case Soares de Melo c. Portugal (Application No 72850/14) [Feb 2016] award of €15,000 for decision to have children adopted without offering family sufficient support.
41) X, Y & Z re (Damages: Inordinate Delay in Issuing Proceedings) [2016] EWFC B44 (23 February 2016) – £65K awarded, highest level of damages known to date for misuse of section 20, and particular criticism of the failure of two IROs to act.
42) BB (A Child) [2016] 27th June EWFC B53 £7,500 awarded for misuse of section 20.
43) GD & BD (Children) [2016] 10-18 October 2016 EWCH 3312 – example of very poor police, LA and legal practice. £10,000 awarded to the mother and £5,000 to each child.
44) London Borough of Hackney v Williams and Anor [2017] – Court of Appeal sound the warning that £10K awarded at first instance was too high (in the event the court did not find a breach of statutory duty so no damages were awarded at all)
45) CZ (Human Rights Claim: Costs) [2017] EWFC 11 – £3,750 to each parent and child for unjustified removal at birth for about 3 weeks. However, costs likely to be completely absorbed by the statutory charge – publicly funded costs in region of £100K.

3 thoughts on “Human Rights Act claims – where are we now?

  1. Angelo Granda

    Sarah, Thanks for your post. This is a question not a comment. If one’s human rights are contravened, surely one is just happy to get them back. Why is the amount given in compensation so important?

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Because, in the cases that I have been involved with, the parents and children have suffered diagnosed psychiatric harm as a result of the breach of their human rights; they have been separated from one another when they should not have, or they did not receive the therapy/support they needed at the right time.

      All I have been seeking is modest sums of about £10K to fund therapy or similar, which the LA is simply refusing to pay for.

      So, although a declaration or an apology is nice, sometimes what you need to put things right is cold, hard, cash.

      Reply
  2. Angelo Granda

    Thanks Sarah, Of course that is what we have been discussing on the autism thread. It makes me realise why the authorities are so loth to admit mistakes and why they withhold medical assessments etc. Rather they will keep children in care for life, i suppose .

    Reply

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