Tag Archives: Human Rights Act 1998

Article 3 ECHR and Care Proceedings

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

No one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

A number of commenters on the CPR site were recently discussing how Article 3 could or should apply to care proceedings. Family practitioners generally focus on Articles 6 and 8  of the ECHR – right to a fair trial and right to respect to family and private life. To a lesser extent Article 5 (right to liberty) may come into play when discussing for e.g. secure accommodation. 

One reader commented:

Are Social Workers sub-human? Does the System treat Children worse than Animals?
It says above that the most relevant articles of the Human Rights Act relating to child-protection are 6 and 8. Parents may believe the main causes for complaint would be under Article 3. I certainly do!
Local Authority actions are inhumane and in contravention of Article 3 of the ECHR convention relating to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment of both children and families as a whole. The Local Authority is effectively causing inestimable, permanent, emotional and physical harm the full effects of which it is impossible to predict to the children and adults by mental torture, anguish and degradation.


– See more at: http://childprotectionresource.online/human-rights-act-1998/#comments

Are we lawyers missing a rather important trick in not looking more closely at what Article 3 demands and whether or not it applies to care proceedings?

Article 3 of the ECHR reads very simply

No one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

There is no exception or qualification to this right. It is absolute.

 

But what does ‘torture’ or ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’ mean?

Article 3 is directed primarily to protect the physical integrity of a person but it has been found to apply to acts that cause severe mental suffering. Article 3 is ‘absolute’ so it applies regardless of either the conduct or circumstances of the victim or the threat he poses to the security of the State – so for e.g. Article 3 forbids torturing terrorists.

Article 1 of the 1984 UN Convention against Torture provides this definition of torture:

For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

I hope very much that it is vanishingly unlikely that ‘torture’ as so defined will ever play a role in care proceedings. So we need to focus on ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’. This ill treatment must meet a certain level of seriousness before Article 3 is engaged. See further the Manual for Lawyers produced by Interights, (an international legal human rights NGO which was established in 1982 but sadly closed down in 2014 due to lack of funding).

Ireland v United Kingdom (1978) found that ill-treatment must attain a minimum level of severity. The assessment of this minimum will depend on the circumstances of the particular case, such as how long the ill treatment lasted, what physical/mental effects did it have, the sex, age, and state of health of the victim of the ill treatment.

 

So what kinds of ill treatment meet the minimum standard?

Given all the relevant factors that need to be considered, it is not going to be easy to set out clear criteria to say if X or Y happens, then the necessary minimum standards will be met to show Article 3 is engaged.

Some cases will be very clear. For example, in Aydin v Turkey (1997), the applicant was a seventeen year old girl who was raped repeatedly by State officials. This was found to be a particularly abhorrent form of ill treatment.

Others will be less clear cut. For example, in Costello-Roberts v the UK  (1993),  minimum standards of ill treatment were not met by hitting a 7 year old three times on the buttocks with a gym shoe. But In Toteva v Bulgaria (2004), the applicant was 67 years old when she was detained and injured by police. Given her age, the court thought the injuries were serious enough to meet the required threshold for ‘ill treatment’ under Article 3.

As Interrights comment:

The Court is clear that the individual circumstances of the case, and especially factors pertaining to the victim, and sometimes his or her near relatives, must be taken into account. The question as to how much weight to attribute to such factors appears to depend on the nature of the allegations and other surrounding circumstances. Thus, a domestic court is bound to take all relevant factors into account, and engage in a delicate balancing act, in considering whether a person has been subjected to torture or one of the other prohibited forms of ill-treatment.

Children suffering inhuman and degrading treatment

There is no doubt that children have been able to successfully rely on Article 3 when complaining about LA action or inaction.

See  Z and Others v the UK (2001). This case involved children who sued a LA for not removing them from their parents quickly enough, and this illustrates just how serious the ill treament must be to come within Article 3. At para 40 of their judgment the Court described the children’s circumstances thus:

All the applicants were seen by Dr Dora Black, a consultant child psychiatrist, in January 1993. Dr Black stated that the three older children were all showing signs of psychological disturbance. Z was exhibiting signs of serious depressive illness and had assumed responsibility for her family and for its breakdown. Her mother’s behaviour towards her was described as cruel and emotionally abusive. A and B, who suffered from nightmares, were both identified as showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and A was also chronically under-attached. Dr Black noted that all children had been deprived of affection and physical care. She described their experiences as “to put it bluntly, horrific”, and added that the case was the worst case of neglect and emotional abuse that she had seen in her professional career. In her opinion, social services had “leaned over backwards to avoid putting these children on the Child Protection Register and had delayed too long, leaving at least three of the children with serious psychological disturbance as a result”.

The Court were able to conclude at para 73 of their judgment, without hesitation, that the children’s Article 3 rights had been breached:

73. The Court reiterates that Article 3 enshrines one of the most fundamental values of democratic society. It prohibits in absolute terms torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The obligation on High Contracting Parties under Article 1 of the Convention to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 3, requires States to take measures designed to ensure that individuals within their jurisdiction are not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, including such ill-treatment administered by private individuals (see A. v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 23 September 1998, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998‑VI, p. 2699, § 22). These measures should provide effective protection, in particular, of children and other vulnerable persons and include reasonable steps to prevent ill-treatment of which the authorities had or ought to have had knowledge (see, mutatis mutandis, Osman v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 28 October 1998, Reports 1998-VIII,
pp. 3159-60, § 116).
74. There is no dispute in the present case that the neglect and abuse suffered by the four applicant children reached the threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment (as recounted in paragraphs 11-36 above). This treatment was brought to the local authority’s attention, at the earliest in October 1987. It was under a statutory duty to protect the children and had a range of powers available to them, including the removal of the children from their home. These were, however, only taken into emergency care, at the insistence of the mother, on 30 April 1992. Over the intervening period of four and a half years, they had been subjected in their home to what the consultant child psychiatrist who examined them referred as horrific experiences (see paragraph 40 above). The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board had also found that the children had been subject to appalling neglect over an extended period and suffered physical and psychological injury directly attributable to a crime of violence (see paragraph 49 above). The Court acknowledges the difficult and sensitive decisions facing social services and the important countervailing principle of respecting and preserving family life. The present case, however, leaves no doubt as to the failure of the system to protect these applicant children from serious, long-term neglect and abuse.

EDIT – I am grateful to Suesspiciousminds for reminding me of the case of A & S (Children) v Lancashire County Council [2012] and for his confirmation that he isn’t aware of any case where Article 3 has been relied on with respect to parents.

In this case, the court found breaches of Articles 6, 8 and 3 by the LA and the IRO in the following 10 respects:

(1) Failed to provide A and S with a proper opportunity of securing a permanent adoptive placement and a settled and secure home life. (Art. 8)

(2) Failed to seek revocation of the orders freeing A and S for adoption, made on the 19 March 2001 pursuant to Section 18(1) Adoption Act 1976, which effectively deprived them of:

(a) The protection afforded to children under the Children Act 1989;

(b) Contact with their mother and/or other members of their family;

(c) Access to the Court and the procedural protection of a Guardian.
(Arts. 6 & 8)
(3) Permitted A and S to be subjected to degrading treatment and physical assault and failed adequately to protect their physical and sexual safety and their psychological health (Arts. 3 and 8).

(4) Failed to provide accurate information concerning A and S’s legal status to the Independent Reviewing Officers. (Art. 8)

(5) Failed to ensure that there were sufficient procedures in place to give effect to the recommendations of the Looked After Child Reviews. (Art 8.)

(6) Failed to promote the rights of A and S to independent legal advice. (Art. 6)

(7) Specifically, failed to act as the ‘responsible body’ to enable A and S to pursue any potential claims for criminal injuries compensation, tortious liability and/or breach of Human Rights arising from their treatment by their mother, or by the Hs or by Mrs B. (Art. 6)

The IRO:
(8) Failed to identify that A and S’s Human Rights had been and were being infringed. (Arts. 6 & 8)

(9) Failed to take effective action to ensure that LCC acted upon the recommendations of Looked After Child Reviews. (Art. 8)

(10) Failed to refer the circumstances of A and S to CAFCASS Legal. (Art. 8)

 

But what of parents in care proceedings?

I am not aware of Article 3 being relied upon by parents in any action against a LA for initiating or botching care proceedings, and would be very interested to hear if anyone knows differently.

The anguish and misery felt by many parents when their children are removed have been described eloquently and painfully on this blog and on others. If that anguish and misery is compounded for parents, not only by the loss of their child, but by indifference, rudeness or even worse from the professionals involved in that process, can we argue that Article 3 is engaged?

I suspect the difficulty here will be the surrounding circumstances which have lead to the parents feeling such anguish. LAs are under a legal obligation to protect children in their area. Their investigations and any subsequent removal of children sanctioned by the court are likely to be very distressing to parents but these are lawful acts carried out to achieve an aim of general public good; to protect children.

For example, in Kudla v Poland (2000) the applicant was detained in custody before his trial. He was found to be suffering from mental illness and transferred to a prison hospital. The Court examined the circumstances of his detention and held that to find a violation of  Article 3, the suffering and humiliation involved must go beyond that inevitable element of suffering or humiliation connected with a given form of legitimate treatment or punishment.

 

But what if an LA is acting outside the law?

An interesting consideration arises if the actions of an LA bring about separation of a parent and child and the LA had in fact no lawful basis to intervene. Worrying examples of this can be seen in how section 20 has been misused over the years. The State could therefore not rely on any argument that the parents’ distress was simply the unfortunate by product of legitimate state action.

The courts have certainly seemed more keen recently to recognise and condemn LA for acting in breach of parents’ Article 6 and 8 rights and award them damages under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Is it possible that the State could be found to breach Article 3 if a parent suffers serious mental anguish as a result of care proceedings that should never have been started or were conducted improperly? I can’t think of any logical reason why not, but I would assume that the level of distress suffered would have to be very high and the failures of the State agents particularly egregious.

Conclusions

I find it frustrating when parent campaigners speak in terms of social workers being ‘Nazis’ or ‘like Stalin’ as it is difficult to see where any sensible discussion can go once it is hijacked by such unhelpful hyperbole. There can be no useful comparison between a system of child protection in a functioning democratic state and a totalitarian regime that led to the deaths of millions. I don’t want to waste my time going down that particular rabbit hole.

BUT. The one thing I never really thought about or engaged with much before becoming involved with the Child Protection Resource was the pain and misery of the parents. And it is real. And it provokes some legitimate questions about how the State should be operating to protect the most vulnerable members of society – and this group must be wider than just the children, but must include their parents too.

So I am not convinced that Article 3 is applicable to the vast majority of care proceedings, but I think there is certainly an argument to be made that it might be. And that is not something I would have even considered a year ago.

So I must give thanks to the commentators on this site for opening my eyes – we may not always agree with one another but hopefully if we can continue a constructive dialogue, we can continue to help each other develop insight and understanding into such a profoundly important process.

I want to take a photograph of my child but I am told I cannot

I want to take a photograph of my child but I am told I cannot

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore arising out of her own recent experiences.

I want to focus on the single issue of when a parent can be prevented from taking a photograph of their own child, for their own private use or for publishing on a social networking site.

It is an issue that causes significant difficulties as the law that supports such prohibition does not seem to be either clearly set out or understood. It has the potential to cause trouble for parents in a variety of environments such as school events, sporting events or during supported/supervised contact with their children. These are all occasions when parents may wish to take a photograph or film their children but may be told they cannot.

It seems that the difficulties have largely arisen because a variety of different worries converge to make people worried about parents taking photographs and some would appear to have stronger foundation than others.

What is a growing issue of concern for me is the lack of understanding about what laws and legal principles actually underpin any prohibition of a parent taking a photograph of his or her own child. This must inevitably have a detrimental impact on how child protection policies are devised and implemented.

This issue crystalized for me after my daughter attended a drama festival recently and a general announcement was made at the beginning that no photography in the building would be permitted due to the ‘Child Protection Act’.

This caused me immediate consternation, as this wasn’t an Act I had ever heard of. Further investigation of what informed the festival’s child protection policy showed that they relied upon The Children Act 1989; The Police Act 1997; The Data Protection Act 1998; The Human Rights Act 1998, The Protection of Children Act 1999; The Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000.

There are immediate problems with this list as a basis for a ‘no photos’ rule

The Data Protection Act does not apply to photographs taken for purely personal reasons, for example by parents or grandparents at sports days or school plays (a photo album is fine but there might be a question mark over whether or not a photo published on a Facebook timeline with no privacy settings could be ‘purely personal’) See the guidance from the Information Commission.

The Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 does mention photographs but only to increase the penalties for possession of indecent photographs at section 41.

The Police Act 1997 appears utterly irrelevant from looking at its table of contents. I confess I have not sat down and read the whole Act but I note what Archbold said about it at the time

The Act has five parts: Part I puts the existing National Criminal Intelligence Service on a statutory footing; Part II creates a new national squad, the National Crime Squad; Part III gives wide-ranging powers of intrusive surveillance to the police and customs; Part IV creates the Police Information Technology Organisation … and Part V develops a wholly new system to provide access to criminal records for employment purposes.

The Protection of Children Act 1999 appears to be equally irrelevant, being an Act:

to require a list to be kept of persons considered unsuitable to work with children; to extend the power to make regulations under section 218(6) of the Education Reform Act 1988; to make further provision with respect to that list and the list kept for the purposes of such regulations; to enable the protection afforded to children to be afforded to persons suffering from mental impairment; and for connected purposes.

The Child Protection Act?

This was referred to by the organisers in their announcement but did not feature in the written list of primary legislation. I originally dismissed it as made up legislation but a bit more digging revealed the Child Protection Act of 1978 which is an Act:

to prevent the exploitation of children by making indecent photographs of them; and to penalize the distribution, showing and advertisement of such indecent photographs.

I am unable to understand how this Act could ever apply to a parent who wished to take a photograph of his or her own fully clothed child to record an event in that child’s life.

 

The Human Rights Act 1998 and the Children Act 1989

With regard to the Human Rights Act I don’t know what article of the ECHR I would be breaching by taking a photograph of my fully clothed child. If anything, refusing to allow me to indulge such a parental desire to celebrate and commemorate my chlid’s experiences is arguably a breach of my right to respect to my family and private life pursuant to Article 8.

Any such breach of my right to respect to my family life must be necessary and in accordance with the law: it must be proportionate.

This seems to lead to the only statutory foundation for the organisation’s prohibition on photography, that under section 97(2) of the Children Act 1989 .

This makes it an offence to publish any material which is intended or likely to identify any child involved in any proceedings in which any power may be exercised regarding that child under the Children Act 1989 or the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

You do have a defence if you can prove that you did not know and had no reason to suspect that the published material was intended, or likely to identify the child. So it would seem very unlikely that a parent would fall foul of this section if they wished to take a photograph of their child, another child wanders unnoticed into shot, turns out to be involved in care proceedings and is subsequently identified from the photograph if the parent publishes it on social networking sites.

 

So what’s going on?

Why are people so nervous about photographs? The concerns appear to fall within the following domains.

  • Fear that a vulnerable child might be identified
  • A wish to protect commercial profit making if a school/organization wishes to sell its own photographs of an event.
  • A wish to prevent an event being disrupted by intrusive efforts to take photographs/film videos.
  • An expectation of privacy
  • Fear of paedophilia

 

Identification of vulnerable children

Given the ubiquity of social media and the tendency now for parents to wish to publish on line photographs or videos of their children, I accept this is a real fear, particularly as use of social networking sites increases and facial recognition grows ever more sophisticated. I have discussed the inexorable rise of Facebook and the implications this has for adopted children in another post. 

I agree that schools and other organizations need a clear policy setting out what is and is not acceptable with regard to photography at events so that vulnerable children can be protected from being indentified by people from whom they need to be kept safe.

But reliance on the Child Protection Act 1978 will not assist with this sensible aim and may well hinder it; if the law is constantly framed in terms that photographs are risky because they are indecent, many parents are likely to ‘switch off’ and become irritated by such constraints on their innocent wish to photograph their child.

 

Intrusive photography and protection of commercial interests

I can also understand and accept that efforts by parents to record the achievements of their children has the potential to be disruptive to the event and the children’s enjoyment of it. There need to be rules about what is or is not acceptable. If a school or other organization goes to the trouble of organizing an event they may wish to make some money on the sale of photographs or use photographs to publicise the event.

Provided the organisers make it clear to parents before hand so they can decide whether or not they wish to attend in the light of such restrictions, this would appear to be a reasonable policy Hopefully individual schools/organisations would have a policy sufficiently flexible to give some opportunities to individual parents who wanted to take a photograph at some point in the proceedings of their child and their child alone.

But again, a focus on the potential indecency of photographs does not assist anyone’s understanding or compliance with such policies.

 

An expectation of privacy under Article 8 ECHR

The case law around this, unsurprisingly, usually involves celebrities or others in the public eye who find themselves being photographed when they go about their day to day business. The case of Weller v Associated Newspapers [2015] concerned the musician Paul Weller’s objections to photographs taken of his children on a street on their way to a cafe in the USA; these photographs were lated published by the Mail Online without any attempts to obscure the children’s faces and despite Mr Weller’s objections at the time. Mr Weller succeeded at his first court hearing where the Judge found that his children did have a reasonable expectation of privacy and that the Mail On line could not argue that it was justified in breaching their privacy by claiming freedom of speech or expression. The Mail Online appealed.

The Court of Appeal considered the concept of ‘a reasonable expectation of privacy’ and the various strands of case law. At para 29 the Master of the Rolls commented:

First, a child does not have a separate right to privacy merely by virtue of being a child. Secondly, however, although the broad approach that must be adopted to answering the question whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy is the same for children and adults, there are several considerations which are relevant to children (but not to adults) which may mean that in a particular case a child has a reasonable expectation of privacy where an adult does not.

And further at para 61 he explained why he agreed with the first court:

61.The starting point is the place where the activity happened and the nature of the activity. As the judge said, this was a private family outing. It could have been a family visit to a local park or to a public swimming pool. It happened to be an outing to the shops and to a café which was visible from the street. The essential point is that it was a family activity which belongs to that part of life which is protected by the broader right of personal autonomy recognised in the case law of the Strasbourg court: see R (Catt) v Association of Chief Police Officers [2015] UKSC 9, [2015] AC 1065 per Lord Sumption at para 4. The family element of the activity distinguishes it from Naomi Campbell’s popping out to the shops for a bottle of milk and Sir Elton John standing with his driver in a London street, outside the gate to his home wearing a baseball cap and tracksuit (see John v Associated Newspapers Ltd [2006] EMLR 27).
62.It is also relevant that the claimants’ parents did not consent to the taking or publishing of the Photographs.
63.But the critical factor which militates in favour of the claimants having a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the Photographs is that they are children and that they were identified by their surname. The twins were less than one year old at the time of publication. They did not “knowingly or accidentally lay [themselves] open to the possibility of having [their] photograph taken in the context of an activity that was likely to be recorded or reported in a public manner” (see Reklos para 37). Nor did their parents court publicity for them.

However, these kinds of circumstances are highly unlikely to arise when you inadvertently include another child in the background of a photograph of your own child. So long as that other child is not identified by name and you are not intruding upon a private family event, it seems improbable that anyone could argue that any publication of the photograph would be an actionable breach of Article 8 in respect of that child. The issue in the Weller case was clearly that the pictures were identified as members of his family as he was a celebrity and the pictures would provoke interest for that reason alone.

 

Fear of paedophilia

This to me seems the objection without any sensible foundation in fact or law but the one that looms largest over many child protection policies and is probably mainly responsible for infecting such policies around photographs with a sense of unreality and hysteria.

I am alarmed that the recent objections raised against me photographing my child appeared to be based on legislation relating to the possession of indecent photographs. I struggle to see in what possible context photographs of my child taken by me at a school event or other kind of educational/sporting/musical gathering could ever meet the legal requirements for indecency.

The Obscene Publication Act 1959 sets out the test for indecency as  – does the material have a tendency to ‘deprave and corrupt’?

I am both angered and saddened that I am being encouraged to consider how a photograph of my fully clothed daughter at a drama festival coud posiibly have a tendency to deprave or corrupt anyone, let alone the limited number of people who have access to my photographs on Facebook. It seems that this belief that pictures of children are likely to invoke some dangerous sexual response from adults is widespread; note this article which suggests that parents taking pictures of their children in the bath could find themselves as a ‘test case’ for prosecution due to taking indecent images!

I am not alone in my criticism of how the spectre of paedophilia has been permitted to corrupt many innocent interactions between adults and children. See for example this article from the Guardian in 2012

The Child Protection in Sport Unit recommends that you “avoid full-face and body shots” and that children in swimming costumes should only be shown “from waist or shoulder up”. These rules create a stilted genre of child photography, where children are pictured on their own or at designated “photo moments” at the end of the play or match, rather than in the thick of events.

Schools often invoke the Data Protection Act 1998, or the Children Act 2004 as the reason for photography bans. “But there is nothing in the Children Act that says ‘Thou shalt not photograph children’,” says Eleanor Coner, information officer at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. The Information Commissioner’s Office has taken to putting out bi-annual statements refuting the myth that the Data Protection Act prohibits photography. “We call it the ‘data protection duckout’,” says David Smith, director of data protection at the Information Commissioner’s Office. “If there is something people don’t want to do, but they can’t explain it easily, they say it’s because of the Data Protection Act.”

In fact, photography bans cannot be traced to any single event or law. Rather, it seems that there was a shift from the early 2000s, when similar regulations diffused throughout schools and sports organisations.

…. As an example of how attitudes have changed, a manufacturer of children’s play equipment asked a photographer, John Robertson, to photograph its apparatus at a variety of English sites: he was shouted at and parents snatched away their children in parks in Nottingham, Cambridge and the Isle of Wight.

The spread of photo bans is not really a response to child abusers stalking school sports days. Instead, it reflects the contamination of everyday adult-child relations – and the new assumption, as the children’s author Philip Pullman put it, that “the default position of one human being to another is predatory rather than kindness”. Any adult looking through the viewfinder at a child is viewed as potentially sinister and in need of regulation.

I don’t doubt that parents do need to be more aware than many are, that photographs published on social media may end up being published elsewhere. This was demonstrated quite horribly recently when parents in the UK discovered that pictures of their children had ended up on a Russian site where they were used for sexual gratification of those viewing.

But the focus here is probably better put on teaching people more about protecting their on line privacy (these pictures were taken from the ‘open’ profile of one of the children’s grandparents) than encouraging hysteria over what happens to pictures on Facebook and using this as justification to curtail the actions of all parents who wish to take photographs of their own children outside their own home.

 

So why does this matter?

Why am I getting annoyed by this issue? Does it really matter? I took a photograph of my daughter outside the venue, put it on Facebook, lots of my friends ‘liked’ it: I was able to share her special moment and show that I was proud of her and could keep a record for her to remember in future. Neither she nor I suffered in any way because of the restriction placed on photography within the building at the time.

But to dismiss this as a concern simply because at this particular time and at this particular event it had no or only trivial consequences is to miss a very important point.

That point is that a justification was given to interfere in my innocent interactions with my own child on what appears to be spurious or very poorly understood legal grounds.

And this matters. To rely upon an Act which prohibits taking indecent photographs during an event where the possibility that any indecent photographs would be taken was close to zero, suggests very strongly to me that the child protection policies devised by these organisers were not based on any clear understanding of the relevant law or what is involved in assessing risk.

If you do not understand the law which underpins your policies, how can we have any faith in these policies? How can we respect these policies? And ultimately, how will you enforce them? If you don’t understand what a risk is and how to assess it, how can we have any confidence that you have identified the relevant risks and set up proper safeguarding procedures?

This is not the only time I have been referred to ‘the Child Protection Act’. A laminated sign at Cardiff ice rink also relies upon it – or at least it did in 2013 when I was last there. Interestingly and alarmingly, it also appears in an article in the Telegraph from 2008 which suggests it has made its way very firmly into consideration of child protection policies.

Polices about something as important as child protection should not be made by reeling off a list of primary legislation which appears to have very little relevance to the issue in hand or relying on an Act which can’t possibly apply to parents who want to record their children at school or sporting events. Setting us all up as potential paedophiles does not make children any safer. Taking a photograh of a child should not be considered by default either an indecent or dangerous act.

 

Further Reading/Watching

 

Human Rights Act 1998

Claims against public bodies for breach of the Human Rights Act 1998

Introduction

The Human Rights Act (HRA) was passed to give direct effect to the Articles of the European Convention into domestic law. Prior to the HRA, if you wanted to claim that your human rights had been breached you had to take out an action in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Now, it is unlawful for any public body – including the courts and local authorities – to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right, unless they have no choice because they have to obey current statute law.

However, applicants who are receiving legal aid will need to consider carefully the implications of the statutory charge on any award of damages – this is discussed below. It seems likely that in most cases, pursuing an HRA application is simply not commercially viable. However, there are some avenues worth exploring and these are discussed below.

The most likely Articles of the ECHR which are in play in regard to child protection cases are:

  • Article 8 – the right to respect for family and private life;
  • Article 6 – the right to a fair hearing.

For further consideration of Article 8 and its ambit see our post on Article 8 and proportionality. For further consideration of Article 3 in care proceedings, see this post. For a list of cases and amounts of money awarded, scroll to the end of this post. 

We will need to watch this space, particularly with recent Government proposals to ‘scrap’ the HRA and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’..

 

The requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998

What is an unlawful act and what is a public authority?

‘Unlawful Act’ is defined under section 6 (1) of the HRA. It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way incompatible with a ECHR right UNLESS it doesn’t have a choice because of the way the domestic law is written.

A ‘public authority’ includes a court/tribunal or any person who carries out functions of a ‘public nature’ BUT it excludes the Houses of Parliament.

Who can make an application under the HRA?

Section 7 provides that a person can bring proceedings if they are, or would be a ‘victim’ of the unlawful act.  There is a distinction between a ‘free standing’ application [section 7(1)(a)] and relying on your Convention rights in existing proceedings [section 7(1)(b)].

It is now clear that the court will expect formal applications made according to the Civil Procedure Rules NOT the FPR and this will have consequences for many issues, not least the role of the children’s guardian. For a clear analysis of the necessary procedural requirements, it is worth reading carefully the judgment of Cobb J in SW & TW (Children : Human Rights Claim: Procedure) (Rev 1) [2017] EWHC 450 (Fam) (08 March 2017).

 

What remedy can you get?

Section 8 of the HRA gives the court a discretion to remedy the breach of your human rights; the remedy must be ‘just and appropriate’.

This can include damages, if the court is satisfied this is necessary ‘to afford just satisfaction’. The court must take into account the principles applied by the European Court  about awards of damages – but the problem with this is that the jurisprudence from the ECtHR is deliberately opaque about what makes the quantum of damages ‘just satisfaction’. Each case will depend on its own facts. 

Article 41 of the ECHR

This sets out the requirement for ‘just satisfaction’ on violation of a ECHR right. For useful discussion about the application of Article 41, see paragraph 143 onwards of the judgment of the European Court in the case of P, C and S v UK [2002].

General principles about awards of damages pursuant to Article 41

See this Practice Direction  from 2007.

  • A clear causal link must be established between the damage claimed and the violation alleged. The Court will not be satisfied by a merely tenuous connection between the alleged violation and the damage, nor by mere speculation as to what might have been.
  • Compensation for damage can be awarded in so far as the damage is the result of a violation found. No award can be made for damage caused by events or situations that have not been found to constitute a violation of the Convention, or for damage related to complaints declared inadmissible at an earlier stage of the proceedings.
  • The purpose of the Court’s award in respect of damage is to compensate the applicant for the actual harmful consequences of a violation. It is not intended to punish the Contracting State responsible. The Court has therefore, until now, considered it inappropriate to accept claims for damages with labels such as “punitive”, “aggravated” or “exemplary”.

How have the courts approached damages under the HRA 1998?

The concept of ‘just satisfaction’.

The first case to consider damages under the HRA 1998 was Anufrijeva v London Borough of Southwark in 2003. At para 49 the court noted the conclusions of the Law Commission in its report on Damages under the Human Rights Act 1998 which suggested that the obvious analogy for a claim for damages under the HRA is a claim against a public authority in tort, such as negligence. But this analogy cannot be drawn too strictly as there are distinctions between the purpose behind an award of damages in tort and under the HRA.

  • damages are recoverable ‘as of right’ in a negligence claim (tort), but are at the court’s discretion in a HRA claim;
  • the purpose behind the damages claim is different; in negligence this is to put the claimant back in the position he would have been in without the negligent act, whereas in HRA claims the purpose is to provide ‘just satisfaction’;
  • That ‘just satisfaction’ may be provided by dealing with the HR breach, not necessarily compensating someone with money. The European Court has often found that in cases where there was a procedural, rather than substantive breach,  a simple declaration that the claimant’s human rights were breached is in fact sufficient ‘just satisfaction’.

In the case of H (A Child – Breach of Convention Rights: Damages) [2014] the court was very clear that in the circumstances of this case ‘just satisfaction’ would NOT be achieved by a simple declaration that the parents’ rights had been breached. See paragraph 82:

 It was not until June 2014 that these parents eventually managed to secure the return of their daughter to their care, exactly a year after she was placed with Mr and Mrs B. Whilst it is true that during that year the parents were having regular contact, supervised contact at a local authority contact centre is far removed from the joys of fulltime, unsupervised care of one’s own child. The residential assessment which began in June 2014 could have begun a year earlier. The cognitive assessment of the parents, not finally obtained until May 2014, could have been obtained months earlier. Unlike the parents in the Coventry case, these parents’ have suffered a loss of time with their daughter which was both unnecessarily lengthy and deeply distressing.

How should damages be assessed? And what is an appropriate award?

The difficulty is in situations where the harm suffered by the claimant is not one that can easily be measured in money – for example, loss of earnings is a lot easier to measure than being very upset or anxious about something.   There is little guidance from the European authorities, save that the court tends to look at the nature and seriousness of the breach complained about, and the claimant’s own behaviour.

The European Court has also recognised ‘loss of relationship’ as another form of intangible injury – that is the loss of love and companionship which occurs when a family relationship is disrupted by breach of Article 8.

This is a clear difference between the kinds of damages that may be awarded for breach of contract or tort in the domestic courts, which may not recognise many of these types of loss or would require much stricter proof to be satisfied they had occurred. Some types of loss are going to be much more easily quantified than others.

The court in H (A Child) noted that there was not much assistance from previous cases in determining what amount should be awarded. In this case, each parent was awarded £6,000. See para 87:

Whilst the authorities referred to are of some small assistance, there are too few to be able to be confident that they indicate the broad parameters for making an assessment. In any event, it must, of course, be remembered that every case is different. Every case turns on its own facts. The assessment of damages in these cases is highly fact sensitive.

The court in X, Y. & Z re (Damages: Inordinate delay in issuing proceedings) [2016] approved the identification of the relevant issues by HHJ Lazarus in the Medway case [2015]:

  • The length of the proceedings
  • The length of the breach
  • The severity of the breach
  • Distress caused
  •  Insufficient involvement of the parent or child in the decision making process
  • Other procedural failures.

WARNING: It is likely that the Court of Appeal decision in London Borough of Hackney v Williams  & Anor [2017] is a clear attempt to row back from what appears to be ever increasing amounts awarded in damages for HRA claims. The Court decided that there had been no breach in this case so no damages fell to be awarded – BUT if they had, the Court of Appeal were clear that the £10K awarded at first instance was simply too high. For further discussion of this case, see this post.

 

What did the Law Commission say?

The Law Commission report considered the damages awarded by the European court at paras 3.26 and 3.27 of its report:

The Strasbourg Court has made awards for non-pecuniary loss in respect of a wide range of intangible injuries. Non-pecuniary awards have included compensation for pain, suffering and psychological harm, distress, frustration, inconvenience, humiliation, anxiety and loss of reputation. There appears to be no conceptual limit on the categories of loss which may be taken into account, and the Strasbourg Court is often prepared to assume such loss, without direct proof…

The implication of the costs of proceedings

Guidance and warning from Anufrijeva 

Para 59 of Anufrijeva was cited with approval by the Court of Appeal in 2012,:

The fundamental principle underlying the award of compensation is that the court should achieve what it describes as restitution in integrum. The applicant should, in so far as this is possible, be placed in the same position as if his Convention rights had not been infringed. Where the breach of a Convention right has clearly caused significant pecuniary loss, this will usually be assessed and awarded. The awards of compensation to homosexuals, discharged from the armed forces, in breach of article 8, for loss of earnings and pension rights in Lustig-Prean and Beckett v United Kingdom (2000) 31 EHRR 601 and Smith and Grady v Untied Kingdom (2000) 31 EHRR 620 are good examples of this approach. The problem arises in relation to the consequences of the breach of a Convention right which are not capable of being computed in terms of financial loss.

The court in Anufrijeva suggested that in order to help work out what was an appropriate level of damages, guidance could be taken from levels of damages awarded in respect of torts, awards made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and by the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman. But this guidance could only be ‘rough’. The court also sounded this note of caution:

The reality is that a claim for damages under the HRA in respect of maladministration, whether brought as a free-standing claim or ancillary to a claim for other substantive relief, if pursued in court by adversarial proceedings, is likely to cost substantially more to try than the amount of any damages that are likely to be awarded. Furthermore, as we have made plain, there will often be no certainty that an entitlement to damages will be established at all.

The court was alarmed at how expensive it had been to bring this action and set out guidance for future cases:

  • The courts should look critically at any attempt to recover damages under the HRA for maladministration by any procedure other than judicial review in the Administrative Court.
  • The claimant will need to explain why it isn’t more appropriate to use other routes of resolving the complaint, such as an internal complaints procedure or a claim to the Local Government Ombudsman.
  • other forms of dispute resolution are encouraged and it is hoped that any such future claims can be dealt with quickly by a judge reading the evidence.

These warnings have been repeated in later cases, most notably by Cobb J in SW & TW [2017], cited above.

Other issues regarding HRA applications

Limitation periods: You must make your claim within a year if its a ‘free standing’ application.

But the court does have discretion to extend that time. Section 7(5) provides that:

‘(5) Proceedings under subsection (1)(a) must be brought before the end of—
(a) the period of one year beginning with the date on which the act complained of took place; or
(b) such longer period as the court or tribunal considers equitable having regard to all the circumstances,
but that is subject to any rule imposing a stricter time limit in relation to the procedure in question.

Injunctions under the Human Rights Act

It is possible to apply for an injunction under the HRA 1998 to prevent a public body from acting unlawfully. See our post about the LA attempting to remove a child from home who was there under a care order. The court confirmed that the parents should apply for an injunction to prevent this.

 

If care proceedings are on going

The courts are clear that if human rights issues are raised during care proceedings, they should be determined within those proceedings, not by separate application to another court. See In the Matter of L [2003], approved at paragraph 58 in H (A Child – Breach of Convention Rights: Damages) [2014].

The court held further at paragraph 64:

I am satisfied that the Family Court has the power to make an award of damages under s.8(2) of the Human Rights Act 1998. I am equally satisfied that the authorities to which I have referred continue to apply and that where, in the course of care proceedings, relief is sought under section 8, that relief must be sought within the care proceedings pursuant to s.7(1)(b) of the 1998 Act and not by bringing freestanding proceedings under s.7(1)(a).

BUT note what was said by Keehan J in the Northamptonshire case (see below) about making a separate application to avoid the full impact of the legal aid statutory charge absorbing any award of damages. No doubt this area of law will continue to develop, so watch this space.

 

The impact of the legal aid charge – can it ever be worth making a claim?

It is now beyond doubt that the Legal Aid Agency will seek to recover its costs from the amount of damages awarded. This is set out in the Statutory Charge Manual  [2014].  Thus, if an application is made under the HRA in existing proceedings – as the court advises should happen – an applicant is likely to have already incurred significant legal costs which are likely to wipe out any award of damages.

The purpose of the Statutory Charge, as set out in the Manual is as follows.

  • put legally aided individuals as far as possible in the same position as successful non-legally aided individuals (who are responsible at the end of their cases to pay their own legal costs if their opponent in the litigation does not, or is unable, to pay them). The statutory charge converts legal aid from a grant into a loan. (See Davies v. Eli Lilly & Co [1987] 3 All ER 94 at 97 to 98).
  • ensure that legally aided individuals contribute towards the cost of funding their cases so far as they are able; and
  • deter legally aided individuals from running up costs unreasonably by giving them a financial interest in how much money is being spent.

There are exemptions from the charge – see page 31 onwards of the manual – but the HRA does not appear. The Manual itself runs to 108 pages which gives you an idea as to its complexity.

The issue of costs and the statutory charge was further considered in CZ (Human Rights Claim: Costs) [2017] EWFC 11.

The court dealt with this from para 46 onwards. The parents and the child were each awarded £3,750 as ‘just satisfaction’ after the child was removed at birth for about three weeks and the LA later conceded they had no evidence to justify this. However, the court was clear that the damages were likely to be eaten up by the statutory charge and was critical of the failure by the parties to adopt a proportionate approach to this issue.

For further commentary on this issue, see this post by The Transparency Project. 

Can anything be done to avoid the statutory charge?

Free Standing applications

It seems sensible to consider making a free standing application under the HRA which is not then linked to the costs incurred in any other proceedings, as this may help keep any costs at a lower level. However, applicants will need to be very careful of criticisms levelled by the courts at those who do not raise human rights issues in their existing proceedings.

This was the route taken by Keehan J in the Northamptonshire case in 2017. Its success will depend on the particular facts of each case.

See also the case of P v a Local Authority [2016] EWHC 2779 for a decision where the statutory charge was held NOT to apply to an award of damages. There is commentary on this case by suesspiciousminds who points out that this case probably won’t be a ‘road map’ for future cases as there were two major differences between this case and other HRA cases: namely that the HRA breach happened AFTER the Court hearing and not really in connection with the Court hearing at all and the LAA had been asked to fund a damages claim and had refused.

Section 17 of the Children Act 1989

Further discussion with colleagues suggests that the LA could pay money under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 which deals with the provision of services to children in need and their families; section 17(7) allows the LA to make payments in cash. There is also the general wellbeing provision of the Local Government Act 2000 – section 2(4) allows the LA to give financial assistance to any person.

However, payments made under either Act are unlikely to be an attractive option to LAs as they would come out of social work budgets whereas a court order to pay damages would be met by insurance. Nor is it enforceable, if the LA say they will pay but then go back on their offer.

Costs orders

Give consideration to asking the court to make a costs order against the other side. It is now clear that these applications are governed by the CPR and therefore the starting point for costs will be that the loser pays. However you will need to consider your own litigation conduct and attempt to make realistic and genuine attempts to settle.

Making a complaint pursuant to section 26 of the Children Act 1989

A colleague contacted me to say that in one of her cases, the LA offered the children £1,500 each by way of ex gratia payments following a complaint made under section 26 after the care proceedings had concluded. This money will be held in trust until the children are 18.

The only problem with this approach is that for those acting on behalf of the child there’s little room for negotiation over the amount of money offered, because once proceedings have finished the children’s guardian doesn’t have any standing to pursue a HR application 

Damages awarded in other cases

  • 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.
  • Northamptonshire CC v AS [2015] – damages £16K.
  • 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.
  • In re A (A Child) in August 2015,  the mother was awarded £3,000 for unlawful removal of her child.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • BB (A Child) [2016] 27th June EWFC B53 £7,500 awarded for misuse of section 20.
  • GD & BD (Children) [2016] 10-18 October 2016 EWCH 3312 – example of very poor police, LA and legal practice, described by Suesspiciousminds as ‘the worst case of the year’. £10,000 awarded to the mother and £5,000 to each child.
  • 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)
  • 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.

Further reading

 

Final care order with child placed at home

It is possible that a care order can be made but the care plan is for the child to remain at home. This used to be quite unusual but may become more common as the requirement is now that care proceedings must conclude as soon as possible or in any event take no longer than 26 weeks.

The difficulty with this scenario, is what happens if the LA don’t think things are going well at home and they decide they want to remove your child?

 

What happens if the LA want to remove your child after final care order is made?

Parents have the option of applying to discharge the care order under section 39 of the Children Act 1989.

However, this is not an option that is useful in an urgent situation because takes time for the necessary reports to be written and evidence gathered. Further, parents won’t automatically get help with paying for lawyers.

 

What can the parents do to act quickly in this situation?

Injunctions under the Human Rights Act 1998

This issue was death with in the Matter of DE (A Child) in 2014.  There were concerns about how DE’s parents would cope looking after him as both parents had learning disabilities. However, with a package of support and the help of extended family, DE was able to live with his parents from birth.

In November 2012 when D was aged 11 months, the court made a final care order supporting the LA plan that DE remain at home with his parents but subject to  a care order. This would be kept under review – if all was going well, the LA might apply for a supervision order instead. If things were not going well, the LA would remove DE from his parent’s care.

The LA became increasingly worried about the care that DE’s parents were giving him, considering that the parents needed constant prompting about issues of safety both in and outside the home.  In March 2014 the LA told the parents that they were going to remove DE in a month’s time.

The father applied for an injunction under section 8(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 to prevent the LA removing DE as there was no urgent need to do so. The LA responded that they were entitled to act in this way as they had a care order and the responsibility of making decisions for the child had therefore passed to them; the court could only intervene if what the LA was doing was unlawful. The Judge felt he had no choice but to refuse the father’s application for an injunction and DE was removed.

The father appealed and Mr Justice Baker concluded that the first judge was wrong to say he could not go behind the care order. The court did have the power to make an injunction to stop the LA removing the child.

Although the LA has the power under section 33(3) of the Children Act 1989 to determine how others may exercise their parental responsibility for child, under section 33(4) they can only exercise that power if to do so is necessary to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.

Therefore a LA should only remove a child from home under a care order if removal meets the requirement of necessity. If removal is not necessary, the LA are proposing to act in a way which breaches Article 8 of the ECHR  – and  the court has the power to stop them by way of injunction using the Human Rights Act 1998.

The court said:

34. To my mind, where a care order has been granted on the basis of a care plan providing that the child should remain at home, a local authority considering changing the plan and removing the child permanently from the family is obliged in law to follow the same approach. It must have regard to the fact that permanent placement outside the family is to be preferred only as a last resort where nothing else will do. Before making its decision, it must rigorously analyse all the realistic options, considering the arguments for and against each option. This is an essential process, not only as a matter of good practice, but also because the local authority will inevitably have to demonstrate its analysis in any court proceedings that follow the change of care plan, either on an application for the discharge of the care order or an application for placement order under the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This process of rigorous analysis of all realistic options should be an essential feature of all long-term planning for children. And, as indicated by Munby J in Re G, the local authority must fully involve the parents in its decision-making process.

 

 
35. While this process is being carried out, the child should remain at home under the care order, unless his safety and welfare requires that he be removed immediately. This is the appropriate test when deciding whether the child should be removed under an interim care order, pending determination of an application under s.31 of the Children Act: Re L-A (Children) [2009] EWCA Civ 822. The same test should also apply when a local authority’s decision to remove a child placed at home under a care order has led to an application by the parents to discharge the order and the court has to decide whether the child should be removed pending determination of the discharge application. As set out above, under s.33(4) of the 1989, the local authority may not exercise its powers under a care order to determine how a parent may exercise his or her parental responsibility for the child unless satisfied it is necessary to do so to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. For a local authority to remove a child in circumstances where its welfare did not require it would be manifestly unlawful and an unjustifiable interference with the family’s Article 8 rights.

 

 
36. In submissions before the district judge, and before this court, it was argued on behalf of the local authority that its removal of D from the family home was lawful simply by reason of the care order. That submission is fundamentally misconceived. The local authority’s removal of the child would only be lawful if necessary to safeguard or promote his welfare. Any other removal, or threatened removal, of the child is prima facie unlawful and an interference of the Article 8 rights of the parents and child. In such circumstances, the parents are entitled to seek an injunction under s.8 of the HRA.

The court ordered a further hearing in a few weeks time in order to consider whether DE should be returned to his parents’ care whilst all the necessary evidence was gathered to proceed with an application to discharge the care order.

 

Guidance from the court for future cases.

(1) In every case where a care order is made on the basis of a care plan providing that a child should live at home with his or her parents, it should be a term of the care plan, and a recital in the care order, that the local authority agrees to give not less than fourteen days notice of a removal of the child, save in an emergency. I consider that fourteen days is an appropriate period, on the one hand to avoid unnecessary delay but, on the other hand, to allow the parents an opportunity to obtain legal advice.

 
(2) Where a care order has been granted on the basis of a care plan providing that the child should remain at home, a local authority considering changing the plan and removing the child permanently from the family must have regard to the fact that permanent placement outside the family is to be preferred only as a last resort where nothing else will do and must rigorously analyse all the realistic options, considering the arguments for and against each option. Furthermore, it must involve the parents properly in the decision-making process.

(3) In every case where a parent decides to apply to discharge a care order in circumstances where the local authority has given notice of intention to remove a child placed at home under a care order, the parent should consider whether to apply in addition for an injunction under s.8 of the HRA to prevent the local authority from removing the child pending the determination of the discharge application. If the parent decides to apply for an injunction, that application should be issued at the same time as the discharge application.

(4) When a local authority, having given notice of its intention to remove a child placed at home under a care order, is given notice of an application for discharge of the care, the local authority must consider whether the child’s welfare requires his immediate removal. Furthermore, the authority must keep a written record demonstrating that it has considered this question and recording the reasons for its decision. In reaching its decision on this point, the local authority must again inter alia consult with the parents. Any removal of a child in circumstances where the child’s welfare does not require immediate removal, or without proper consideration and consultation, is likely to be an unlawful interference with the Article 8 rights of the parent and child.

(5) On receipt of an application to discharge a care order, where the child has been living at home, the allocation gatekeeper at the designated family centre should check whether it is accompanied by an application under s.8 of HRA and, if not, whether the circumstances might give rise to such an application. This check is needed because, as discussed below, automatic legal aid is not at present available for such applications to discharge a care order, and it is therefore likely that such applications may be made by parents acting in person. In cases where the discharge application is accompanied by an application for an order under s.8 HRA, or the allocation gatekeeper considers that the circumstances might give rise to such an application, he or she should allocate the case as soon as possible to a circuit judge for case management. Any application for an injunction in these circumstances must be listed for an early hearing.

(6) On hearing an application for an injunction under s.8 HRA to restrain a local authority removing a child living at home under a care order pending determination of an application to discharge the care order, the court should normally grant the injunction unless the child’s welfare requires his immediate removal from the family home.

For further discussion about this case and its implications, see this blog post from suesspicsiousminds. 

 

Proportionality and Article 8 of the ECHR

What does this mean? And why is it important?

to protect individuals against arbitrary interference by public authorities

 

The European Convention and the Human Rights Act 1998

‘Proportionality’ is the key concept to understanding how family law operates.  This comes from Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).

The Convention is protected by the European Court of Human Rights, which was established in 1959. For a useful introduction to the ECHR see this infographic from Rights Info which discusses the basic structure of the European Court, who it protects and why it matters. For further information and discussion about the scope of Article 8, see the ECHR on-line site. You can get the form to make an application to the European Court and read the guide on how to make the application. 

Prior to the implementation of the  Human Rights Act 1998  (HRA), if you were complaining about a breach of the ECHR, you had to apply directly to the European Court in Strasbourg. Now, the HRA allows the ECHR to take ‘direct effect’ in domestic legislation.

Section 6 of the HRA and makes it clear that ‘public authorities’ – which includes local authorities who want to make applications for care orders – cannot act in a way which is incompatible with the ECHR, unless they are following statute law which they can’t interpret in a way to make it compatible.

If a Judge agrees that statute law is incompatible with the ECHR, he or she can make a ‘declaration of incompatibility’ which means the Government will have to think seriously about amending that statute.

For useful discussion about how Parliament in the UK and the European Court interact, see this discussion from the House of Commons Library blog about parliamentary sovereignty and the European Convention.  

There has been much recent debate about whether or not the UK should keep the Human Rights Act; the perception of some is that we are subject to excessive interference from Europe in the way we want to manage our country. The fears of excessive interference are not reflected by the number of times the UK has been subject to criticism in the European Court of Human Rights. The House of Commons blog says:

Since the Court of Human Rights was established in 1959, it has delivered around 17,000 judgments. Nearly half of these concerned five Member States (Turkey, Italy, the Russian Federation, Poland and Romania) … from 1959 to 2013, (and in purely numerical terms) the UK was responsible for 2.96% of the total violations found by the court (compared to Turkey who has been the worst offender, responsible for 17.75%).

A note of caution – disappearance of ‘human rights’ from the ‘Working Together’ guidance.

‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ is very important government guidance for all professionals in this field. It was first published in 1999. The 2010 edition contained useful and explicit mention of human rights and reminded professionals that data protection principles often engaged individual human rights.

However, some commentators have noted with concern that the most recent edition of the guidance contains only one reference to ‘data protection’ and no reference whatsoever to ‘human rights’. There is legitimate concern that the boundary is becoming blurred between children who are ‘in need’ and require help and children who are ‘at risk’ and require protection and the ‘air brushing’ out of any reference to human rights in the guidance is thus regrettable.

As Allan Norman comments:

If social workers stop caring about human rights, isn’t that like doctors stopping caring about health or lawyers about justice?

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

The two most frequently encountered Articles of the ECHR in care proceedings are Article 6 – the right to a fair trial – and Article 8. There is clearly some overlap between the two – if your right to a fair trial is compromised in care proceedings, this may have implications for your family life.

Article 8 provides:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Therefore, we can see that Article 8 rights are not ‘absolute’ but can be over ruled when:

  • it is lawful to do so;
  • it is necessary to do so, for example, to protect health or morals.

 

The ambit of Article 8 rights

In Pretty v UK (2002) 35 EHRR 1 at paragraph 61 the ECtHR made the following comment about the ambit of Article 8:

As the Court has had previous occasion to remark, the concept of “private life” is a broad term not susceptible to exhaustive definition. It covers the physical and psychological integrity of the person. It can sometimes embrace aspects of an individual’s physical and social identity. Elements such as, for example, gender identification, name and sexual orientation and sexual life fall within the personal sphere protected by Article 8. Article 8 also protects a right to personal development, and the right to establish and develop relationships with other human beings and the outside world. Though no previous case has established any such right to self determination as being contained in Article 8 of the Convention, the Court considers that the notion of personal autonomy is an important principle underlying the interpretation of its guarantees.

With regard to the ambit of ‘family life’ Article 8 covers:

Article 8 ECHR provides that everyone has the right to respect for family life. The European Court of Human Rights interprets the term ‘family life’ autonomously. Forms of cohabitation or personal relationships which are not recognized as falling in the ambit of ‘family life’ in the jurisdiction of a contracting state can still enjoy protection by article 8; family life is not confined to legally acknowledged relationships. The Court is led by social, emotional and biological factors rather than legal considerations when assessing whether a relationship is to be considered as ‘family life’.

How do we decide if Article 8 rights should be over-ruled in a particular case?

This is where proportionality comes into play. It cannot be ‘necessary’ to breach someone’s rights if they way you propose to breach them is well in excess of what is needed to prevent harmful consequences.

For example, in some cases, there are worries that a parent is finding it hard to cope at home and this is having a bad impact on the children. The LA are considering care proceedings, but family and friends offer to help. In those circumstances it probably would not be ‘proportionate’ to demand that this parent give up his or her children for adoption or even  have the children go to live with foster carers for a short time.

A more proportionate response would be for everyone to meet and discuss what they could do to keep the children safe at home.

However, if a child is seriously injured at home and his parents can’t or won’t say what happened, then it probably will be proportionate to remove the child immediately from his parents’ care. 

See our post on interim removals and emergency protection orders.

The issue of proportionality was discussed by the Supreme Court in Re B in 2013 when considering an appeal against the trial judge’s decision that it was proportionate to remove a child for adoption.

115. Into all of this discussion, however, must come the question of proportionality. Significantly different considerations are in play when the proportionality of the decision is in issue. A decision as to whether a particular outcome is proportionate involves asking oneself, is it really necessary. That question cannot be answered by saying that someone else with whose judgment I am reluctant to interfere, or whose judgment can be defended, has decided that it is necessary. It requires the decision-maker, at whatever level the decision is made, to starkly confront the question, “is this necessary”. If an appellate court decides that it would not have concluded that it was necessary, even though it can understand the reasons that the first instance court believed it to be so, or if it considered that the decision of the lower court was perfectly tenable, it cannot say that the decision was proportionate.

For an example of a case where the Court of Appeal thought removing children was not a proportionate response, see K (Children) [2014].

 

Is the Children Act 1989 compatible with Article 8 of the ECHR?

Short answer – yes. For a recent example of when the UK was challenged by Latvia over the legitimacy of its care proceedings, see this post. 

When the Human Rights Act came into force, there was a lot of interest in testing the Children Act 1989 to see if it was compatible with the ECHR.

One challenge was to the fact that once  a care order is made, it is up to the LA to decide how to make it work and the court does not have any power to interfere with those decisions. The House of Lords (as they were then called; they are now the Supreme Court) considered whether or not this was compatible with Article 8 in the case of In re S [2002] UKHL 10. The lawyers argued that the court should continue to oversee what the LA was doing by way of ‘starred care plans’ – which identified issues in the care plan which should be kept under review and brought back to court if necessary.

The House of Lords rejected that argument and held that introducing this new supervisory role for the courts would go far beyond simply ‘interpreting’ the Children Act; it would be introducing a new role for the courts and only Parliament had the power to do that. To entrust a local authority with the sole responsibility for a child’s care, once the ‘significant harm’ threshold has been established, is not of itself an infringement of article 8.

53. The essential purpose of this article is to protect individuals against arbitrary interference by public authorities. In addition to this negative obligation there are positive obligations inherent in an effective concept of ‘respect’ for family life: see Marckx v Belgium (1979) 2 EHRR 330, 342, paragraph 31. In both contexts a fair balance has to be struck between the competing interests of the individual and the community as a whole: see Hokkanen v Finland (1994) 19 EHRR 139, 168-169, paragraph 55.

54. Clearly, if matters go seriously awry, the manner in which a local authority discharges its parental responsibilities to a child in its care may violate the rights of the child or his parents under this article. The local authority’s intervention in the life of the child, justified at the outset when the care order was made, may cease to be justifiable under article 8(2). Sedley LJ pointed out that a care order from which no good is coming cannot sensibly be said to be pursuing a legitimate aim. A care order which keeps a child away from his family for purposes which, as time goes by, are not being realised will sooner or later become a disproportionate interference with the child’s primary article 8 rights: see paragraph 45 of his judgment.

55. Further, the local authority’s decision making process must be conducted fairly and so as to afford due respect to the interests protected by article 8. For instance, the parents should be involved to a degree which is sufficient to provide adequate protection for their interests: W v United Kingdom (1987) 10 EHRR 29, 49-50, paragraphs 62-64.

56. However, the possibility that something may go wrong with the local authority’s discharge of its parental responsibilities or its decision making processes, and that this would be a violation of article 8 so far as the child or parent is concerned, does not mean that the legislation itself is incompatible, or inconsistent, with article 8. The Children Act imposes on a local authority looking after a child the duty to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. Before making any decision with respect to such a child the authority must, so far as reasonably practicable, ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child and his parents: section 22. Section 26 provides for periodic case reviews by the authority, including obtaining the views of parents and children. One of the required reviews is that every six months the local authority must actively consider whether it should apply to the court for a discharge of the care order: see the Review of Children’s Cases Regulations 1991 (SI 1991 No. 895). Every local authority must also establish a procedure for considering representations, including complaints, made to it by any child who is being looked after by it, or by his parents, about the discharge by the authority of its parental responsibilities for the child.

57. If an authority duly carries out these statutory duties, in the ordinary course there should be no question of infringement by the local authority of the article 8 rights of the child or his parents. Questions of infringement are only likely to arise if a local authority fails properly to discharge its statutory responsibilities. Infringement which then occurs is not brought about, in any meaningful sense, by the Children Act. Quite the reverse. Far from the infringement being compelled, or even countenanced, by the provisions of the Children Act, the infringement flows from the local authority’s failure to comply with its obligations under the Act. True, it is the Children Act which entrusts responsibility for the child’s care to the local authority. But that is not inconsistent with article 8. Local authorities are responsible public authorities, with considerable experience in this field. Entrusting a local authority with the sole responsibility for a child’s care, once the ‘significant harm’ threshold has been established, is not of itself an infringement of article 8. There is no suggestion in the Strasbourg jurisprudence that absence of court supervision of a local authority’s discharge of its parental responsibilities is itself an infringement of article 8.

Reforms following this decision

However, although the House of Lords rejected the idea of ‘starred care plans’, they were troubled by the absence of any identified individual who would oversee and intervene if a LA were not offering good enough care to children after the court hearing was over. This could be particularly serious if a child had no parent who was willing or able to make complaints on their behalf and could lead to an infringement of the child’s human rights.

Lord Nicholls said at paragraph 106:

I must finally make an observation of a general character. In this speech I have sought to explain my reasons for rejecting the Court of Appeal’s initiative over starred milestones. I cannot stress too strongly that the rejection of this innovation on legal grounds must not obscure the pressing need for the Government to attend to the serious practical and legal problems identified by the Court of Appeal or mentioned by me. One of the questions needing urgent consideration is whether some degree of court supervision of local authorities’ discharge of their parental responsibilities would bring about an overall improvement in the quality of child care provided by local authorities. Answering this question calls for a wider examination than can be undertaken by a court. The judgments of the Court of Appeal in the present case have performed a valuable service in highlighting the need for such an examination to be conducted without delay.

The Independent Reviewing Officer

The Government responded with Section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which amended section 26 of the Children Act 1989 and established the role of Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO).

The job of the IRO is to improve outcomes for looked after children by reviewing each child’s care plan and ensure that the child’s wishes and feelings are considered. They must:

  • monitor the local authority’s performance of their functions in relation to the child’s case
  • participate in any review of the child’s case
  • ensure that any ascertained wishes and feelings of the child concerning the case are given due consideration by the appropriate authority
  • perform any other function which is prescribed in regulations.
  • promote the voice of the child
  • ensure that plans for looked after children are based on a detailed and informed assessment, are up-to-date, effective and provide a real and genuine response to each child’s needs
  • identify any gaps in the assessment process or provision of service
  • making sure that the child understands how an advocate could help and his/her entitlement to one
  • offer a safeguard to prevent any ‘drift’ in care planning for looked after children and the delivery of services to them
  • monitor the activity of the responsible authority as a corporate parent in ensuring that care plans have given proper consideration and weight to the child’s wishes and feelings and that, where appropriate, the child fully understands the implications of any changes made to his/her care plan.

See our post about the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer for more information. 

 

Further reading/listening

June 2016 – Podcast from barrister David Bedingfield of 4 Paper Buildings ‘Proportionality and Public Law Children Cases’. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transparency

What can I talk about? Who can I talk to?

‘I am determined to take steps to improve access to and reporting of family proceedings. I am determined that the new Family Court should not be saddled, as the family courts are at present, with the charge that we are a system of secret and unaccountable justice.’

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division

funnel

The issues of transparency and openness in the family courts have provoked much debate. The need for family courts to be ‘private’ to prevent intimate details of family life being published is criticised by many as simply ‘secrecy’ which prevents the public from knowing what is going on. The trend is towards greater openness to reflect the public’s legitimate interest in the workings of the family court but there are still quite significant limitations on what you can and cannot say about care proceedings and who can come into court.

This post will cover

  • A summary of the current position
  • The developing history of principles about transparency
  • Statute law and rules relating to transparency
  • Case law and guidance
  • Other issues
    • journalists in court
    • recording court proceedings
    • participating in research.

 

Summary of the current position

The general rule is that you can’t talk about or publish information about care proceedings. This would include publishing on social media, such as Facebook etc. This is due to worries about children being identified and details about their family circumstances becoming widely known. Children do not get a choice about whether or not they are part of care proceedings so it is felt to be very unfair to publicise circumstances that they might find very embarrassing or shameful.

This is a principle of longstanding. See Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417 and the comments of Lord Shaw of Dunfermline at p 483:

The affairs are truly private affairs; the transactions are transactions truly intra familiam; and it has long been recognized that an appeal for the protection of the Court in the case of such persons does not involve the consequence of placing in the light of publicity their truly domestic affairs.

Generally only people who are parties (directly involved) in the proceedings can come into court. Often courts will be sympathetic to requests that a friend or family member can sit in court to provide moral support, but this is not always permitted. Journalists may be able to come into court but there are serious restrictions as to what they are allowed to report.

16th January 2014, the President of the Family Division published  Practice Guidance relating to transparency in the Family Courts. The purpose is to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system by increasing the number of judgments available for publication (even if they will often need to be published in appropriately anonymised form).

However, this guidance does not have the same status as a Practice Direction – see paragraph Re C (Publication of Judgment) [2015] EWCA Civ 500.

For a useful summary and discussion of where we are following the case of re J see this article by Dr Julie Doughty of Cardiff University. She quotes the position as set out by suesspcious minds:

‘…a parent involved in care proceedings can campaign in the press and the internet, naming social workers and using whatever language they like without the Family Court intervening, SO LONG AS they DON’T do anything which directly or indirectly causes the child to be identifiable.’

We will examine this position in more detail below.

 

Historical development of the current complicated position

The first thing to note is that this is a complicated area of law. Sir James Munby wrote in 2010 ‘Lost opportunities: law reform and transparency in the family courts’ [2010] CFLQ 273.

We are here in an area regulated in part by statute law, in part by the common law and in part by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The statute law is a mosaic of ill-fitting pieces without any discernible overall objective. And the judge-made law is complex. There is a rich and subtle jurisprudence expounding the meaning and effect of section 12 of the 1960 Act, another rich and subtle jurisprudence explaining the circumstances in which the court can or should either relax or increase the automatic restrictions, and another rich and subtle jurisprudence identifying the various Convention interests which, typically, are engaged in such cases and explaining how they are to be balanced. Now the jurisprudence may be rich and subtle, but it is not easy either to access or to understand unless one happens to be steeped in it – which even most family lawyers are not – or one has the time and the inclination to undertake what may be quite time- consuming research.

The consequences are hardly acceptable. There are few such well-tilled areas of the law which have been so bedevilled by myths, misunderstandings and, indeed, plain errors on the part of lawyers.

We will here attempt to unpick the various strands of statute and case law which govern this important issue. 

 

What does Parliament say?

The High Court has the power to reduce or increase any statutory restrictions on publication, by using the inherent jurisdiction. This will be discussed in more detail below. See further Practice Direction 12D. 

Section 97 of the Children Act 1989

Section 97(2) says no person shall publish any material which is intended or likely to identify any child as being involved in any proceedings under the Children Act 1989 or the Adoption Act 2002, including the child’s address or school.

A breach of section 97(2) could mean you have committed a criminal offence, but you will have a defence under section 97(3) if you didn’t know or suspect that the published material was intended or likely to identify the child.

The court can dispense with the requirements of section 97(2) if they think the child’s welfare requires it. For example, if a child goes missing and publicity could help find him. For an interesting example of when this was done see discussion around the Minnock case in June 2015.

‘Publish’ is defined in section 97(5) and includes in a programme as defined by the Broadcasting Act 1990.  ‘Material’ covers any picture or representation. Section 97 stops applying once the proceedings have ended.

 

Section 12 Administration of Justice Act 1960.

This refers to proceedings in private, such as family proceedings, and makes it a contempt of court to publish information relating to such proceedings.

Something is ‘published’ whenever it would be considered published according to the law of defamation UNLESS someone is communicating information to a professional in order to protect a child. Generally to ‘publish’ means ‘making information known to the general public’ so would include putting information on the Internet, such as a Facebook profile.

Under section 12 you can’t publish accounts of what went on in front of the judge sitting in private, documents filed in the proceedings, including extracts, quotations or summaries of such documents. There is no time limit so it operates even after the proceedings finish.

The identity of witnesses in care proceeedings is not protected by section 12 and if any witness does want to remain anonymous they will have to convince the court that their need for anonymity was more important than the need for openness.

In Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] EWHC 411 (Fam) [2004] 2 FLR 142 at para [82](v)-(vii); Munby J (as he then was) discussed the ambit of section 12 and said:

At one time it was believed that the mere publication of information about a ward of court was contempt of court. Although that heresy was exploded by the Court of Appeal in In re F …the belief seems to have lingered on well into the 1980s … Let it be said clearly, once and for all: the publication of information about a ward, even if the child is known to be a ward, is not, of itself and without more ado, a contempt of court … At one time, and even after the Court of Appeal’s decision in In re F, there was widespread misunderstanding as to the ambit of section 12 and, in particular, as to the meaning of the critical words “information relating to proceedings before [the] court sitting in private”.

For long it was thought that the effect of section 12 was to prevent publication of any information whatever about wardship proceedings. Again it was only in the late 1980s that a true understanding of the limited ambit of section 12 emerged … It suffices for present purposes to say that, in essence, what section 12 protects is the privacy and confidentiality: (i) of the documents on the court file; and (ii) of what has gone on in front of the judge in his courtroom. … In contrast, section 12 does not operate to prevent publication of the fact that wardship proceedings are on foot, nor does it prevent identification of the parties or even of the ward himself. It does not prevent reporting of the comings and goings of the parties and witnesses, nor of incidents taking place outside the court or indeed within the precincts of the court but outside the room in which the judge is conducting the proceedings. Nor does section 12 prevent public identification and at least some discussion of the issues in the wardship proceedings.

For an example of how consideration of section 12 can cause problems for even the lawyers, see this discussion from the Transparency Project.

 

Section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999

This replaced section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 in all criminal courts except youth courts. It gives the court the power to prevent any newspaper revealing details that might identify a child or publishing a picture of the child in court proceedings.

Section 62 of the Children Act 2004

It is no longer a criminal offence for a party to family proceedings involving children to disclose orders to other individuals or bodies, so long as disclosure is not made to the general public or any section of the general public, or to the media.

Nor is it a contempt of court to disclose information where there are rules allowing people to communicate some information in certain circumstances.

See Rule 12.73 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010

You won’t be in contempt of court if you discuss information about care proceedings so long as you are talking to a person named on this list.

  • a party to the proceedings;
  • the legal representative of a party;
  • a professional legal adviser;
  • Cafcass
  • the Legal Services Commission;
  • an expert whose instruction by a party has been authorised by the court for the purposes of the proceedings;
  • a professional acting in furtherance of the protection of children;
  • an independent reviewing officer appointed in respect of a child who is, or has been, subject to proceedings to which this rule applies;

The court can also give permission for you to disclose to someone not on this list. See Rule 12.73 (1)(b). However, Any relaxation of the prohibition on publication must ‘be clear and specific. It cannot amount to a blank cheque’ (see para 42 K (A child: Wardship: Publicity) (no 2) [2013] EWHC 3748.

See also Practice Direction 12 G which at paragraph 2.1 provides a table of people who can share information for a particular purpose, for example a party to care proceedings may disclose whole or part of a judgment for the purposes of a criminal investigation.

See further Rule 12.75. If it is ‘necessary’ to share information about the proceedings to enable a party to get advice, support or assistance in the conduct of proceedings or to attend mediation or to make a complaint then you can do that – but if you are talking to for example a family member to get support, that family member must not pass on the  information to anyone else. The test of ‘necessary’ is a high one.

What do the courts say?

The general trend is towards less restriction in what can be publicized. This is a recognition of the inevitable – the ease of access to the Internet means that information can be published by anyone across the world by the click of a button.

See Practice Direction 12D.

It is the duty of the court under its inherent jurisdiction to ensure that a child who is the subject of proceedings is protected and properly taken care of. The court may in exercising its inherent jurisdiction make any order or determine any issue in respect of a child unless limited by case law or statute. Such proceedings should not be commenced unless it is clear that the issues concerning the child cannot be resolved under the Children Act 1989.

The court may under its inherent jurisdiction, in addition to all of the orders which can be made in family proceedings, make a wide range of injunctions for the child’s protection of which the following are the most common –
(a) orders to restrain publicity;
(b) orders to prevent an undesirable association;
(c) orders relating to medical treatment;
(d) orders to protect abducted children, or children where the case has another substantial foreign element; and
(e) orders for the return of children to and from another state.

 

Guidance and case law

The President of the Family Division produced guidance in 2014 as to  when judgments in family cases should be published. This guidance was considered in the case of C (A Child) in 2015.

But what about wider information about the case, including the identities of the people involved? Usually any judgment delivered by the court will contain a ‘rubric’; which is an introductory paragraph before the main judgment, which explains what you are allowed to do with the information within it.

A standard rubric will say something like –  the Judge allows this judgment to be reported, provided that you don’t identify the parents or children. This rubric has the effect of ‘cancelling out’ section 12 of the AJA and means anyone who publishes the judgment can’t be convicted of contempt of court if they obey the judge’s instructions.

The legal effect of this rubric is uncertain. This was considered by Munby J in Re B, X Council v B and Others [2008] 1 FLR 482. At para [12] he said:

Lurking behind the current application there is, in fact, an important issue as to the precise effect of the rubric where, as here, there is no injunction in place. I do not propose to consider that issue. I will proceed on the assumption, though I emphasise without deciding the point, that the rubric is binding on anyone who seeks to make use of a judgment to which it is attached.

So what happens if you want to identify yourself? Or discuss the case more widely?

You will need to get a court order. Otherwise, if you do something contrary to any rubric to the order or any statutory provision, you could be in contempt of court.

The High Court has the power, due to section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and its own ‘inherent jurisdiction’ to make orders outside of the statutory provisions about people coming into court or being able to talk about what happens in court. See also rule 12.73 FPR discussed above.

If the High Court wants to make such an order, the court must examine any competing rights under Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention and undertake the ‘balancing exercise’ as set out in Re S (A Child) (Indentification: Restrictions on publication) [2004] UKHL 47

The case of Re Webster: Norfolk County Council v Webster and Ors [2007] 1 FLR 1146 identified 4 important factors for the court when it considered whether or not to allow information about a case to be publicised:

  • The case was alleged to involve a miscarriage of justice
  • The parents wanted publicity
  • The case had already been extensively publicized
  • There was a need for the full facts to emerge in a way which would improve public confidence in the judicial system.

A more recent case is that of Re J [2013] where the Local Authority wanted an order ‘contra mundum’ (against everyone in the world), preventing the identification of a child in care proceedings, to last until the child was 18.

This case involved J, one of the parents’ four children (all of whom went on to be adopted). J’s father posted on the internet various pictures and film of J being removed from the parents’ care, describing what he had published in these kind of terms:

“Waiting in the corner, in the shadows lurks a vampire-ish creature, a wicked, predatory social worker who is about to steal the child from the loving parents. Caught on camera – [name] of Staffordshire social services creeps in the corner like a ghoul, like a dirty secret, like a stain on the wall … You are a wicked, wicked woman [name] – God knows exactly what you have done, you must be very afraid, now! You WILL suffer for this.

Here is an interesting article about this case, in particular the ironic consequence that in attempting to restrain the father from posting his videos on the internet, the LA ensured that he received a great deal of publicity and probably more people saw the videos than would have done if they had not applied for the order.

 

The four propositions and the ‘ultimate balancing act’.

In Re K (A Child: Wardship: Publicity) [2013], the adopted parents of a girl known as ‘Katie’ (not her real name) sought a declaration that it would not be a contempt of court if they published information in the media about certain information relating to their parenting of Katie, who suffered from Reactive Attachment Disorder, of working with the Coventry City Council and the family justice system in general. One of the most important aspects of this case was Katie’s urgent need for therapy and the Judge had been critical of the local authority for not providing it.

HHJ Bellamy set out at paragraphs 54 -63 the approach the court should take when deciding to relax the statutory provisions which prohibit publication.

He identified four propositions

  • neither Article 8 nor Article 10 has precedence over the other
  • where the values under the two Articles are in conflict, an intense focus on the comparative importance of the specific rights being claimed in the individual case is necessary.
  • the justification for interfering with or restricting each right must be taken into account.
  • Finally, the proportionality test must be applied to each. This is ‘the ultimate balancing test’.

He considered the decision of the Court of Appeal in Clayton v Clayton [2006] EWCA Civ 878, [2006] Fam 83, [2006] 3 WLR 599, [2007] 1 FLR 11 where the position was summarised in this way:

[58] … each Article propounds a fundamental right which there is a pressing social need to protect. Equally, each Article qualifies the right it propounds so far as it may be lawful, necessary, and proportionate to do so in order to accommodate the other. The exercise to be performed is one of parallel analysis in which the starting point is presumptive parity, in that neither Article has precedence over or trumps the other. The exercise of parallel analysis requires the court to examine the justification for interfering with each right and the issue of proportionality is to be considered in respect of each. It is not a mechanical exercise to be decided on the basis of rival generalities. An intense focus on the comparative importance of the specific rights being claimed in the individual case is necessary before the ultimate balancing test in the terms of proportionality is carried out.

Although neither right takes automatic precedent over the other, it is worth remembering that they are different in quality. Article 8 rights are by their nature of ‘crucial importance to a few,’ while Article 10 rights are typically ‘of general importance to many’. Thus the court must be on guard not to undervalue and erode the rights of the many when faced with objections from a few. See further A (A Minor) [2011] EWHC 1764.

 

The disinfectant power of forensic sunlight

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policemanLouis D Brandeis, US Supreme Court Justice

The President of the Family Division said this in re J [2013] :

26. The first matter relates to what it has become conventional to call transparency. There is a pressing need for more transparency, indeed for much more transparency, in the family justice system. There are a number of aspects to this.

27. One is the right of the public to know, the need for the public to be confronted with, what is being done in its name. Nowhere is this more necessary than in relation to care and adoption cases. Such cases, by definition, involve interference, intrusion, by the state, by local authorities and by the court, into family life. In this context the arguments in favour of publicity – in favour of openness, public scrutiny and public accountability – are particularly compelling […]

28. I have said this many times in the past but it must never be forgotten that, with the state’s abandonment of the right to impose capital sentences, orders of the kind which family judges are typically invited to make in public law proceedings are amongst the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make. When a family judge makes a placement order or an adoption order in relation to a twenty-year old mother’s baby, the mother will have to live with the consequences of that decision for what may be upwards of 60 or even 70 years, and the baby for what may be upwards of 80 or even 90 years. We must be vigilant to guard against the risks.

29. This takes me on to the next point. We strive to avoid miscarriages of justice, but human justice is inevitably fallible. The Oldham and Webster cases stand as terrible warning to everyone involved in the family justice system, the latter as stark illustration of the fact that a miscarriage of justice which comes to light only after the child has been adopted will very probably be irremediable. […] We must have the humility to recognise – and to acknowledge – that public debate, and the jealous vigilance of an informed media, have an important role to play in exposing past miscarriages of justice and in preventing possible future miscarriages of justice.

The Judge went on to quote approvingly the phrase ‘the disinfectant power of forensic sunlight’ concluding that the answer to the growing distrust of the family law system in certain quarters, could only be met by increased openness and transparency.

The workings of the family justice system could be subject to legitimate public debate and even if some of the things said in that debate were offensive or mistaken, it was not for the law to intervene unless what was said was defamatory or contrary to criminal law. The only justification for restraining the parents from publishing material was if it would identify the child.

 

The Judge concluded

82. Assessing these three factors together, there is, it seems to me, a very powerful argument that the balance between the public interest in discussing the workings of the system and the personal privacy and welfare interests of the child is best and most proportionately struck by restraining the naming of the child while not restraining the publication of images of the child. The effect of this is that (a) the essential vice – the identification of the child – is in large measure prevented, (b) internet searches are most unlikely to provide any meaningful ‘link’ in the searcher’s mind with the particular child, and (c) the public debate is enabled to continue with the public having access to the footage albeit not knowing who the anonymous child is whose image is on view.

Guidance from Local Courts

HHJ Bellamy’s guidance to the Leicester and Leicestershire Family Justice Board in July 2015 looks at the current state of the law and sets out general guidance for how the courts should deal with the issue of transparency and publication of judgments:

  1. The decision to give permission for a judgment to be published is a judicial decision. It is a decision that can be appealed. See Re C (Publication of Judgment) [2015] EWCA Civ 500
  2. Whether or not the judgment is one which the Guidance indicates should normally be published, if the judge considers it appropriate to give permission to publish then the parties should be informed at the time the judgment is handed down.
  3. If the judgment has been prepared in anonymised format, the parties are under a duty to draw the court’s attention to any perceived inadequacy in the anonymisation. This is a process which requires careful attention to detail. The court should set a time limit within which any points about the anonymisation of the judgment should be made.
  4. If the judge indicates that she proposes to give permission for the judgment to be published it is open to a party to seek to persuade the court that upon a proper application of the ‘ultimate balancing test’ permission should not be granted.
  5. If advocates need time to martial their arguments with respect to the question of publication they should ask the judge for a short adjournment to enable submissions to be prepared.
  6. Submissions must be focussed on the competing Article 8 and Article 10 rights that are engaged and on the ‘ultimate balancing test’ which the court is required to undertake. It is not sufficient, for example, simply to state that a party does not agree to the judgment being published.
  7. If, having considered the submissions, the judge remains of the opinion that permission to publish that judgment should be granted and the party opposing publication wishes to appeal against that decision then a request should be made to the judge for permission to appeal and for a stay pending the hearing of the appeal.

 

Other issues

Journalists attending court.

See the Family Proceedings Rules 2010, rule 27.11, Practice Direction 27B and C and the President’s Guidance in Relation to Applications Consequent Upon the Attendance of the Media in Family Proceedings.

An ‘accredited media representative’ may attend private hearings in family proceedings but the court may ask them to leave for all or part if any party requests it. The media representatives must be allowed to argue why they should be allowed to stay. But given the limits on what can then be published, this right to attend court does not take the journalist much further forward.

As HHJ Bellamy commented in his guidance  to his local court from July 2015:

Writing in The Times on 28th April 2009, Camilla Cavendish, a leading campaigner for greater transparency in the family courts, made the point that “The door is open, but we desperately need more journalists to pick up a torch and walk through it”. That has not happened. In my experience media attendance in the family courts is rare. In the last six years there has only been one occasion when a duly accredited media representative has been present in my court. I believe that that is the experience of most family judges.

There are a number of reasons for this. These include, in particular, lack of advance notice of the cases coming before the court, lack of the resources needed to be able to send reporters into the family courts on a regular basis, lack of access to court documents, and the fact that the media can report only that limited information the publication of which does not breach the provisions of s.97(2) Children Act 1989 and s.12 Administration of Justice Act 1960.

The fact that the media rarely attends hearings in the family courts does not mean that the media has ceased to be interested in family justice. What it has meant is that there continues to be a tendency for journalists to publish reports about cases based only on the invariably tendentious accounts given to them by aggrieved parents. There are still references in the media to the ‘secret’ Family Court.

 

I have been asked to participate in research and they want to see my court documents?

This is possible if the research has been ‘approved’.  This can be done by the Secretary of State after consultation with the President of the Family Division, approved in writing by the President  or conducted under s83 of the Children Act 1989 or s13 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Services Act 2000.

As a general rule, don’t show your court documents to anyone who claims to be conducting research unless they can show you written proof that this has been approved. It doesn’t matter if these researchers are based abroad.

Thanks to suesspicious minds for this paragraph. 

 

I want to record court proceedings

If you record court proceedings without the court’s permission, this will clearly be a contempt of court and could be very serious, depending on what you go on to do with the recording.

If you want to record interactions with social workers or other professionals outside the hearing then you don’t need their permission and it  is not unlawful in and of itself. Section 36 of the Data Protection Act 1998 states: “Personal data processed by an individual only for the purposes of that individual’s personal, family or household affairs (including recreational purposes) are exempt from the data protection principles and the provisions of Parts II and III.”

Bu you need to be aware of the negative impact this could have on the relationship between yourself and the professional, particularly if you do it without warning them..

See further our post on recording interactions between parents and social workers.

 

Reform proposals

On 15th August 2014, the President of the Family Division issued a consultation paper called The Next Steps. The President is inviting comments about how well the current transparency Practice Guidance from January 2014  is working, and whether steps can be taken to provide more information about cases when they are listed in court, without naming the parties.  Views are particularly welcome on:

  • The impact on children and families, both immediate, short term and long term. I have in mind, for example, the risk of a child in later life coming across an anonymised judgment about his background and learning details of it for the first time.
  • The impact on local authorities and other professionals.
  • Any change in the level and quality of news and reporting about the family justice system.

This follows from the President’s ‘12th View’ in June 2014, where he set out that his intention to begin discussion and consultation about hearing some family cases in public.  But there is evidence that this will not be a popular move for the children concerned.

 

Further reading