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Children, competence and consent: An overview.

Keira Bell’s case, which began on October 7th 2020 has provoked a lot of comment about the issues of children and their capacity to consent to medical treatment. This is an attempt to provide a quick over view in easy to understand language. If you are interested in this area in greater detail, I set out some ‘further reading’ at the end of this post.

Medical treatment is only lawful if given in an emergency or with informed consent.

The case of Montgomery (Appellant) v Lanarkshire Health Board (Respondent) (Scotland) [2015] UKSC 11 deals with what risks about birth should have been shared with an adult patient – but is a useful discussion of the general parameters of what can be meant by ‘informed consent’ – patients do not have the medical knowledge of doctors, may not know what questions to ask. Doctors have a duty to reveal and discuss ‘material’ risks with a patient.

At para 77 the court comments approvingly on 2013 guidance to doctors:

Work in partnership with patients. Listen to, and respond to, their concerns and preferences. Give patients the information they want or need in a way they can understand. Respect patients’ right to reach decisions with you about their treatment and care.”

In a genuine emergency, doctors are unlikely to be penalised for treating a patient on the spot. In all other cases, medical intervention to which the patient does not consent is likely to be a crime.

Someone is said to lack capacity if they can’t make their own decisions because of some problem with the way their brain or mind is working. This could arise due to illness, disability or exposure to drugs/alcohol. It doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.

Some people lack capacity because their disability or injury brings them under the terms of the Mental Capacity Act and they cannot understand or weigh up the necessary information. These cases may have to go to the Court of Protection so the Judge can decide what is in their best interests.

Some people lack capacity because they are a child. A child is a person aged between 0-18. While most people would agree that a child aged 4 is unable to make any serious decisions on his own, the waters get muddier the older a child gets, as their understanding and desire for autonomy increases.

A child over 16, who doesn’t have any kind of brain injury or disability, is presumed to be able to consent to medical treatment as if an adult, under the Family Law Reform Act 1969.

Children under 16 may have capacity if they have enough understanding of the issues – this is called Gillick competence, from the case of the same name.

Adults who have parental responsibility for a child can give consent when a child cannot. However, the older the child gets, the more likely there is to be tension between what the adult and child think is best.

If the child, parents or doctors cannot agree about what treatment is best, then this has to come before the court to decide. A very sad example of this which got a lot of media attention, is the case of Alfie Evans, a toddler whose parents disagreed very strongly with the medical advice that his life should not be prolonged.

Applying the basic principles to the Bell case

I have seen some very odd comments about this case. However, first – if it is correct that Bell’s lawyers are arguing that NO child ever could consent to taking puberty blockers, I agree this is a bold submission and would certainly seem to be moving away from the clear statutory recognition of the likely autonomy of the 16 year old child. It may be that this submission rests on the grave concerns about the experimental nature of such treatment – and certainly the Tavistock does not seem to be able to provide the court with much if any hard data about the longer term consequences of this.

But any suggestion that the Bell case will somehow ‘destroy’ Gillick competence and deny 15 year old girls the right to contraception or abortion, is simply wrong.

The first and basic point is that Gillick was decided by the House of Lords – now the Supreme Court. The High Court has no power to change or alter the decision of the Supreme Court. Second point is that even if Bell’s case does succeed in getting a declaration from the High Court that NO child can ever consent to taking puberty blockers for transition, this will not impact other areas of decision making for children about medical treatment.

This is because the nature and quality of such treatments is well known and researched. It is therefore possible to weigh up the consequences, benefits and risks, in a way many would argue is simply impossible for puberty blockers given to aid ‘transition’ rather than to deal with precocious puberty.

When the nature and quality of such treatments are not known and doctors are unhappy to offer it, or a child (or parents) is refusing consent to a treatment that the doctors say is essential, then the matter will need to come to court.

Conclusion

I await the judgment in Bell with very keen interest. It will certainly need to cover all the areas I briefly touch on above, and hopefully will make such vital issues much clearer for many.

I accept a small minority of children DO need access to puberty blockers to prevent the development of sex characteristics they find very distressing. But I think they will be a tiny minority. I think the evidence to dates shows very clearly the impact of some kind of social contagion around issues of ‘gender identity’ which has led to staggeringly high numbers of children seeking ‘transition’ as a cure all for their emotional distress.

While I do not agree that NO child is capable of consenting to take these drugs, I certainly agree that the evidence base which will inform them of the risks and benefits is lacking, and dangerously so.

EVERY child should be given the right information in order to make these decisions.

Further reading

How do children consent? The interplay between Gillick competence and Parental Responsibility CPR January 2020

A child’s consent to transition; the view from Down Under CPR September 2020

In whose best interests? Transitioning pre school children Transgender Trend October 2019

The Impossibility of Informed Consent for Transgender Interventions: The Risks Jane Robbins April 2020

Freedom to Think: the need for thorough assessment and treatment of gender dysphoric children Marcus Evans June 2020

A child’s consent to transition: the view from Down Under

Imogen (No. 6) [2020] FamCA 761; (10 September 2020)

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore.

This is a case from the Family Court in Australia – so of interest to those of us in England and Wales as our jurisdictions share a common history. It is a case that makes much of Gillick competence which is certainly a familiar domestic concept and I have written about it in more detail here. One key difference however is that Imogen was over 16 years old – therefore if this was a case in England or Wales, she would be considered competent to consent to medical treatment as if she were an adult, by virtue of the Family Law Reform Act 1969.

I have written about the changing attitudes of the High Court to transitioning pre-schoolers here.

Facts of Imogen’s case

Imogen was born a boy called Thomas. She was diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria and was taking puberty suppression medication. When she was aged 16 years and 8 months old, she wished to move to ‘stage 2 gender affirming hormone treatment ‘. Her father supported this but her mother did not, disputing both the diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria and that Imogen was Gillick competent, i.e. able to make the decision to take hormones. The mother wanted Imogen to have therapy, rather then medical treatment.

Both the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Attorney General were intervenors in the case, so its importance is clear. There was also an Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL).

The court had a variety of questions to grapple with. If there is a dispute about medical treatment for an adolescent, was it mandatory to make an application to court to resolve that dispute? If Imogen was Gillick competent – could she make her own decision without her parents’ consent? If the court had to resolve the dispute then what was the legal test?

The court found that where there was such a dispute about the existence of a medical condition or the need for treatment, it was mandatory to make an application to the court – and interestingly there was official guidance that got the law wrong about that. The court decided that the test was what was in Imogen’s best interests – and it was for her to receive the treatment she wanted.

The discussions in this case are very relevant for every common law jurisdiction – there has been a staggering increase in recent years of the number of children wishing to ‘transition’ from one sex to the other and some interesting legal actions on the horizon, criticising the swiftness with which children are put on the path of ‘affirmation’ that leads to medication and surgery.

What is the best way to treat children with Gender Dysphoria?

The court acknowledged that this case was taking place within a wider debate about treatment for children with gender dysphoria, but the court was focusing on what was best for Imogen. Expert evidence was heard which was split roughly into three camps.

Imogen’s treating medical practitioners followed “The Australian Standards of Care and Treatment Guidelines: For trans and gender diverse children and adolescents” (“the Australian Standards”) which adopted a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment using gender affirming hormones.

The mother relied on an expert psychiatrist Dr D’Angelo, who advocated a more conservative approach, preferring psychotherapy rather than medication.

Reference was also made to the “Informed Consent Model” where general practitioners are willing to prescribe gender affirming hormone treatment to 16 and 17 year old adolescents without knowing whether their parents or legal guardians consent.

It was clear that Dr C – Imogen’s treating psychiatrist – and Dr D’Angelo adopted “fundamentally different diagnostic frameworks, methods, and conceptualisation of the experience of Gender Dysphoria”.

The court – annoyingly – describe ‘Gender Dysphoria’ at para 22 as

Gender Dysphoria is a term that describes the distress experienced by a person due to incongruence between their gender identity and their gender assigned at birth.

This conflation between sex and gender is very typical and has not assisted clarity in the general debate about the proper approach to a child who rejects the sex with which they were born.

The Australian Standards provide (at page 11) that the optimal model of care for trans and gender diverse adolescents who present to services involves a coordinated, multidiscipline team approach. There are two stages to treatment – Stage 1 is ‘puberty suppression’ via gonadotrophin releasing hormone analogues (GnRHa) in order to halt progression of physical changes such as breast growth or voice deepening. Stage 2 is ‘gender affirming hormone treatment’. Some of the effects of this medication are irreversible and likely to lead to the child becoming infertile.

The court noted at paragraph 27 that the Australian Standards gave incorrect guidance as to the law about when an adolescent could consent to stage 2 treatment – an interesting parallel to the situation in England and Wales where a number of official guidances around treatment of trans children are being challenged as unlawful.

At page 7, the Australian Standards state, “current law allows adolescent’s clinicians to determine their capacity to provide informed consent for treatment. Court authorisation prior to commencement of hormone treatment is no longer required”… “…[a]lthough obtaining consent from parents/guardians for commencement of hormone treatment is ideal, parental consent is not required when the adolescent is considered to be competent to provide informed consent”.

Further investigation of Gillick competence.

Australian courts have adopted the approach explained by the House of Lords in Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority [1985] UKHL 7;  [1986] AC 112, that the parental power to consent on behalf of a child diminishes as the child’s capacities and maturities grow: a child is capable of giving informed consent, and a parent is no longer capable of consenting on the child’s behalf, when the child achieves a sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable him or her to understand fully what is proposed.

However, at paragraph 29, the court noted that regardless of the child’s Gillick competence, its permission was required for non-therapeutic procedures, in particular those that required in combination: 

  1. invasive, irreversible and major surgery;
  2. a significant risk of making the wrong decision, either as to a child’s present or future capacity to consent or about the best interests of a child who cannot consent; and
  3. Where the consequences of a wrong decision are particularly grave.

The case of Re Kelvin, found that both stages of treatment were therapeutic and therefore, if the child, the parents and the medical practitioners agreed the child was Gillick competent, there was no need to involve the courts – the child could decide what treatment they were willing to accept.  

But the court was clear, at paragraph 35 that the matter MUST come before a court if a parent or doctor could not agree

  • If the child was Gillick competent
  • The diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria
  • or the proposed treatment for Gender Dysphoria

If the only issue in dispute was Gillick competence, the court would either declare the child competent or not – if competent, the child could consent to whatever treatment they liked.

BUT if there was a dispute about diagnosis or treatment, it was then up to the court to determine the diagnosis and decide what treatment was appropriate on the basis of what was in the adolescent’s best interests. Therefore, if the parents dispute the need for treatment, a doctor should NOT agree to provide it to even a Gillick competent adolescent without the authorisation of the court.

This is an interesting re-assertion of the parens patriae duty of the court – the protective and paternalistic jurisdiction it has over children to keep them safe from harm and certainly goes against the stated trend of current UK guidance that ‘parental responsibility’ is of little or even no importance against a child’s stated wish to ‘change sex’ – apparently even when the child is far too young for Gillick competence to be likely.

Why is it important to come to court to resolve these disputes? The Attorney General recognised two good reasons

  • Without the court’s authorisation, if a doctor gets it wrong about a child being Gillick competent, they risk criminal or civil liability for providing treatment, as the child cannot consent.
  • or a doctor may override the parental responsibility of the parent who does not consent, which puts the doctor in an invidious position.

Why is the finding of  Gillick competence of an adolescent not determinative, if parents do not agree about treatment?

This is the key question, not only for this court but for all others who operate according to the principle of Gillick competence. If we are saying that an adolescent is competent to make their own decisions, why isn’t that an end to the matter? This is because the court retains the ‘parens patriae’ jurisdiction over a child – to act as if the child’s parent.

There was no disagreement, that the court had the power to make an order against the wishes of a Gillick competent child, but it was unusual. For example, In X and Others v The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network [2013] NSWCA 320;  (2013) 85 NSWLR 294, the court did not allow a competent 17 year old Jehovah Witness to refuse blood products which were potentially lifesaving. However, this was the only case identified where a court has overruled the views of a Gillick competent child to impose treatment. Other cases involving anorexia nervosa and treatment for drug rehabilitation involved children who were not Gillick competent (Director General, Department of Community Services v Y [1999] NSWSC 644Director General, Department of Community Services v Thomas [2009] NSWSC 217;  (2009) 41 Fam LR 220).

No case was identified where a court had refused to authorise therapeutic treatment where a Gillick competent child had consented.

At para 59 the court was clear it should determine the dispute about the nature of the treatment to be given and in doing so the court should have regard to the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration and give significant weight to Imogen’s views in accordance with her maturity and level of understanding (Re Jamie, per Bryant CJ at [140](f)).

There is an interesting suggestion at para 57 about

the proliferation of academic and other writings since Re Kelvin and the emergence of alternate thinking about treatment and questions arising from the state of knowledge in respect of the long-term implications of current medical treatment for Gender Dysphoria.

Which suggests the court was certainly open to considering whether Stage 2 treatment was really therapeutic after all.

The Informed Consent Model.

The court went on to consider the legality of this.

Dr C gave evidence that “the Informed Consent Model” of care in Gender Dysphoria is being adopted by an increasing number of medical practitioners. This model sees general practitioners proceeding with the prescription of gender affirming hormone therapy to adolescents over 16 years of age who express the desire to do so and who are assessed by the general practitioner as being able to give informed consent to the treatment, without the general practitioner making any inquiry as to whether or not the parents or legal guardians of the adolescents give their consent. Dr C opines that there is confusion in respect of the legality of the Informed Consent Model.

The court was very clear. This was not lawful. See para 63

This judgment confirms the existing law is that any treating medical practitioner seeing an adolescent under the age of 18 is not at liberty to initiate stage 1, 2 or 3 treatment without first ascertaining whether or not a child’s parents or legal guardians consent to the proposed treatment. Absent any dispute by the child, the parents and the medical practitioner, it is a matter of the medical professional bodies to regulate what standards should apply to medical treatment. If there is a dispute about consent or treatment, a doctor should not administer stage 1, 2 or 3 treatment without court authorisation.

Conclusion

This re-affirmation of the importance of parental responsibility and court oversight is very important. Both have run the risk of being over looked or even over ridden by some who push an ‘affirmation model’ very insistently, to the extent that any challenge or even mild objection is characterised as ‘hate’ and ‘bigotry’. It will be interesting to see how in our jurisdiction, the Family Law Reform Act may shine a different light on the statutory competence of children aged over 16.

I concede there is a distinction between a child who seeks life changing treatment and a child who refuses life saving treatment, but we must surely all be able to agree that for anyone, serious surgery or medication must only be accessed via valid consent.

In the judgment, some very interesting discussion then follows about the emerging literature in the field of Gender Dysphoria and how to treat it – although I wonder if the reliance on ‘extremely high rates of suicide’ discussed below is a reference to now thoroughly debunked claims. But there can be no doubt at all that the way forward is by data and by discussion. It is not ‘transphobic’ or ‘hateful’ to care about the health of our children, both mental and physical.

In August 2019 the Federal Minister for Health wrote to The Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP) seeking advice on the treatment of Gender Dysphoria in children and adolescents in Australia. The RACP responded on 5 March 2020. 

In that response, the RACP noted that trans and gender diverse children and adolescents are a very vulnerable population, experiencing stigma and extremely high rates of depression, self-harm, attempted suicide and completed suicide. Importantly, the RACP described treatment for Gender Dysphoria as an emerging area of healthcare where existing evidence on health and wellbeing outcomes of clinical care is limited due to the relatively small number of studies, the small size of study populations, the absence of long-term follow up and the ethical challenges of robust evaluation when control (no treatment) is not acceptable. The College relevantly observes that similar limitations on the existing evidence of healthcare apply to other conditions which affect small segments of the population, such as rare cancers.

The College expressed the view that addressing gaps in the evidence base is important, although notes that further scientific evidence may take a considerable period of time to produce.In the meantime, the College supported the principles underlying the Australian Guidelines, and specifically the emphasis on the multidisciplinary approach to providing person-centred care which priorities the best interests, preferences and goals of the child or adolescent. The College recommends that treatment should be holistic, developmentally informed, child centred and individualised. In order to facilitate a higher level of informed consent, the College recommends that patients and families must be provided with information about the limitations of the available evidence regarding Gender Dysphoria and there should be informed discussion of the burdens and benefits of treatment and options in a way each child or adolescent can understand. The College points to differences across Australia in the access, funding and delivery of care and treatment for Gender Dysphoria. It recommends the development of a national framework for service provision and outcomes monitoring and believes that that is the best way to ensure consistency in the outcome of data collection across jurisdictions.

Further Reading

The right to be fully informed – This site collates and summarises the medical literature and legal issues surrounding puberty blockers so that parents and doctors can be more fully informed. The information should not be taken as medical advice.

  

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Parental Alienation – what is it? And what can the courts do about it?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

I am writing this post because I am concerned that there is a strong view in certain circles that ‘parental alienation’ either does not exist or is very rare and used as a deliberate strategy by violent men to deny contact with children to the mothers they oppress.

I don’t agree that parental alienation doesn’t exist. There is abundant evidence that it does. Nor do I agree that falsely asserting parental alienation as a strategy is commonplace, although I am sure it does happen.

Therefore I find it concerning to see the very existence or importance of parental alienation ‘downgraded’ by a number of academics and lawyers – particularly when those academics are involved in the recent MoJ report into private law cases. I have set out my criticisms of and concerns about this report here.

I endeavour always to render my criticisms reasonable, balanced and evidenced. So it was surprising and rather shocking to be called a ‘troll’ on social media and accused of ‘picking on’ victim of DV by one of the academics involved in a literature review for the MoJ.

This is not a helpful response from anyone. It is a particularly bizarre and inappropriate response from someone with a seat at the table of political influence.

This view about parental alienation as a ‘grand charade’ is set out here by Rachel Watson in July 2020. She says

A pattern emerged in the family courts (England & Wales) of parental alienation (PA) raised as a response to domestic abuse claims, as proved in Dr Adrienne Barnett’s research published in January 2020. It resulted in devastating outcomes for mothers and children. The need for a child to maintain contact became a priority as we were subtly influenced to believe in a new stereotype; a hostile, vindictive mother; a woman scorned, one who used her child as a pawn. Domestic abuse was reframed by controlling, abusive fathers who denied their behaviour, lied about it and projected it onto bewildered, abused mothers. Fathers’ rights groups powerfully marketed the new stereotype.  They cried from the rooftops;

“Mothers lie about abuse and cut off contact from deserving fathers; we are the true victims; there is a bias against us!”

Judges routinely minimised domestic abuse in the courtroom; mothers were disbelieved, dismissed and punished through the contact arrangements. Welfare reports were often carried out by unsuitable and underqualified assessors.

I don’t agree with this. It does not reflect my own experience of 20 years in the family courts. That others seem to have a profoundly different experience is worrying. I would like to know what explains the gulf between my understanding and theirs. Given that this will be impossible to achieve in a blog post, I will restrict myself here to addressing the issue of parental alienation as a ‘grand charade’.

What do the courts say about parental alienation?

Let’s look at just two examples from published court judgments. There are sadly many, many more. I hope even this brief discussion makes it clear that ‘parental alienation’ is a phenomenon that exists and which does tremendous harm. Both the alienating parents in these cases were mothers; that does not mean that this is a sex dependent failure of parenting. Fathers can and do alienate their children from their mothers. It is wrong regardless of the sex of the parent who does it.

 D (A child – parental alienation) (Rev 1) [2018] EWFC B64 (19 October 2018).

The child D was born in 2005. Proceedings had been ongoing for over ten years, albeit with a four year respite from 2012 – 2016,  and had cost a staggering amount of money for both parents – about £320,000 over ten years.

There was a residence order made in the father’s favour in 2011 and the mother’s application to appeal was refused in 2012. Following a relatively peaceful four years, the mother then refused to return D to his father’s care in November 2016 and the father did not see D again until March 2017. A final hearing was listed for April 2018 after the instruction of a psychologist.

in early 2018 D made allegations of a serious assault upon him by the father and contact against ceased. The police became involved but took no further action and the Judge granted the father’s application in August 2018 that D give evidence at the finding of fact hearing.

D gave evidence and was very clear, saying (para 74):

I just want a normal life, living in happiness with mum. I cannot go back to my father’s. I was promised by my mum and the police officer that dad wouldn’t hurt me ever again. Now, I am here in court because he hurt me bad. Why can’t I just have a life that isn’t based on court and stress? I just want a life that I can live not live in fear from, please.’

D’s guardian put forward a schedule of six allegations that D made against his father. The court noted the evidence of the psychologist Dr Spooner at para 85.

D presented with what seemed like a pre-prepared and well-rehearsed script of all the things he wanted to tell me about his father. He took every opportunity to denigrate him, his family and his partner. Each time I attempted to ask him about issues not related to his father, such as school, hobbies and so on, he quickly derailed himself and continued on his frivolous campaign of denigration.

The court heard a great deal of evidence from social workers and other experts about the alleged injuries suffered by D. It is disturbing to note how the Judge was not assisted by some of the evidence from the local authority, not least because the social worker who prepared the section 37 report was working from the assumption that everything a child said must be true.

The father denied assaulting D but had to hold his arms when D was being aggressive towards him.  The Judge did not find any of the allegations proved; he found the father and his partner to be honest witnesses and this was a case where the mother was determined to ‘win’ at any cost. The judge found that she had deliberately alienated D from his father.

Analysis of what is meant by ‘parental alienation’

From paragraph 165 the Judge considered the issue of parental alienation. At para 169 he refers to the research Dr Julie Doughty at Cardiff University. She comments:

There is a paucity of empirical research into parental alienation, and what exists is dominated by a few key authors. Hence, there is no definitive definition of parental alienation within the research literature. Generally, it has been accepted that parental alienation refers to the unwarranted rejection of the alienated parent by the child, whose alliance with the alienating parent is characterised by extreme negativity towards the alienated parent due to the deliberate or unintentional actions of the alienating parent so as to adversely affect the relationship with the alienated parent. Yet, determining unwarranted rejection is problematic due to its multiple determinants, including the behaviours and characteristics of the alienating parent, alienated parent and the child. This is compounded by the child’s age and developmental stage as well as their personality traits, and the extent to which the child internalises negative consequences of triangulation. This renders establishing the prevalence and long-term effects of parental alienation difficult…’

At para 170 the Judge considers the CAFCASS assessment framework for private law cases. The assessment contains a section headed ‘Resources for assessing child refusal/assistance’ which in turn has a link to a section headed, ‘ Typical behaviours exhibited where alienation may be a factor ’. These include:

  • The child’s opinion of a parent is unjustifiably one sided, all good or all bad, idealises on parent and devalues the other.
  • Vilification of rejected parent can amount to a campaign against them.
  • Trivial, false, weak and/or irrational reasons to justify dislike or hatred.
  • Reactions and perceptions are unjustified or disproportionate to parent’s behaviours.
  • Talks openly and without prompting about the rejected parent’s perceived shortcomings.
  • Revises history to eliminate or diminish the positive memories of the previously beneficial experiences with the rejected parent. May report events that they could not possibly remember.
  • Extends dislike/hatred to extended family or rejected parent (rejection by association).
  • No guilt or ambivalence regarding their attitudes towards the rejected parent.
  • Speech about rejected parent appears scripted, it has an artificial quality, no conviction, uses adult language, has a rehearsed quality.
  • Claims to be fearful but is aggressive, confrontational, even belligerent.

Re A (Children) (Parental alienation) [2019] EWFC

The Judge said this about the case

In a recent report to the court, one of this country’s leading consultant child and adolescent psychiatrists, Dr Mark Berelowitz, said this: ‘this is one of the most disconcerting situations that I have encountered in 30 years of doing such work.’ I have been involved in family law now for 40 years and my experience of this case is the same as that of Dr Berelowitz. It is a case in which a father leaves the proceedings with no contact with his children despite years of litigation, extensive professional input, the initiation of public law proceedings in a bid to support contact and many court orders. It is a case in which I described the father as being ‘smart, thoughtful, fluent in language and receptive to advice;’ he is an intelligent man who plainly loves his children. Although I have seen him deeply distressed in court because of things that have occurred, I have never seen him venting his frustrations. It is also a case in which the mother has deep and unresolved emotional needs, fixed ideas and a tendency to be compulsive.

The Judge felt it was important for this judgment to be published, albeit heavily anonymised to protect the identities of the children.

My intention in releasing this judgement for publication is not because I wish to pretend to be in a position to give any guidance or speak with any authority; that would be presumptuous, wrong and beyond my station. However, this is such an exceptional case that I think it is in the public interest for the wider community to see an example of how badly wrong things can go and how complex cases are where one parent (here the mother) alienates children from the other parent. It is also an example of how sensitive the issues are when an attempt is made to transfer the living arrangements of children from a residential parent (here, the mother) to the other parent (the father); the attempts to do so in this case failed badly.

The UK Parental Alienation Study

In 2020 Good Egg Safety CIC produced a report about parental alienation and its impact, concluding that parental alienation was:

A devastating form of ‘family violence’ with psychological abuse and coercive control at its heart

Of the 1, 513 who responded to the survey, parental alienation was a live issue for 79% of respondents who were split 56% male, 44% female. 80% experienced an adverse impact on their mental health, 55% an adverse financial impact. 58% saw court orders breached.

Conclusions

Of course, the same criticisms can be made about this survey as I made about the MoJ survey. We have to be careful about the results of a survey conducted with the self selecting. The MoJ reassured itself this was ok because the wide ranging review of case law and literature supported the view of the self selecting respondents that family courts routinely ignore issues of violence.

The problem however, as I pointed out above, is when you have someone conducting your literature review who thinks that those who talk about parental alienation as a real thing are ‘trolls’.

It is my view that the case law abundantly supports the findings of the Good Egg Safety report. Parental alienation exists and it does enormous harm to the children and parents caught up in it. It is not restricted to women as perpetrators – but I am sad to say that in all the cases of parental alienation in which I have been involved over 20 years, all the perpetrators were women.

It also does enormous harm to the rule of law and respect for court orders. Pretending it doesn’t exist or that it exists primarily as a strategic tool for abusive men to further their abuse is plain wrong. I suspect those who promote this theory know on some level how wrong they are, given the level of abuse and insults they throw at anyone who challenges them.

You may not like what I say. You may – with some justification I concede – accuse me of rudeness or abruptness in the way I say it. But I am no troll. That is a baseless, insulting assertion and it will not help your arguments gain or sustain any credibility whatsoever.

For those now asking in despair – but what do we DO about all this? I set out some suggestions in this post. But as many of them will involve a significant financial investment in both judges and court buildings, I do not expect to see any change in my life time. But I will continue to do what I can to promote honesty and openness in the public debate about such important issues.

Further reading

Case Law

A case where shared residence was agreed after 10 year dispute – see Re J and K (Children: Private Law) [2014] EWHC 330 (Fam)

See Re C (A Child) [2018] EWHC 557 (Fam) –  Unsuccessful appeal to the High Court by a mother against a decision which transferred the residence of C, aged six, to her father, in light of the mother’s opposition to progressing C’s contact with her father. Permission to appeal was refused as being totally without merit.

Transfer of residence of child from mother to father – RH (Parental Alienation) [2019] EWHC 2723 (Fam) (03 October 2019)

Re S (Parental Alienation: Cult) [2020] EWCA Civ 568 – child ordered to live with father if mother continued to refused to give up her adherence to a ‘harmful and sinister’ cult.

Articles and Research

What is the evidence base for orders about indirect contact?

See this article from the Custody Minefield about how intractable contact disputes can go wrong or get worse.

Address from the President of the Family Division to Families Need Fathers, June 2018

Review of the law and practice around ‘parental alienation’ in May 2018 from Cardiff University for Cafcass Cymru. There is a very useful summary of the relevant case law in Appendix A. The report concludes at para 4.7:

With no clear accepted definition or agreement on prevalence, it is not surprising that there is variability in the extent of knowledge and acceptance of parental alienation across the legal and mental health professions. The research has however, provided some general agreement in the behaviours and strategies employed in parental alienation. This has led to the emergence of several measures and tests for parental alienation, although more research is needed before reliability and validity can be assured. Many of the emerging interventions focus upon psycho-educational approaches working with children and estranged parents, but more robust evaluation is needed to determine their effectiveness.

The Cafcass Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF) sets out how children may experience parental separation and how this can be understood and acted on in Cafcass. The framework brings together existing guidance and tools, along with a small number of new tools, into four guides which Cafcass private lawpractitioners can use to assess different case factors, including:

  • Domestic abuse where children have been harmed directly or indirectly, for example from the impact of coercive control.
  • Conflict which is harmful to the child such as a long-running court case or mutual hostility between parents which can become intolerable for the child.
  • Child refusal or resistance to spending time with one of their parents or carers which may be due to a range of justified reasons or could be an indicator of the harm caused when a child has been alienated by one parent against the other for no good reason.
  • Other forms of harmful parenting due to factors like substance misuse or severe mental health difficulties.

Resources and Links recommended by the Alienation Experience Blog

Useful analysis of case law from UKAP.ONE

The Empathy Gap 14th June 2020 – Commentary on Adrienne Barnett in “A genealogy of hostility: parental alienation in England and Wales”, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law (Jan 2020). The paper discusses the role of parental alienation within the English and Welsh family courts.

The Empathy Gap 11th June 2020 – Commentary on “U.S. child custody outcomes in cases involving parental alienation and abuse allegations: what do the data show?”, By Joan S. Meier, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 42:1, 92-105 (2020)

Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law cases.

Final Report of the Ministry of Justice 2020

In May 2019 a ‘3 month inquiry’ into issues of domestic abuse and applications to court about children was announced by the Ministry of Justice. I expressed considerable scepticism at the time, not least scoffing about the wholly unrealistic timescales proposed.


In that at least I can see I was correct. The final report was published at the end of June 2020 so a 13 month process. Even that seems astonishingly quick to me. It is without doubt an impressive piece of work, covering a great deal of important and necessary conversations about the family justice system. All practitioners need to read it, digest it and think about it carefully .

I will not pretend that I am about to unpick it line by line. But I thought it might be interesting or helpful to share my immediate concerns.

In May 2019 I said this about the real problems facing the family court system:

Family courts are not the arenas for frightened or angry people. An adversarial court system that requires proof is a hard place to be for those who believe themselves to be or who actually are victims of violence.
I quite accept that most of us entering into a relationship do not at the outset start gathering evidence of our partner’s appalling behaviour. One of the real evils of coercively controlling relationships is the very long time it can take to work out what is going on and to gather the resources and courage to leave.
There appears to be widespread public ignorance about how the forensic process operates and how you prove an allegation in court. That is not anyone’s ‘fault’ but it is a great shame more people are not prepared to accept their lack of understanding before diving into the debate.
But the elephant in the room is the removal of resources. Social workers and Cafcass need time and space to conduct investigations, to thoughtfully reflect, and to build relationships with parents. Courts dealing with private law disputes need to offer judicial continuity and swift fact-finding hearings – which currently doesn’t happen because we don’t have enough judges or courts.
The removal of legal aid from private law family cases has led to a huge rise in the number of litigants in person, with obvious and serious problems for how cases are managed. This removal was endorsed by Parliament in 2012 with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012.
Research by Citizens Advice in 2015 stated what we all know to be true: “Restricted access to legal aid is one of the biggest barriers to support for victims of domestic abuse in England. In their work helping victims of domestic abuse, only 12% of advisers reported being unaffected by the changes that came into force from April 2013.


The aim of the report is to provide an understanding of how effectively the family courts identify and respond to allegations of domestic abuse and other serious offences, in cases involving disputes between parents about the arrangements for their children. These are known as ‘private law children proceedings’ because they are a dispute between private individuals and not any agency of the State.

The report sets out its summary and recommendations. The expert panel received ‘over 1,200 responses’ from individuals and organisations and held roundtables. The evidence focused on domestic abuse.

The report noted key themes

  • Resource constraints; resources available have been inadequate to keep up with increasing demand in private law children proceedings, and more parties are coming to court unrepresented.
  • The pro-contact culture; respondents felt that courts placed undue priority on ensuring contact with the non-resident parent, which resulted in systemic minimisation of allegations of domestic abuse.
  • Working in silos; submissions highlighted differences in approaches and culture between criminal justice, child protection (public law) and private law children proceedings, and lack of communication and coordination between family courts and other courts and agencies working with families, which led to contradictory decisions and confusion.
  • An adversarial system; with parents placed in opposition on what is often not a level playing field in cases involving domestic abuse, child sexual abuse and self- representation, with little or no involvement of the child.

I agree with much of this. But there are some things summarised there and discussed in greater detail in the body of the report which I find frankly surprising in any document co-produced with a number of senior laywers.

Pro contact culture and other curious statements

The Panel say this about pro-contact culture

Previous literature has identified the ‘pro-contact culture’ of the family courts and we have adopted this terminology as appropriate to capture the systemic and deep-seated nature of the courts’ commitment to maintaining contact between children and non-resident parents. A ‘culture’ describes the particular set of beliefs and behaviours (sometimes unconscious or taken-for-granted) of a group of people. Most institutions develop a distinctive culture over time, and the family courts are no exception. This does not mean that all members of the institution necessarily agree with or conform to all aspects of the culture. But it does mean that there is a strong pressure to conform, and that cultural change does not happen easily. ‘

The pro-contact culture’ is not some whimsy or consequence of submission to the patriarchy. It is the law. It has long been the law. It is enforced in various decisions of the European Court. I do not understand why the law is reframed here in clearly pejorative terms as a ‘culture’ .

Children have a right to a relationship with both parents, so long as they are safe. I agree however, that a system starved on resources and which operates on an adversarial platform may end up giving a crude prominence to the presumption that contact is in a child’s best interest.

I also reject and am astonished to see this comment about liaison with the criminal justice system:

Silo working can result in evidence of abuse accepted in one system, for example the criminal courts, not being acknowledged or effectively engaged with in the family court.

Police disclosure and findings of the criminal courts are vital pieces of evidence and never overlooked in any case where I am instructed. Of course, getting the information from the police quickly is another matter. Again an area where lack of resources make it very difficult for the family court system to do its job.

The Panel comments:

Many respondents reported that regardless of the particular circumstances, even where the most serious allegations of domestic abuse were raised, courts expected that parents would work together to facilitate contact arrangements.

Raising an allegation is not the same as proving it. Where serious allegations are made the court needs to determine them by way of a finding of fact. I accept, and this has been known for some time, that early findings of fact are often essential. An assertion of something another does not accept and which has not already been proved, is not a fact and never can be ‘a fact’.

We can ‘raise’ whatever allegations we like. To ask allegations to impact on the proceeses of a legal system they have to be proven. I am very surprised and uneasy to read a phrase like this in a document produced by the Ministry of Justice.

The value of self selective lived experience.

This is without doubt my key concern. I am worried that what I feared has come to pass. There was no scrutiny of the reliability of the accounts given to the Panel and yet such indivudal accounts represented the vast majority of responses to it. 87% of responses ‘in scope’ were from individuals with personal experience of private law children proceedings – mainly mothers and their families.

The report makes it clear the Panel ‘were unable to review individual case files’. But reliance on evidence from an entirely self selecting group apparently causes little concern as this was ‘supplemented with a literature review and a review of relevant case law.’ So I am not quite sure what the Panel mean when they later say ‘In practice, the large number of responses meant that the panel needed an extra six months to ensure that the evidence could be thoroughly analysed and reviewed’.

What exactly were they reviewing? Seeing case law and ‘literature’ through the lens of ‘lived experience’ that you accept as true without investigation sounds to me suspiciously like the seeds of a self fulfilling prophecy.

It is clear the responses from the lawyers were different to the responses from the mothers:

Submissions from legal professionals described their experience in cases involving abuse which varied in persistence and severity, whereas most mothers described relatively severe and sustained abuse, almost invariably involving coercive control.

No question appears to be raised as to why the lawyers saw things so differently. I think it is very important to robustly test assertions which are so serious. Such as this –


Respondents felt that orders made by the court had enabled the continued control of children and adult victims of domestic abuse by alleged abusers, as well as the continued abuse of victims and children. Many submissions detailed the long-term impacts of this abuse manifesting in physical, emotional, psychological, financial and educational harm and harm to children’s current and future relationships.
Many respondents felt that the level of abuse they and their children experienced worsened following proceedings in the family court. There were concerns that efforts to report continuing abuse were treated dismissively by criminal justice and child welfare agencies because of the family court orders. Many respondents also highlighted the negative impacts felt by children who were compelled to have contact with abusive parents, and the burden placed on mothers and children to comply with contact orders compared to minimal expectations on perpetrators of abuse to change their behaviour.

Again, there seems to be no attempt to clarify the nature and status of the alleged victims and perpetrators. Were the ‘perpetrators’ referred to here FOUND TO BE SO in either a criminal or civil court? Or are we back in territory of allegations being raised? I have never known a case where a person found to have perpetrated serious abuse was simply left to get on with it and unsupervised contact ordered.

But I have experienced many cases where fathers never had direct contact with their children again after allegations raised about their behaviour by the children’s rmothers.

The Panel does recognise the limitations of its approach, but concludes that it doesn’t impact their ability to make robust recommednations

Nor can we tell how representative the submissions are of all court users and professionals. As with all inquiries, the individual and organisational submissions and engagement in the data gathering process were voluntary. There is therefore likely to be some selection bias. Individuals who are largely satisfied with the process and outcomes in the family courts may have less incentive to provide evidence. Similarly, professionals who work in the system may have more incentive to defend how the system operates.
Nor can we test the accuracy and completeness of the accounts given. It is not possible to have an ‘objective’ account of what occurred in each case. Qualitative evidence presents the perceptions and views of individuals and organisations that respond. These views will be influenced by the attitudes, cultural context, organisational culture, specific role in the proceedings and individual biases of those providing evidence. They can also be subject to recall bias. The panel was well aware that submissions can be based on misunderstandings, misapprehensions or deliberate distortion as well as wishful thinking.
Despite these inherent limitations, we are persuaded that the evidence gathered does identify systemic problems with how family courts deal with domestic abuse cases and cases raising other risks of harm in private law children cases. It is unlikely that the panel has managed to uncover only isolated mistakes or rare events. The evidence does point to issues affecting multiple cases across the system and with potentially serious effects, although we were also able to identify instances of good practice.


I think this is powerfully naïve. I am particularly concerned by this comment:


…majority with detailed descriptions that appeared to provide authentic accounts of individual experiences.

‘Appeared to provide’ just isn’t good enough when it is used to scaffold the following comments. This has never been my experience in any private law case over 20 years.

Many respondents argued that in ordering direct contact in the majority of cases, the court ignores, dismisses and systematically minimises allegations of domestic abuse and simply treats the case as if domestic abuse was of no continuing relevance. Too often, even where findings of domestic abuse are made, the submissions suggest that victims are told to ‘move on’ and to progress contact, even though the perpetrator has shown no or minimal effort to accept or engage with the findings made against them. Thus, the victim is left with the responsibility of ensuring that contact takes place, including liaison with the abuser, and sometimes against the expressed wishes of the child.

We can see how this is being interpreted beyond the Ministry of Justice and how the Panel’s willingness to accept the unverified accounts of Respondents may now play out.

“The Court Said” has already launched a petition. This is an organisation supported by a number of women with ‘personal’ experiences of the family court system. Two of these women are Samantha Baldwin and Victoria Haigh, both subject to serious findings in the family court about the harm they inflicted on their children and both enthusiastic self identified victims of the family court.

A self identifying ‘journalist’ Richard Carvath who also supports the Court Said has just been convicted of harassment due to his campaigning against the family courts which he believes is justified because of the ‘detailed’ accounts given to him of injustice.


It is or should be abundantly clear that ‘personal’ experiences do not provide the whole story. And that those with axes to grind need to be treated with polite scepticism.

If the accounts of the Respondents to the Panel are simply accepted, its clear what The Court Said wants to happen now. I quote from the petition.

The government needs to launch an immediate case review and a mechanism for recourse for victims affected by the crisis. Thousands of children have been removed unlawfully from victims of Domestic Abuse with no prospect of reversing the situation. Many more thousands are living in fear with unsafe Court decisions impacting families dealing with a Domestic Abuser. Without recourse, this will continue.
The report publishes the harms endured by survivor families in the Family Court system. It is time to right the wrongs and provide compensation for victims, whose lives, families and futures have been forever marked, or even destroyed by an unsafe decision in the Family Court.
We call upon the government urgently to immediately review all cases that have gone before the proposed reforms, and the ones that will suffer during the transition to reform. We call upon the government to reverse decisions where possible and provide compensation to those affected by the crisis. #thecourtsaid

Conclusion

The Panel Report sets out a lengthy list of recommendations and hopes, some of which sound sensible, some a little more optimistic – the Panel should probably have considered a little more carefully the impact of the ECHR on their recommendation to end a presumption of parental involvement for e.g.

But no one could argue in good faith with efforts to make sure that the wishes and feelings of children are properly heard and they are not put under pressure by either parent to toe any particular line.

But I am afraid I cannot read something like this without a hollow laugh

The panel hopes that its recommendations will empower judges, lawyers, Cafcass, Cafcass Cymru and other family justice professionals to work to their best potential in private law children’s proceedings, and above all, that its recommendations will benefit children and parents experiencing domestic abuse.

If parents in the system don’t have lawyers, if there is no where in the court bulding to sit and talk, let alone wait in safety, if CAFCASS don’t get the time and resources they need to do their job properly, if anyone’s account is simply accepted without challenge, all of this is meaningless.

Resources are rightly identified in this report as a major stumbling block to any effective change and I agree wholeheartedly with this

The panel believes that the shortage of resource affects the whole system, but is most concerning for domestic abuse cases, which are likely to be more resource-intensive to address than non-abuse cases. Safeguarding requires time and resources to do a detailed and careful risk-assessment; the need for special measures requires adequate court facilities; fact-finding hearings require additional judicial time; and additional interventions may be required to make any child arrangements safe. This all costs money. The scarcity of resources mean that the system finds it difficult to address the additional demands presented by domestic abuse cases:

So what will be done about that?

Nothing. No doubt any spare cash in the system will now go to setting up further serious case reviews as is urged by ‘The Court Said’. This seems to be how we roll now as a nation.

I hope I am wrong. But I doubt I am. Let’s meet in a year’s time and see what came to pass.

EDIT July 4th 2020. The Government’s plans to implement its reforms are set out here. Their plan seems to involve yet another pilot scheme.

I do hate being right all the time.

Further reading

CAFCASS tool for assessing domestic abuse

The Empathy Gap 14th June 2020 – Commentary on Adrienne Barnett in “A genealogy of hostility: parental alienation in England and Wales”, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law (Jan 2020). The paper discusses the role of parental alienation within the English and Welsh family courts.

The Empathy Gap 11th June 2020 – Commentary on “U.S. child custody outcomes in cases involving parental alienation and abuse allegations: what do the data show?”, By Joan S. Meier, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 42:1, 92-105 (2020)

Vaccination of children; how does the Family Court handle disputes?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

This post considers how the court should deal with disputes between those who have parental responsibility, about whether or not a child should be vaccinated. Vaccines are routinely administered in England; see Public Health England’s guidance in ‘The Green Book: Information for public health professionals on immunisations’. Despite the routine nature of vaccination, there remains a significant minority of those who object, some fearing that vaccines cause harm. The Court of Appeal however has given a very clear ruling that there is no medical evidence to support an argument that these routine childhood vaccines are harmful, and that local authorities do not need to seek the approval of the High Court before agreeing to vaccinate children in their care.

In February 2020 there was a decision in care proceedings about parents who objected to their child being vaccinated, which can be found at  [2020] EWHC 220 (Fam). The Judge commented that the father was “driven by the fundamental belief that neither the court nor the State, through the arm of the Local Authority has any jurisdiction to take decisions in relation to his children”.

The Judge heard medical evidence about the benefits of immunisation in general and in particular with regard to the child before him. He found that vaccination should not be characterised as ‘medical treatment’ but rather ‘a facet of public preventative health care intending to protect both individual children and society more generally’.

The Judge was satisfied that the local authority could authorise the vaccination of the child under section 33(3) of the Children Act 1989. This is significant, as previous cases (see Re SL (Permission to Vaccinate) [2017] EWHC 125 ) had set out that this issue had to be decided using the ‘inherent jurisdiction’ of the court – a jurisdiction which can only be exercised by the High Court or by Circuit Judges with special authorisation. This has the potential to take more time and cost more money to get a decision.

Therefore the Judge felt it appropriate to allow his decision to be appealed pursuant to the Family Procedure Rules 30.3(7) – ‘contradictory decisions on the substantive issue’

By the time the matter got to the Court of Appeal, no one was arguing that the child should NOT be vaccinated but everyone wanted clarity about what route people needed to use in any future cases like this.

Judgment was handed down on 22nd May 2020 in H (A Child Parental Responsibility : Vaccination) [2020] EWCA Civ 664

Is vaccination a ‘grave and serious’ matter?

The Court of Appeal decided that in order to make the right decision about the route to take, it was necessary to consider some broader questions, and in particular whether or not vaccination is to be considered ‘a grave or serious matter’ or should be regarded as ‘medical treatment’.

These questions also had to be considered in two different contexts: ‘public law’ proceedings (where the local authority shares parental responsibility with the parents) and ‘private law’ proceedings (where only individuals such as the mother and father share PR).

As a general principle, the State should be slow to interfere with how parents exercise their rights and duties with regard to their children and respect their right to do so, provided that they don’t put the child at risk of significant harm.

Giving consent to having a child vaccinated is clearly an exercise of parental responsibility. Most consider the decision to vaccinate ‘reasonable and responsible’. However it is not a legal requirement. Therefore a refusal to vaccinate your child and nothing else would be very unlikely to be considered ‘significant harm’ to the extent that the State could interfere and apply for a care order under section 31(3) of the Children Act.

The child in the care of the local authority

The starting point for a child in local authority care is section 33 of the Children Act 1989. This gives the LA parental responsibility alongside the parents and the power to ‘override’ the parents provided that what it proposes is necessary to safeguard the welfare of the child. The LA cannot however change a child’s religion or name, or take the child out of the country using this section.

This applies to ‘interim’ and ‘final’ care orders. However, when decisions ‘with profound or enduring consequences’ needed to be made – such as serious medical treatment – the general view is that it was not right for the LA to use section 33 to override a parent’s wishes without further scrutiny – the matter needed to come before the High Court to be resolved.

So – is consenting to vaccination something that a LA can do without the High Court’s permission? Or is this ‘serious medical treatment’?

Medical evidence about the benefit of vaccines is clear

The Court of Appeal first examined the current established medical view – routine vaccination of children is not only in the best interests of the children but also the general public.

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that most – but not all – of the concerns about the safety of vaccinations relate to the MMR vaccination. This was introduced in 1988. Concerns arose that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism following the publication of a paper in The Lancet by Dr Andrew Wakefield. This attracted widespread publicity and caused a drastic reduction in MMR vaccination rates and corresponding increase in cases of measles. It then transpired that Dr Wakefield had not declared a number of conflicting interests and by 2004, 10 of the 12 co-authors of the 1998 paper had withdrawn their support for the claimed link with autism.

Dr Wakefield was then investigated by the General Medical Council for misconduct and in May 2010 he was struck off the medical register and The Lancet formally retracted his paper. No mainstream medical opinion now accepts a link between vaccination and autism.

The Court of Appeal accepted that the medical evidence:

overwhelmingly identifies the benefits to a child of being vaccinated as part of the public health initiative to drive down the incidence of serious childhood and other diseases.

The Court of Appeal were very clear that this short recitation of such historical events was necessary to ‘bring an end’ to the parade of expert witnesses in cases involving vaccination, to demonstrate its medical benefits, unless a child has ‘an unusual medical history’ – see for example in Re C and F (Children) [2003] EWHC 1376 (Fam).

There could be other issues than purely medical over vaccinations which impact on a child’s welfare – for example the parent’s religious belief – but the Court of Appeal have decisively put to bed any lingering doubts about the medical benefits of vaccination.

Regardless of benefit – are vaccines ‘serious medical treatment’?

Regardless of its medical benefit, were the parents right to say that only the High Court could resolve a dispute between parents and a local authority? There have sadly been very many cases where care proceedings and complex medical treatment intertwine and the High Court has been asked to intervene.

The most difficult and controversial cases have been where care proceedings were used to bring parents before the court over disputes about medical treatment where the parents are otherwise ‘unimpeachable’. The Court of Appeal did not approve of this. The more usual route in cases of dispute over serious medical treatment, is via the NHS Trust responsible for treating a child applying to invoke the court’s inherent jurisdiction. in such applications, there is no need to discuss threshold criteria or ‘blame’ the parents and the sole criterion is the welfare of the child.

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that some previous cases could be interpreted as denying that the LA had the power to authorise ANY medical treatment. But, if that was the correct interpretation – then those cases got it wrong.

The Court of Appeal then turned to examine how vaccination cases in particular had been dealt with by the courts. It was noted that in a previous case the hearing had lasted two weeks with extensive medical evidence and a judgment of 370 pages which concluded that it was in the best interests of the healthy children to be vaccinated. That decision was appealed and the appeal dismissed. See In Re C (Welfare of Child: Immunisation) [2003] EWCA Civ 1148[2003] 2 FLR 1095) However, further cases continued to hear extensive expert evidence.

The Court of Appeal stated that by the 2010 at the very latest, there has been no evidential basis for suggesting a link between MMR and autism and other vaccines which are routinely given to children have not been subject to the same high profile concerns about their safety.

The Court of Appeal did not think it mattered to call vaccinations ‘medical treatment’ or ‘preventative health care’ – what mattered is whether vaccinations were ‘grave’ and ‘serious’ in the context of the exercise of PR by a local authority. This was soundly rejected:

I cannot agree that the giving of a vaccination is a grave issue (regardless of whether it is described as medical treatment or not). In my judgment it cannot be said that the vaccination of children under the UK public health programme is in itself a ‘grave’ issue in circumstances where there is no contra-indication in relation to the child in question and when the alleged link between MMR and autism has been definitively disproved. 

Cases involving disputes between parents

The route for parents who cannot agree about vaccination is to apply for a Specific Issue Order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 – see Thorpe LJ in Re C (Immunisations) at paragraph [17] where in 2003 he expressed the view that immunisations were part of a ‘small group of important decisions’ where if those with PR could not agree, it should come before the court. The Court of Appeal wondered if now in 2020 this could still hold good given that all evidence unequivocally supports the recommendation of Public Health England that vaccinations benefit children and the wider society. However, the Court of Appeal declined to offer a definite view about this.

However, the reality is that if parents can’t agree in discussion or more formal mediation, neither has primacy over the other and they have no option but to come to court for resolution.

This is very different to the situation where a care order exists, as in that situation Parliament has given the LA the power to override a parent unless its a decision of such magnitude that it must come before the High Court.

Warning to local authorities

However, the Court of Appeal sounded a note of caution, warning the local authority that it must involve parents in decision making and section 33 CA 1989 was not an invitation to ‘ride rough shod’ over parents. If the parents do not agree with the the LA decision to consent to vaccination, they can make an application to invoke the inherent jurisdiction and apply for an injunction under the Human Rights Act 1998 to prevent vaccination before the matter comes before the court.

The Court of Appeal decision does not in any way diminish the importance of parental views where there is a real issue about what decision will promote a child’s welfare. However, the weight to be given any objection is not decided by how insistently it is made, but according to what substance it has.

The pressure on the family justice system is already serious enough without devoting weeks of High Court time to reinventing the vaccination wheel.

Remote hearings and the impact for family justice

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore. The Nuffield consultation is open until April 28th 2020, so please comment.

At the time of writing – April 17th – the UK is in its 3rd week of ‘lockdown’ in response to the global pandemic and efforts to reduce the spread of COVID 19. Courts have been operating remotely for a number of weeks now and some of the initial problems and panic have been ironed out. However, there are still some worries, in particular how this is impacting on lay clients. Many parents in care proceedings already face serious disadvantages in terms of ready access to technology or even a quiet and safe space in which to sit to engage in a remote hearing.

This is an issue of significance and importance – Tortoise Media organised a digital ‘ThinkIn’ for the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

Polly Curtis of Tortoise commented

Under lockdown there has been an 800% increase in court hearings being conducted by telephone or video call. The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has been asked by the President of the Family Division to conduct a rapid consultation on the use of remote hearings in the family courts to inform future guidance. Join us to share your experiences: What has worked well? Do you have concerns? What improvements could be made?

What has worked well?

My experience is still quite limited; I have done a number of directions hearings where everything was more or less agreed; I haven’t yet cross examined anyone as the contested hearings lined up in my diary have fallen away. But for those hearings where the issues were limited and well known, where there wasn’t a need to put questions to a lay witness or navigate a massive bundle, it seemed to go ok. It was great not to have to travel hours to and from court for a 20 minute hearing, and the platforms I have used – Zoom and Skype for business – appeared to work reasonably well, apart from one complete and inexplicable failure of my microphone (and yes, I HAD unmuted).

Do you have concerns?

Yes. Although I haven’t yet conducted a contested hearing remotely, my experiences so far make me doubtful that its going to be as easy or as straightforward as some make out.

The significant problem in many family cases is going to be the inherent vulnerability of the lay clients. When meeting in person in court, we can talk, I can reassure, I can explain, I can see or be told immediately if my client is getting distressed or needs a break. All of this is gone with remote working. During one hearing I was taking client’s instructions via What’s App while trying to listen to the submissions of my opponents and formulate my own response. Yes, this is what happens in court hearings that are not remote – an important skill as a trial lawyer is being able to deal with client’s scribbled or whispered instructions while trying to follow the arguments of your opponent.

But there was something very draining about the remote experience that made it ten times more exhausting. That particular hearing lasted no more than 2 hours. I felt afterwards as if I had an entire day in court. I don’t yet know if this is because I am new to the experience and finding it stressful or whether a remote hearing does strip away some essential elements of good communication and that this extra effort will remain a feature of such work.

What improvements could be made?

Bizarrely, I thought I would be most concerned about technology and its availability, but my three week immersion in this new world has flagged up other difficulties I had not anticipated. From my experience what I would like to see most urgently is an end to the almost incessant flow of ‘guidance’ or comments about ‘guidance’. I appreciate that everyone is doing their best and this is for some people a way to cope with uncertainty. I also hope its an inevitable product of this brand new and very rapid change to all our circumstances.

But its oppressive, its confusing and instead of making sure that it directs people to consider what is important, I think it risks having the opposite effect – the more people expect ‘guidance’ to give them the answers, the less they tend to think about the case in front of them.

I think we need to keep first principles in mind

  • The child’s welfare is paramount
  • Delay should only be permitted if planned and purposeful BUT
  • Hearings must be fair – and there is often a lot to unpack in that one

I am supported in this analysis by para 24 of the President’s judgment in P – see link below in Further Reading

The decision whether to hold a remote hearing in a contested case involving the welfare of a child is a particularly difficult one for a court to resolve. A range of factors are likely to be in play, each potentially compelling but also potentially at odds with each other. The need to maintain a hearing in order to avoid delay and to resolve issues for a child in order for her life to move forward is likely to be a most powerful consideration in many cases, but it may be at odds with the need for the very resolution of that issue to be undertaken in a thorough, forensically sound, fair, just and proportionate manner. The decision to proceed or not may not turn on the category of case or seriousness of the decision, but upon other factors that are idiosyncratic of the particular case itself, such as the local facilities, the available technology, the personalities and expectations of the key family members and, in these early days, the experience of the judge or magistrates in remote working. It is because no two cases may be the same that the decision on remote hearings has been left to the individual judge in each case, rather than making it the subject of binding national guidance.

There is often tension between all those principles But every family case offers a huge array of different circumstances which need to be weighed and considered. One final hearing of mine was adjourned for a variety of reasons, not all to do with the remoteness of the hearing – but it was clear that remoteness weighed more heavily on considerations about the parent’s need for assistance to understand and participate in the proceedings. While hearings remain remote we need to be focused much more clearly on the impact of this on the lay client and whether they can participate in a meaningful way.

The Guidance from MacDonald J (see further reading below) is detailed and impressive and begins with the reminder from the President of the Family Division that we must not lose sight of the ‘primary purpose’ of the family court – to deal with cases justly. The Guidance offers a particularly pertinent example of a Court of Protection case that the Judge, journalists and lawyers all felt went very well indeed – but the lay person had a very different experience.

It all, in the end, comes down to what we think our courts are for. If the aim is to get the slickest and most efficient system up and running, then remote working offers a lot of advantages. But I hope most would agree that process should not be elevated above the people who must suffer that process.

It will be interesting to see how the Digital Courts develop when (if) we are ever out of lockdown. I can see ways that technology can be used to great effect and one positive at least from all of this is we will have speeded up immensely our willingness to embrace remote working.

Further reading

Advice on mechanics of remote hearings

Government advice on how to join remote hearings

Guidance from MacDonald J – 5th version 26 June 2020

Advocacy Guidance from the Council of the Inns of Court

Remote family hearings – guidance from 15th April 2020

Commentary

Remote hearings: a gulf between lawyers and lay parties? The Transparency Project March 29th 2020

Remote Hearings Guidance Note The Transparency Project June 7th 2020

The Family Court and Covid 19: The Road Ahead Guidance from the President on June 9th 2020.

Case law

P (A Child: Remote Hearing), Re (Rev 2) [2020] EWFC 32 (16 April 2020) 

Re A (Children) (Remote Hearing: Care and Placement Orders) 2020

C (Children : Covid-19: Representation) [2020] EWCA Civ 734 (10 June 2020)

Summary of case law up to end of May 2020 – Child Protection Resource

MUNCIPIO DE MARIANA & ORS v (1) BHP GROUP PLC (FORMERLY BHP BILLITON) (7) BHP GROUP LTD (Second to Sixth Defendants not party to the proceedings) (2020)

[2020] EWHC 928 (TCC)
QBD (TCC) (Judge Eyre QC) 20/04/2020
CIVIL PROCEDURE
ADJOURNMENT : CORONAVIRUS : DISPUTING THE COURT’S JURISDICTION : EXTENSIONS OF TIME : REMOTE ATTENDANCE : TECHNOLOGY
The court gave guidance on the approach to applications for an adjournment and applications for extensions of time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The first and seventh defendants applied for an extension of time, due to the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, for service of evidence in respect of the claimants’ application to stay the proceedings on jurisdictional grounds.

The proceedings arose out of the collapse of a dam in Brazil which had released large quantities of toxic materials and contaminated water. There were over 200,000 claimants and the claims were made under Brazilian law. Other proceedings had been commenced in Brazil and a foundation had been established to provide compensation on a non-litigious basis. An application by the first defendant English company and the seventh defendant Australian company challenging the English court’s jurisdiction, and for the claims to be struck out or stayed, was listed to be heard in June 2020. Both sides had served expert reports with substantial exhibits. The defendants applied to extend time for service of their reply to the claimants’ evidence by five or six weeks because of the practical difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. If an extension was granted the hearing of the jurisdiction challenge would need to be vacated.

HELD: Approach to applications to adjourn hearings because of Covid-19 – The starting point was the overriding objective with the requirements that: cases were to be dealt with justly; in ways which were proportionate to the amounts involved, the importance of the case and the complexity of the issues; expeditiously and fairly. Regard was also to be had to PD 51 ZA para.4, which required the court to take into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic so far as compatible with the proper administration of justice. In the light of authorities since the start of the pandemic, the following principles governed whether a particular hearing should be adjourned if the case could not be heard face-to-face or whether instead there should be a remote hearing, National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon, Re Smith Technologies 26 March 2020 and One Blackfriars Ltd (In Liquidation), Re [2020] EWHC 845 (Ch) applied.

(i) Regard was to be had to the importance of the continued administration of justice. Justice delayed was justice denied even when the delay resulted from a response to the prevailing circumstances.

(ii) There was to be a recognition of the extent to which disputes could in fact be resolved fairly by way of remote hearings.

(iii) The courts had to be prepared to hold remote hearings in circumstances where it would have been inconceivable only weeks earlier.

(iv) There was to be rigorous examination of the possibility of a remote hearing, and of the ways in which such a hearing could be achieved consistent with justice, before the court should accept that a just determination could not be achieved in such a hearing.

(v) Whether there could be a fair resolution by way of a remote hearing would be case-specific. A multiplicity of factors would come into play and the issue of whether and to what extent live evidence and cross-examination would be necessary was likely to be important in many cases. There would be cases where the court could not be satisfied that a fair resolution could be achieved by way of a remote hearing.

(see paras 16-17, 24 of judgment).

Approach to applications for extensions of time because of Covid-19 –

(i) The objective if it was achievable was to keep to existing deadlines and where that was not realistically possible to permit the minimum extension of time which was realistically practicable. The prompt administration of justice and compliance with court orders remained of great importance even in circumstances of a pandemic.

(ii) The court could expect legal professionals to make appropriate use of modern technology.

(iii) The court could expect and require from lawyers a degree of readiness to put up with inconveniences; to use imaginative and innovative methods of working; and to acquire the new skills needed for the effective use of remote technology.

(iv) The approach required of lawyers could also be expected from professional expert witnesses. However, rather different considerations were likely to apply where the persons who would need to take particular measures were private individuals falling outside those categories.

(v) The court should be willing to accept less polished evidence and other material.

(vii) However, the court had to take account of the realities of the position and while requiring lawyers and other professionals to press forward care had to be taken to avoid requiring compliance with deadlines which were not achievable even with proper effort.

(viii) The court had to have regard to the consequences of the restrictions on movement and the steps by way of working from home which had been taken to address the pandemic.

(ix) Those factors were to be considered against the general position that an extension of time which required the loss of a trial date had much more significance and would be granted much less readily than an extension of time which did not have that effect.

(para.32).

Application to the facts – The defendants had shown that even when all proper allowance was made for the use of technology and extra efforts, the exercise of preparing the reply evidence would take significantly longer than was provided for in the timetable. Justice required that the defendants be given an extension of time of five to six weeks. The jurisdiction challenge hearing would be relisted for July 2020 (paras 42, 48).

Application granted
Counsel:
For the claimants: Nicholas Harrison, Jonathan McDonagh
For the defendants: Charles Gibson QC, Nicholas Sloboda, Veena Srirangam

Solicitors:
For the claimants: SPG Law
For the defendants: Slaughter and May
LTL 21/4/2020 : [2020] 4 WLUK 180
Official – 17 pages
AC5011101

Journalists in family courts – what can they report and can you keep them out?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

I have written generally on the issue of media reporting from family cases and also of my growing disenchantment with the ability or even the will of many journalists to report fairly and accurately, even with the information right in front of them. I had always naively thought that journalists investigated what was actually happening and reported on that – but that naivety cannot survive the reality that too many now appear to approach the family justice system looking for facts to fit a pre-determined theory.

Andrew Norfolk’s ‘Muslim Foster Carer’ report was one of the more serious examples of journalistic failure in this regard, but there are sadly many others.

However, regardless of what opinion I hold of journalists, its clear that the issue of greater transparency in the family courts and what can be reported about what happens there, is not going away; and nor should it. It is right that we are able as a society to understand the mechanisms of such an important element of it. I agree that people and organisations that go unchallenged have serious potential to fall into some very bad habits indeed.

I do however remain uneasy that the present push to simply make more information available is not the way to go about it; not without some greater reassurance that those trusted with the information will use it to inform debate rather than stoke up the fires of their own particular prejudice. Because the huge problem with this is that they want to use actual, identifiable families and children as their kindling.

We have to be willing to weigh the rights of parents and children to keep their painful private histories private, as against the rights of journalists or bloggers to promote any particular campaign.

So I am going to look in particular at the procedural mechanics of how journalists or legal bloggers may be involved in family proceedings and what you should do if you object to them reporting on your case or even attending your case at all.

At the time of writing (March 30th 2020) the UK is in its second week of ‘lock down’ during the COVID 19 global pandemic so the situation is of course made even more complicated by the prospect of remote court hearings via telephone or video link. Hopefully this situation will resolve in time.

The right of journalists and bloggers to attend court – yes they can.

This is hopefully now NOT controversial. Journalists and legal bloggers have a right to come into a family court. Rule 27.11 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 allows ‘accredited journalists’ – those holding a UK Press Card – to attend private family hearings. Since October 2018, this rule extends to cover ‘legal bloggers’.

FPR 27 refers to “duly accredited representatives of news gathering and reporting organisations” – I shall use the shorthand term ‘journalist’ throughout.

However, the right to attend hearings does not confer a right to report on proceedings or publish details of proceedings. There is a clear tension between the right of journalists to report about court hearings and the right of the parties – particularly children – to keep probably very sensitive and upsetting material out of the public domain.

See section 12(1) of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 and Children Act 1989, s 97(2). These Acts provide exceptions to the general principle in favour of open justice. The court may also relax or restrict reporting restrictions in appropriate cases using its inherent jurisdiction. These matters are all covered in more detail here.

The guidance of the President of the Family Division, issued on 3rd October 2019, sets out the relevant legal and procedural considerations for the court, where issues arise about extending or limited what can be reported in a family case. As a matter of substantive law, the court will have to carry out a ‘balancing exercise’, with an ‘intense focus’ on the likely competing rights before it. These will probably involve (but are not restricted to) consideration of ECHR Articles 6, 8 and 10 – the right to a fair trial, right to privacy and right to freedom of expression.

The President’s guidance refers to a useful summary of required balancing exercise as set out at paragraph 22 of Re J (A Child) [2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam).

The best interests of any child involved in the proceedings are not ‘paramount’ in this argument, but will be the court’s primary consideration.

If no agreement can be reached, the court should hear submissions and replies, and give a judgment on the application. This doesn’t have to be a ‘full’ judgment but it must contain enough information to allow the parties to understand how the Judge got to his or her conclusions. See Re W [2014] EWCA Civ 1303 at para [49].

I don’t want journalists to report about my hearing. What can I do?

There is a presumption that journalists may attend family court hearings but still clear and significant limitations on what they can report and what documents they can see.

The court has even wider powers – it can exclude journalists from all of part of any hearing entirely – see FPR r 27.11(3). At any stage of the proceedings the court can decide not to allow journalists or other reporters to attend a hearing or part of a hearing if the following test of necessity is met:

  • in the interests of any child concerned in, or connected with, the proceedings;
  • for the safety or protection of a party, a witness in the proceedings, or a person connected with such a party or witness; or
  • for the orderly conduct of the proceedings; or
  • justice will otherwise be impeded or prejudiced.

The court can make this decision on its own initiative or after representations by any party, witness, child’s guardian or the child, if of sufficient age and understanding.

What is key however, is that the court must give an opportunity to any member of the press who is present an opportunity to make representations.

So if the journalists have turned up at the hearing, it seems pretty straightforward. You can make your application then and there and everyone is present to hear what is said and respond to it.

However, more significant problems arise if you want to make an application before any hearing has taken place.

But what if I want to exclude journalists before the hearing starts?

Applying to exclude all and any representatives of media organisations is clearly a serious thing and you will need to make that people who want to object, have a proper opportunity to do so. We now need to examine the procedural issues, rather than those of of substantive law and proportionality.

You will need to think carefully about this. Attempting to exclude the press may in fact just alert journalists to your case who otherwise would not have known about it. But if you consider press interest is inevitable and would be harmful, you may need to make an application in advance of the hearing. The Practice Direction 12 I comments that journalists are used to weighing up information in a short period of time so there may be more leeway for less notice to be given – but unless its an emergency you will need to make your application in sufficient time before the hearing.

The President’s Guidance sets out a summary of what you need to do at para 6:

Guidance as to the procedure for applying for RRO’s [Reporting Restrictions Orders] in the Family Division founded upon ECHR Convention rights can be found within FPR 2010, PD 12I and a CAFCASS Practice Note: ‘Applications for Reporting Restrictions Orders’(as updated in 2015). The application must be made in the High Court and notice must be given to the press through the Press Association (‘PA’) Injunction Alert Service [Human Rights Act 1998, s 12(2)].

Section 12 of the HRA is important as it sets out that an injunction restricting the exercise of the right to freedom of expression must not be granted where the person against whom the application is made is neither present nor represented unless the Court is satisfied (a) that the applicant has taken all practical steps to notify the respondent or (b) that there are compelling reasons why the respondent should not be notified.

It is possibly to get an injunction ‘without notice’ but it is clear that the circumstances must be ‘exceptional’ when one is attempting to restrict an Article 10 right. For further discussion see  Re X (A Child) (Residence and Contact) ([2009] EWHC 1728 (Fam)).

What is the Press Association Injunction Alert Service?

The Media Lawyer website explains

This service may be used to notify the subscribing media organisations of your intention to apply to the High Court for an injunction which will affect their rights under Article 10 by prohibiting or restricting reporting.

Nearly all the national media organisations have agreed to take part in the notification system.

The notification system

The purpose of the notification system is to provide a simple secure and verifiable method of sending national media organisations notice of proposed applications for injunctions, together with supporting documentation.

The notification system serves all the national media (newspapers and broadcasters) with the exception of the Financial Times and Sky News. If notice has to be served on these two companies it needs to be served on them directly. A list of those companies subscribing to this system and their contact details are at Media Organisations.

Nor does the CopyDirect service extend to local or regional media or magazines. The Practice Note (see below) states: If service of the application on any specific organisation or person not covered is required it should be effected directly. However this note does not expand on how such service is to be effective or what it means by ‘required’.

There is useful discussion from the then President of the Family Division in Re P (Enforced Caesarean: Reporting Restrictions) [2014] 2 FLR 410, FD, at [46]. This is also set out in the Practice Note below.

The President quote from a ‘most helpful note’ sent to his office by Mike Dodd in December 2013, the then legal editor of the Press Association.

“There is a page on the Injunctions Alerts Service website http://www.medialawyer.press.net/courtapplications/mediaorganisations.jsp – which lists the media organisations served, and the relevant telephone numbers, and which states at the top:’The notification system serves all the national media (newspapers and broadcasters) with the exception of the Financial Times and Sky News. If notice has to be served on these two companies it needs to be served on them directly.’

The service was also established on the basis that subscribing organisations would be taken to have been served with an application if notification was sent via the service. The system works as follows: Would-be applicants are supposed to call a number, given in the Practice Note, and speak to the Customer Services staff who deal with the service. They then send the documents, electronically (which is easier) or by fax, to the service. These documents are, if necessary, scanned to be put into electronic form, and are then distributed via e-mail alerts to the national media. Distribution is followed up by calls to each of the subscribing organisations to check that service has been received.

The service does NOT serve orders which have been obtained from the courts (despite the continuing efforts by some law firms to use it for this purpose).

The Media Lawyer site sets out the practical steps:

An applicant (or his solicitor) should telephone the Press Association’s CopyDirect service on a dedicated number – 0870 837 6429 – confirming that he wishes to apply for a reporting restriction order in the Family Division. The documentation identified in paragraph 3 of the Practice Note should then be faxed to 0870 830 6949 or emailed to the email address provided by CopyDirect when the applicant calls the service. Attachments to emails must be in Word format.

CopyDirect will, on receipt of the documentation send via either email or fax the documentation to the subscribing media organisations. CopyDirect will call the media organisations to ensure the material has been received.

CopyDirect will also confirm receipt to the applicant. CopyDirect will maintain records of notifications received and sent, including timings, for a period of three months. Copies can be made available to applicants, if required, for verification.

Operational Hours

Mon-Fri 8am-11pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am-11pm
Christmas Eve 8am-6pm
Christmas Day 9am-6pm
Boxing Day operating hours will be the same as the day on which it falls.
New Years Eve 8am-11pm
New Years Day operating hours will be the same as the day on which it falls.

There are no costs to applicants for this service.

Judges will expect applicants to have filled out the checklist for those applying for injunctions before they entertain an application. The Checklist PDF can be downloaded here

The Practice Direction 12I and Practice Note

The Media Lawyer site also provides a copy of the standard form of order to be adopted when a reporting restriction order is made in the Family Division. This is set out under ‘Further Reading’ below. It is also helpful to include an Explanatory Note . This sets out briefly what the case is about so allows journalists to make an informed decision about whether they want to object to your application or not.

The Practice Direction makes it clear such applications need to be made in the High Court. The other parties should get at least 14 days notice – Practice Direction 12C. The court may extend or shorten this time (see rule 4.1(3)(a)), using its general powers of case management. However, the case of AB in 2019, dealing with an application for reporting restrictions concerning an inquest into the death of a child, says only 3 days is required, relying on the CPR, rather than the FPR.

Methods of service are set out at Part 6 of the CPR – generally personal service, first class post or can be done electronically.

Application and evidence
The application may be a freestanding claim brought under the Part 8 procedure in the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 or it may be made within existing proceedings to which either the CPR or Family Proceedings Rules 2010 apply. I

It may be appropriate to seek a direction under CPR 39.2(4), that the identity of a party or witness should not be disclosed, and for documents to be drafted identifying individuals by initials.

The applicant should prepare

(a) the application/claim form

(b) a witness statement justifying the need for an order

(c) any legal submissions

(d) a draft order (see suggested form of this order below) and

(e) an explanatory note (an example of this can be found at the end of the suggested draft order below)

If you don’t have time to get the relevant documents together, the court will probably want you to provide a written statement as soon as you can. Unless the court orders something different, you should provide these documents on request to any person who is affected by the order. See W v H (Family Division: Without Notice Orders) [2001] 2 WLR 253; [2001] 2 FLR 927.

So how do I know who and how to serve?

The process seems relatively straightforward for those news organisations covered by Copy Direct. However, it does NOT cover the Financial Times, Sky News or ‘local or regional media or magazines’ OR legal bloggers.

There seems to be no guidance as to how a litigant in person is supposed to identify these entities and then go on to serve them. It surely cannot be proportionate to suggest that every single regional newspaper needs to be contacted to inform them that an application is going to be made to exclude them from a hearing about which they would almost certainly have had no interest in attending or reporting about.

The Practice Note isn’t much help, simply referring that service of ORDERS should be ‘effected in the usual way’ – the Media Lawyer website gives the addresses of the main news organisations on its site. However, with regard to applications to restrict attendance of journalists NOT subscribing to Copy Direct, it simply states

Appropriate local and regional newspapers and magazines should be served with application notices in the usual way

Again, it is not clear how one is supposed identify an ‘appropriate’ local/regional reporting outlet and how one is then supposed to go on to serve an entity one may not even be aware exists. Nor is it clear at all who or what now comprises ‘legal bloggers’ who may wish to be informed and how they may be contacted.

The LA in the AB case (above) served the media via Copy Direct and also the local papers in their area, which seems sensible – but the information they provided and a very sparse ‘explanatory note’ was criticised by the court.

The Media Lawyer website offers information at

www.willingspress.com

This is a subscriber website detailing comprehensive lists of UK and overseas titles (newspapers and magazines), their contact details and publishers – but at the time of writing, this link does not appear to work.

I can only hope that for litigants in person, so long as they comply with what is set out with regard to the Copy Direct notification service, and inform the Financial Times and Sky News separately, they cannot be criticised for any disproportionate breach of any journalist or legal bloggers Article 10 rights.

I will update this post if I get any better/further information.

Further Reading

(1) Model Order

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE Case Number:
FAMILY DIVISION
[PRINCIPAL REGISTRY]

BEFORE [JUDGE] IN PRIVATE

IN THE MATTER OF THE COURT’S INHERENT JURISDICTION

BETWEEN

[ ]

and

[ ]

REPORTING RESTRICTION ORDER

IMPORTANT

If you disobey this order you may be found guilty of contempt of court and may be sent to prison or be fined or have your assets seized. You should read the order carefully and are advised to consult a solicitor as soon as possible. You have the right to ask the Court to vary or discharge the order.

EXPLANATION

  1. On [date] the Court considered an application for a reporting restriction order.
  2. The following persons and/or organisations were represented before the Court:[describe parties and their advocates]
  3. The Court read the following documents: [list the documents]and/orThe Court directed the [Applicant/Claimant] to file a statement no later than [date] setting out the information presented to the court at the hearing.and/orThe Court directed that copies of the attached Explanatory Note and [list any other documents] be made available by the [Applicant/Claimant] to any person affected by this Order.
  4. [In a case where an undertaking in damages is required by the Court:The Applicant gave an undertaking that if the Court later finds that this Order was obtained as a result of any deliberate or careless misrepresentation by the Applicant, and that this has caused loss to any person served with the Order, and that that person should be compensated, the Applicant will comply with any order the Court may make.]
  5. In the case of an order made without notice:This order was made without notice to those affected by it, the Court having considered section 12(2) Human Rights Act 1998 and being satisfied (i) that the [Applicant/Claimant] has taken all practicable steps to notify persons affected and/or (ii) that there are compelling reasons for notice not being given, namely: [set out the Court’s reasons for making the order without notice]
  6. [In the case of an application by a local authority:The Court granted permission to the Applicant to apply for the exercise of the Court’s inherent jurisdiction]

ORDER

  1. Duration Subject to any different order made in the meantime, this order shall have effect[in the case of an adult] during the lifetime of the [Defendant], whose details are set out in Schedule 1 to this order.[in the case of a child] until [date], the 18th birthday of the child whose details are set out in Schedule 1 to this order (’the Child’).
  2. Who is bound This order binds all persons and all companies (whether acting by their directors, employees or agents or in any other way) who know that the order has been made.
  3. Publishing restrictionsThis order prohibits the publishing or broadcasting in any newspaper, magazine, public computer network, internet website, sound or television broadcast or cable or satellite programme service of:
    1. the name and address of
      1. the [Defendant/Child];
      2. [in the case of a child] the Child’s parents (’the parents’), whose details are set out in Schedule 2 to this order;
      3. any individual having day-to-day care of or medical responsibility for the [Defendant/Child] (’a carer’), whose details are set out in Schedule 3 to this Order;
      4. any residential home or hospital, or other establishment in which the [Defendant/Child] is residing or being treated (’an establishment’);
    2. any picture being or including a picture of either the [Defendant/Child], a carer or an establishment;
    3. any other particulars or information relating to the [Defendant/Child];IF, BUT ONLY IF, such publication is likely to lead to the identification of the [Defendant/Child] as being [set out the feature of the situation which has led to the granting of the order].
  4. No publication of the text or a summary of this order (except for service of the order under paragraph 7 below) shall include any of the matters referred to in paragraph 3 above.
  5. Restriction on seeking information This Order prohibits any person from seeking any information relating to the [Defendant/Child] [or the parents] or a carer from any of the following:
    1. the [Defendant/Child];
    2. [the parents];
    3. a carer;
    4. the staff or residents of an establishment.]
  6. What is not restricted by this Order Nothing in this Order shall prevent any person from:
    1. publishing information relating to any part of a hearing in a court in England and Wales (including a coroner’s court) in which the court was sitting in public and did not itself make any order restricting publication.
    2. seeking or publishing information which is not restricted by Paragraph 3 above.
    3. inquiring whether a person or place falls within paragraph 3(a) above.
    4. seeking information relating to the [Defendant/Child] while acting in a manner authorised by statute or by any court in England and Wales.
    5. seeking information from the responsible solicitor acting for any of the parties or any appointed press officer, whose details are set out in Schedule 4 to this order.
    6. seeking or receiving information from anyone who before the making of this order had previously approached that person with the purpose of volunteering information (but this paragraph will not make lawful the provision or receipt of private information which would otherwise be unlawful).
    7. publishing information which before the service on that person of this order was already in the public domain in England and Wales as a result of publication by another person in any newspaper, magazine, sound or television broadcast or cable or satellite programme service, or on the internet website of a media organisation operating within England and Wales.
  7. Service Copies of this Order endorsed with a notice warning of the consequences of disobedience shall be served by the [Applicant/Claimant] (and may be served by any other party to the proceedings)
    1. by service on such newspaper and sound or television broadcasting or cable or satellite or programme services as they think fit, by fax or first class post addressed to the editor (in the case of a newspaper) or senior news editor (in the case of a broadcasting or cable or satellite programme service) or website administrator (in the case of an internet website) and/or to their respective legal departments; and/or
    2. on such other persons as the parties may think fit, by personal service.
  8. Further applications about this Order The parties and any person affected by any of the restrictions in paragraphs 3-5 above may make application to vary or discharge it to a Judge of the High Court on not less than [48 hours] notice to the parties.

SCHEDULE 1

[The [Defendant/Child]’s Full Name:
Born:
Address:
]

or

[Information enabling those affected by order to identify the Defendant/Child]

SCHEDULE 2

[Similar details of parents]

SCHEDULE 3

[Similar details of carers or other persons protected]

SCHEDULE 4

[Contact details of responsible solicitor and/or press officer]

Date of Order: [ ]

(2) Example of Explanatory Note

NHS TRUST X v AB

Application for a Reporting Restriction Order

DRAFT EXPLANATORY NOTE

1 AB is a child who suffers from a degenerative disease. An application has been made by the NHS Hospital Trust responsible for his care for the Court’s approval of the withdrawal of ventilation. This course is opposed by AB’s family.

2 On [date] the application will be heard by the President of the Family Division, who will give judgment in open court.

3 A Reporting Restriction Order has been [made/applied for] to protect AB’s right to confidentiality in respect of his medical treatment. This does not restrict publication of information or discussion about the treatment of patients with similar conditions, provided that such publication is not likely to lead to the identification of AB, those caring for him, the NHS Trust concerned or the establishment at which he is being cared for.

Citations: [2005] 2 FLR 111

SCHEDULE 1

[The [Defendant/Child]’s Full Name:
Born:
Address:
]

or

[Information enabling those affected by order to identify the Defendant/Child]

SCHEDULE 2

[Similar details of parents]

SCHEDULE 3

[Similar details of carers or other persons protected]

SCHEDULE 4

[Contact details of responsible solicitor and/or press officer]

Date of Order: [ ]

(2) Example of Explanatory Note

NHS TRUST X v AB

Application for a Reporting Restriction Order

DRAFT EXPLANATORY NOTE

1 AB is a child who suffers from a degenerative disease. An application has been made by the NHS Hospital Trust responsible for his care for the Court’s approval of the withdrawal of ventilation. This course is opposed by AB’s family.

2 On [date] the application will be heard by the President of the Family Division, who will give judgment in open court.

3 A Reporting Restriction Order has been [made/applied for] to protect AB’s right to confidentiality in respect of his medical treatment. This does not restrict publication of information or discussion about the treatment of patients with similar conditions, provided that such publication is not likely to lead to the identification of AB, those caring for him, the NHS Trust concerned or the establishment at which he is being cared for.

The Big Question – does the new law on Domestic Abuse go far enough?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

“Thomas More: …And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.” 
― Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons

On Sunday March 15th 2020 I was happy to accept an invitation to appear on the BBC’s ‘Big Questions’ programme to discuss the new Domestic Abuse Bill.

The other contributors were Michael Lewkowicz of Families need Fathers, Maria Cripps who runs a perpetrator programme in Brighton, Katy Bourne the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Laura Richards founder of Paladin (the National Stalking Advocacy Service), Jo Gough the CEO of RISE UK and Luke Gittos of Spiked online.

I tried to set out my thoughts via Twitter on the train on the way down

It was an interesting experience but the half an hour we got was no where near long enough to do more than lightly touch on some issues of considerable importance. However, I learned one thing above all which made a lot of things very clear to me for the first time – and that was the extent to which people either do not understand the distinction between the criminal justice system and the family justice system, or (perhaps more alarmingly) do not think it is important.

It was certainly naive of me not to have picked up on this before; as so many of us do I make the mistake of assuming that things which are clear and simple to me, are equally clear and simple to everyone else.

Much of the conversation was dominated by crimes; men who had committed them, how to identify them, how to ensure they did not get further access to their victims via any court system. With that, I entirely agree. Any person who has been convicted of a serious offence of violence against an intimate partner or child should have NO direct access to either without a very robust risk assessment and clear evidence of positive change. It is obviously wrong and harmful to allow such a person to directly cross examine their victim in any court setting. I am glad to see the Domestic Abuse Bill proposes to prohibit this but allow payment from court funds for an advocate to cross examine in those cases where the interests of justice demand it.

I do worry however how that will play out in practice and how long it will take to get the funds and find the advocate. My experiences in trying to find intermediaries do not fill me with optimism that this will be a quick or straightforward process. Nor am I aware from what pool of people these ‘cross examination advocates’ will be drawn nor any rate of pay. To cross examine effectively they will have to prepare thoroughly. Its not a matter of just turning up on the day and reading out a list of questions. Cross examination is a dynamic process where you must be ready to respond to answers you maybe did not expect.

However, this focus on criminal convictions and police intelligence, detracts from what I suspect are the majority of arguments in the civil family court about who spends time with children after a relationship breaks down. Typical of the cases in which I am instructed are a period of reasonably successful co-parenting after the separation, but then contact breaks down and allegations are made. Often each parent makes allegations against the other. Often neither parent has any kind of criminal record or concerns raised with any other agency.

During the debate the statistic that ‘only 1% of father’s are refused contact’ was raised. I don’t know where that comes from. Its not true, so far as I know. I can only assume that someone has bundled up direct AND indirect contact (which can be as little as two cards a year) and called it ‘contact’ – which of course is pretty dishonest. If anyone knows the source of this oft quote statistic, please do let me know. On my own cases I would say a lot more than 1% of fathers end up with no direct contact and no prospect of any direct contact either. And some of these fathers are identified by the court as ‘blameless’.

That this statistic has gained the traction it has – I hear it in many different places – underscores to me how the narrative of (female) ‘victim’ versus (male) ‘perpetrator’ is well established. This has the potential to do real and serious harm. It is fundamental to the rules of natural justice that people are able to challenge allegations made against them, if they do not accept them and if there is no evidence to support them such as a criminal conviction – which cannot be denied. An assumption at the outset that a women is a ‘victim’ has potential to cause great unfairness.

As I said in answer to a question by Nicky Campbell – the main problem with the civil family justice system is structural. What we need are quick and efficient fact finding hearings, judicial continuity and court buildings that can provide separate waiting rooms and other special measures such as screens and video links. What would be great also to have are safe, accessible contact centres so that when allegations are made against a parent, there is another route than simply stopping contact altogether while the court case winds its way though the system. I would like to see a strict time limit of 26 weeks as we have in public law cases and clear willingness to transfer the primary residence of children where possible, once it is clear that the primary carer does not accept a finding of fact and continues to obstruct contact.

It was sad but not surprising to see that I was instantly misquoted on social media, called ‘vile’ and a ‘disgrace’ for speaking nothing more than the obvious truth. If people genuinely think that pushing a false narrative and shouting down anyone who disagrees with them is a sensible long term strategy, I have some bad news for them. My only worry however is that these single issue campaigning groups appear to have captured a significant portion of the law and policy makers. And that IS a problem. Particularly when in their ranks are a number of women who have already been found by the family courts to have caused significant harm to the children in their care.

Hopefully we can keep talking and seeds can be planted. I have to continue to hope that we all want the same thing – for children to grow up healthy and happy with a relationship with both parents if that is safe for them. But nothing good ever came of denying the truth or bending the law to fit just one narrative. The problem with this debate was encapsulated by its title. Of course the law ‘doesn’t go far enough’. It cannot. Because what many campaigners seem to want is something that goes entirely beyond the law – a system whereby allegations (made by women) are simply believed without challenge. And that cannot be right. And I will continue to speak up against it.

Further reading

Alleged perpetrators of abuse as litigants in person in private family law – research from the MOJ from 2017 which explains why we are now in the current mess after legal aid was withdrawn from such cases in 2015.

Domestic Abuse Bill 2020: Over-arching fact sheet

Cross examination in the family court fact sheet

Safe not Sorry – Woman’s Aid report from 2016 which relies upon the bogus ‘1% contact refused’ statistic.

Westminster Legal Policy Forum keynote seminar: Next steps for family law in England and Wales


Next steps for family law in England and Wales – reforming care proceedings, protecting vulnerable users and modernising court procedures

Sarah Phillimore, Barrister, St John’s Chambers
Published on 26th February 2020

11.25 – 12.05 Reforming care proceedings in England and Wales – Special Guardianship Orders, improving standards nationwide and innovative approaches to care

I was very pleased to be asked to speak today, but rather less happy about what I was going to use my five minutes to say. There is clearly information and concern enough about the current operation of the child protection system to fill five days.

So I thought it probably most helpful to set out my general concerns. Because, while all of these articulated identified issues and concerns are important, my worry is that without clarity regarding the underlying narrative of what drives state intervention with families, then much time and energy may be expended on reforms and alternations which do not have the intended consequences.

I will first explain my background and what I say gives me authority to comment in the way I do. I began to specialise in care proceedings around 1999. From 2011, I became increasingly concerned about the poor quality of public debate around these issues; sadly some of it generated by serving members of Parliament. This reached an apex for me in late 2013 with the case of the Italian national Alessandra Pacchieri who was subject to a ‘forced Caesarean’ after suffering a mental health breakdown on a visit to the UK – her child was later adopted. This generated a great deal of media commentary, some more accurate and responsible than others. However, it was clear that the ‘system’ did not cover itself in glory in the handling of this case and the visceral and terrified reactions of a fairly large sector of the public could not simply be ignored.

That prompted me to take more direct action; I set up my website Child Protection Resource Online and I organised over the years 3 multi disciplinary conferences where the aim was to bring together parents and professionals to discuss how the system was – or wasn’t – working.

Therefore for the past six years I have actively attempted to engage in dialogue with a great deal of people who have very varying perspectives on what the child protection system is FOR.

And the key difficulty appears to have emerged, in my view, that we have competing narratives that exist in tension with one another. I will deal with this fairly crudely given time constraints

The first narrative – and this is the one supported by successive governments – is that children are to be ‘rescued’ from neglectful homes, and placed for adoption in ‘warm loving homes’ with parents who will advocate for their children and support them, requiring less state intervention.

The other is that England and Wales are clearly outliers when compared to all other European countries in our willingness to make orders that permanently sever a child’s connection to his birth family. And that insufficient respect – or none at all – is paid to the rights of parents to be supported to care for their children. I see this particularly in cases involving parents with learning disabilities who, unless they have the benefit of supportive families are often simply unable to care for their children.

The narrative you embrace clearly has consequences for the direction of travel of care proceedings.

The example of Special Guardianship Orders is helpful and illustrative. The 26 week timetable together with various judicial warnings about the seriousness of a placement order has, without doubt, lead to SGOs being made on the basis of hope and crossed fingers. It is my view that a Supervision Order should never be attached to a SGO – this is supposed to be an order of permanence where the holder has ‘super PR’. It is simply illogical to suggest that it must be accompanied by a SO ‘to keep an eye on things’. If a SO is required, it suggests to me that the SGO should not be made.

This is in my view a direct consequence of the competing narratives. If we are fully committed to the ‘rescue narrative’ than frankly 26 weeks is far too long for most care proceedings, and as was envisaged by the original framers of the Children Act ,care proceedings could sensibly conclude in a matter of weeks. If however we espouse the need to provide families with more intervention and support then 26 weeks is no where near long enough.

How do we resolve this tension? I do not know. And happily I am not tasked with the very weighty responsibilities that fall upon law and policy makers in this room. But we will certainly not resolve anything if we can’t acknowledge it.

I would like to see greater awareness and discussion of what could be put in place to make care proceedings fairer, more accessible and less brutal for parents. Only this week I was pleased to read about the new assessment centre at Trevi House in Plymouth – if you don’t know about the work of Trevi House then I suggest you find out more. On Tuesday I attended a conference in Birmingham which discussed the success of parent advocacy programmes in the United States and what work was beginning to be done here with regard to use of such programmes and greater involvement of families by way of Family Group Conferences.

So I hope this provides some food for thought and a possible basis for further discussions.

Lived experience is great. But law and policy have to be based on facts. I hope I am wrong about my criticisms of the Family Justice ‘three’ month review and the way in which it has gone about gathering ‘evidence’.

Time, as ever, will tell.

Sarah Phillimore
26th February 2020

The Crown Prosecution Service in the Classroom

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

On Friday January 24th 2020 I was alerted to the recently launched ‘Commentary on the LGBT Bullying and Hate Crime Schools Project Classroom activities and guidance for teachers’

This is for key stages 3 and 4 – i.e. children aged 11-16.

The CPS initially said this pack could ONLY be seen by teachers.

I found that extremely alarming. I have a child of my own in the school system so my alarm extends far beyond my professional criticism of guidance that is in places muddled or plain wrong.

I set out at the end of this post my detailed comments on the text in the pack. I could not access the videos or PowerPoints and did not seek them out as the CPS were apparently saying this was the reason the pack may not be shared with parents, because it involves ‘sensitive’ case studies of – I assume – ‘real life’ children.

I will put aside for now the wisdom of attempting confidentiality around such private data in a pack that is presumably sent to every secondary school in the country. This is the least of my worries right now.

I emailed the CPS to ask them if I may publish the guidance and my commentary. They emailed me on January 27th to ask if they could see my commentary. I emailed it the same morning. EDIT They then replied on the 29th with a link to the text of the guidance which was now public. But not the videos or powerpoints. I don’t flatter myself that my decision to blog or not to blog made any difference to their decision – but I suspect the telephone calls from numerous journalists made them realise they could not continue to keep the text hidden from parents.

If they had not done this, I would have published the guidance in any event. It is a matter of public interest. I have not shared the videos or PowerPoints and therefore I hope that risk to vulnerable children is reduced. But putting vulnerable children in official school guidance and using that as a reason to keep parents from seeing it, would be a bizarre and unacceptable state of affairs and I very much hope that is not what has happened here.

Perhaps the CPS would like to explain what prompted their change of heart.

TL:DR Summary of concerns


As the table below indicates, I am very concerned about this guidance. But if I was asked to pick my Top Three, they would be these.

  • At page 25 there is an alarming list of behaviour, some of which is trivial or undefined which is offered as examples of ‘hate’ – this is particularly concerning as the Guidance repeats throughout that there is no statutory definition of homophobia or transphobia, and a ‘hate’ crime or incident relies entirely on the subjective perception of the alleged victim or bystander. This list includes ‘ostracising from a friendship group’ and separately (and undefined) ‘rejection’.
  • At page 33 there is an apparent attempt to create a ‘hierarchy of rights’ and to place LGBT+ at the top. This would seem to be unlawful as it discriminates against other characteristics protected by the Equality Act, such as race and disability. Surely schools should be developing robust policies against bullying which apply to all children, not attempting to set up one minority group as more deserving of protection.
  • I note that section 4 has as ‘activity 1’ ‘identifying potential criminal charges’. I am troubled by the implications of this, in the context of guidance that purports to help teachers and students ‘identify and report’ hate crime. Nor am I clear what a teacher is supposed to do if they or a student identify another classmate as having displayed ‘hateful’ behaviour. Where will it be recorded and to whom will it be disclosed?

Given that the guidance is very clear about how seriously such hate crimes and incidents should be taken, I am worried that a clear incentive is being set up here to encourage students to report one another’s behaviour or for a teacher to feel under pressure to refer it on to the police.

It is giving a very clear message to girls that anyone can be any ‘gender’ they like (including ‘pan’ ‘omni’ and ‘a’ sexual, none of which are defined anywhere in the guidance) and that it is ‘hate’ to object to anyone in your space, or to ‘reject’ them – again undefined but clearly means something other than social ostracism as that is given its own separate mention. So what DOES ‘rejection’ mean in this context? It has to mean sexual rejection. There is no other way children can ‘reject’ each other. They aren’t offering employment prospects.

I am therefore very troubled that this guidance was initially being kept from parents in its entirety – although they may now, after media pressure, see the text of it.

As is sadly common with all documents I have read which purport to promote the rights of the ‘trans child’, I can see no acknowledgment of or discussion about parental responsibility or Gillick competence in this guidance. As it is aimed at 11 year olds I consider that is a potentially serious omission.

I hope that a legal challenge will be made to this guidance. The influence of Stonewall etc is clear to see.

The time to speak up is now.

I will leave you with this quote from mumsnet user michelleoftheresistance

It’s already known the massive comorbidities going on with children presenting with gender identity issues, pretty much the same comorbidities coming up over and over again for other vulnerable kids. Treating one group as more privileged and better served than others is going to create resentment, particularly at a time when mental health care and SEND provision is dire and many families are angry and struggling. It will do nothing to meet the Code of Practice or Equality Act’s requirement to promote good relationships between groups: this will actively damage it. It does nothing to address the root problems underlying why children are becoming confused and distressed about their identities and bodies. It’s also inevitably going to incentivise transitioning. And that’s on top of the always there, bald insensitivity and rejection of female kids with history of abuse and sexual trauma, female kids whose religions don’t allow for going along with personal choice of sex over reality, female kids whose disabilities won’t bend in that direction, etc etc. 

Further reading

Thread on mumsnet discussing the CPS Pack

The Safe Schools Alliance have written a template letter for parents to send to the CPS

Detailed comments on the CPS pack

My commentary is in italics

HOW TO USE THIS PACK
How to use this pack – it is directed at ‘gay bisexual transgender and questioning people’ BUT NOTE at page 16 it includes ‘asexual’ ‘pansexual’ and ‘omnisexual’ people but gives no definition, then says definition of terms may change in any event. What is meant by ‘questioning’ people? How are they identified or defined?

The Glossary of Terms says (p19) ‘the process of exploring your own sexual orientation and/or gender identity’.
How is this different from ‘being a teenager’?

P7 Section 4 deals with identifying criminal charges ‘these are optional and additional. Teachers can use as many or as few of them as they wish… However we strongly recommend teachers consider them as they will deepen the students’ understanding of impact of anti LGBT behaviours…’ Unhelpful phrasing. So if this section is ‘optional’ all others are compulsory?
Clear indication given that teachers are to devote time to this
WHO is identifying criminal charges and why is this the job of a teacher?

P8 Before using this pack teachers are advised to ‘inform themselves’ by visiting a number of websites. Including Gendered intelligence and Stonewall. Clear evidence of bias in linked materials. Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence are well known for promoting narrative that questioning GI is ‘transphobia’. Other sites – Proud Trust and Schools Out I had not known about, but brief glance at their websites indicate they are in the Stonewall mould.
Why no reference to Transgender Trend or Safe Schools Alliance?

P9 ‘LGBT issues are best addressed in a school environment which explicitly supports and includes students’ What does this mean? Is asking questions about biology/GI to be seen as not supportive or inclusive and therefore frowned upon?

P9 All staff need to know how to challenge students demonstrating hostility to LGBT people What is the definition of hostility?

P9 Teachers must be especially mindful of the fact that some students in their groups will be LGBT and must be protected whether they are out or not Protected from what? Questions? Challenge?

P9 Make sure the students understand that anti LGBT behaviour is not caused by LGBT people; it is caused by people with homophobic attitudes. Trans people are not necessarily homosexual. Transgender is NOT a sexual orientation. This is setting up potentially corrosive expectations – that anyone who asserts anti LGBT bullying will be telling the truth and therefore presumably no investigation of their allegations will be required.

P9 Teachers should bear in mind that the most important thing is for students to discuss, think about and understand the issues This is not an appropriate exhortation when there is little clarity about what constitutes appropriate questioning and what will be seen as homophobia or transphobia. What ARE students allowed to discuss?

P10 STARTING TO USE THIS PACK
When an act is classed as a hate crime, the courts can impose a tougher sentence on the offender under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 It is odd for this sentence to immediately follow the exhortation that it is discussion that is important.

P10 What does the CPS mean by hate crime?
ANY criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on race, sexual orientation, disability, or person being transgender Exactly the problems identified in the Fair Cop JR – Subjective definition of crime Protected strands do NOT mirror the protected characteristics of the Equality Act Being transgender in any event is NOT a protected characteristic. The actual protected characteristic is gender re-assignment “the process of transitioning from one gender to another.”

P10 What does the police mean by LGBT hate incidents? There is no statutory definition of a homophobic or transphobic incident Again – definition of ‘crime’ or ‘hate incident’ entirely subjective. Teacher has no objective standard by which to judge the behaviour of students.

P14 The CPS and the role of the police
P14 ‘It is more likely that prosecution is required if the offence was motivated by any form of prejudice against.. race, gender, disability age, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity’ Again, does not reflect the protected characteristics of the Equality Act. Why not?
Again, ‘gender identity’ is NOT in any event a protected characteristic.

P16 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
What do we mean by LGBT+? … represents other sexual identities including pansexual, asexual and omnisexual and questioning people exploring their sexuality. Where will we find the definition of these terms?
Is there a universally accepted definition?
I note the Glossary at p19 does NOT contain a definition of ‘asexual’ ‘omnisexual’ or ‘pansexual’

Pg 19 defines ‘intersex’ as ‘When a group of conditions cause people to be born in between male and female. Sometimes this does not show up at birth.’ This is an inaccurate and offensive attempt to define disorders of sexual development.
P19 ‘transition’ is defined as ‘a process through which some transpeople begin to live as the gender with which they identify, rather than the one assigned at bdeirth’. ‘Gender’ plays no part in the birthing process. ‘Sex’ is observed and recorded at birth unless a baby is one of the tiny percentage who have ambiguous external genitalia, due to a DSD.
P19 Transphobia is defined as ‘discrimination against and/or dislike of trans people’ This is NOT the definition of a ‘phobia’. The NHS defines a phobia as “an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal”
Again – WHAT constitutes discrimination or dislike? Any questioning of the assertion that a transwoman is a woman for e.g? Any reference to humans as sexually dimorphic species?
How can a mere ‘dislike’ of any person’s characteristics, possibly constitute a ‘phobia’ And absent any accompanying discrimination, can it become a hate crime or hate incident?

P20 ‘This glossary is not a definitive list and it is important to remember that people should be referred to in the way that they wish to be referred to. It is also important to note that definitions can vary and can change over time’. In the context of guidance offered under the mantle of identifying hate crimes, this simply isn’t good enough. How will the teacher know the definitions have changed? Who changes them? How is knowledge of this change disseminated?

P 21 SECTION ONE Activities and worksheets
P23 Everyone has a sexual orientation … it is the part of a person’s identity that describes who people experience attraction to, commonly based on gender… gender identity is a person’s sense of themselves as being a boy/man woman/girl both or neither. Gender identity is not necessary dictated by a person’s physiology. This is nonsense. Sexual orientation is a protected characteristic. [EDIT For gay people] It means sexual attraction to the same sex. This definition effectively erases lesbians by saying that a male bodied person can identify as a woman even if retaining penis and testicles.
If a teenage lesbian then objects to a sexual encounter with a male bodied person – is that sufficient ‘dislike’ or ‘discrimination’ to warrant a referral to the police?

P24 Students should be told that the behaviour in school is dealt with through education, the school disciplinary procedures etc.. it would be rare for incidents to be reported as crimes. Explain then the circumstances in which an incident WOULD be reported as a crime.

P25 Categories of hate crime or hate incidents As a general point, some of the examples given are filmsy and particularly dangerous when coupled with the existence or not of ‘hate’ being determined by the alleged victim or bystander.
‘ridiculing and stereotyping comments’ Unclear what this means.
Ostracising and excluding from friendship groups So it is enough that the ‘victim’ or any bystander simply perceives this ostracism as being by virtue of being trans
How can schools sensibly police friendship groups?
Rejecting someone or not wanting to work with them because of their sexual orientation, trans identity or perceived trans identity So a lesbian teenager is compelled not to ‘reject’ another student who alleges they are a transwoman?
What IS included in this word ‘rejecting’?
Showing or distributing anti LGBT+ leaflets comics or other propaganda’ Define propaganda! On this definition the recent episode of South Park would constitute ‘hate’
Wearing Anti LGBT+ Symbols – for eg badges or Tshirts What will count as ‘anti’? The LGB Alliance? Fair Cop?

P33 LGBT Bullying ‘worse’ than all other forms of bullying I think this is the core of my concern with this document. Primacy is being given to LGBT rights on a false basis. For example claims this bullying is ‘different’ because people get killed. Well, so do disabled children! So do black children! This is a very concerning document. It is unlawful to give primacy to right group over another. That in itself risks discrimation.

The person being bullied or attacked because of their sexual orientation will be afraid that other members of their community might also be attacked and are at risk WHAT IS THIS DRIVEL
Most of the ‘examples; here apply equally to race hate.

P36 It is never appropriate to ask a gay person to use separate changing facilities Really? So where does the gay transwoman go, if in reality she is visibly male bodied with penis and testicles and makes girls uncomfortable when sharing a space? Presumably if any girl objects she is guilty of ‘hate’.
P67 Tell the students that no one should put up with bullying, whether its happening to them or they are drawn into a situation where it is happening to someone else. So provide an impetus to escalate any complaint?

P90 We will not tolerate bullying or harassment and if we see it we will report it and see that it is dealt with. Sinister in context. Report to who?

P101 SECTION FOUR IDENTIFYING POTENTIAL CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES
Inside and outside school – on the bus So children are to be on the look out for crimes even beyond the school.
P104 In the final class they can discuss the possible charges they have identified and what the potential consequences would be Sinister in context
Tell the students that guidance from the EHRC generally encourages organisations and service providers to be trans inclusive. This means treating trans people according to their gender identity and only excluding trans people from facilties in exceptional circumstances where this can be justified. Unhelpful and confusing fudge of existing law.
Worksheets to ‘train’ children as investigating offices and to decide what charges to bring Dear Lord.

Further commentary on the videos by a colleague at Fair Cop

SP : I have not seen the videos, but from these comments I am concerned. The use of language such as ‘henchperson’ seems utterly bizarre and deliberately pejorative.

  1. Videos: FEAR acronym – False Evidence Appearing Real – does not distinguish between justifiable fear and baseless prejudice. Conflating the two, and reducing fear to the category of baseless prejudice .is gaslighting girls into accepting boys into their toilets and other single-sex facilities.
  2. Definitions of homophobia, transphobia, etc. Interesting to note that the definition of homophobia does not extend to those perceived to be gay, but the definition of transphobia does extend to those perceived to be trans.
  3. The definition of hate crime/incident: this includes not merely acts that are objectively negative (where it is perceived that the perpetrator is motivated by hate), but also omitting to do something (where it is perceived that the perpetrator is motivated by hate). This omission does not need to be something that an individual reasonably and legitimately expects, or that the law demands is provided (e.g toilets). The omission could also be something that the LGBT+ person simply desires (e.g. the girls toilets, or admission to a particular girls friendship group). The only necessary factor is that it must be perceived by someone that the decision has been motivated by hate.
  4. Video: Transition.
    The questions in and of themselves are actually quite valid. Here we see the attitude of the girls (which is aggressive) conflated with the content (which includes that which is reasonable) with the result that the content is also positioned as unacceptable and a hate incident.
  5. Video: Toilets.
    The girls merely correctly identified him as a male.
  6. Discussion of, much less asserting of, sex-based rights under the EA becomes impossible and falls into the category of hate bullying/hate incident/hate crime. This is because any discussion of these rights, that permit the exclusion of trans individuals where it is a proportionate means to a legitimate end, must make reference to people’s biological sex whatever their felt gender identity may be. Thus it involves misgendering, upsetting people, being seen as offensive and may out people as trans against their wishes. It simply cannot be the case that discussion of existing rights enshrined in law, and the protection and needs of the members of a protected category become hate incidents or hate crime and liable to criminal prosecution.
  7. Where are the other 2 in the series of 3 resource packs developed to increase awareness of identity-based bullying and hate crime? Are these similarly forbidden to parents? (This is different from edition 1 of this document).
  8. The definition of transgender on page 19 means that a male who has neither socially nor medically transitions should still be fully accepted as a girl purely based on his say so.
  9. Use of the term ‘henchperson’ is extremely sinister. This entire document is designed to install fear and to train children to police each other’s behaviour, friendship groups, speech etc.