Enforcement of custody in the face of children’s dissent: should law prevail?

Father-and-child-holding--006Raw and others v France – read judgment (only available in French)

This complicated inter-jurisdictional battle between estranged parents is a stark illustration of how difficult it can be in these sorts of cases to apply the law in the fog of family warfare.

Even though the mother’s case was upheld in the Strasbourg Court, one can tell from the modesty of the damages awarded and the strength of the minority opinions that the judges were extremely reluctant to apply hard letter law to the complicated case before them. Indeed in one partially concurring judgment, Judge Nussberger found it distinctly odd that the mother was able to join the children as parties, in the light of their opposition to her wish that they leave their father to join her. Continue reading

Grand Chamber find Austrian same sex adoption discrimination

gay-rights-rally-in-Los-A-001X AND OTHERS v. AUSTRIA – 19010/07 – HEJUD [2013] ECHR 148 (19 February 2013) – Read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (by 10 votes to 7) has found that Austrian law discriminated against a same sex couple as it prevented them from adopting jointly the biological child of one of them (what we would call a second-parent adoption). The Court found a violation of Article 14 (anti-discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (respect for private and family life) protection because this was less favourable treatment than if they were an unmarried different sex couple who would have been permitted to adopt together.

The narrowness of the majority might have had something to do with the fact that the father of the Child had been a party to the case in the domestic courts and opposed the adoption (although the fact that the child of the lesbian couple in Gas and Dubois v France had been conceived through anonymous donor insemination had not helped that case). In the event, the Grand Chamber decision was based on the fact that the Austrian Supreme Court had referred to the “legal impossibility” of the proposed same sex adoption in this case.

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Child radiotherapy case: “one cannot enjoy even diminished quality of life if one is not alive”.

Sally+Roberts+arriving+at+the+High+CourtAn NHS Trust v SR [2012] EWHC 3842 (Fam) – read judgment

The highly publicised case about a seven year old boy whose estranged parents could not agree about the necessary treatment following surgery for his brain tumour was resolved by a firm ruling in favour of orthodox medicine by Bodey J, four days before Christmas.

The facts of the case are well known, but it may be instructive to lay out some of the details of the procedure that follows in a situation like this, and to point up the approach of the courts to a matter where orthodox science lies flat against the claims of complementary medicine. Where the life of a child is at stake, there is no polite equivocation between the two.

Background

Briefly, the mother would not agree to the recommended post-operative course of chemo- and radiotherapy (carrying an 80% chance of success), believing instead that her son would fare better with alternative forms of treatment and would avoid or reduce the undoubtedly detrimental long-term side effects of the treatment package being proposed. In a serious matter such as this, where the parents cannot agree, an application has to be made to the court for a declaration that the procedure in question is lawful. That involves a decision as to the child’s best interests, being the court’s paramount consideration. Hence it was incumbent on the NHS Trust concerned to apply to the High Court to determine the issue of N’s treatment following on from his brain surgery two months previously. Continue reading

Identity of social workers may be published following fostering bungle

question-mark-face Bristol City Council v C and others [2012] EWHC 3748 (Fam) – read judgment

This was an application for a reporting restriction order arising out of care proceedings conducted before the Bristol Family Proceedings Court. The proceedings themselves were relatively straightforward but, in the course of the hearing, information came to light which gave rise to concerns of an “unusual nature”, which alerted the interest of the press.

Background

After family court proceedings decided that child A was at risk of violence from her father, an interim care order was implemented and A was moved to foster carers. However some time afterwards the local authority received information from the police suggesting that someone living at the address of A’s foster carers had had access to child pornography. A also told social workers that another member of the foster household (also respondent to this action) had grabbed her around the throat. As a consequence police and social services visited the foster carers, informed them of the concerns about pornography, removed all computers from the house and moved A to another foster home. On the following day the male foster carer was found dead, having apparently committed suicide. Continue reading

How to keep children anonymous in personal injury cases

MXB v East Sussex Hospital Trust – read judgment

Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the claimant in this case. She has nothing to do with the writing of this post.

In personal injury proceedings involving a child it was appropriate to grant an anonymity order  prohibiting her identification since it would defeat the purpose of the proceedings to ensure that she received and kept compensation awarded for her injuries.

Publication of her name was not in the public interest, and the curtailment of her and her family’s right to respect for their private and family life that would occur could not be justified. Continue reading

Upper Tribunal confirms illegality of Catholic Charity’s ban on same-sex couple adoption

Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission (on appeal to the Upper Tribunal) CA/2010/0007  - read judgment

A private adoption agency could not justify its exclusion of same-sex prospective parents by arguing that this policy would keep open a source of funding that would otherwise dry up and reduce the number of adoption placements.

This was an appeal by the Catholic adoption services agency against the First Tribunal’s confirmation of the decision by the Charity Commission that it was not permitted to amend its constitution so as to permit it to continue its previous practice to refuse to offer its adoption services to same sex couples. Here is our post on the FTT’s ruling, which sets out the facts and arguments in the case. To recap briefly, the charity argued that the adoption of its proposed objects was justified under the general prohibition on discrimination under Article 14 ECHR (and its statutory analogy, Section 193 of the Equality Act).  The legitimate aim it pursued was that of providing suitable adoptive parents for a significant number of children who would otherwise go unprovided for. The Charity maintained that unless it were permitted to discriminate as proposed, it would no longer be able to raise the voluntary income from its supporters on which it relied to run the adoption service, and it would therefore have to close its adoption service permanently on financial grounds. The FTT rejected this submission, holding that though the charity’s aim of increasing adoption placements was a legitimate one, the evidence before it did not show that the increased funding of the agency’s adoption work under the auspices of the Roman Catholic church would “inevitably” lead to the prospect of an increased number of adoptions. Continue reading

High Court calls for joined-up thinking on disclosure of sex offender information

X (South Yorkshire) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Chief Constable of Yorkshire  [2012] EWHC 2954 (Admin)- read judgment

The High Court has made an important ruling about the disclosure of information under the Child Sex Offender  Disclosure Scheme (CSOD).

This non statutory arrangement has been in place since March 2010. It  allows members of the public to seek details from the police of a person who has some form of contact with children with a view to ascertaining whether that person has had convictions for sexual offences against children or whether there is other “relevant information” about them which ought to be made available. This request could come from any third party such as a grandparent, neighbour or friend. The  aim of the scheme is described thus:

This is to ensure any safeguarding concerns are thoroughly investigated. A third party making an application would not necessarily receive disclosure as a more appropriate person to receive disclosure may be a parent, guardian or carer.  In the event that the subject has convictions for sexual offences against children, poses a risk of causing harm to the child concerned and disclosure is necessary to protect the child, there is a presumption that this information will be disclosed.

Anya Proops’ post on the Panopticon blog sets out a clear summary and analysis of the ruling by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Hickinbottom J. Here are a few more details about the judgment. Continue reading

In the name of God: ultra-orthodox Jewish education not in children’s best interest, rules Court of Appeal.

G (Children), Re [2012] EWCA Civ 1233 – read judgment

If you received this article by email, it will have been attributed to Adam Wagner. It is in fact by Karwan Eskerie – apologies

What is happiness? If you thought this most philosophical inquiry was beyond the remit of the judicial system then you should read this case. 

In Re G (Children), the estranged parents of five children disagreed over their education.  Both parents belonged to the Chassidic or Chareidi community of ultra orthodox Jews.  However, whilst the father wanted the children to attend ultra-orthodox schools which were unisex and where all the children complied with strict Chareidi practices, the mother preferred coeducational ‘Modern Orthodox’ schools where boys did not wear religious clothing and peyos (long hair at the sides), and children came from more liberal homes where for instance, television was taken for granted.

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Autonomy and the role of the Official Solicitor – whose interests are really being represented?

R.P. and others v United Kingdom (9 October 2012) – read judgment

The day before our seminar on the Court of Protection and the right to autonomy, the Strasbourg Court has ruled on a closely related issue in a fascinating challenge to the role of the Official Solicitor in making decisions on behalf of individuals who are for one reason or another unable to act for themselves.

The Official Solicitor acts for people who, because they lack mental capacity and cannot properly manage their own affairs, are unable to represent themselves and no other suitable person or agency is able and willing to act. This particular case involved child care proceedings, but the question before the Court was the vital one that arises out of any situation where an individual is deemed to have lost capacity to represent his or her own interests in court. What the parties asked the Court to consider was whether

the appointment of the Official Solicitor in the present case was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued or whether it impaired the very essence of R.P.’s right of access to a court. Continue reading

Government should have consulted Child Poverty Commission on welfare strategy

Child Poverty Action Group, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2012] EWHC 2579 (Admin) (17 July 2012) – read judgment

The High Court has ruled that the government acted unlawfully by removing the Child Poverty Commission, an advisory body set up under the Child Poverty Act 2010 . They had also acted beyond their powers by preparing a child poverty strategy without having requested and having regard to the advice of that Commission. But government is free to formulate new policy and as such there was nothing irrational about the strategy itself.

There is of necessity a great deal of statutory construction in this judgment which makes for dry reading. But the ruling is an important reassessment of the principles of judicial review that have taken root since the power of the courts to intervene in government decision making was reinforced in Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 A.C. 147. This ruling, as every law student knows, established that a public body acts unlawfully, both in the narrow sense of acting outside its jurisdiction, and where such jurisdiction was wrongly exercised. This means that courts may intervene not just where a governmental act is unlawful under an express provision of the statute but also where the decision or policy, although authorised by statute, has been made in breach of a rule of public law. Continue reading

US Supreme Court to rule on affirmative action

The US Supreme Court’s term begins today, and race relations is at the top of the court’s agenda. The US press hails Fisher v University of Texas as the most important case the Court has agreed to hear thus far. Word is out that it could sound the death knell for affirmative action in the United States.

The justices are being asked to decide whether race-based affirmative action in college admissions is still constitutional.  The petitioner is a white student who was turned down by the University of Texas in 2008. She claims she was a victim of illegal race discrimination under their policy of affirmative action.

In 1997 the Texas legislature enacted a law requiring the University of Texas to admit all Texas high school seniors ranking in the top ten percent of their classes.   Whilst this measure improved access to tertiary education for many, the colleges protested at having their hands tied with regard to highly talented students who showed promise in certain subjects but did not come in to the top ten percent (including minority students in highly integrated high schools).  To redress this balance the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that universities could consider a minority student’s race as a “plus factor” in admissions. The Court based its ruling on the need for colleges to ensure a diverse student body. Following this judgment, the University of Texas added a new affirmative action policy to go along with the automatic admission rule  with race being a “plus factor” in admission. Continue reading

Sex abuse allegations against parent should be disclosed in contact proceedings

Re J (A Child: Disclosure) [2012] EWCA Civ 1204 – read judgment

The Court of Appeal has ordered the the disclosure of serious allegations made against a parent by an anonymous third party in contact proceedings. In doing so, it has demonstrated the correct approach to balancing the many different human rights considerations involved. 

Every day, family courts across the UK are required to determine the difficult question of how much contact there should be between a child and his or her parents. It is the norm for these cases to be factually complicated and emotionally draining. However, this case was exceptional. It was an appeal relating contact proceedings in respect of a ten year old girl (A). The court had made various orders for contact over a number of years, with a final order being made in 2009 that the she was to stay with her father for two weeks each February and four weeks each summer.

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Scottish adoption law compatible with human right to family life

ANS v ML [2012] UKSC 30 - read judgment / press summary

Another week and another judgment about adoption. This time it is a decision of the Supreme Court about the Scottish family law system. Whereas last week’s post was about a case where children should have been placed into adoption, but were not, this case concerned a mother who opposed an adoption order being made for her child. The mother challenged the legislation which allowed the court to make an adoption order without her consent, arguing that it was incompatible with her Article 8 rights to private and family life. However, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no breach of the Convention. 

The appellant mother argued that s.31 of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 was incompatible with the Convention. This would mean it was unlawful, as statutory provisions incompatible with the ECHR are not within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament under s.29(2)(d) of the Scotland Act 1998. (This is different to the UK Parliament in Westminster, which is able to legislate contrary to the ECHR, and the most the courts can do under the Human Rights Act is make a declaration of incompatibility.)

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Church has employer’s duty of liability for parish priests

JEG v  The Trustees of the Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan  [2012] EWCA Civ 938

Elizabeth Anne-Gumbel QCand Justin Levinson of One Crown Office Row acted for the claimant in this case. They did not write this post.

The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that the church can be held liable for the negligent acts of a priest it has appointed. Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court has been refused.

This appeal was another preliminary stage in the main action between the claimant’s action for damages following the alleged sexual abuse and assault by a parish priest (now deceased), and the trustees of the diocesan where he served. The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that the defendants can held to account, even though there was no formal employment relationship between Father Baldwin and the Diocesan - see Rachit Buch’s post for an excellent analysis of the issues and summary of the facts. Continue reading

Care system failures breach children’s human rights

A & S v. Lancashire County Council [2012] EWHC 1689 – read judgment 

The poor quality of provision for children in care was much in the headlines last week. A highly critical report by the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, which found children in many privately run care homes were at high risk of suffering violent or sexual abuse, was followed by the Government’s announcement of plans to speed up the adoption process and allow families who wish to adopt children to foster them first.

The problems of the current system and the effect these have on the lives of individual children was also vividly highlighted in a tragic case in which the High Court held that a series of failures by a local authority constituted a breach of two young boys’ rights under Articles 3 (protection from inhuman and degrading treatment), 6 (fair trial rights) and 8 (family and private life rights).

The very distressing story of the boys’ lives to date is set out in considerable detail at paragraphs 18-102 of Mr Justice Jackson (Jackson J)’s judgment. However, the brief facts are as follows. A and S are brothers who were first taken into care in 1998, aged just 3 and 6 months’ old, after their mother abandoned them. The local authority initially placed them with their aunt, but she was a single woman with six children of her own and could not cope.

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