The United Kingdom has been ordered by the European Court of Human Rights to pay damages and legal costs to a social worker who was unfairly accused of professional misconduct by a Family Court judge.
The applicant was a social worker who was called to give evidence in childcare proceedings concerning the alleged sexual abuse of a number of siblings.
The Family Court rejected the allegations of sexual abuse. The judge also found that the applicant was the principal instigator in a “joint enterprise to obtain evidence to prove the sexual abuse allegations, irrespective of the underlying truth and relevant professional guidelines”; that she had lied to the court about important aspects of the investigation; and that she had subjected one of the children involved to emotional abuse.
The applicant first became aware of these adverse findings at the end of the hearing when the judge gave a summary oral judgment. Prior to finalising the judgment, she was able to make some submissions, including in respect of the decision not to grant her anonymity. However, the adverse findings and the decision not to grant her anonymity were maintained. The judge also directed that the judgment be sent to the authority to which the applicant had since been re-assigned, and advised that his findings should be shared with other local authorities where she had worked and with the relevant professional bodies.
Her local authority assignment was then terminated without notice.
The local authority and the applicant sought to appeal against the Family Court judgment. Before the Court of Appeal, the case was argued as a procedural violation, namely that the highly adverse findings “came out of the blue” and had the potential to impact adversely on her employment prospects and personal life, yet she had not been given any opportunity to know of or meet the allegations during the course of the trial process. The Court of Appeal found that the criticism would breach her rights under Art. 8 of the Convention if the judgment were allowed to stand. The process by which the judge arrived at the criticisms was “manifestly unfair to a degree which wholly failed to meet the basic requirements of fairness established under Art.8.” His findings were set aside, in the sense that “they no longer stood and had no validity”. The effect was to be “as if those findings, or potential findings, had never been made in any form by the judge” (§§ 16 – 20).
Clare Ciborowska and Richard Ager join Rosalind English in the first of a series of discussions from the family law team at 1 Crown Office Row in Brighton, highlighting developments and analysing case law from the family courts.
In Episode 144 of Law Pod UK, we focus on the challenges presented to family court judges by the obligation to conduct full fact finding hearings where allegations of domestic abuse are raised. The details of this duty are to be found in Practice Direction 12J FPR2010, but the difficulties have yet to be played out in practice. There are problems with the overlap between criminal and family law, with the lack of legal aid for defendants, and, above all, the difficulties faced by judges tasked with the business of trying to run an in inquisitorial hearing whilst being as supportive as possible to litigants in person.
Clare and Richard talk about the various issues arising out of the practice direction and the case law that preceded and followed PDJ12. Here, as promised, are the citations and references touched upon in the podcast:
On 12 October 2020, the Prime Minister made a statement in Parliament and addressed the nation to announce a new three tier lockdown system would be introduced across the country. The Secretary of State for Health introduced three statutory instruments before Parliament which came into force two days later.
In oversimplified terms, the restrictions in place in each tier are as follows:
Uddin v The Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 338 – read judgment
On 12 March 2020 a unanimous Court of Appeal led by Sir Ernest Ryder (Senior President of the Tribunals), together with Lord Justice Bean and Lady Justice King, allowed the Appellant’s appeal against the First tier Tribunal (“FtT”) and Upper Tribunal (“UT”)’s decisions upholding the refusal of his application for leave to remain.
The case concerns the correct approach to the interpretation of Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“ECHR”) in circumstances arising out of a foster care relationship where the person who had received or continued to receive that care is now an adult.
J v B (Ultra-Orthodox Judaism: Transgender)  EWFC 4 (30 January 2017) – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has granted permission to the father to appeal against the decision of the High Court earlier this year. Briefly, Peter Jackson J denied a father, who now lives as a transgender person, direct contact with his five children who live with their mother in the heart of a Charedi community of ultra-orthodox Jews.
The judge said that he had reached the “unwelcome conclusion”
that the likelihood of the children and their mother being marginalised or excluded by the ultra-Orthodox community is so real, and the consequences so great, that this one factor, despite its many disadvantages, must prevail over the many advantages of contact.
The appeal hearing, estimated to last one day, will take place on 15 November 2017. Continue reading →
A Family Court judgment was severely critical of two witnesses and the applicant local authority. In an oral “bullet point” judgment at the end of the hearing, the Judge found that the witnesses, a social worker (‘SW’) and a police officer (‘PO’), had improperly conspired to prove certain allegations regardless of the truth, or professional guidelines.
Those matters were not in issue before the court or put to those concerned. Limited amendments were subsequently made to the judgment following submissions by those criticised. Unsatisfied, they went to the Court of Appeal.
The Court considered (1) whether they were entitled to appeal at all (2) whether their appeal based on Articles 8 and 6 of the Convention succeeded and (3) the appropriate remedy.
The Court held that the appellants’ Convention rights had been breached by the manifestly unfair process in the court below, so they had a right to appeal under the Human Rights Act 1998. The defective judgment was not cured by the amendments, and the findings were struck out.
The judgment addresses some interesting procedural questions regarding appeals. This post focuses mainly on the human rights issues, but the judgment of McFarlane LJ, described as “magisterial” by Sir James Munby, merits reading in full.
JS (Disposal of Body), Re  EWCH (Fam) (10 November 2016) – read judgment
A great deal has been written about this case but few of the headlines reflect the humanity and sensitivity of the decision, which may not be ground breaking nor precedent setting, but reflects how the law should respond to individual wishes if those play out in a way that cannot harm anyone else. Post-mortem cryonics may have a certain morbid ring, but it is a matter of individual choice, provided the resources are there to pay for it. As the judge observed, it was
no surprise that this application is the only one of its kind to have come before the courts in this country, and probably anywhere else. It is an example of the new questions that science poses to the law, perhaps most of all to family law.
Background facts and law
Peter Jackson J was faced with an application from JS, a 14 year old cancer patient whose condition had become untreatable. After researching the diminishing options available to her, JS had come across cryonics, the freezing of a dead body in the hope that resuscitation and a cure may be possible in the distant future. The science ofcryopreservation, the preservation of cells and tissues by freezing, is now a well-known process in certain branches of medicine, for example the preservation of sperm and embryos as part of fertility treatment. But whole body cryopreservation has not been achieved in any mammal species, largely due to the difficulties of reviving brain tissue. As the judge said,
cryonics is cryopreservation taken to its extreme.
Only three organisations in the world provide this service, one in the United States being involved in this case. The cost is about ten times as much as the average funeral. Although JS’s family is not well off, her grandparents had raised the necessary funds. Whatever anyone may think of this procedure, there was no doubt about JS’s intelligence and her capacity to make this decision. She wrote, in response to asking to explain why she wanted “this unusual thing done”:
I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo-preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time. I don’t want to be buried underground. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish.”
Smith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and another  EWHC 2208 (QB) – read judgment
Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 those who live together but are not married are not entitled to damages for bereavement. The High Court has found that though this did not directly engage the right to family life and privacy under Article 8, the difference in treatment between cohabitees and those who were married or in a civil partnership could not be justified and consideration should be given to reforming the law.
The issues before the Court
The claimant had cohabited with a man for over two years before he had died as a result of the first and second defendants’ negligence. She had made a dependency claim under s.1 of the 1976 Act, which by a 1982 amendment had been extended to people who had been cohabiting for more than two years, but the bereavement damages provisions in s.1A(2)(a) still applies only to spouses and civil partners. Continue reading →
This is the most recent in the long series of legal steps touching on the violent career of Ben Butler, recently convicted of the murder of his daughter, Ellie.
Butler was convicted for Grievous Bodily Harm, and then cleared on appeal. Care proceedings were commenced at the end of which Ellie was ordered to be returned to her parents by Hogg J in October 2012. A year later, on 28 October 2013, Ellie was found dead.
C, the subject of this appeal, is Ellie’s younger sister. In June 2014, Eleanor King J, in the family courts, found that Butler had caused Ellie’s death, Ellie’s mother (Jennie Gray) had failed to protect her from Butler, and C had been the victim of physical and emotional abuse. This judgment had been the subject of reporting restrictions.
Immediately after Butler’s conviction in June 2016, media organisations applied for the release of Eleanor King J’s judgment to Pauffley J in the family court. Pauffley J dismissed this application. Her decision was roundly reversed in this decision of the Court of Appeal.
The human rights clash is the familiar one of freedom of expression under Article 10 versus the right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR.
M, R (on the application of) Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority  EWCA Civ 611 (30 June 2016)
The Court of Appeal has ruled that a 60 year old woman may use her daughter’s frozen eggs to give birth to her own grandchild. Her daughter, referred to as A in the judgment, died of cancer at the age of 28 in 2011. The High Court had dismissed M’s argument that the HFEA had acted unlawfully by refusing to allow the eggs to be exported to a fertility clinic in the United States where an embryo would be created using donor sperm, and implanted in the mother.
The HFEA is bound by statute (the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Act) to provide services using a person’s gametes only where that person consents. The difficulty here was that while A had consented to treatment for egg removal and storage, including storage after her death, she had not completed a specific form giving details of the use that was now proposed.
The essence of the appellants’ challenge was there was “clear evidence” of what A wanted to happen to her eggs after she died. “All available evidence” showed that she wanted her mother to have her child after her death, the Court was told.
Arden LJ, giving the judgement of the court, found that the judge below had reached his conclusion on the basis of a “misstatement of certain of the evidence” about A’s consent by the Committee. Continue reading →
PJS v. News Group Newspapers Ltd  UKSC 26– read judgment
The Supreme Court has this morning continued the interim injunction concerning PJS’s extra-marital goings-on until after the full trial of the claim – after a rollercoaster ride for his claim through the courts.
Cranston J refused an injunction on 15 January 2016.
The Court of Appeal granted it on 22 January (Matt Flinn’s post here), and then discharged it on 18 April due to the effect of subsequent publicity which they said had led the injunction to have no remaining purpose (my post here). The subsequent publicity was in US newspapers and via the internet (with, as Lord Toulson commented, some fairly obvious twitter hashtags involved.)
The Supreme Court swiftly convened a hearing on 21 April, leading to today’s judgment reversing the Court of Appeal.
The decision (4-1) was not unanimous, with Lord Toulson dissenting. There are three concurring judgments (all agreed to by the majority).
Spencer v Anderson (Paternity Testing)  EWHC 851 (Fam) – read judgment
A fascinating case in the Family Division throws up a number of facts that some may find surprising. One is that this is the first time the courts in this country have been asked to direct post-mortem scientific testing to establish paternity. The other is that DNA is not covered by the Human Tissue Act, because genetic material does not contain human cells. One might wonder why the statute doesn’t, given that DNA is the instruction manual that makes the human tissue that it covers – but maybe updating the 2004 law to cover genetic material would create more difficulties than it was designed to resolve.
The facts can be briefly stated. The applicant had been made aware of his possible relationship to S, who had died of bowel cancer some years before. When S had presented with the disease, it turned out that there was a family history of such cancer. The hospital treating him therefore took a blood sample and extracted DNA from it to test for high-risk genes. If the applicant was the son of the deceased he would have a 50% risk of inherited predisposition to bowel cancer. This risk would be mitigated by biannual colonoscopies. Continue reading →
Remember the three girls from Bethnal Green Academy, who in February slipped through Gatwick security to join so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? If, watching the footage, you exclaimed, “how can we stop this?”, then read on. Eight months and a massacre in Tunisia later, the Courts have intervened in more than 35 cases to prevent the flight of children to Syria or to seek their return.
In the very first cases, in which Martin Downs of these Chambers appeared, the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction was invoked to make the children wards of court. The value of this mechanism, previously used in child abduction cases and to thwart forced marriages, is that the ward requires permission of the Court to leave the jurisdiction, and passports can be seized. (See, for example, Re Y (A Minor: Wardship)  EWHC 2098 (Fam)). Continue reading →
JM (a child), Re EWHC 2832 (Fam), 7 October 2015 – read judgment
Mostyn J, ruling in the Family Division that a child should receive surgical treatment for bone cancer against the wishes of his parents, has referred to Ian McEwan’s “excellent” novel The Children Act (Jonathan Cape 2014), which is about a 17 year old Jehovah’s Witness refusing a blood transfusion. The judge noted however that the book was in fact “incorrectly titled”:
a question of whether a medical procedure should be forced on a 16 or 17 year old should be sought solely under the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction, and not under the Children Act.
This case on the other hand concerned a ten year old child, J. The NHS Trust sought permission to perform urgent surgery of a serious nature on his right jawbone, where he has a very rare aggressive cancer. Its medical name is a craniofacial osteosarcoma, presenting a tumour in the bone of about 4 inches long and 1½ inches wide. The unambiguous medical evidence before the court was that if it was not removed very soon then in 6 months to a year J would die “a brutal and agonising death”. The oncologist had spelt this out in unflinching detail:
J will not slip peacefully away. The cancer will likely invade his nerve system affecting basic functions such as speaking, breathing and eating. His head will swell up grotesquely. His eyes may become closed by swelling. A tracheostomy may be needed to allow breathing. Above all, the pain will likely be excruciating.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.