What place morality (as compared to forensic rigour)?

Summary

In In the matter of A (A Child) [2015] EWFC 11 (Family Court (Sir James Munby P)), the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby P, was extremely critical of the local authority’s analysis, handling of the case and conduct of the litigation in what he described it as “an object lesson, in almost a textbook example of, how not to embark upon and pursue a care case.”

This case concerned an application for a care order and placement order.  The child in question had been born while his mother was serving a prison sentence. He was accommodated in local authority foster care and the care application was not issued until some 8 months after his birth.

As well as proceeding on assumptions with no evidential basis, the local authority made repeated reference to the “immoral” nature of the father’s behaviour. The father’s immoral behaviour included having had sex with a 13 year old girl when he was 17 years old, and being a former member of the English Defence League (EDL).  Sir James Munby P made clear that the “morality” of the father’s character was neither appropriate nor relevant and that these aspects should never have featured as part of the local authority’s case. He was also at pains to emphasise that it was for the local authority to prove, on a balance of probabilities, the fact upon which it seeks to rely.

Comment

Although not a COP case, COP practitioners should take note of the President’s warning that:

…the father may not be the best of parents, he may be a less than suitable role model, but that is not enough to justify a care order let alone adoption. We must guard against the risk of social engineering, and that, in my judgment is what, in truth, I would be doing if I was to remove A permanently from his father’s care.

The same concerns hold true in cases relating to adults particularly where there are safeguarding concerns.

The tone of Sir James Munby P’s approach also chimes with the key principles governing the MCA.  One principle is that a person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision merely because he makes an unwise decision. The fact that others, including the court, think that a decision is unwise or unsavoury, is an insufficient basis upon which to displace their decision. Another principle is that the best interests requirement should take into account the particular wishes and feelings of the incapacitated person, again, even where others, or the court, would not necessarily agree.

[A version of this note appeared in the March 2015 39 Essex Chambers Mental Capacity Law Newsletter]

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