When to find facts?

The President of the Court of Protection Sir James Munby has handed down judgment in an appeal against an order of HHJ Rogers, in the case of AG.

AG had a moderate learning disability and autistic spectrum disorder.  She was removed from her home, where she held a tenancy, on 16 November 2011 in the context of a breakdown of care arrangements.  AG was supported by a package of care and the removal was preceded by allegations and counter-allegations by DG, AG’s mother and the care staff.   She was placed in residential care and an authorisation under schedule A1 MCA 2005 was granted.  on 24 November an application to the Court of Protection was made.

On 2 November 2012 HHJ Rogers approved the local authority’s plan which was to move AG from residential into semi-supported accommodation and by the time of the final hearing on 3 September 2013 AG had moved into a supported placement.  The final order followed a contested hearing with evidence from the independent social worker, DG and the allocated social worker.

The final order named the local authority as the decision-maker in respect of AG’s contact with her family, approved the proposed plan for AG’s supervised contact with DG to be increased and the level of supervision decreased, granted the local authority the power to enter and terminate a tenancy on AG’s behalf and made declarations as to AG’s capacity and best interests.  It was in AG’s best interests to reside in her current accommodation or “such other accommodation as may be identified by the local authority”, to receive a care package in accordance with her assessed needs and to have contact with her family in accordance with her wishes and feelings and the local authority’s contact plan.

DG appealed on four grounds all of which failed.   Perhaps the most significant for practitioners is the second ground- the complaint that the judge failed to make findings of fact.

DG’s position will resonate with many family members in Court of Protection proceedings where there is a background of allegations, which may or may not have been the subject of conclusions in safeguarding procedures, but which are never determined by the court.

DG argued that in the absence of a fact-finding procedure violated her rights under Article 8 ECHR.  The President’s conclusions are set out below:

  1. Further, it is said by Mr Dixon that, in failing to make findings of fact, Judge Rogers was wrong in law given: (i) the obligation under section 4(2) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to consider all the relevant circumstances; (ii) the presence in this case of what are said to be a multitude of factors recognised in law as justifying the need for a fact finding hearing; (iii) the fact that the issue of contact was, it is said, inextricably linked with the allegations of abuse; (iv) the inconsistency of the local authority’s stance – professing to have no need for a fact finding hearing yet relying upon the allegations; and (v) that the failure to make such findings amounted to a procedural violation of Article 8. DG, it is said, was entitled to a hearing at which she could seek to be exonerated.
  2. In support of contention (ii), Mr Dixon placed reliance on the decisions of McFarlane J in A County Council v DP, RS, BS (By the Children’s Guardian) [2005] EWHC 1593 (Fam), [2005] 2 FLR 1031, para 24, and in Re W (Care Proceedings) [2008] EWHC 1118 (Fam), [2010] 1 FLR 1176, para 72, and the decision of Cobb J in LBX v TT (By the Official Solicitor as her Litigation Friend), MJ, WT, LT [2014] EWCOP 24, paras 49-50.

 

24. In the first of these cases, McFarlane J, as he then was, had to consider whether to direct a fact finding hearing in the context of care proceedings where by that stage no party was seeking any public law order. He identified the relevant authorities before summarising matters thus (para 24):

“The authorities make it plain that, amongst other factors, the following are likely to be relevant and need to be borne in mind before deciding whether or not to conduct a particular fact finding exercise:

(a) the interests of the child (which are relevant but not paramount);

  1. (b)  the time that the investigation will take;
  2. (c)  the likely cost to public funds;
  3. (d)  the evidential result;
  4. (e)  the necessity or otherwise of the investigation;
  5. (f)  the relevance of the potential result of the investigation

to the future care plans for the child;

(g) the impact of any fact finding process upon the other parties;

  1. (h)  the prospects of a fair trial on the issue;
  2. (i)  the justice of the case.”
  1. Proper application of these principles in the circumstances of the present case – and those circumstances were carefully analysed by reference to each of the factors identified by McFarlane J – clearly pointed, Mr Dixon says, to the need for a fact finding hearing. The argument was further bolstered by what the same judge had said in Re W (para 72):“It is important that the planning in the future for these children … is based upon as correct a view of what happened to R as possible. It is not in the children’s interests, or in the interests of justice, or in the interests of the two adults, for the finding to be based on an erroneous basis. It is also in the interests of all of the children that are before this court for the mother’s role to be fully understood and investigated.”
  2. Furthermore, as Mr Dixon pointed out, in LBX Cobb J accepted the submission (see paras 39, 49) that, suitably modified, these principles could be appropriately transported from the Family Division to the Court of Protection as providing a useful framework of issues to consider in relation to the necessity of fact finding in the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection.

 

  1. In support of contention (v), Mr Dixon prays in aid McMichael v United Kingdom (1995) 20 EHRR 205, paras 87, 91, and R (B) v Crown Court at Stafford [2006] EWHC 1645 (Admin), [2007] 1 WLR 1524, para 23. In the latter case, May LJ said this:“… the court will have regard to the decision-making process to determine whether it has been conducted in a manner that, in all the circumstances, is fair and affords due respect to the interests protected by article 8. The process must be such as to secure that the views of those whose rights are in issue are made known and duly taken account of. What has to be determined is whether, having regard to the particular circumstances of the case and notably the serious nature of the decisions to be taken, the person whose rights are in issue has been involved in the decision making process, seen as a whole, to a degree sufficient to provide them with the requisite protection of their interests. If they have not, there will be a failure to respect their family life and privacy and the interference resulting from the decision will not be capable of being regarded as “necessary” within the meaning of article 8.”
  2. In answer to this, the local authority and the Official Solicitor make common cause. Their arguments contain five essential strands.
  3. First, as Ms Khalique points out, by reference to the decision of Wall J, as he then was, in Re S (Adult’s Lack of Capacity: Care and Residence) [2003] EWHC 1909 (Fam), [2003] 2 FLR 1235, para 13, it is important to remember that, unlike in the case of care proceedings in relation to a child, there is no requirement to establish ‘threshold’ in the case of proceedings in relation to an adult, whether the proceedings are brought in the High Court under the inherent jurisdiction or, as here, in the Court of Protection.
  4. Wall J went on to point out (para 15) that the absence of any threshold criteria equivalent to those contained in section 31 of the Children Act 1989, “raises the question as to the extent to which (if at all) it is necessary, for the purposes of exercising the jurisdiction and deciding which course of action is in the best interests of S, to make findings of fact relating in particular to disputed historical issues.” His answer was as follows (paras 18, 21):

“18 … I agree that there must be good reason for local authority intervention in a case such as the present. Equally, if there are disputed issues of fact which go to the question of Mr S’s capacity and suitability to care for S, the court may need to resolve them if their resolution is necessary to the decision as to what is in S’s best interests. Findings of fact against Mr S on the two issues identified in para [16] would plainly reflect upon his capacity properly to care for S. But it does not follow, in my judgment, that the proceedings must be dismissed simply because the factual basis upon which the local authority instituted them turns out to be mistaken, or because it cannot be established on the balance of probabilities. What matters (assuming always that mental incapacity is made out) is which outcome will be in S’s best interests. There will plainly be cases which are very fact specific. There will be others in which the principal concern is the future, and the relative suitability of the plans which each party can put forward for both the short and long-term care of the mentally incapable adult. The instant case, in my judgment, is one of the cases in the latter category.

21 Whilst I acknowledge that in a relatively untried jurisdiction there are dangers in too relaxed an approach to historical issues, I am unable to accept the proposition that the approach to best interests is fettered in any way beyond that which applies to any judicial decision, namely that it has to be evidence based; that it excludes irrelevant material; and that it includes a consideration of all relevant material. In a field as complex as care for the mentally disabled, a high degree of pragmatism seems to me inevitable. But in each case it seems to me that the four essential building blocks are the same. First, is mental incapacity established? Secondly, is there a serious, justiciable issue relating to welfare? Thirdly, what is it? Fourthly, with the welfare of the incapable adult as the court’s paramount consideration, what are the balance sheet factors which must be drawn up to decide which course of action is in his or her best interests?”

31.   I respectfully agree with that analysis.

 

  1. Accordingly, it is submitted, the analyses of McFarlane J and Cobb J relied upon by Mr Dixon, have to be read in the context of the overarching principles articulated by Wall J, which, it is submitted, fully justified the approach adopted by Judge Rogers in the present case. I agree.
  2. Secondly, as both Ms Lattimer and Ms Khalique emphasise, Judge Rogers was careful to spell out, and accurately, both in the order of 23 July 2012 and in the passage from his judgment of 2 November 2012 which I have set out in paragraph 19 above, the legal consequences of there having been no fact finding hearing. It is worth repeating, and emphasising, part of what he said:“I bear in mind, however, that those allegations … are strongly denied by DG and, applying a normal approach to the forensic fact finding enquiry, in the absence of the specific findings. I do not hold them in the background as it were by way of a suspicion lurking over DG.”Moreover, there is, they say, nothing whatever to show that this was not in fact the approach adopted by Judge Rogers, both in November 2012 and subsequently in September 2013. Again, I agree.
  1. Thirdly, as Ms Lattimer correctly observes, the decision of Judge Rogers not to have a fact finding hearing must be viewed in context – a context in which, not least in the light of DG’s own stated position, matters had by July 2012 moved on significantly since November 2011. As Ms Khalique puts it, although the proceedings had been issued against the background of the safeguarding concerns arising out of the various allegations, matters had progressed and the court was faced with a different landscape. Judge Rogers correctly recognised that he was looking at the present position and looking to the future. Given how matters then stood, the degree of enquiry undertaken by Judge Rogers during the hearing in October / November 2012 was, says Ms Lattimer, entirely sufficient to inform the decisions in respect of future planning for AG that the court was tasked with making. A lengthy and costly finding of fact hearing would, she submits, have been entirely disproportionate. I agree.
  2. Fourthly, there is, Ms Lattimer submits, and I agree, nothing to suggest that Mr M’s analyses and recommendations were adversely influenced by the allegations.
  3. Finally, as both Ms Lattimer and Ms Khalique point out, DG never sought to challenge on appeal either the order of 23 July 2013 or the order of 2 November 2012. It is far too late to be taking the point now.
  4. In my judgment, Judge Rogers was fully entitled to proceed as he did and for the reasons he gave. I accept Ms Lattimer and Ms Khalique’s submissions.
  5. This ground of appeal fails.

The President rejected DG’s argument that by the time of the final hearing AG’s residence was a fait accompli.  He further rejected the argument that the contact arrangements breached DG’s Article 8 rights, and commented that the judge’s measured findings on this issue were founded in the evidence before him and demonstrated that he had put aside the unresolved allegations against DG.  The President found that DJ Rogers had been appropriately sensitive to balancing AG’s needs and wishes against her mother’s understandable wish to increase contact with her daughter.

He concluded with an important final observation

  1. Ms Khalique submits, and I am inclined to agree, that the local authority acted unlawfully in removing AG from OG in November 2011 and placing her at HH without having first obtained judicial sanction. Local authorities must seek and obtain appropriate judicial authority before moving an incapacitous adult from their home into other accommodation. Local authorities do not themselves have power to do this.

Comment:

This is a clear judgment which builds on the comments made in LBX v TT. The President’s conclusions are not surprising in light of the authorities.  His underlining of the distinction between COP cases and care cases- where there is a threshold- may lead to fewer cases in the COP sphere involving fact-finding hearings.  It is hard however not to sympathise with the desire of those like DG to be able to clear their name in these cases.

The clear statement that local authorities “do not have the power” to remove an incapacitous adult from “their home into other accommodation” is important and may raise the question as to when somewhere becomes “home” for an adult lacking capacity.

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We’ve come over all pink – the revised 1st edition of the COPH now out!

We are delighted to announce that a revised first edition of the Court of Protection Handbook is now available, in a frisky pink.  It contains the Court of Protection Rules as amended by the 2015 changes, updated precedent orders, and supplementary commentary highlighting the key changes brought about the 2015 rules changes.   It is available from the LAG bookshop, for £55.

For those of you who already own the book, you can get a supplement – free! – including all the new material, by emailing lag@lag.org.uk.   There are also a limited number of free copies of the supplement available to all comers at the same email address.

Do also remember to visit the COPH website for updates to the main body of the book and all sorts of useful other material such as downloadable (free) Word versions of precedent orders and PDs that are actually locatable (by contrast with the position on the .gov website).

Transparency Pilot Going Live!

This important pilot will start in early 2016.  The majority of hearings will be heard in public, with steps taken to preserve the anonymity of P and P’s family.

 

The link below gives details as to the pilot with links to the new Practice Directions and precedent orders:

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/announcements/court-of-protection-to-test-increased-access-for-public-and-media/

Practitioners will need to ensure their clients are aware of these changes.  The criteria against which the success of this pilot will be assessed will be important as will the methods used to assess it.  We will provide more information as soon as we are able.