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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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]

A fanatical desire to maintain control

Baker J has handed down judgment in a highly unusual case, A Local Authority v M and others.  The facts of the case are startling and underline some of the findings in the House of Lords Select Committee on the Mental Capacity Act about the lack of awareness of the MCA amongst some clinicians.  The judge made important comments about, amongst other matters, the vital importance of proper decision-making when prescribing treatment, including “alternative” treatments, the correct use of welfare deputyships, and the disclosure obligations on litigants in person. M was the son of E and A, and had childhood autism.  Both parents, but particularly his mother E, became convinced that this was as a result of the MMR vaccine, and, as the court found, made numerous false statements about this and other aspects of her son’s health.  A claim had been made on behalf of M in the litigation seeking compensation over the vaccine, but ended when legal aid funding was withdrawn. Baker J summarised the facts succinctly at the end of his judgment:

  1. The critical facts established in this case can be summarised as follows. M has autistic spectrum disorder. There is no evidence that his autism was caused by the MMR vaccination. His parents’ account of an adverse reaction to that vaccination is fabricated. The mother has also given many other false accounts about M’s health. He has never had meningitis, autistic enterocolitis, leaky gut syndrome, sensitivity to gluten or casein, disorder of the blood brain barrier, heavy metal poisoning, autonomic dysautonomia (which, in any event, is not recognised in any classification of medical conditions), rheumatoid arthritis or Lyme disease. As a result of E maintaining that he had these and other conditions, she has subjected M to numerous unnecessary tests and interventions. He did have a dental abscess for which E failed to obtain proper treatment and caused him 14 months of unnecessary pain and suffering. E has also insisted that M be subjected to a wholly unnecessary diet and regime of supplements. Through her abuse of her responsibility entrusted to her as M’s deputy, she has controlled all aspects of his life, restricted access to him by a number of professionals and proved herself incapable of working with the local authority social workers and many members of the care staff at the various residential homes where M has lived. This behaviour amounts to factitious disorder imposed on another. In addition, E has a combination of personality disorders – a narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder and elements of an emotional unstable personality disorder.

The judgement repays reading in full.  For the purpose of this post, we focus on three areas: the proper use of welfare deputyship, fact-finding and the disclosure obligations on litigants in person. Deputyship: In 2010 E applied to be M’s welfare deputy, and asked in her application that this:

” … include life-long custodian to him. In addition, for the court to decide that life-long advocacy is also included in this role unless otherwise delegated by me.”

In the box on the application form asking how the order would benefit M, E stated, inter alia:

“My son would benefit from all decisions being made in his very best interests and without the influence of external pressures or distractions.”

On 18th June 2010, District Judge Rogers made an order appointing E as M’s deputy for property and affairs and personal welfare decisions. This order was made without notice to the local authority, Y House or any other agency involved in M’s care. [para 27]. Baker J found that E had grossly abused her power as deputy and that she had used the power to control M’s life and restrict the roles of the professionals, describing her as having a “fanatical desire to maintain control over her son’s life”.  He considered E’s decision-making in imposing a regime of supplements and alternative treatments on M, often on the advice of practitioners who did not meet M and were content to take instructions wholly from M.  The judge noted the views of the expert witness Dr Peter Carpenter: 178 Dr Carpenter observed that most of the dietary and nutritional therapies given to M are ones that he has experienced with other patients over the years. He has not objected to them being used in most cases. He also observes that E appears to have normally sought professional help when using therapies; that she has not devised treatment protocols without advice. He adds, however, that he found little evidence that E carried out what he would expect a best interests decision-maker to do when using non-conventional therapies for an adult who does not have capacity to choose for himself: namely, (a) draw in as wide a range of advisors as possible, and (b) ensure that the therapists are fully aware of the medical history. Dr Carpenter is very concerned that the therapists in this case were not given copies of any diagnostic reports but were, rather, given accounts of how the MMR vaccine had induced a vegetative state and a diagnosis of enterocolitis, which was not supported by any contemporaneous medical records. 179. Dr Carpenter also criticises E for failing to question the reason and purpose of any of the therapies or interventions used or seek unbiased evidence about their effectiveness. He is concerned at the lack of evidence that E looked at the arguments against therapies, as well as the arguments for. He is concerned at the apparent inadequacy of some of the assessments prior to starting therapy. He is also concerned at the apparent lack of monitoring of the effects of therapies. He notes that, despite the lack of evidence that any of the supplements work, the number and manner of taking them has been allowed to grow so that they now seemingly dominate M’s life and care regime. It is the quantity and intensity of the supplements given to M that causes concern for Dr Carpenter rather than any single supplement. 180. For a number of years, until his placement at N House, M was on a gluten and casein free diet. The efficacy of this diet for people with autism is a matter of controversy. Dr Carpenter quoted the guidelines issued by NICE in 2013, which he helped to draft, which recommended against the use of exclusion diets such as gluten or casein free diets for the management of core features of autism in children and young people. He cites research published by “Research Autism”, which he described as a generally respected organisation that attempts to review the evidence of main treatments and interventions in an unbiased manner and which concluded:

“The theory behind the gluten free/casein free diet [“GFCF”] is weak and unproven and there is limited evidence as to whether GFCF diets are actually effective for individuals with autism. Reviewers have found the research evidence to be inconclusive. Despite this lack of evidence, many people embark on a GFCF diet with high expectations that there will be beneficial effects. However, these diets can involve significant inconvenience and costs, as well as a significant limitation on what the individual can eat. Because of this we cannot recommend the use of such diets.

181.A different opinion was expressed by several witnesses called by E and A. Mr Shattock said that excluding gluten and casein from the diet had been reported as leading to measurable improvements in a high proportion of subjects, though in some instances the improvements were minor and not worth the effort, cost or possible disruption to life. Those reports are, however, based on the impression of parents and carers rather than any scientific analysis. Mr Shattock conceded that the benefits of the diet are clinically unproven and frankly acknowledged in his report that, had he been on the NICE committee himself, he would not have been able to disagree with the negative conclusion as to the use of such diets for people with autism. Dr Aitkin said that in general there are several reasons why such a diet might be considered as part of a management approach in an individual with an autism diagnosis and not merely used as a placebo. He cited research that suggested that such a diet is safe if properly adhered to and that there is some limited evidence of benefit. Some individuals with autism showed improvements on such a diet, for reasons other than a casein or gluten free intolerance. Again, however, the evidence of such improvements is the subject observations of parents and carers rather than any clinical or scientific analysis. Ms Haywood, however, was clear that there is now overwhelming evidence about how much autistic people benefit from a gluten free diet

182.In M’s case, there is no clear evidence that being on a GFCF diet is beneficial. The notes of the Royal Free Hospital recorded on 18th March 2001 that E had tried M on such a diet, but by January 2002 the hospital was recording that “he remains on a normal diet as there were no improvements in his behaviour or bowel habits on a gluten and dairy free diet” and there is no evidence that the Royal Free made any subsequent recommendation that he be put back on that diet. The diet was subsequently reintroduced unilaterally by E without positive medical approval. Professor Williamson regards it as a “telling fact” that, since M became resident at N House, he has remained in good physical health despite eating a normal diet, free of any restrictions and devoid of any of the numerous supplements that he had previously been obliged to take. On the contrary, he is eating well and gaining weight. When Professor Williamson saw him, he thought that he looked in excellent physical shape. Professor Williamson advised that, if M can stay well after a restricted diet, vitamins and minerals, it provides “strong evidence to suggest that they are unnecessary.”

183 For Dr Carpenter the key feature was that the reason given for M being on a diet – that he had a diagnosis of enterocolitis – was fallacious. In those circumstances there was no good reason for his diet being restricted in this way. It seems plain that those who advised E about the diet, in particular Ms Haywood, assumed that the diagnosis of enterocolitis given by E was correct. The concern about the insistence of the diet in this case was, therefore, not so much about the use of the diet per se, (which is plainly not uncommon amongst people with autism, notwithstanding the clear view expressed in the NICE guidelines), but, rather, the fabricated diagnosis which led to the diet being imposed.

184If the only alternative treatment therapy provided to M had been the GFCF diet, there would be relatively little concern. But it was not. Rather, it was one of a multitude of treatments given. In her final statement, E described M as an:

” … ever-changing minefield of biochemical hormone surges that require constant awareness of and treatment in terms of biomedical natural supplementation and dietary intake.”

In terms of nutrition, he was supplied with a large number of supplements to be taken daily. Here, it was Ms Haywood’s advice on which E acted. In contrast to the approach recommended by Mr Shattock in the Sunderland Protocol, there was no incremental approach (testing the efficacy of each individual supplement) but rather the prescription of a cocktail of supplements every day.

  1. Dr Carpenter quotes the NICE guidelines again as not recommending the use of such supplements for the treatment of the core symptoms of autism in adults. He notes that: “Research Autism” observed the evidence of nutritional supplements being untested or incapable of being proved and, therefore, it was not a treatment that they could recommend. Dr Carpenter notes, however, that most of the supplements appeared to have no known toxic overdose limit. He acknowledged that he is not an expert, although he expresses concern in general about how over the years the number of supplements delivered to M has increased dramatically and how the rigidity of instructions given for the supply of the supplements produces what he describes as unnecessary behaviour and choice restrictions of M.
  2. I accept Dr Carpenter’s opinion on this point. There is no evidence that the supplements caused physical harm, but I am not persuaded that there is any reliable evidence that they cause any benefit. The important issue is the manner and the quantity in which they were prescribed, without proper objective analysis, to a young man who lacked capacity to make decisions about whether or not to take them.

The judge found that E was the last person who should be entrusted with the role of M’s deputy, but found that it was highly likely that a welfare deputy would be needed because of the fundamental disagreements between the local authority and the family. Fact-finding: The judge set out the following principles to be applied in fact-finding hearings in the Court of Protection. 83. First, the burden of proof lies with the local authority. It is the local authority that brings these proceedings and identifies the findings that they invite the court to make. Therefore, the burden of proving the allegations rests with them. 84. Secondly, the standard of proof is the balance of probabilities: Re B (Children) [2008] UKHR 35. If the local authority proves a fact on the balance of probabilities, this court will treat that fact as established and all future decisions concerning M’s future will be based on that finding. Equally, if the local authority fails to prove any allegation, the court will disregard that allegation completely. In her written submissions on behalf of the local authority, Miss Bretherton contended that the court should apply the principle that

“the more serious the allegation the more cogent is the evidence required to overcome the unlikelihood of what is alleged and thus to prove it.”

This principle, originally stated by Ungoed-Thomas J in Re Dellows Will Trust[1964] 1 WLR 451, was at one time applied by the courts considering allegations of child abuse in family proceedings under the Children Act 1989. In Re B, however, the House of Lords emphatically rejected that approach. Baroness Hale of Richmond, with whose judgment the other four Law Lords agreed, having analyzed the case law, stated at paragraphs 70 to 72:

“70 I would announce loud and clear that the standard of proof in finding the facts necessary to establish the threshold under s.31(2) or the welfare considerations of the 1989 Act is the simple balance of probabilities – neither more nor less. Neither the seriousness of the allegation nor the seriousness of the consequences should make any difference to the standard of proof to be applied in determining the facts. The inherent probabilities are simply something to be taken into account, where relevant in deciding where the truth lies.71. As to the seriousness of the consequences, they are serious either way. A child may find her relationship with her family seriously disrupted or she may find herself still at risk of suffering serious harm. A parent may find his relationship with his child seriously disrupted or he may find himself still at liberty to maltreat this or other children in the future. 72. As to the seriousness of the allegation, there is no logical or necessary connection between seriousness and probability.”

In my judgment, the same approach must surely apply in the Court of Protection where the court is carrying out a similar exercise in determining the facts upon which to base decisions as to the best interests of an incapacitated adult. 85.Thirdly, findings of fact in these cases must be based on evidence. As Munby J (as he then was) observed in Re A (A Child : Fact-finding hearing: speculation) [2011] EWCA Civ 12:

“It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence, and not on suspicion or speculation.”

86. Fourth, the court must take into account all the evidence and, furthermore, consider each piece of evidence in the context of all the other evidence. As Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President, observed in Re T [2004] EWCA Civ 458, [2005] 2 FLR 838, at paragraph 33:

“Evidence cannot be evaluated and assessed in separate compartments. A judge in these difficult cases must have regard to the relevance of each piece of evidence to the other evidence and to exercise an overview of the totality of the evidence in order to come to the conclusion whether the case put forward by the local authority has been made out to the appropriate standard of proof.”

  1. Fifth, whilst appropriate attention must be paid to the opinion of medical experts, those opinions need to be considered in the context of all the other evidence. The roles of the court and the experts are distinct. It is the court that is in the position to weigh up expert evidence against the other evidence: A County Council v. K, D and L [2005] EWHC 144 Fam[2005] 1 FLR 851 per Charles J.
  2. Sixth, in assessing the expert evidence, which involves a multi-disciplinary analysis of the medical information conducted by a group of specialists, each bringing their own expertise to bear on the problem, one important consideration – and of particular relevance in this case – is that the court must be careful to ensure that each expert keeps within the bounds of their own expertise and defers where appropriate to the expertise of others – see the observations of Eleanor King J in Re S [2009] EWHC 2115 Fam.
  3. Seventh, the evidence of the parents is of the utmost importance. It is essential that the court forms a clear assessment of their credibility and reliability. They must have the fullest opportunity to take part in the hearing and the court is likely to place considerable weight on the evidence and impressions it forms of them – see Re W and another (Non-accidental injury) [2003] FCR 346.
  4. Eighth, it is not uncommon for witnesses in these cases to tell lies, both before and during the hearing. The court must be careful to bear in mind that a witness may lie for many reasons – such as shame, misplaced loyalty, panic, fear and distress – and the fact that a witness has lied about some matters does not mean that he or she has lied about everything – see R v. Lucas [1981] QB 720. The assessment of the truthfulness is an important part of my function in this case.

The role of litigants in person. E and A were originally represented but conducted the latter part of the case, including a hearing that lasted 20 days.  At para 73, Baker J summed up the procedural steps that the court took in order to assist E and A, and commented ”

  1. Overall, I cannot recall a case in which litigants in person have been assisted by the court and the other lawyers to the extent provided in this case. I am satisfied that as a result E and A, and indeed M, have received a fair hearing, but this was only achieved at the cost of a significant lengthening of the proceedings. One lesson of this case is that, if parties such as E and A are to be unrepresented in hearings of this kind, be it in the Court of Protection or in the Family Court, the hearings will often take very considerably longer than if they were represented. Denying legal aid in such cases is, thus, a false economy.

Baker J drew attention to the need for all parties to provide disclosure, including of those documents which do not support their case: 76.  In total, the court papers filled some 33 lever arch files (court documents and file records) plus two further lever arch files of documents produced by E and A during the hearing. No doubt if the parents had been represented, it might have been possible to reduce this material into a core bundle, as I did myself at the conclusion of the hearing. Even those 35 files may not represent the totality of the disclosable documents that might have been produced. For example, no health visitor records were produced for the period of M’s early years. At a very late stage E alluded to the possibility that she may have copies of these records somewhere in the loft at her home. Furthermore, and despite my explaining the rules about disclosure on more than one occasion, I am not entirely satisfied that E and A have complied with their obligation to disclose all relevant documents, including those that do not support their case. At one point E’s medical records were produced and, when E objected to their disclosure on grounds of confidentiality, I conducted a public interest immunity examination to determine which pages of the records were relevant. In the event, I concluded that only 16 pages fell into that category, but E insisted on challenging the disclosure of some of those pages on the grounds that they would assist the other parties. This illustrates another consequence of parties appearing without representation in these cases, namely that the courts may have to devise new rules as to disclosure.

“A blatant disregard of the process of the MCA”

HHJ Nicholas Marston made findings of extensive breaches of the Convention rights of P, a young woman with severe learning disabilities and autism, and her family, by Somerset County Council, in a highly critical judgment.   P was 19 and had lived with her family all her life.  In May 2013 P became distressed and disruptive (possibly due to her menstrual cycle) at school and was returned home early from a school trip.  That evening her mother M noticed bruising to P’s chest and reported it to the GP and to staff at the respite placement where P was due to stay during a family holiday M was due to take.

During M’s holiday further bruising on P was noticed and a safeguarding procedure was put in hand.  Those investigating the injuries were criticised by the judge for failing to obtain the “easily discoverable” but key information that P had been seen to hit herself heavily on the chest during the school trip.  Instead a decision was taken that P should not return home and M was informed of this on her return from holiday.  It was plain that P’s whole family sought her return but P remained at the placement where her distress resulted in the prescription of aripiprazole, an anti-psychotic medication with a sedative side effect.  In November 2013 she was moved to a second placement and in December 20113 a standard authorisation was granted and the local authority applied to the Court of Protection.

A nine day fact-finding hearing took place in May and June 2014.  Shortly before the hearing the local authority decided not to rely on any allegation regarding the bruising which had led to the safeguarding investigation.  The findings are set out in the judgment.  In giving his findings in relation to M’s parenting style and relationship with professionals the judge said:

“35. Finding 22, inability to accept advice on M’s part, and finding 23 M’s rigid style both of parenting and of dealing with professionals, are important issues when considering if returning home is an appropriate option because they directly relate to issues about the care P would be getting at home. Three points need to be made first. As I have already said, given the longevity of the relationship between M and the social workers and the number of social workers involved, there are bound to be some people who don’t get on and some who do. In her evidence M told me of social workers she had had good relationships with and others (the majority it has to be said) she did not. Second, M has a strong personality, otherwise she would have sunk under the weight of cares and problems in the last 20 years and she perceives herself as having to fight for a good deal for in particular P and A.  Third, as will become clear in the later parts of this judgment when I examine the conduct of the LA over the last 13 months, she and her family have had a lot to put up with. In his evidence the senior manager for social services conceded LA failures across the board and the damage that has done to the family and its relationship with the LA. Having said all of that there have in the past, prior to May 2013, been real clashes of personality and failures in communication but I cannot find that it has been proved on the balance of probabilities there has been an irrational refusal to co-operate from the family with the statutory authorities. The best evidence for that is that there was never, in the whole of Ps minority, an application in public law proceedings and no doubt if the LA had had evidence at the time of failure to co-operate on a scale which was causing P or any of the children significant harm such an application would have been made.

36.Two final points before leaving the Schedule, first the relevance to a best interests decision now of historical concerns which have never led to legal action prior to May 2013 has always been, in my view, difficult to demonstrate, so I agree with the comment in the Closing Submissions of the OS for P at paragraph 28 page 7: “…the reliance on this long and historical schedule to paint a damaging picture of this family is unnecessary and disproportionate. It does not build bridges.”  Second, the adversarial nature of the argument and cross-examination needed to advance the schedule robbed the LA’s apology for its conduct of at least some of it credibility, no matter how carefully and dextrously leading counsel for the LA put the case.”

The independent social worker instructed recommended a return home by P and this was supported by the Official Solicitor.  The judge found that the balance fell decisively in favour of a return home.

On the conduct of the local authority the judge said:

“75. In its position statement of 22/4/14 the LA concede that P was deprived of liberty and that there was a period where that deprivation was unlawful. It’s case is that was from the end of the respite care in early June to the urgent authorisation on 28/11/13. It further concedes that the deprivation of liberty and loss of her society to the family amounted to an interference with respect to their right to a private and family life contrary to Article 8 ECHR and that interference was not in accordance with the law. It argues that if a lawful process had been followed it is likely that P would have remained away from home while the LA pursued its concerns over safeguarding (the bruising issue) and in due course of time P would have moved to a residential home as they now suggest. It is conceded that if I do not think the residential home is in P’s best interests P should have been returned home at a significantly earlier date.

76.There is no question here that P was removed unlawfully from her family, she went into Selwyn for respite care and it is from the date of her mother’s return from holiday that the breach flows. I further accept that the LA had a duty to investigate the bruising but I find that a competently conducted investigation would have swiftly come to the conclusion that no or no sufficient evidence existed to be able to conclude P’s safety was at risk by returning her home. This conclusion should have been reached within a week or so after the family asked for her back. If the LA came to a different conclusion, as they did, they should have applied to the CoP by early June for a hearing. Not doing so is a further breach. Having not done so they should have told the family they could make an application, not doing that is a further breach. After the Police investigation ended in September P should again have been returned but was not nor was an application made to CoP as it should have been. The limitations and conditions placed on contact between the family and P constitute another breach.

77.The LA seeks to rely on the DOL urgent authorisation it obtained on 28/11/13 to close off the period of unlawful deprivation of liberty. In the case of London Borough of Hillingdon v Neary(2011) EWHC 1377, a case that has many depressing similarities to this one, Mr Justice Peter Jackson said at paragraph 33:

“The DOL scheme is an important safeguard against arbitrary detention. Where stringent conditions are met it allows a managing authority to deprive a person of liberty at a particular place. It is not to be used by a local authority as a means of getting its own way on the question of whether it is in the person’s best interests to be in that place at all. Using the DOL regime in that way turns the whole spirit of the MCA on its head, with a code designed to protect the liberty of vulnerable people being used instead as an instrument of confinement. In this case far from being a safeguard the way in which the DOL process was used to mask the real deprivation of liberty which was the refusal to allow Stephen to go home.”

78. I find that is also precisely what has happened here and the breach of Article 8 rights continues up to now.

79. These findings illustrate a blatant disregard of the process of the MCA and a failure to respect the rights of both P and her family under the ECHR. In fact it seems to me that it is worse than that, because here the workers on the ground did not just disregard the process of the MCA they did not know what the process was and no one higher up the structure seems to have advised them correctly about it.”

The judge noted that the Official Solicitor had indicated the intention to pursue a claim for damages for breach of P’s Articles 5,6 and 8 rights and to make that application within the COP proceedings

To fact-find or not to fact-find?

In LBX v TT and others [2014] EWCOP 24, Cobb J has given important guidance on when to hold a fact-finding hearing, and when to hear oral evidence.

Summary

TT was a 19 year old woman with moderate learning disabilities and global developmental delay. In November 2012, she alleged that her stepfather had sexually assaulted her and forced her to watch pornographic videos. She was placed in adult foster care and her stepfather was awaiting trial in the Crown Court. As a result of significant concessions by the parents, rather than a three-day hearing to conduct a full enquiry into the allegations, Cobb J was able to proceed to a more limited factual enquiry, principally directed to the issue of contact between TT and her mother (‘MJ’).

One issue was whether, in light of the concessions, the court could make orders upon an agreed basis of facts without having to make factual findings. Or, given that TT’s mother’s stance on contact would be likely to change following her husband’s trial, whether a fact-finding hearing should proceed. Cobb J reiterated the principle that he who asserts must prove on the balance of probabilities, as described by Lord Hoffman in Re B (Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) [2008] UKHL 35 at §2:

“If a legal rule requires a fact to be proved (a ‘fact in issue’), a judge or jury must decide whether or not it happened. There is no room for a finding that it might have happened. The law operates a binary system in which the only values are 0 and 1. The fact either happened or it did not. If the tribunal is left in doubt, the doubt is resolved by a rule that one party or the other carries the burden of proof. If the party who bears the burden of proof fails to discharge it, a value of 0 is returned and the fact is treated as not having happened. If he does discharge it, a value of 1 is returned and the fact is treated as having happened”.

In determining what factors should influence the exercise of the court’s discretion in deciding whether these should be a finding of fact hearing at the interim or final hearing, his Lordship drew upon some analogous jurisprudence from the family courts:

“46. I have had the relative luxury of three days of court time set aside to determine these issues; the court will however often be constrained by sheer practicalities of time and opportunity for an oral hearing. In each situation, the Judge surely has to make a determination – often under pressure of time – as to how far he or she can go to test the material.   By analogy with the position in family law, the judge would in my judgment be well-served to consider the guidance of Butler-Sloss LJ in the family appeal of Re B (Minors)(Contact) [1994] 2 FLR 1 in which she said as follows:

There is a spectrum of procedure for family cases from the ex parte application on minimal evidence to the full and detailed investigations on oral evidence which may be prolonged. Where on that spectrum a judge decides a particular application should be placed is a matter for his discretion. Applications for residence orders or for committal to the care of a local authority or revocation of a care order are likely to be decided on full oral evidence, but not invariably. Such is not the case on contact applications which may be and are heard sometimes with and sometimes without oral evidence or with a limited amount of oral evidence.’

It is acknowledged that the ‘spectrum’ may now be narrower than that described in 1994 following the revisions to rule 22.7 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, but the principle nonetheless remains, in my judgment, good.

47. Butler–Sloss LJ went on to define the questions which may have a bearing on how the court should proceed with such an application (adapted for relevance to the Court of Protection):

i. Whether there is sufficient evidence upon which to make the relevant decision;

ii. Whether the proposed evidence (which should be available at least in outline) which the applicant for a full trial wishes to adduce is likely to affect the outcome of the proceedings;

iii; Whether the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses for the professional care or other agency, in particular in this case the expert witnesses, is likely to affect the outcome of the proceedings;

iv. The welfare of P and the effect of further litigation – whether the delay in itself will be so detrimental to P’s well-being that exceptionally there should not be a full hearing. This may be because of the urgent need to reach a decision in relation to P;

v. The prospects of success of the applicant for a full trial;

vi. Does the justice of the case require a full investigation with oral evidence?

48.  In deciding whether to conduct a fact-finding hearing at all, I consider it useful to consider the check-list of considerations discussed by McFarlane J in the case of A County Council v DP, RS, BS (By their Children’s Guardian) [2005] EWHC 1593 (Fam) 2005 2 FLR 1031 at [24]. Following a review of case-law relevant to the issue he stated 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

b. the time that the investigation will take;

c. the likely cost to public funds;

d. the evidential result;

e. the necessity or otherwise of the investigation;

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;

h. the prospects of a fair trial on the issue;

i. the justice of the case.”

49.  There is some (but not universal) acknowledgement at the Bar in this case that this list (with modifications as to (a) to refer to the best interests of ‘P’ rather than ‘the child’) provides a useful framework of issues to consider in relation to the necessity of fact finding in the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection.”

According, Cobb J decided to conduct a limited fact-finding exercise and made resulting declarations and decisions. This included an authorisation to deprive TT of her liberty in the foster home.

Comment

When to hold fact-finding hearings in the Court of Protection is an issue in respect of which – unlike in relation to children – there is no guidance and a paucity of reported cases. The topic is discussed in some detail in the chapter 15 of the Court of Protection Handbook  in which Alex expressed the view that a useful analogy could be drawn with the pre-MCA case of Re S (adult’s lack of capacity: carer and residence) [2003] EWHC 1909 (Fam), [2003] 2 FLR 1235. However, this decision of Cobb J is by far the most comprehensive to date in terms of its analysis.   Until and unless a Practice Direction or Practice Guidance is produced setting out a framework, it is suggested that the model set out by Cobb J is one that will be of considerable assistance to practitioners and judges in determining whether a fact-finding hearing is required and the need for oral evidence. It should, though, be recalled, that the tenor of recent judgments from the Family Division/Court of Appeal is that very considerable caution should be exercised before a separate fact-finding hearing is listed (see, for instance, Re S, Cambridgeshire County Council v PS and others [2014] EWCA Civ 25).

[A version of this note appeared in the August 2014 Thirty Nine Essex Street Mental Capacity Law Newsletter]