Habitual Residence for the purpose of the MCA

In A Local Authority v SW and another, Moylan J considered the question of the habitual residence of SW, a woman who lacked capacity to decide about her residence.  She had moved in 2009 from hospital in Scotland (where she had grown up) to a placement in England, initially under under the terms of the equivalent of a Community Treatment Order.  This lapsed in 2010.   Her care was funded by the Scottish authorities and this would continue whatever the judgment.  Her money was managed in Scotland on her behalf.

The judge concluded that (although SW expressed a dislike of the area where she lived and a wish to move) she was habitually resident in England.  His reasoning is set out below:

“Discussion

    1. Given the close links, in particular between the 2000 Convention and the 1996 Child Protection Convention, as explained in the Lagarde Report; given the relationship between the 2000 Convention and the MCA; and for general policy considerations as referred to by Lady Hale in A v A, it is clear to me that the definition of “habitual residence” under the MCA should be the same as that applied in other family law instruments, including BIIa. Further, BIIa is also closely linked to the 1996 Convention, as explained in Proceedings brought by A.
    2. In my view, it must be right that the approach to the issue of habitual residence under BIIa should be the same as that under the MCA. I have not been directly referred to other judgments from the Court of Justice or domestically which address the issue of habitual residence including those which refer to the test of “centre of interests”. However, this phrase is incorporated in the judgment of Mercredi v Chaffe, as referred to above. Accordingly, whilst, inevitably, different factors will be relevant and will bear differential weight, the overarching approach should be consistent across all international family law instruments, including under the 1996 Child Protection Convention and in respect of children under BIIa. Any other approach would, in my view, be inconsistent with the points made in the Lagarde Report, especially in paragraph 49.
    3. I do not, therefore, accept Mr Rees’s submission that the approach established by the CJEU, as adopted by the Supreme Court, is not applicable. I agree with Mr Harrop-Griffiths that the test should be the same, suitably applied, as that under Brussels IIa as referred to above. If a different approach was to be taken as between adults and children, habitual residence would not even be applied consistently within BIIa. It is plain that different factors, as in any case, will or may have differing degrees of relevance. But, in my view, the overarching test should be the same.
    4. However, I agree with Mr Rees’s submission that the Local Authorities have adopted too narrow a focus when addressing the circumstances of this case. It is clearly important, given its critical place in so many international instruments, that the determination of habitual residence is kept as free as possible from analytical complexities or constructs. It is a question of fact. In my view, the Local Authorities in the present case have focused unduly on whether SW is integrated, in the sense of settled, by reference to whether she is happy living where she has been. Reduced to their key elements they submit that, given SW’s placements in England have to varying extents been determined for her and given she does not like living where she is, SW is not habitually resident in this jurisdiction because she has never become sufficiently integrated.
    5. Although the Supreme Court refers, in both A v A and Re LC, to the test or question as being whether there is some or sufficient degree of integration in a social and family environment, I do not accept that this was intended to narrow the court’s focus to this issue alone as an issue of fact. It is not a free-standing, determinative factor, and in particular not to the exclusion of all other factors. In my view, this would not be consistent with the broad assessment identified as being necessary by the CJEU. As the Court said, in Proceedings brought by A, the national court must conduct an “overall assessment” in the light of the factors referred to in paragraphs 38-41.
    6. In Mercredi v Chaffe the Court of Justice said that the place of habitual residence “must be established, taking account of all the circumstances of fact specific to each individual case” (paragraph 47). These include the conditions and reasons for the stay, its duration, and other factors which make clear that the person’s presence is not in any way temporary or intermittent. Factors which, as Lady Hale said in Re LC (paragraph 59), address whether the residence has acquired “the necessary degree of stability”.
    7. Further, integration, as an issue of fact, can be an emotive and loaded word. It is not difficult to think of examples of an adult who is not integrated at all in a family environment and only tenuously integrated in a social environment but who is undoubtedly habitually resident in the country where they are living. Integration as an issue of fact can also raise difficulties when a court is determining the habitual residence of a person who lacks capacity. As Mr Rees submits, there is a wide range of potential factual situations which will impact on the court’s ability to establish a person’s state of mind or perception and the weight which can properly be given to it.
    8. To repeat what Lady Hale said in A v A, at paragraph 54(vii): “The essentially factual and individual nature of the inquiry should not be glossed with legal concepts which would produce a different result from that which the factual inquiry would produce”. Another way, in my view, of expressing this might be that the court should not lose sight of the wood for the trees. I say this because, standing back for a moment, it might be thought surprising that it might be argued that someone who has been living, largely voluntarily, in England for nearly five years, and for the last three-and-a-half years in their own flat, was not habitually resident here.
    9. I would suggest that the phrase “degree of integration”, as with centre of interests, is an overarching summary or question rather than the sole, or even necessarily the primary, factor in the determination of habitual residence. Otherwise, it would become a legal construct in place of the essential issue which is, of course, that of habitual residence. This is not to say that the degree of integration and a person’s state of mind are not relevant; they are clearly factors to which appropriate weight must be given when the court is undertaking a broad assessment of all the circumstances of the case. The broad assessment which is required properly to determine whether the quality of residence is such that it has become habitual in that it has the necessary degree of stability in order to distinguish it from mere presence or temporary or intermittent residence. This means a sufficient, or some, degree of integration, not, I suggest, as a limited factual assessment, but as a question to be answered by reference to the factors, suitably applied, referred to by the CJEU and the Supreme Court.

Determination

  1. Turning then to the circumstances of the present case. As SW has been living in England since July 2009 and has been living in her own flat since December 2010, in my view there would need to be some compelling countervailing factors in order for me to determine that she is not habitually resident in England.
  2. I accept that SW’s move to England was pursuant to a compulsory treatment order and that, since then, her place of residence, while seeking to meet her wishes as much as possible, has very largely been governed by the relevant authority’s decision as to what would suitable and by what has been available. I also accept that SW has expressed her dislike of the area in which she lives and her wish to move somewhere else. However, I do not consider that these factors come close to counterbalancing the effect of SW’s long residence in England especially when combined with the matters referred to by Mr Rees (paragraph 61 above).
  3. By virtue of its duration, SW’s residence has, in my view, acquired what might be termed effective “stability”, in the sense used by the Court of Justice. Many people would rather not be living where they are and might wish fervently to live somewhere else. However, at least after a person has been living in one place for a significant period of time it will be difficult not to come to the conclusion that they are sufficiently integrated into their environment, whatever its composition, for them to be habitually resident there. In the present case, any other conclusion would, in my view, be placing far too much weight on an assessment on SW’s state of mind and the extent to which she feels settled. Accordingly, in my judgment SW is habitually resident in this jurisdiction for the purposes of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
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Capacity, contact, care and supported living

In the fifth substantive judgment in LBX v K and others [2013] EWHC 3230 (Fam), Mrs Justice Theis considers the ‘relevant information’ that needs to be understood to make a decision about supported living and care arrangements. Readers will be familiar with the important decision of the Court of Appeal which upheld one of the earlier judgments. The Court of Appeal’s decision ([2012] EWCA Civ 79) can be read here. Here, Theis J was asked to consider whether L, a young man with mild learning disabilities had the potential to achieve mental capacity to make decisions about residence, contact and some specific care decisions. Theis J agreed that the relevant information in making a decision between accommodation options was:

1. what the two options are, including information about what they are, what sort of property they are and what sort of facilities they have;

2. in broad terms, what sort of area the properties are in (and any specific known risks beyond the usual risks faced by people living in an area if any such specific risks exist);

3. the difference between living somewhere and visiting it;

4. what activities L would be able to do if he lived in each place;

5. whether and how he would be able to see his family and friends if he lived in each place;

6. in relation to the proposed placement, that he would need to pay money to live there, which would be dealt with by his appointee, that he would need to pay bills, which would be dealt with by his appointee, and that there is an agreement that he has to comply with the relevant lists of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s, otherwise he will not be able to remain living at the placement;

7. who he would be living with at each placement;

8. what sort of care he would receive in each placement in broad terms, in other words, that he would receive similar support in the proposed placement to the support he currently receives, and any differences if he were to live at home; and

9. the risk that his father might not want to see him if L chooses to live in the new placement.

She considered it would ‘set the bar too high’ to add matters such as the cost of the placement and the value of money; the legal nature of the tenancy agreement or licence; and the relationship that L might have with his father in 10 or 20 years time if he lived independently now – this was outside the ‘reasonably foreseeable consequences’ of the decision. (para 44)

45. I agree also with the analysis of the Official Solicitor as to contact in para13 save for one matter. So I agree with the first one, who they are and in broad terms the nature of his relationship with them; secondly, what sort of contact he could have with each of them, including different locations, differing durations and differing arrangements regarding the presence of a support worker; and, thirdly, the positive and negative aspects of having contact with each person. This will necessarily and inevitably be influenced by L’s evaluations. His evaluations will only be irrelevant if they are based on demonstrably false beliefs. For example, if he believed that a person had assaulted him when they had not. But L’s present evaluation of the positive and negative aspects of contact will not be the only relevant information. His past pleasant experience of contact with his father will also be relevant and he may need to be reminded of them as part of the assessment of capacity.

46. In relation to the last aspect under contact, which is what might be the impact of deciding to have or not to have contact of a particular sort with a particular person, I think there needs to be some reference in there to family in that family are in a different category, and I will hear submissions in relation to adjustments to that aspect.

47. I agree also that in relation to contact the matters set out in para 14 are not relevant: abstract notions, like the nature of friendship and the importance of family ties, subject to the point that I have just made relating to recognising the family in the last of the agreed aspects; the long-term possible effects of contact decisions, for the reasons I have already given in relation to s3(4); and risks which are not in issue, for example, those mentioned by Dr Hall, such as the risk of financial abuse.

48. Turning to care, again, I agree with the matters itemised in para 15 as being the relevant information, namely, what areas he needs support with, what sort of support he needs, who will be providing him with support, what would happen if he did not have any support or he refused it and, lastly, that carers might not always treat him properly and that he can complain if he is not happy about his care, I agree in relation to the information in para 16 that it is not relevant, that is how his care will be funded, and how the overarching arrangements for monitoring and appointing care staff work.

She endorsed the approach of one of the experts Ms Whittaker, an independent social worker instructed to carry out a best interests assessment but whose approach allowed her to provide valuable views as to L’s potential to achieve capacity. Ms Whittaker had used tangible aids such as drawings, which, as Theis J noted, could assist L in making a decision himself. This approach resonated with MCA 2005 s1(3) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Article 12(3) which states:

States Parties shall take appropriate measures to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity.

Good practice in habitual residence cases

Sir James Munby P, sitting in the Court of Appeal, in Re F (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 789, has set out some basic propositions that apply in relation to the determination of habitual residence in cases involving children.   Whilst they were stated in the context of the application of Council Regulation 2201/2203 (known as Brussels II revised (BIIR)), they are of wider application and it suggested that (with one exception highlighted below) the core procedural aspects apply equally to the determination of habitual residence by the Court of Protection:

11.

[…]

i)                Where BIIR applies, the courts of England and Wales do not have jurisdiction merely because the child is present within England and Wales. The basic principle, set out in Article 8(1), is that jurisdiction under BIIR is dependent upon habitual residence. It is well established by both European and domestic case-law that BIIR applies to care proceedings. It follows that the courts of England and Wales do not have jurisdiction to make a care order merely because the child is present within England and Wales. The starting point in every such case where there is a foreign dimension is, therefore, an inquiry as to where the child is habitually resident.

ii)              […]

iii)             Jurisdiction under Article 8(1) depends upon where the child is habitually resident ‘at the time the court is seised.’ [note, in cases under Schedule 3 to the MCA 2005, jurisdiction under the MCA 2005 depends upon where the individual is habitually resident at the point when the court determines the question of habitual residence: Re PO; JO v GO [2013] EWHC 3932 (COP) at paragraph 21]

 iv)             Since the point goes to jurisdiction it is imperative that the issue is addressed at the outset. In every care case with a foreign dimension jurisdiction must be considered at the earliest opportunity, that is, when the proceedings are issued and at the Case Management Hearing: see Nottingham City Council v LM and others [2014] EWCA Civ 152, paras 47, 58.

v)         Good practice requires that in every care case with a foreign dimension the court sets out explicitly, both in its judgment and in its order, the basis upon which, in accordance with the relevant provisions of BIIR, it has either accepted or rejected jurisdiction. This is necessary to demonstrate that the court has actually addressed the issue and to identify, so there is no room for argument, the precise basis upon which the court has proceeded: see Re E, paras 35, 36.

vi)        Judges must be astute to raise the issue of jurisdiction even if it has been overlooked by the parties: Re E, para 36.

There is a further point to which it is convenient to draw attention. If it is, as it is, imperative that the issue of jurisdiction is addressed at the outset of the proceedings, it is also imperative that it is dealt with in a procedurally appropriate manner:

i)       The form of the order is important. While it is now possible to make an interim declaration, a declaration made on a ‘without notice’ application is valueless, potentially misleading and should accordingly never be granted: see St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust v S, R v Collins and Others ex p S [1999] Fam 26. If it is necessary to address the issue before there has been time for proper investigation and determination, the order should contain a recital along the lines of ‘Upon it provisionally appearing that the child is habitually resident …’ Once the matter has been finally determined the order can contain either a declaration (‘It is declared that …’) or a recital (‘Upon the court being satisfied that …’) as to the child’s habitual residence.

ii)      The court cannot come to any final determination as to habitual residence until a proper opportunity has been given to all relevant parties to adduce evidence and make submissions. If they choose not to avail themselves of the opportunity then that, of course, is a matter for them, though it is important to bear in mind that a declaration cannot be made by default, concession or agreement, but only if the court is satisfied by evidence: see Wallersteiner v Moir [1974] 1 WLR 991.

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