Section 21A applications and legal aid

We reproduce below  a version of the case comment on the case of Briggs v Briggs [2016] EWCOP 48 which appeared in the December 2016 39 Essex Chambers Mental Capacity Law Newsletter.

Summary

In this case, Charles J had to decide whether it was possible for the question of whether it is a person’s best interests to continue to be given clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (‘CANH’) to be determined in proceedings brought under s.21A MCA 2005.   The question arose because the applicant – the wife of, and RPR for a man in a minimally conscious state – brought an application under s.21A MCA 2005 challenging the DOLS authorisation in place at the hospital he was in.  She did so on the express basis that doing so would allow her to claim legal aid on a non-means-tested basis so as to be able to have legal representation to be able to argue her case that continuation of CANH was not in his best interests.    Her position was opposed by the Official Solicitor, the Legal Aid Agency and the Secretary of State (as the Ministry of Justice and Department of Health collectively) on the basis that:

1. In the Official Solicitor’s case, non means tested funding is not available to present arguments relating to the care, support or treatment of a P as they related to conditions of detention, and were therefore outside the scope of s.21A (Article 5 not relating to conditions of detention);

2. On the Secretary of State’s case, such funding was only available where the issues related to “physical liberty.”

Charles J, in an extensive and wide-ranging judgment, came to the very clear conclusion that both of these arguments were wrong, and that it was entirely proper for the Court of Protection on a s.21A application to consider the question of whether CANH was in Mr Briggs’ best interests as part and parcel of the discharge of its functions under s.21A MCA 2005. The following conclusions from his judgment are of particular relevance or importance:

1. The clear conclusion that a DOLS authorisation does not authorise the care plan for, or medical treatment of P, or protect those who are providing them from liability for so doing. It is limited to authorising the deprivation of liberty that those acts create (paragraph 48);

2. The determination of whether the deprivation of liberty is in P’s best interests, necessary and proportionate “has to involve consideration of P’s circumstances in a hospital or care home and so of the care, support and treatment proposed or provided to meet P’s needs in them even if it is limited to a consideration of their effect” (paragraph 50), and hence “the determination of the questions posed by the definition of the best interests condition must involve a consideration of: i) the impact of possible and available alternatives and issues of degree, and ii) as far as reasonably ascertainable P’s past and present wishes and feelings, beliefs and values and factors that P would be likely to consider if he were able to do so” (paragraph 52);

3. That generally the COP should take control of all aspects of the case when proceedings are brought under s.21A MCA (even if an authorisation should remain in place to allow non-means-tested legal aid to continue to be justified: paragraphs 29-34). This was particularly the case in the proceedings before him given the nature of the CANH best interests issue (paragraph 70), in which the determinative or central issue was whether CANH is in Mr Briggs’ best interests and the conclusion on it should found an order under s. 16(2) MCA 2005. The determination of that issue by the COP would found and so was directly relevant to its consideration of its exercise of its functions under s.21A (which it can exercise whether or not proceedings have been issued under s.21A) (paragraph 76);

4. Whatever the precise requirements of Article 5 ECHR, a literal construction of DOLS shows that they went beyond that required to meet Article 5 and effectively include the best interests test that is applied whenever a decision has to be made pursuant to the MCA for a person who lacks capacity to make that decision himself (paragraph 87). This showed that:

91. […] in a case such as this when the purpose of the placement in the hospital is obviously for care and treatment the “all or nothing approach” advanced effectively on the basis that P will continue to be deprived of his liberty whatever regime of treatment is put in place (and so whether or not CANH is in Mr Briggs’ best interests) runs contrary to a best interests consideration of the circumstances P (Mr Briggs) is in on the ground as it seeks to exclude a consideration of P’s views etc. under s. 4(6) and whether the conditions can be improved or made less restrictive under s. 1(6) of the MCA.

Alternatively, if it is said that the views of P on (life sustaining or other) treatment can be taken into account in considering whether he should be deprived of his liberty (or his personal liberty should be removed) this takes one back to the central issue in this case namely the impact of Mr Briggs’ views etc. under s. 4(6) on whether treatment should be withheld with the consequence that he should be allowed to die. It would be very artificial and in my view callous to say that this was irrelevant to the issues relating to his physical liberty, or the termination of the exiting DOLS authorisation, because during the period after the cessation of the CANH leading up to his death his physical liberty would not change even if (as is at least likely) he moves from the hospital to a hospice.

5. The acknowledgement that the best interests assessor will not be able to carry out the intense scrutiny that the COP can and would have practical difficulties in challenging the medical decisions that found protection from liability under s. 5 MCA. Charles J noted, however, that the assessor could reach his best interests assessment on the basis of the views of the treating team leaving it to P or his RPR to challenge the authorisation or put a condition on the authorisation or limit its duration to enable any dispute to be put before the COP (paragraph 94);

6. Further, even if the best interests requirement under DOLS was limited in the way that the Official Solicitor and the Secretary of State argued, the best interests test as then applied by the Court of Protection in determining whether CANH should be continued was related to matters arising under s.21A(2)(a)-(d), because (1) it was related to the best interests condition of the best interests requirement; (2) and provided the answers or information relevant to the answers to the questions of: (a) the period of the standard authorisation (e.g. until a move to a hospice or a rehabilitation unit); (b) the purpose of the standard authorisation, namely whether the treatment should or should not include CANH; and (c) conditions of the standard authorisation (e.g. about preparations to be made for a move).   These answers informed – Charles J held – what the COP can order under s.21A(3) by way of variation or termination of the standard authority itself or by direction to the supervisory body (paragraphs 96-99).   Charles J noted in this regard that:

This view of the width of what the COP can properly do under s. 21A is confirmed when other types of case are considered. For example, when P is in a care home the best interests issues can encompass changes in the care plan (incorporated into or on which the standard authorisation is based) involving less restrictive options, the giving of medication covertly or in particular circumstances, the use of restraint, more visits to the community and contact. Even if they are outside the factors to be considered under the qualifying requirements (and so the best interests condition) they:

i) inform and so relate to the matters referred to in s. 21A (2)(b) to (d), and

ii) inform the order or orders to be made under s.21A(3), (6) and (7) in respect of the DOLS authorisation that has been granted (and if necessary extended by the COP applying the approach in Re UF).

7. Finally, Charles J noted that, on a purposive intention of the legislation, Parliament would not have intended the COP to be concerned with the distinctions advanced in this case by the Secretary of State, the LAA and the Official Solicitor:

108. Absent the issue relating to the availability of non means test legal aid, which it is common ground is irrelevant, these distinctions are not agreed between them, give rise to fine, difficult and potentially emotionally draining issues (e.g. whether a decision that leaves out of account the views etc. of P on whether he should be detained at place A or place B relates to his personal liberty or a deprivation of his liberty within Article 5 having regard to its subjective element) and are irrelevant because the COP can deal with all issues in this case in an application brought in reliance on s. 21A or an application brought seeking orders under ss. 15 and 16 of the MCA. […]

Charles J therefore held that Mrs Briggs could properly raise the issue of whether CANH should be continued as part of her s.21A challenge as RPR for her husband. We address the substantive decision in relation to her husband’s treatment in the separate case comment below.

Comment

On one view, it would appear odd that a s.21A application could be used as a vehicle to challenge decisions about CANH, and it is undoubtedly the case that Mrs Briggs was “lucky” that there happened to be in place a DOLS authorisation at the hospital to allow her to do so (note that Charles J expressly did not decide whether or not in fact Mr Briggs was deprived of his liberty, as this was assumed to be the case for purposes of the preliminary issue decided here).

However, once one steps away from the specific place that CANH has as a type of serious medical treatment (‘SMT’) and the mindset of SMT cases, Charles J’s logic would seem impeccable.   DOLS may have been designed to plug the Bournewood gap, and to that end could have been limited solely to a determining whether or not the deprivation of liberty was necessary and proportionate (the test for Article 5 purposes).   However, the scheme undoubtedly went further to include a specific best interests requirement which, in turn, requires the application of the best interests test under s.4 MCA 2005.  Once the best interests genie was let out of the bottle, that must carry with it the connotation that those concerned with considering the requirement (and the court on a s.21A application) must have a wide view of the nature and purpose of the authorisation and – in turn – asking whether the care and treatment which gives rise to the need for it is, in fact, in the person’s best interests.

It is, perhaps, not surprising – given the implications for legal aid in s.21A applications – that the Secretary of State/Legal Aid Agency are seeking permission to appeal to put the best interests genie back in its bottle.

 

 

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Re X- the never-ending story.

Re NRA

 

Charles J has today (25 September) handed down the judgment in Re NRA [2015] EWCOP 59, sometimes described as Re X (2).

 

Summary

 

The case concerned welfare orders sought in respect of ten individuals whose care arrangements involved deprivation of their liberty. He described it as part of the “fall out” from the majority judgment in P v Cheshire West.

 

The case considered the procedural safeguards needed and at the heart of the case was the question as to whether P should be joined as a party. The Re X litigation had thrown up contradictory obiter views in respect of applications (which were referred to as “judicial detention” cases) that were seen as uncontentious. The President of the Court of Protection had delivered two judgments (Re X (1) and Re X (2)). The Court of Appeal judgment had concluded that the initial Re X judgments had been ultra vires. Therefore the Court of Appeal did not have jurisdiction to consider the appeal, but had strongly indicated what they would have done had they been able to do so, and all three judges considered that P should be a party.   The Court of Appeal had not considered ancillary issues such as, if P is always a party, who should act as litigation friend and whether there should be an oral hearing.

 

The cases were described as examples of “benevolent” arrangements that “many find difficult to characterize as a deprivation of liberty” (taken from the comments of Baroness Hale at para 10 in P v Cheshire West).

 

Charles J noted that in Cheshire West Baroness Hale referred to the need for “periodic checks” and suggested that these should not be stigmatizing. He cast doubt on whether this reflected the experience of family carers and noted that any simplified solution should recognize the central role of families and carers [para 12].

 

His approach was to consider what was required to satisfy requirements of common law and Convention rights, which he grouped under the heading “the safeguards” [para 24] and then what procedural steps would satisfy these in a practical effective and speedy way in cases of deprivation of liberty. Identifying the Safeguards entailed considering alternative ways of guaranteeing procedural fairness (“the requirements”) and whether these were likely to work (“the Effects”) [para 25].

 

Charles J acknowledged that the instinctive reaction of lawyers in England and wales would be that P should be a party in all cases in the Court of Protection because he will be affected and bound by them [para 34]; but that consideration of the fact that the overwhelming majority of cases relate to property and affairs and are uncontentious indicates that fairness does not always require this. He applied to the Court of Protection the comment in Re R (Care; Disclosure; Nature of Proceedings) [2002] 1 FLR 755 that family cases have both adversarial and investigatory aspects [para 36]. The requirements of fairness will be different depending on whether a case is or is not contentious. An independent check on each of the property and affairs cases – and deputyship applications- would be disproportionate; hence the presumption that P need not be a party in such cases.

 

The purpose of ss5 and 6 MCA was again to allow day to day decisions to be made by those involved in caring for P [para 40]. The test for such interventions (ie, is the intervention the least restrictive and in P’s best interests) is not different in substance from the test to be applied in Article 5 cases [para 41].

 

Moreover some adults with capacity are objectively deprived of their liberty by their care packages but have no alternative but to accept this as they lack the resources to bring judicial review proceedings [para 42].

 

Charles J accepted that a balance needed to be struck in order to acknowledge the risk that an apparently uncontentious package in P’s best interests may not in fact be either; and acknowledged the advantage for P of an outside check [para 44].

 

In many cases the appointment of a family member or friend, or the Official Solicitor will add little value other than to confirm the accuracy of information provided (and in some cases to uncover inaccuracies) [para 51].

 

Reviewing the statutory scheme under the MCA and DOLS Charles J noted that the Court does not determine whether P should or should not be deprived of his liberty but makes a determination of his best interests the corollary of which may be a deprivation of his liberty and thus require additional safeguards eg reviews and whether P should be a party [para 73]. The existence of a deprivation of liberty may further have relevance to the question of damages for breach of Article 5.

 

Although the Official Solicitor had agreed to accept an appointment to act under specific funding arrangements in 8 of the 10 cases (whereby some solicitors had agreed to carry out some preliminary work pro bono) the Official Solicitor had indicated that he would reach saturation point in the future absent additional funding.

 

Under the heading “legal aid” Charles J noted that the Lord Chancellor had been reviewing the impact of Cheshire West and the House of Lords recommendations to end the disparity between those detained under DOLS and those detained under the MCA for some time [para 95]. He noted that full representation would only be granted if there was to be or was likely to be a hearing [99 onwards] and rejected the suggestion that an oral hearing was always necessary and should not be listed simply to access legal representation.

 

He took the view that legal help would not be available once proceedings were issued and P was represented by a litigation friend [91] and even if this were incorrect the means requirements precluded this as a source of funding in most cases.

 

He concluded (correctly) that legal aid will only be a solution if the case proves contentious and requires a hearing.

 

He did not agree that a rule 3A representative would resolve the issue [116] as this did not provide P with the status of a party. He rejected the Law Society’s submission that an ALR could never be appointed in a case involving deprivation of liberty [117].

 

He noted the impact on resources of the Court of Protection of the joinder of P in all cases, as well as on the resources of litigation friends [124].

 

He concluded that a litigation friend need not always act through a solicitor. A litigation friend is not a party [143]. In comments which emphasise the rapprochement between the Court of Protection and the Mental Health Tribunal worlds, he referred to his judgment in YA v CNWL, where he likened the role of the appointed representative under TPR 11(7)(b) to a litigation friend who may sometimes have to over-ride P’s wishes. He returns to this analogy when considering the role of the RPR.

 

At paragraphs 158 onwards Charles J considered the availability of family or friends as potential litigation friends to P. This can be replete with difficulties where there is family conflict (as in Re UF) or a dissonance between the views of P and of his family (as in Re AJ).

 

In a comment which sits uncomfortably with the judgement of Baker J in Re AJ, Charles J does not agree that the RPR should challenge a standard authorization whenever P objects; but instead should decide whether to issue at all and then should only advance arguable points (again analogous to his views about the role of the Tribunal representative in YA): para 171-2.

 

Part 3 of the judgment contains the discussion on the question whether the Requirements and the Effects mean that P must be a party to ALL applications for welfare orders seeking a deprivation of liberty. He concludes that the answer is “no” and that he prefers the obiter reasoning of the President to the Court of Appeal: para 177.

 

This is because:

 

  • what fairness requires will depend on the context [para 187] where Charles J noted that in para 57 of the judgment in Winterwerp the court concluded that an Article 5(4) compliant process must “have a judicial character and gives the individual concerned guarantees appropriate to the kind of detention in question” [para 187 (iii)].
  • The comments in RP vUK about the margin of appreciation, which takes into account “all relevant factors” including the nature and complexity of the issue and what was at stake for P” [para 187 (v)].

He acknowledged the need to protect “the very essence” of Article 5 rights which will vary with each case [para 190].

 

The heart of the judgment is Charles J’s conclusions as to the “essence” of the rights guaranteed by Article 5.

 

These are set out below:

“The combination of the requirements of Article 5(1) and 5(4) to the initial decision making and the challenge of the decision made (see paragraph 182 above) shows that, when in reliance of Article 5(1)(e) there is or is going to be an objective deprivation of liberty, the essence of Article 5 is to provide safeguards that put a person who lacks the relevant capacity in a sufficiently equivalent position to a person who has that capacity and so who could himself:

  1. consider, test and decide between competing provisions for his care or treatment,
  2. consent to one of them, and
  • keep under review and challenge the arrangements put in place.

This gives rise to the need for a process that is directed to ensuring that the steps referred to in paragraph 164 (i) to (iii) above are adequately carried out or that their subject matter is adequately investigated by the court. Namely:

  • the elicitation and communication to the court of P’s wishes and feelings and the matters referred to in s. 4(6) of the MCA without causing P any or any unnecessary distress,
  • the critical examination from the perspective of P’s best interests, and with a detailed knowledge of P, the pros and cons of a care package, and whether it is the least restrictive available option, and
  • the review of the implementation of the care package and changes in P’s behaviour or health.

and in his view require

 

  • elicitation of P’s wishes and feelings and the matters referred to in s4(6) MCA “without causing P any or any unnecessary distress”;
  • critical examination of the pros and cons of the care plan from the perspective of P’s best interests and in the context of the least restructive alternative and
  • the review of its implementation and changes in P’s behaviour and health.”

 

The minimum standards required of procedural safeguards will vary from case to case and within the exceptions to Article 5, and within the issues which arise in each case [para 193]. He considers this consistent with Baroness Hale’s comments about the possibility of simplifying the safeguards in Cheshire West [para 195] which support the proposition that the COP rules can be applied flexibly.

 

Under the heading “Flaws and gaps in the reasoning of the Court of Appeal” [para 197 onwards] he criticizes the reasoning of Black LJ for treating “all deprivations of liberty as being effectively the same for the purpose of the application of the procedural safeguards” [para 205]. He distinguishes cases where deprivation of liberty is authorized purely because of P’s best interests from secure accommodation cases relating to children and these involve factors other than the paramountcy principle (such as risk to others, which also features in decisions to detain under the MHA); and this is relevant to the minimum standards question.

 

Nor does the Court of Appeal recognize that the relevant comparator is with an adult with capacity who consents to the deprivation of liberty because this is the role of the court under s16 (circular!- possibly an argument for reduced safeguards on review).

 

 

At para 215 Charles J refers to his conclusion in YA at paras 39-41 that legal representation is not a minimum requirement in all cases. He considered that in many cases family members will be best placed to act as litigation friends and provides examples from the 10 cases before him.[219-224].

 

At paragraphs 223- 229 Charles J considers the information provided in the streamlined procedure and how this could be improved. He recommends additional information, such as- importantly- details of when supervision is provided; use of sedation or assistive technology; what would happen if P tried to leave, and statements from those providing care to P [225].

 

He suggested that information should also be provided about any tenancy agreement; the participation of family and friends; and why it is considered that the case can be dealt with on the papers.

 

As litigation friends do not need to instruct solicitors; and as a hearing is not needed in all cases, there is very little benefit in making P a party and appointing a family member as a litigation friend rather than as a Rule 3A representative and where this is an available option this will provide P with the requisite safeguards [231-2]. There should be a direction to keep the care package under review. He considers that this can reliably secure P’s participation without making P a party and thus falls within the exceptions to the need for party status identified by Black LJ in the Re X judgment.

 

Where there is not a family member or friend who can be appointed this should not require joinder of P but instead the court should consider the use of s49 reports and summonses; and the “much better solution” of the Secretary of State for justice of appointing “Rule 3A representatives identified by the local authority”. He urged the Secretary of State and local authorities to consider “urgently” how this solution can be provided on the ground and recognized that it this not available this will need to be addressed [265-7].

 

He expresses the view that his conclusions do not discriminate for the purposes of Article 14 [para 268].

 

His conclusions are summarized in 269:

 

“A brief summary of my conclusions is that:

  • P does not have to be a party to all applications for welfare orders sought to authorise, and which when they are made will authorise, a deprivation of P’s liberty caused by the implementation of the care package on which the welfare order is based.
  • In two of the test cases before me I have made orders that reflect that conclusion and my conclusion that the procedural safeguards required by Article 5 are (and are best) provided in those cases by appointing a parent of P as P’s Rule 3A representative. As such, that parent as a continuation of the dedicated and devoted support given by P’s family to P and directed to promoting P’s best interests, in a balanced way, can best provide (a) the court with the information it requires about the care package and P, and (b) P’s participation in the proceedings. Also, that parent can and in my view will monitor the implementation of the care plan and so initiate any challenge to it or review of it that the parent considers should be made in P’s best interests.
  • I do not have a test case before me in which (a) P has not been joined as a party and the Official Solicitor has not agreed to act as P’s litigation friend, and (b) the appointment of a family member or friend as P’s Rule 3A representative without joining P as a party is not an available option. Such a test case or cases should be listed for hearing.
  • In contrast to the Court of Appeal in Re X and subject to further argument in such a test case or cases, I consider that the way in which the Court of Protection can at present best obtain further information and P’s participation in such cases is for it to exercise its investigatory jurisdiction to obtain information through obtaining s. 49 reports or through the issue of a witness summonses. This keeps the matter under the control of the court rather than invoking the necessity of appointing a litigation friend with the problems and delays that history tells us this entails and will entail and I have concluded is, or shortly will be, not fit for purpose.
  • I do not for a moment suggest that absent further resources being provided there will not be problems and delays in taking the course referred to in paragraph (4). Also, and importantly, I recognise that it would be focused on Article 5(1) and would not provide for monitoring on the ground until it is repeated from time to time for that purpose. But, the appointment of a litigation friend will also not provide that monitoring.
  • In such cases the argument advanced by the Secretary of State before me that a Rule 3A representative identified by the local authority be appointed shows that if this was a practically available option it would replicate the input that I have decided can be provided by an appropriate family member or friend and so satisfy the procedural safeguards required by Article 5 and common law fairness in non-controversial cases without joining P as a party.
  • That replication is an obvious solution that will provide the necessary safeguards more efficiently and at less expense than either
    1. the making of orders for s. 49 reports and the issuing of witness summonses perhaps coupled with more frequent reviews, or
    2. joining P as a party.
  • So I urge the Secretary of State and local authorities to consider urgently, and in any event before a test case or cases of this type are before the court, how this solution can be provided on the ground.”

Comment:

 

This is a decision focussed on practical solutions. It is of note however that much reliance is placed on the availability of resources – the Rule 3A representatives. There will of course be cases where family members and friends are able and willing to step into this role. There will be many other cases where P is unbefriended. In these cases, the court has two options. The first is to make use of s49 reports and the power to issue witness summonses to elicit the required information. This appears quite onerous, and can also be contentious- see the recent decision in RS. The second is the solution identified by the Secretary of State which is to appoint Rule 3A representatives “identified by the local authority.”

There must be some doubt as to the ability of local authorities- already struggling to meet their obligations to provide IMCA and Care Act advocacy- to conjure up another group of individuals who will step in and provide the safeguards needed. Nor is there any consideration given as to how these representatives will be funded.

The comments on YA and Re AJ can be seen as obiter as both judgments related to quite different scenarios. However it is noteable that in paragraph 145 Charles J appears to go further than he went in the YA judgment by expressly referring to the need for litigation friends (and by analogy Rule 11(7) representatives) to over-ride the wishes and feelings of patients without capacity.

It is worth remembering that those appointed as “Rule 3A” representatives may ask for directions under COPR 148A, which could include a request for P to be joined and a litigation friend appointed.

The possible use of “accredited legal representatives” (ALRs) if they become available was dealt with quickly at paragraph 117. There is currently no such panel of ALRs (although there is also no cohort of rule 3A representatives to be called on by local authorities). This would have been a practical solution at least in cases where P is entitled to legal aid. It is noted that in Re PD Baker J encouraged the possible use of ALRs in Schedule 3 cases. ALRs appointed in Re X types cases would have been well placed quickly to scrutinise and identify which cases require contested hearings and which really are uncontentious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The legal aid debate escalates

In some of his most trenchant comments to date, Sir James Munby P has raised the stakes yet further in the battle (we entirely support) to secure proper funding for representation in proceedings concerning the most vulnerable. In Re D (A Child) [2014] EWFC 39, the President was concerned with care proceedings in which:

  1. The father lacked capacity to litigate and therefore required a litigation friend. That litigation friend was the Official Solicitor, who was only prepared to act because the father’s solicitor and counsel had agreed to act, thus far, pro bono and, indeed, further, the solicitor had agreed to indemnify him against any adverse costs orders; [1]
  2. The mother, although she had learning disabilities, was not a protected party. Because of her ‘personal characteristics, intellectual functioning and limitations which affect [her],’ she was in the view of her counsel (endorsed by the President)  wholly unable to represent herself in relation to any aspect of [the] proceedings’;
  3. Neither qualified for legal aid but both lacked the financial resources to pay for legal representation where, as the President put it ‘unthinkable that they should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation’.

Sir James Munby set out a number of propositions of equal application – we suggest – to ‘adult care’ proceedings before the Court of Protection where a local authority wishes to remove an adult P from the care of their parents.

He noted, in particular, the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in RP v United Kingdom [2012] ECHR 1796, drawing attention, especially, to the underlined words in paragraph 67:

67. In light of the above, and bearing in mind the requirement in the UN Convention that State parties provide appropriate accommodation to facilitate disabled persons’ effective role in legal proceedings, the Court considers that it was not only appropriate but also necessary for the United Kingdom to take measures to ensure that RP’s best interests were represented in the childcare proceedings. Indeed, in view of its existing case-law the Court considers that a failure to take measures to protect RP’s interests might in itself have amounted to a violation of Article 6(1) of the Convention (emphasis added).

 The President described the parents’ predicament as ‘shocking’:

 31. Stripping all this down to essentials, what do the circumstances reveal?

i) The parents are facing, and facing because of a decision taken by an agent of the State, the local authority, the permanent loss of their child. What can be worse for a parent?

ii) The parents, because of their own problems, are quite unable to represent themselves: the mother as a matter of fact, the father both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law.

iii) The parents lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation.

iv) In these circumstances it is unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention; it would be a denial of justice.

v) If his parents are not properly represented, D will also be prejudiced. He is entitled to a fair trial; he will not have a fair trial if his parents do not, for any distortion of the process may distort the outcome. Moreover, he is entitled to an appropriately speedy trial, for section 1(2) of the 1989 Act and section 1(3) of the 2002 Act both enjoin the court to bear in mind that in general any delay in coming to a decision is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare. So delay in arranging for the parents’ representation is likely to prejudice the child. Putting the point more generally, the court in a case such as this is faced with an inescapable, and in truth insoluble, tension between having to do justice to both the parents and the child, when at best it can do justice only to one and not the other and, at worst, and more probably, end up doing justice to neither.

vi) Thus far the State has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the State itself has created – for the State has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession. This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the State leave it to private individuals to ensure that the State is not in breach of the State’s – the United Kingdom’s – obligations under the Convention? As Baker J said in the passage I have already quoted, “It is unfair that legal representation in these vital cases is only available if the lawyers agree to work for nothing.

The President then threw down the gauntlet in no uncertain fashion, in a fashion presaged in his earlier decision in Q v Q [2014] EWFC 7, and directed a further hearing:

36  … at which, assuming that the parents still do not have legal aid, I shall decide whether or not their costs are to be funded by one, or some, or all of (listing them in no particular order) the local authority, as the public authority bringing the proceedings, the legal aid fund, on the basis that D’s own interests require an end to the delay and a process which is just and Convention compliant, or Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, on the basis that the court is a public authority required to act in a Convention compliant manner.

37. Copies of this judgment, and of the order I made following the hearing on 8 October 2014, will accordingly be sent to the Lord Chancellor, the Legal Aid Agency, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, inviting each of them to intervene in the proceedings to make such submissions as they may think appropriate. If they choose not to intervene, I shall proceed on the basis of the conclusions expressed in this judgment, in particular as I have set them out in paragraph 31.

[1] It should also be noted that the solicitor, Rebecca Stevens of Withy King had spent in excess of 100 hours, all unremunerated, working to resolve the issue of the father’s entitlement to legal aid. As the President noted, ‘This is devotion to the client far above and far beyond the call of duty’.