Exeter Family Court Clinic Needs you!

The Exeter Family Court Clinic (or EFCC) was launched in May 2017 to provide limited free support to LiPs. We need more volunteers to help with this new initiative.

The clinic runs monthly at the Exeter Combined Court offering legal advice and support to LiPs involved in child arrangements or domestic violence proceedings by means of short pre-booked appointments. It is not extended to cover LiPs in financial remedy or care proceedings and does not involve court representation.

The aim of the clinic is to help prepare LiPs for hearings and raise awareness of how the Family Court works.

The development of the clinic has been driven by barristers and solicitors, who work in partnership with the Personal Support Unit (PSU) in Exeter and the Bar Pro Bono Unit.

At present we have 23 lawyers signed up, volunteering at least a half-day a year to the scheme but due to the demands of the service, we need more!

If you are a family solicitor, legal executive or barrister of over 1 years PQE and would like to support the clinic, please contact Carol Mashembo, Magdalen Chambers on 01392 285200 or email cmashembo@magdalenchambers.co.uk

We are having an EFCC stand at Exeter Combined Court on 8th November 2017 during Pro Bono Week. Please come and say hello!

Magdalen Chambers are again ranked as a leading set by the Legal 500

Magdalen Chambers is thoroughly delighted to announce that for the fourth successive year we have been rated as a leading set on the Western Circuit by the prestigious Legal 500 directory. The authors mentioned chambers specialism in civil and family law, and our key practice areas of family finance and public children law matters.

They say the family team at Magdalen Chambers is ‘very strong with respect to financial and children work’. In public children law matters, the set has seen a recent increase in instructions involving sexual abuse and non-accidental injuries. They also praise chambers for being equally adept in planning, commercial and insolvency matters”, and for our expertise in property law.

In addition to chambers leading set ranking, 9 individual members were praised by clients for their work in their respective fields, and ranked in tier 1 on the Western Circuit for their expertise.

The editors of the Legal 500 singled out the following areas of law as being particular strengths of chambers’ practice:

  • Commercial, Banking, Insolvency and Chancery Law;
  • Construction, Planning and Environment;
  • Family and Children Law;
  • Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence;
  • Property Law

The members of chambers individually recognised by the directory as being in the top tier of practitioners are:

  • Joint Head of Chambers Michael Berkley for Commercial, Banking, Insolvency and Chancery law, and is described as “A robust advocate with a very good bedside manner” and for his work in Property law they say “Clients are reassured by his confident demeanour”.
  • Joint Head of Chambers Christopher Naish in the field of Family and Children law was described as “Very intelligent, calm, personable, courteous, analytical and thorough”
  • Rupert Chapman, Head of the Family team, was “Recommended for financial remedy cases and private law children matters”
  • Tony Ward recognised for his expertise in family work is also described as “Very experienced in financial disputes”.
  • Head of the Regulatory, Public and Administrative team, Gavin Collett was ranked in tier one, with the editors mentioning that “His practice encompasses planning, highways, and rights of way” and that “he made a successful challenge to the Secretary of State in the High Court”
  • William Hopkin, who heads up the Commercial team, was praised for being “Extremely able at assimilating complex information quickly”
  • Head of the Civil team, and leading property barrister, Russell James was described as having “a niche practice in homelessness law”
  • Carol Mashembo, a senior member of the family team, recognised in tier 1, has been described as “Experienced in cases involving same-sex families”.
  • Jonathan O’Neill was praised as “A specialist in personal injury matters” and for his expertise in property law as “An impressive cross-examiner”

In addition to the plaudits received by chambers’ members, two of our clerking team are mentioned in this years’ publication. Senior Clerk, James Basden and civil clerk Harry Turner were praised by clients for providing “a very effective personable service and are also very commercial in terms of fees” and that solicitors would “thoroughly recommend them”.

Burden of Proof under the Equality Act 2010 and Adverse Inferences

Burden of Proof under the Equality Act 2010 and Adverse Inferences: Efobi v Royal Mail Group Limited (Judgment handed down on 10 August 2017). 

Prior to the advent of the Equality Act 2010 the burden of proof under the earlier legislation was stated by the Court of Appeal in Igen v Wong [2005] EWCA Civ 142. The first stage was that the Claimant had to prove facts from which the tribunal could conclude in the absence of an adequate explanation that the respondent has committed, or is treated as having committed, the unlawful act of discrimination. If that initial burden was established by the Claimant, the legislation then required the Respondent to show that unlawful discrimination had not occurred.

Section 136 of the Equality Act 2010 provides:

“136 Burden of proof

(1)     This section applies to any proceedings relating to a contravention of this Act.

(2)     If there are facts from which the court could decide, in the absence of any other explanation, that a person (A) contravened the provision concerned, the court must hold that the contravention occurred.

(3)     But subsection (2) does not apply if A shows that A did not contravene the provision.

…”

It is of note that the explanatory notes referred to in the Preamble of the Act state that “…the burden of proving his or her case starts with the claimant. Once the claimant has established sufficient facts, which in the absence of any other explanation point to a breach having occurred, the burden shifts to the respondent to show that he or she did not breach the provisions of the Act…”

In Efobi v Royal Mail Group Ltd UKEAT/0203/16/DA, a race discrimination case under the Equality Act 2010, the EAT considered the interpretation of S136 after the tribunal at first instance applied Igen v Wong. The EAT held that section 136 does not put any burden on the Claimant and that it was explicit in not placing any burden on the Claimant. S136 requires the Tribunal to consider all the evidence, from all sources, at the end of the hearing so as to decide whether or not there are facts, from which in the absence of an explanation, it could conclude that there had been discrimination. This therefore means that S136 prohibits a submission of no case to answer at the close of the Claimant’s case because the Tribunal has to evaluate all of the evidence, including that of the Respondent, before considering whether there is sufficient evidence to require the Respondent to show that discrimination did not occur.

Laing DBE J acknowledged that this was not the way the Explanatory Notes to the Equality Act 2010 interpreted S136 and although they can be used to aid construction of the statute they cannot be treated as reflecting the will of Parliament, which is to be deduced from the language of the statue in question. It was further acknowledged that this was not the way that the burden of proof had been understood in cases starting with Igen v Wong but the statutory provisions under consideration in those cases were worded differently to the Equality Act 2010.

Efobi is also a salutary warning to Respondents that choose, without explanation, not to adduce evidence of matters in their own knowledge in that they run the risk that the Tribunal may draw an adverse inference when considering whether S136(2) has been satisfied. In Efobi there was very little evidence adduced before the Tribunal as to the race and national origins of the successful candidates and the Respondent had not called, as witnesses, any of the staff who made decisions in relation to Claimant’s application for promotion. Although not referred to as part of Laing J’s discussion, Lord Sumption’s Judgment in Prest v Petrodel Resources Ltd [2013] UKSC 34 and Wisniewski v Central Manchester Health Authority CA [1998] PIQR P324 were cited in argument.

In Wisniewski, a clinical negligence case in which the Senior House Officer on call did not give evidence, Brooke LJ derived the following principles in relation to inferences:

(1)       In certain circumstances a court may be entitled to draw adverse inferences from the absence or silence of a witness who might be expected to have material evidence to give on an issue in an action.

(2)      If a court is willing to draw such inferences they may go to strengthen the evidence adduced on that issue by the other party or to weaken the evidence, if any, adduced by the party who might reasonably have been expected to call the witness.

(3)       There must, however, have been some evidence, however weak, adduced by the former on the matter in question before the court is entitled to draw the desired inference: in other words, there must be a case to answer on that issue.

(4)       If the reason for the witness’s absence or silence satisfies the court then no such adverse inference may be drawn. If, on the other hand, there is some credible explanation given, even if it is not wholly satisfactory, the potentially detrimental effect of his/her absence or silence may be reduced or nullified.

Conclusion

Efobi has not only clarified that there is not a burden of proof on the Claimant as part of S136(2) but has also highlighted the need for Respondents to adduce evidence if they do not want to run the risk of an adverse inference being drawn as to why a witness has not been called or why disclosure of other evidence has not been provided. It should, however, be noted that before an inference on any particular issue can be drawn there must be some evidence before the court or tribunal on that issue. Accordingly, Efobi is a clear warning to Respondents who do not call alleged discriminators, in the absence of a good explanation, to give evidence.

Permission to appeal has been sought from the Court of Appeal and a Judicial Decision on the papers is currently awaited.

James Bax

Magdalen Chambers

 

Can I make this Order?

It not infrequently happens that a District Judge, when being asked to approve a Consent Order in financial remedy proceedings involving the transfer of property, questions the jurisdictional basis for an order that one party releases the other from the mortgage on the property and indemnifies the other party thereto.

The recent decision of Mr Justice Mostyn CH v WH [2017] EWHC 2379 (Fam) confirms that such an order is permissible and explains why.

The previous practice (and, perhaps for some, a continuing practice) was to include the release and indemnification provisions by way of an undertaking.

No doubt that practice arose from Livesey v Jenkins [1985] AC 424 at 444G, where Lord Brandon stated that there was nothing in section 23 or 24 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which directly empowered the court to make an order requiring (in that case) the wife, following the transfer of the matrimonial home to her by the husband, to be solely responsible for the mortgage and all other outgoings on it. Lord Brandon said this should have been incorporated in undertakings.

However, in the case of CH v WH [2017] EWHC 2379 (Fam), Mr Justice Mostyn has sent a clear message that “sterile, technical objections to orders in these terms must cease”.

The case before him concerned a draft final consent order which had been rejected by a Deputy District Judge and District Judge on the ground that the Family Court lacked the power to order that “each party must use his or her best endeavours to procure the release of the other party from the mortgage on the property that he or she received and, in any event, must indemnify that other party against liability thereunder”. Both Judges it would appear decided that such an order fell outside the ambit of the Matrimonial Causes Act.

The order under scrutiny had been drafted in accordance with the Financial Remedies Omnibus which can be found here.

Mostyn J accepted that the wording of sections 23 and 24 taken literally does not make provision for the court to make orders of this nature. However, he referred to section 30, which gives the court power when making a property adjustment order to direct that the matter be referred to conveyancing counsel to settle a proper instrument to be executed by all necessary parties. Mostyn J observed that such an instrument could “contain terms which furnish all necessary indemnities and the obligations to pay instalments in relation to a mortgage secured on the property”. He therefore did not accept that such an order was outside the Matrimonial Causes Act.

However, his main reason for disagreeing with the approach taken by the District Judges can be found in the rationale explained at paragraph 84 of the Financial Remedies Working Group’s first report dated 31st July 2014 where it was stated:

‘A number of those responding to the consultation process queried whether, in relation to mortgage payments and other household outgoings, the court had power to direct one party to make such payments and/or indemnify the other against non-payment. Such obligations have traditionally been included as undertakings, but their inclusion as directions in the draft standard orders implied that the court had such powers when undertakings were not offered. Mostyn J has expressed the following view in justification of this inclusion:-

“Under the new s31E(1)(a) MFPA 1984 in any proceedings in the family court, the court may make any order which could be made by the High Court if the proceedings were in the High Court. The High Court has power to order or decree an indemnity. This is an equitable remedy originally vested in the Court of Chancery which was subsumed into the High Court by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873. It was the very relief initially ordered in Salomon v A Salomon and Co Ltd [1897] AC 22 (but which was later set aside by the House of Lords as offending the rule about the separate legal personality of companies). As to mortgage and other outgoings in my view the power to order A to make payment to B plainly includes the power to order A to make payments on behalf of B.  The greater includes the lesser. It was necessary to spell out the power to order the payment of mortgage and other outgoings in Part IV FLA 1996 proceedings (see s40(1)(a)) because the wider direct power does not exist in those proceedings. It would be anomalous if the power to order payment of outgoings only existed in Part 4 but not FR proceedings. It is necessary in my view for the court to have these powers if only to cover the position if someone is not prepared to give the necessary undertakings or is not participating in the proceedings.”‘

Moreover, Mostyn J stated that the Family Court has all the powers of the High Court, which includes the equitable power to order an indemnity and an injunction in support of a legal right. An order to indemnify the other party in respect of a mortgage to use his or her best endeavours to keep up the payments on that mortgage is of the nature of an injunction in support of a legal right. Mostyn J stated that this provision is squarely within the power of the High Court to order and is therefore within the power of the Family Court.

This Judgment is a very useful resource to financial remedy practitioners to reassure the Family Court of its power to make an order requiring release from a mortgage and indemnification thereto.