Domestic Abuse in the Family Courts: A Changing Landscape?

The Court of Appeal has handed down judgment in 4 joined cases considering the approach of the Family Court to the issue of domestic abuse. In a case that attracted substantial comment in the media, and which was live tweeted to the public by legal bloggers (as well as being conducted entirely remotely on a live stream) the Conducted a wide-ranging review of the approach of the Family Court to cases involving Domestic Abuse.

Some context

For some time, there has been controversy about the perceived failure of the Family Courts to protect alleged victims of domestic abuse and their children from the dual harm of an abusive partner/parent and a traumatic court process. Some very public judgments criticising the way in which hearings were dealt with led to outrage in the media and wider public and, it must be said, to successful appeals and enhanced training.

Domestic abuse cases are far from rare. As the President observed, in 2019/2020 there were 55,253 private law children applications and at least 40% of them raised issues of domestic abuse. While the Court noted that the number of appeals in such cases is small it was still a cause of deep unease: in such cases the stakes are high but access to legal representation is limited since they were removed from the scope of legal aid by The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). While each of the appellants (all mothers and alleged victims of some form of domestic abuse) had legal aid, none of the respondents (fathers accused of being perpetrators of that abuse) did, and all were represented by lawyers acting for free (pro bono).

Against this background Re H-N and Others (Children) (Domestic abuse: finding of fact hearings) [2021] EWCA Civ 448 combined 4 different appeals against orders made by three different Circuit Judges into a single hearing. Various women’s rights organisations, Cafcass, Rape Crisis, Families Need Fathers and the Association of Lawyers for Children were all joined as intervenors. The Court roamed well beyond the facts of the individual cases and looked at the process, at Practice Direction 12J of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 which governs the procedure in domestic abuse cases, and at the wider approach to the fact-finding exercise.

The appeals

All four appeals involved domestic abuse. In all four cases there were issues raised about the findings or lack of findings which were made, with criticisms including the manner in which the Judges had dealt with the alleged victims and the impact of coercive and controlling behaviour.

The developing attitude of the Courts to domestic abuse

Having set out the historical development of English law’s approach to domestic abuse, the Court turned to the issue of coercive and controlling behaviour. The President cited with approval the judgment of Hayden J in F v M [2021] EWFC 4:

“4. …The nature of the allegations included in support of the application can succinctly and accurately be summarised as involving complaints of ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ on F’s part. In the Family Court, that expression is given no legal definition. In my judgement, it requires none. The term is unambiguous and needs no embellishment. Understanding the scope and ambit of the behaviour however, requires a recognition that ‘coercion’ will usually involve a pattern of acts encompassing, for example, assault, intimidation, humiliation and threats. ‘Controlling behaviour’ really involves a range of acts designed to render an individual subordinate and to corrode their sense of personal autonomy. Key to both behaviours is an appreciation of a ‘pattern’ or ‘a series of acts’, the impact of which must be assessed cumulatively and rarely in isolation. There has been very little reported case law in the Family Court considering coercive and controlling behaviour. I have taken the opportunity below, to highlight the insidious reach of this facet of domestic abuse. My strong impression, having heard the disturbing evidence in this case, is that it requires greater awareness and, I strongly suspect, more focused training for the relevant professionals.”

Coercive and controlling behaviour has been a central part of the definition of domestic abuse within PD12J for some years now and will be a familiar concept to anyone who practices in this area of law. The President acknowledged that:

“31… coercive and/or controlling behaviour by one party may cause serious emotional and psychological harm to the other members of the family unit, whether or not there has been any actual episode of violence or sexual abuse. In short, a pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour can be as abusive as or more abusive than any particular factual incident that might be written down and included in a schedule in court proceedings (see ‘Scott Schedules’ at paragraph 42 -50). It follows that the harm to a child in an abusive household is not limited to cases of actual violence to the child or to the parent. A pattern of abusive behaviour is as relevant to the child as to the adult victim.”

At the same time, the Court recognised that “not all directive, assertive, stubborn or selfish behaviour will be ‘abuse’ in the context of proceedings concerning the welfare of a child; much will turn on the intention of the perpetrator of the alleged abuse and on the harmful impact of the behaviour”. No marriage is perfect, and where some bad behaviour is alleged which is not ‘used to harm, punish or frighten’ or make the victim subordinate it is unlikely to be relevant.

However, a failure to consider the potential impact of coercive and controlling behaviour, and to look at the allegations in the round to establish a pattern, led to two of the appeals against findings of fact to be upheld – an unusual outcome, as did an undue focus on the intention of the perpetrator as opposed to the impact of the behaviour on the victim in another.

The Court’s approach

The issue that the court sought to address in the context of coercive and controlling behaviour, however, was how to approach those cases where what is alleged is a pattern of behaviour which can be somewhat nebulous and not capable of summing up in a series of distinct index events. The Court routinely lists separate ‘fact-finding’ hearings to establish the truth or otherwise of allegations. Where there are specific and serious individual allegations of physical or sexual violence the approach is straightforward: set them out as if an indictment and then address them in turn. The allegations are often so serious individually that their relevance is obvious. Where coercive and controlling behaviour is alleged it is less straightforward. The incidents alone may be relatively minor, but together they have a cumulative affect over time. It was suggested that the standard practice was no longer fit for purpose in dealing with such cases.

Fact-finding hearings

The Court reviewed the guidance within PD12J on when it is appropriate to hold a separate fact-finding hearing in cases where domestic abuse is raised as an issue. The President observed that the Court should only determine those issues which it is necessary to determine in order to dispose of the case – there is not a right to litigate every issue which each party wishes to be heard. The proper approach to the decision on whether to hold a fact-finding is therefore (paragraph 37 of the judgment):

  • Consider the nature of the allegations and the extent they are likely to be relevant to any order which is made (PD12J.5);
  • Keep in mind that the purpose of the exercise is to assess risk and the impact of the alleged abuse on the children (PD12J.16);
  • Consider whether a separate hearing is ‘necessary’ and in particular whether there is other evidence which addresses the point adequately without such a hearing (such as a conviction or admission), and the relevance of the issues at hand (PD12J.17);
  • Consider whether a separate hearing is necessary and proportionate, with reference to the overriding objective and the President’s Guidance in The Road Ahead’.

This is, essentially, a restatement of the law as it stands. It is obvious that some forms of behaviour will be highly relevant and should be at the centre of the Court’s consideration of risk. Identifying and addressing the risks posed by a range of abusive behaviours is key to child welfare. But it is equally obvious that the Court is not ‘a Court of morals’ in the position of passing judgment on every ill-considered or objectionable act by a party to a relationship which inevitably has fallen apart in some acrimony.

While the Courts have not always had the most enlightened approach to domestic abuse, and while continual attention to the changing understanding of its impact is needed, not everything which one party to a relationship found upsetting will pose a risk to the welfare of children. Nor is the Court there to lay blame for the sad disintegration of intimate relationships. That can lead to the elevation of petty misdemeanours but also (as in one of the appeals) to an exercise in excusing abusive behaviour because the other party was not blameless. The court should assess the allegations which are relevant to the issues at stake.

Indeed, one of the appeals failed because while the disputed allegation was serious, the mother made clear that she did not seek to overturn the order for contact – only to address a finding that had been considered and rejected in the original proceedings. The issue was therefore academic, and it was not necessary to resolve the appeal. Another succeeded in part because the judge had engaged in an exercise of laying blame on one or other party and thereby minimising the abuse which had been found to have taken place.

Scott Schedules

One significant part of the judgment for practitioners is in the Court’s guidance on how to plead domestic abuse. During the parties’ submissions to the Court there was a universal feeling that the Scott Schedule was no longer suitable. For the uninitiated, a Scott Schedule sets out in tabular form each alleged incident of abuse, the response of the other party, the evidence they each rely on and the findings of the Judge. Originating from building disputes it is designed to include single items on which there is a dispute in an accessible form. Imported into Children Act proceedings a common practice is for a judge to direct a limited number of ‘incidents’ (often 6 is considered proportionate) sometimes described as the first, last, best and worst – i.e. how it all started, the most ‘serious’ incident(s), the final incident that led to protective action being taken and those with the strongest supporting evidence.

The Court of Appeal looked at two criticisms: the inability of a schedule to address the cumulative impact of coercive and controlling behaviour, and the tendency to limit the number of items to be considered.

The criticism of the more limited approach is obvious – if the allegation is of daily low-level coercive and controlling behaviour consisting of perhaps many thousands of incidents over perhaps decades of a relationship, how is that to be pleaded? Is 6 incidents of name-calling or mutual pushing and shoving during arguments in the last weeks of a relationship worse than daily ritual belittling and controlling of a person so as to destroy their spirit and make them dependent?

And how is a pattern of behaviour to be assessed if limits are placed on the number of incidents to be pleased? In a building claim each faulty item is easily identified and the Court will allow you to address each aspect of your claim. If you are a pair of Hollywood stars arguing over a libel claim you can have 16 days with a High Court Judge. But if you are a victim of domestic abuse dealing with a perpetrator who poses a risk to you and your children you are limited to only a small number of issues and potentially criticised if you then stray outside the schedule. The focus on index incidents, it was argued, skews the picture and limits the Court’s assessment of risk – the argument will always be that ‘only’ 3 or 4 or whatever number of incidents were proven, where they may be part of a pattern which is what really poses the risk.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the criticism of Scott Schedules:

“46. For our part, we see the force of these criticisms and consider that serious thought is now needed to develop a different way of summarising and organising the matters that are to be tried at a fact-finding hearing so that the case that a respondent has to meet is clearly spelled out, but the process of organisation and summary does not so distort the focus of the court proceedings that the question of whether there has been a pattern of behaviour or a course of abusive conduct is not before the court when it should be.”

As to what that format might be – pleadings as in a civil case or a threshold style document identifying types of harm and the causes of them were suggested – that issue was left to another day. In my personal experience it is now common for Scott Schedules to identify ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ or similar patterns as one of the index allegations, followed by a series of stated examples. This is sometimes criticised as a way of ‘getting around’ the limit on the number of allegations pleaded. This criticism seems inappropriate in light of the Judgment of the Court of Appeal and the recommendations in similar terms of the Harm Report. Until further guidance is received it is likely that the Scott Schedule will need to be adapted to allow a wider view of the narrative.

Controlling and Coercive Behaviour

Perhaps the most important part of the judgment relates to the approach of the Courts to controlling and coercive behaviour allegations. The Court observed that the vast majority of domestic abuse cases were underpinned by coercive and controlling behaviour. It is likely, therefore, to be central to the Court’s exercise in most domestic abuse cases. Even where there was violence it was likely to be part of a pattern of intimidation and control.

Importantly, just as the antiquated approach from the 1970s and 1980s of looking at ‘violence’ as something between the adults had rightly been left behind, so too should the approach of viewing coercive and controlling behaviour as incidents that are between the adults and ‘in the past’ and therefore irrelevant.

That the parties are separated and therefore not in a position where physical or sexual violence can be perpetrated does not address the underlying patterns of behaviour that are the foundation of domestic abuse. The Court observed that the patterns and attitudes that lead to abusive behaviour are likely to find a different outlet if not addressed and therefore to pose a risk, even if the route to a repetition of the past behaviour is closed off by separation or injunctions. A judge who fails to consider the issue of coercive and controlling behaviour is therefore likely to fall into error and expose themselves to an appeal.

The Courts should, it was held (paragraph 56), look less at individual incidents (unless they are obviously of significant concern in their own right) and more at the pattern of behaviour. The Court of Appeal considered this may restrict the length of the exercise and ease the burden on the courts. How a judge is to find as a fact that a pattern of behaviour has occurred without establishing a series of examples of that behaviour remains to be seen. The Court’s guidance was that:

  • The focus should be on issues relevant to the proceedings, and necessary to provide a basis for the assessment of risk and the overall welfare analysis;
  • Only those allegations which it is necessary to resolve should be listed for determination; and
  • In every case where domestic abuse is alleged the parties should be asked to describe (orally or in a statement) the overall experience of being in a relationship with each other.
  • Where coercive and controlling behaviour is alleged, that should be the primary issue for determination. Any specific factual allegations should be selected because of their potential probative relevance to that issue unless they are so serious as to require resolution (for example rape allegations).

The relevance of the criminal law

Since the case of Re R (Children) (Care Proceedings) [2018] EWCA Civ 198 there has been debate about the relevance of criminal law concepts to Children Act cases. In many cases the allegations made could easily constitute a criminal offence. In some cases, there will have been criminal proceedings resulting in acquittal – a cause of consternation to some that the allegations can be resurrected in a different court with a different standard of proof.

In Re R the Court of Appeal held that it was wrong for the Family Court to engage in debates about whether the alleged abuse constituted a criminal offence. The focus should be on the broad canvas of narrative not the specific detail of an alleged crime. In criminal proceedings no findings of fact per se are made – the jury decides whether a person is guilty or not in relation to the offence as pleaded in the indictment. The issue in Family Proceedings is very different. The Court needs to establish what has happened and how and then assess the risks arising from that.

So far so sensible. The result, however, has been a degree of confusion. As Cobb J observed in F v M [2019] EWHC 3177 (Fam) it is the focus on the ingredients of an offence (for example defences to an established offence or the constituent aspects making up the offence of rape) which was the error envisaged in Re R. The Family Court is ill-placed to consider whether some specific legal defence would be available to a charge in the criminal court, and even where a party may not be guilty of an offence, their conduct may be such as to give rise to genuine risk and real harm. As such it would remain relevant to the welfare exercise even if not a criminal act.

In some cases, however, the Court has become focussed on the language and this was addressed by the Court of Appeal. The contortion of a judge stating that a party or a legal representative let alone a judge is not allowed to use the word ‘rape’ for example but rather must refer to ‘non-consensual sex’ so as to avoid straying into criminal concepts is troubling. What does it say to the victim? They will understand their experience as rape, but a judge is telling them that it is not. They will be left with the understandable feeling that their experience is somehow not so serious. It is artificial, insulting and harmful to victims and was deprecated by the Court of Appeal, who stated that nothing in Re R should cause the courts to shy away from the use of such colloquial language to describe behaviour found to have taken place. The restriction on the consideration of criminal concepts should also not prevent the consideration by the court of procedural matters drawn from the criminal law, such as the relevance of past sexual conduct of the accuser.

The Future

This is not the end of the story for Domestic Abuse cases. In the past 12 months both the Harm Panel Report (MOJ: Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases) and the President’s Private Law Working Group have published detailed reports that are being piloted in Family Courts. They reflect a move away from the adversarial contest between two parties towards a more investigative approach.

It is worth noting that the current position is itself an evolution. The Court observed that as recently as 1976 the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Homes Act required evidence of actual bodily harm before a power of arrest could be attached to an injunction. In the 1980s ‘domestic violence’ was considered a matter between the adults which was irrelevant to the welfare of children. In 2000 the conjoined appeals in Re L (Contact: Domestic Violence); Re V (Contact: Domestic Violence); Re M (Contact: Domestic Violence); Re H (Contact: Domestic Violence) [2000] EWCA Civ 194 brought heightened awareness of the importance of domestic abuse and its relevance to child welfare, and since then the introduction of PD12J has codified the required best practice, within which domestic abuse is given a wide definition including coercive and controlling behaviour. As society’s approach to domestic abuse evolves, so too does the Court’s.

It is also worth noting that the Courts currently face unprecedented resource restrictions, exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Fact-finding hearings are routinely listed for 1 or 2 days, perhaps 3 at most. At least one party is often unrepresented. Lists are busy and the number of judges available restricted. Establishing patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour through many relatively ‘minor’ incidents takes time and care. The challenge for the courts will be to undertake the forensic exercise envisaged by the Court of Appeal within these constraints. Time will tell whether that is possible.

Rupert Chapman

Magdalen Chambers

31 March 2021

A Practical Guide to Non-Party Costs Orders – Author Charles Shwenn

Chambers would like to congratulate Charles Shwenn on the publication of his book by Law Brief Publishing: A Practical Guide to Non-Party Costs Orders. This is a valuable tool for practitioners as well as companies, insurers and commercial litigation funders. Family practitioners who practice in the area of TOLATA may also find this guide of use.

Orders that a non-party to litigation shall pay the costs of that litigation have become increasingly prevalent since the court’s power to make them was confirmed in 1986. Though judges have a wide discretion in this regard, the jurisprudence that has developed on this topic offers important guidance as to its exercise. It is important for practitioners to understand these principles so that they can be alert to the possibility of recovering their costs from a non-party and when their clients might themselves be susceptible.

Charles Shwenn is a member of the civil team in chambers and maintains a broad commercial chancery practice. He has a particular interest in the law of costs and civil procedure, on which he regularly writes and advises.

This book can be purchased from Amazon using the following link. Practical Guide to Non-Party Costs Orders

Court of Appeal Finds That The Stay On Possession Proceedings Due To Covid-19 Is Lawful

On 11 May 2020, the Court of Appeal gave judgment in the appeal of Arkin v Marshall [2020] EWCA Civ 620, which was concerned with whether or not the stay on possession proceedings due to last until 25 June 2020 is lawful.

The Court of Appeal held that Practice Direction 51Z is a pilot, is lawful and is compatible with article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court of Appeal also considered whether a court has the power to lift the stay and said that “although as a matter of strict jurisdiction a judge retains a theoretical power to lift any stay, it would almost always be wrong in principle to use it. We do not, however, rule out that there might be the most exceptional circumstances in which a stay could be lifted, in particular if it operated to defeat the expressed purposes of PD 51Z itself.”

The Court of Appeal also provided some helpful clarification on the effect of the stay on directions in possession claims. It explained that the provision in the Practice Direction that disapplies the stay for “an application for case management directions which are agreed by all the parties” (paragraph 2A(c)) is for the purpose of applying to the court to have agreed directions embodied in a court order “and nothing more”. This will allow parties to agree dates that post date the end of the stay thereby ensuring that the case is not delayed for a directions hearing or for directions to be agreed after the stay expires. The parties may also agree to take certain steps, such as voluntary disclosure during the stay, but the court cannot require them to do so. Furthermore, a party cannot apply to enforce compliance with agreed directions during the stay, but will be able to rely on any failure to do what was agreed once the stay is lifted and the court is looking at making any revised directions.

Private FDR – Frequently Asked Questions – Covid 19 and beyond

Given the understandable delays in the Court system brought on by the Covid-19 crisis we have seen an unprecedented number of enquiries about our Private FDR service.  Even more so following the encouragement of the judiciary both locally Financial Remedy Work During Lockdown  and nationally Presidents Guidance Covid 19 for parties to consider Private FDRs as a means to resolve their cases.

To assist those who are considering a Private FDR we list below some of the questions our clerks are being asked most frequently:

  1. How much does it cost?

At Magdalen Chambers we pride ourselves in making the legal process accessible.  We offer a range of options tailored to the level of complexity of each case.

In most cases an experienced Private FDR Judge can be provided for between £1,000 and £2,000 for the day.  This cost is shared between the parties unless otherwise agreed

  1. How quickly can the Private FDR take place?

Subject to availability a hearing can normally be arranged within two weeks – complex cases will, as a rule, require longer to prepare.  However where there is an urgent need for matters to be resolved quickly every attempt will be made to assist the parties to do so.

  1. Can the hearing be conducted remotely?

All our Private FDR Judges and Barristers are able to work remotely.  We find that the most effective way to conduct an FDR is by one of the available video platforms.  The parties will generally just require access to a computer and broadband.  Our clerks will speak to both parties to identify the best platform to work on.

  1. What if one party is unable to use video-conferencing technology?

We have video-conferencing facilities in Chambers available upon request to parties taking part in a Private FDR organised by Magdalen Chambers.  Use of the facilities will be subject to strict safety criteria which will be discussed with the party upon request.

  1. How long will the Private FDR last?

Like the ideal court based FDR a Private FDR will normally be scheduled to start early in the day.  Unlike a court based FDR the Private FDR Judge will then be available exclusively to the parties for the whole day.  To maximise the chances of settlement the parties should also make themselves available all day.  On occasions where a second day of input would be of benefit this can be arranged.

  1. What if one of the parties has to work Monday to Friday?

We understand that during the national Covid-19 crisis those who are currently able to work may find it difficult to take time off.  Therefore whilst the current situation persists our Judges and Barristers are available to work outside of the traditional Monday to Friday working week where necessary.

  1. Is every case suitable for a Private FDR?

The aim of an FDR is to find a way to settle proceedings by consent.  In the current economic climate the future may simply be too uncertain for the parties to reach an agreement.  This can be discussed with the Private FDR Judge before a booking is made.  Alternatively parties may wish to have the input of a Private FDR Judge to settle some of the issues in a case whilst leaving other issues to be resolved after the crisis has abated.

Have you had your court hearing about your children adjourned or cancelled because of Covid-19? Do you need a decision now about your child?

There is an alternative which is quicker and more economical than the court, and is legally binding. It is called the Children’s Arbitration Scheme. Specially qualified children specialists are able to make legally binding decisions under this scheme which have the same effect as a court order. The difference is, this can be done with one or two hearings at a fraction of the cost of court proceedings. Both parties have to agree to this process and it has to be approved by the Arbitrator as suitable for arbitration.

Our Children’s Arbitrator is Sarah Evans, who also sits as a Deputy District Judge. If you need legal representation we can also offer specialist direct access barristers within Magdalen Chambers who are all totally independent and can assist you at the arbitration hearings and behind the scenes.

We can operate remotely during this time and have an in-house video conferencing suite for this purpose.

Contact us to check if your case would come within the scope of the scheme by emailing clerks@magdalenchambers.co.uk

For more information visit:
Ifla.org.uk
http://ifla.org.uk/divi/wp-content/uploads/Children-Scheme-Rules.pdf

Eviction, Unlawful Eviction & Covid-19

Recent media reports and social media excerpts suggest there has been an increase in attempts by landlords during the current Covid-19 (Coronavirus) crisis to evict their tenants including one national report of a landlord attempting to evict a paramedic by text. This article answers in brief some of the questions that tenants and landlords may have in an already worrying time.

What process should a landlord follow if they wish to evict lawfully?

Most tenants with a private landlord have an assured shorthold tenancy (there are exceptions, for example, if the landlord lives in the same property with the tenant). If a tenant has such a tenancy, the landlord can usually only evict the tenant lawfully if it serves a notice under either section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (a no fault eviction process) or section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 (where the landlord says the tenant is at fault such as because of rent arrears) and obtains a court order and gets the bailiff to enforce any possession order.

Are there any measures currently in place to prevent a landlord evicting during the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) crisis?

The government and judiciary have taken steps to prevent a landlord from evicting a tenant during the current pandemic.

The government has changed the law so that the notice that a landlord needs to serve on the tenant as a prerequisite to any possession claim (regardless of type of tenancy) is now 3 months (section 81 and schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2020). This change in the law, at the time of writing, will continue until 30 September 2020.

The judiciary has introduced a new Practice Direction to the Civil Procedure Rules (Practice Direction 51Z) to stay (put on hold) all possession proceedings and action to enforce any possession order for 90 days from 27 March 2020.

What can a tenant do if a landlord seeks to unlawfully evict?

Unlawful eviction is a criminal offence so a tenant can contact the police for assistance. If it is suggested that this is a civil matter only, the tenant should refer the police to section 1 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

Unlawful eviction also gives rise to a civil cause of action. A tenant who is unlawfully evicted can seek an injunction from the court ordering the landlord to reinstate the tenant to the property and can claim damages (compensation) for the unlawful eviction. A solicitor, Shelter or a Law Centre will be able to assist with such a claim and legal aid is available if the tenant qualifies in terms of means (income).

What are the consequences for a landlord who unlawfully evicts?

A landlord who unlawfully evicts his or her tenant is guilty of a criminal offence unless he or she proves that he or she had reasonable cause to believe that the tenant had ceased to occupy the premises. This offence is punishable by a sentence of up to 2 years in prison.

A landlord who unlawfully evicts could also face proceedings in the civil court. The first and most immediate remedy that will be sought by the tenant is an urgent injunction to reinstate the tenant and notwithstanding the Coronavirus crisis the courts are likely to deal with such injunction applications urgently. In addition, a tenant can make a claim for damages (compensation). A recent Court of Appeal decision acknowledged that awards for damages for unlawful eviction are generally between £100 and £300 per day. This author suggests that in the current climate awards are likely to be towards the upper end of that range. In addition, an unlawfully evicted tenant can seek exemplary and aggravated damages, which altogether can be in the thousands of pounds.

What can a landlord do about a tenant who is acting in an anti-social manner or committing a nuisance in these unprecedented times?

Injunctions remain available and are not subject to the stay that has been imposed on possession proceedings. Social Landlords and Local Authorities can seek an injunction under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014. A private landlord can seek an injunction to enforce the terms of the tenancy agreement so, as long as the landlord has a good and comprehensive tenancy agreement, he or she can take action in the event of a breach to enforce the terms.

Does Coronavirus affect the tenant’s obligation to pay rent?

Coronavirus is likely to have a significant impact on the incomes of both landlords and tenants, but the contractual obligation on the tenant to pay the rent remains the same. Those landlords and tenants that are struggling financially should communicate with one another (by phone, email or letter in the current climate of restrictions) as this is far more likely to promote understanding and a good landlord and tenant relationship.

For landlords, during this uncertain period the government has stated that it “will ensure that support is available where it is needed for landlords” and there is a 3 month mortgage payment holiday available where landlords have a buy to let mortgage.

For tenants, the government has introduced various support measures depending on whether you are employed or self-employed and more information on these can be found on the government website or through citizens advice.

Magdalen Chambers has specialist Housing and Property Litigation Teams that remain fully functional during these difficult times and are able to advise tenants and landlords alike on any issues they are facing. In the event that you need assistance in any such matters we can be contacted on our usual telephone number 01392 285200

Parental consent and the deprivation of liberty of 16 and 17 year old children

On 26 September the Supreme Court gave judgement In the matter of D (A Child) [2019] UKSC 42. The case considers the scope of parental responsibility to consent to the living arrangements for children which would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty.

By way of background, D was born in 1999. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and Tourette’s syndrome, and has a mild learning disability. When he was 14 he was admitted to a hospital providing mental health services, for assessment and treatment. He lived in the hospital grounds and attended a school which was integral to the unit. The external door was locked and D was accompanied whenever he left the site. The hospital trust applied to the High Court for a declaration that it was lawful for the trust to deprive D of his liberty in this way. The judge, Mr Justice Keehan, held that D was so deprived but that it was a proper exercise of parental responsibility to consent to his constant supervision and control while he was under 16.

By then, with his parents’ agreement, and with Birmingham City Council (‘the Council’) accommodating him under s 20 Children Act 1989, D had been discharged from hospital to a residential placement, where he was similarly under constant supervision and not allowed to leave the premises except for a planned activity. On his 16th birthday proceedings were issued in the Court of Protection for a declaration that the consent of D’s parents meant that he was not deprived of his liberty at the placement. Keehan J held that his parents could no longer consent to what would otherwise be a deprivation of liberty once D had reached 16, and that the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (‘MCA’) now applied. He authorised the placement, and a subsequent transfer to another similar placement, as being in D’s best interests. When D reached the age of 18 his deprivation of liberty could be authorised under the deprivation of liberty safeguards in the MCA.

The Council appeal to the Court of Appeal on the ground that parents could consent to what would otherwise be a deprivation of liberty of a 16 or 17-year-old child who lacked the capacity to decide for himself, and the MCA had no bearing on this. The Official Solicitor on behalf of D then appealed that decision. The Supreme Court by a majority of 3 to 2 allowed the appeal.

Lady Hale who gave the lead judgement set out that the issue turns on the inter-relationship between the concept of parental responsibility and the obligation of the State to protect the human rights of children under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Parental responsibility being defined in the Children Act 1989 as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property” (section 3(1)). “By law” obviously refers to the common law, but also includes those statutory provisions which give rights etc to parents, such as the Marriage Act 1949, which gives them the right to withhold consent to the marriage of a 16 or 17-year-old child (section 3).

She sets out that historically, parental rights under domestic common law were never absolute and became increasingly subject to the overriding consideration of the child’s own welfare. Quoting Lord Denning MR, In re Agar-Ellis (No 2) (1883) 24 Ch D 317, at 326:

“… the legal right of a parent to the custody of a child … is a dwindling right which the courts will hesitate to enforce against the wishes of the child, and the more so the older he is. It starts with a right of control and ends with little more than advice.”

She then considered the issue of ‘Gillick competence’ (Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech AHA [1986] 1 AC 112).  A case about whether it was lawful to give contraceptive advice and treatment to a child under 16 without her parent’s consent if she herself was capable of giving that consent. In that case the House of Lords concluded the earlier “age of discretion” cases had established the principle that children could achieve the capacity to make their own decisions before the age of majority. It was no longer, if it ever had been, correct to fix that at any particular age, rather than by reference to the capacity of the child in question.

Lady Hale commented that the MCA does not override other common law and statutory provisions relating to 16 and 17-year-old children, but it does indicate an appreciation of the different needs of this age group. She preferred to express her view on this issue by reference to the ECHR commenting; Article 5 ECHR protects children who lack the capacity to make decisions for themselves from being arbitrarily deprived of their liberty. Clearly the degree of supervision to which D was subject at the placements was not normal for a child of 16 or 17. D’s living arrangements had to be compared with those of children of the same age without disabilities, and the fact that they were made in his best interests did not mean he was not deprived of his liberty. Parental consent could not substitute for the subjective requirement under article 5 for valid consent to the deprivation.

She considered that the crux of the matter was whether the restrictions fall within normal parental control for a child of this age or do they not? If they do, they will not fall within the scope of article 5; but if they go beyond the normal parental control, article 5 will apply.

She concluded that Human rights are about the relationship between private persons and the state, and D’s deprivation of liberty in the placements was attributable to the state. There is no scope for the operation of parental responsibility to authorise what would otherwise be a violation of a fundamental human right of a child.

In her judgement, Lady Black considered that the Gillick case is not directly relevant to the issue before the court. It had to do with medical treatment and not with deprivation of liberty. It was concerned with whether a child might acquire the capacity, and the right, to make such decisions for herself before she reached the common law age of discretion, not with whether parental authority endured beyond that age if the child lacked the capacity to decide for herself. She was however careful to add “I do not intend in any way to water down the important changes brought about by Gillick or to alter the way in which it has been applied in many spheres of family law.”

Lady Black held however that as a matter of common law, parental responsibility for a child of 16 or 17 does not extend to authorising a confinement of the child in circumstances amounting to a deprivation of liberty.

 

William Hillier

Magdalen Chambers

October 2019

Recent Amendments to Practice Direction 28A and the Costs Consequences of Open Offers to Settle in Financial Remedy Proceedings.

Recent amendments to Family Procedure Rules 2010 Practice Direction 28A (PD28A) have helped clarify the Court’s approach to costs in financial remedy proceedings where one party has failed to engage reasonably in negotiations.

The relevant parts of Rule 28.3 have not changed, it is still the case that:
• The general rule in financial remedy proceedings is that the Court will not make an order for one party to pay the costs of another party (r28.3(5))
• The Court may make a costs order where it considers it appropriate to do so because of the conduct of a party in relation to the proceedings (r28.3(6))
• In deciding what order (if any) to make in respect of costs the court must have regard to the list of criteria in r28.3(7) including any open offers to settle.

Previously PD28A did not offer any further assistance to the Judge to decide what weight to give to the fact that open offers had or had not been made when assessing the ‘conduct’ of a party for the purposes of r28.3(6).

The Practice Direction has been amended as of 27th May 2019 to give greater guidance. It now states at para 4.4 that when considering a party’s litigation conduct:
“The Court will take a broad view of conduct for the purposes of this rule and will generally conclude that to refuse openly to negotiate reasonably and responsibly will amount to conduct in respect of which the Court will consider making an order for costs. This includes in a ‘needs’ case where the applicant litigates unreasonably resulting in the costs incurred by each party becoming disproportionate to the award made by the Court. Where an order for costs is made at an interim stage the Court will not usually allow any resulting liability to be reckoned as a debt in the computation of the assets.”

This amendment stops a long way short of the civil procedure style costs consequences where a failure to ‘beat’ an offer made by the other party will frequently mean paying a proportion of the other party’s costs. However it does emphasise that where a party fails to make reasonable open offers to settle they will be at risk of a costs order against them. There is specific encouragement to ensure that ‘needs’ cases are conducted reasonably and proportionately. The steer from the Practice Direction is clear, where limited resources are available to house the parties etc these resources should not be eaten up in legal costs caused by the unreasonable litigation stance of one party and unreasonable litigants even in ‘needs’ cases are at risk of costs orders.

It remains to be seen how the Court will approach such matters but this amendment makes it much clearer to parties that a failure to negotiate reasonably opens them up to adverse costs consequences.

The Family Procedure Rule Committee has also opened up consultation on the question of the treatment of Calderbank (without prejudice save as to costs) offers when determining issues relating to costs. The consultation ends on 31st October 2019 and can be found at:

https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/treatment-of-calderbank-offers-consultation/