Regarding Haringey Council’s abominable actions towards the Musa children, regarding the enforced stopping of the mutual contact visits between all the Musa children, which went totally against the judgement of another judge, HHJ Charles in 2011, HHJ Holman said at the end of his personal participation in the hearings =
“It is probable, therefore, that today is my last personal involvement in this case. I can only say that I part from it with a sense of the utmost despair that a terrible thing has happened in relation to all these children which should never, without due consideration, have been allowed to happen. “
It must be said Haringey councils flouting of the orders, along with their previous behaviour within the Musa case, showed the utmost irresponsibility and bland unprofessionalism.
Local authority seeks new identities for two children in care
Holman J calls Haringey Council to ‘pause for thought’
The London Borough of Haringey has applied for an order permitting it to change the forenames and surname of two children whom it is placing for adoption.
In London Borough of Haringey v Musa  EWHC 962 (Fam) the court heard applications concerning a sibling group of seven children. The parents are Nigerian, but have lived in England and are currently in prison serving sentences after convictions of ill-treatment of all or some of their children.
The five eldest children are all in the care of Haringey, but adoption has not been contemplated for any of them. They are currently all placed in long term foster homes in three different homes. In May 2012 placement orders were made in relation to the two youngest children. In the latter proceedings, in the view of the guardian, then representing all seven children, there needed to be “high priority” to long-term direct contact between all seven children.
Haringey sought leave to change the surname of the youngest two children to a new surname and, whilst not expressly referred to in the formal application, made “absolutely plain” that it desired to change the forenames of both those children. The local authority was fearful that unless the two youngest children were given completely new identities with completely new names, they would be tracked down by the parents and the placement potentially destabilised.
Holman J, hearing the application, said:
“[T]o change now the forenames by which a child, now almost four, has been known and has known herself throughout her whole life obviously raises considerable issues with regard to her sense of identity and self-esteem. She is old enough to appreciate that some rather radical change is being made in relation to her identity, but nowhere near old enough to understand the reasons why that is proposed. It seems to me, therefore, that in relation both these children (and especially the older of the two) the application to change their names, and particularly their forenames, is one of considerable delicacy and difficulty which will require very careful consideration by the court.”
The local authority also sought permission to terminate all direct contact between the five oldest children on the one hand and the two youngest children on the other hand.
Holman J, refusing to consider either matter in the single day which had been estimated for them, said:
“[U]ntil today it does not seem to have occurred to anyone that this is an application upon which a guardian needs to be appointed, not only for the two youngest children, but also separately for the eldest children.”
Later he said:
“It is patent that this application, in particular in relation to contact, directly engages and impacts upon both the rights and the welfare of all of them. They are currently regularly seeing their youngest two siblings. There is patently, therefore, a “family life” between all seven of them, and the rights of the five eldest children under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights are patently engaged by this case (as also are the rights under Article 8 of the two youngest children).”
“[T]hey [the local authority] need to pause for thought and to recall that at the time of the making of the placement orders the expert, … the children’s own guardian, and also the judge himself all clearly and strongly considered that high priority must be given to long-term direct contact between all seven siblings.”
Noting the delay which had already occurred, the judge fixed a further hearing specifically for directions only in just over three weeks’ time.”
The full HHJ Holman judgment is below.
From Capital Bay 18 Febuary 2014
Sir James Munby, “President of the Family Division”
Appeal judge slams decision which led to baby being taken from parents unjustly
Judges and social workers have been conspiring to remove children unjustly from their parents, scathing High Court ruling said today
•Condemned family court judges for ‘clandestine arrangement’ in which they rubber-stamped the demands of social workers without fair hearing
•By Steve Doughty
PUBLISHED: 18 February 2014
•Judges and social workers have been conspiring to remove children unjustly from their parents, a scathing High Court ruling said today.
• It condemned family court judges for a ‘clandestine arrangement’ which meant that they simply rubber-stamped the demands of social workers without giving a fair hearing to the pleas of parents.
•Rulings by family judges were ‘cut and pasted’ from recommendations emailed to the court by social workers, the High Court found.
Judges and social workers have been conspiring to remove children unjustly from their parents, a High Court ruling suggested today (stock picture)Judges and social workers have been conspiring to remove children unjustly from their parents, a High Court ruling suggested today (stock picture)
The secret dealings between council officials and local judges were revealed in a High Court appeal in which Mrs Justice Pauffley ordered that a mother be re-united with her baby.
The baby was taken by social workers following a court case described by Mrs Justice Pauffley as ‘profoundly alarming’.
The High Court judge warned that ‘the practices I have described are not confined to this area but are widespread across the country’.
She said of the case, which involved judges at an unnamed family court and social workers employed by an unnamed council: ‘It is difficult to view the justices as having been independent and impartial if, as happened here, they simply adopted the local authority’s analysis of what their findings and reasons might comprise.
‘Just because there may be tacit acceptance on the part of many professionals within the family justice system that the practice which operated here exists, that does not mean it is right.
‘It is patently wrong, must stop at once and never happen again.’
The order to end collusion between judges and social workers was endorsed yesterday by the most senior family judge, President of the Family Division Sir James Munby.
In a circular to lawyers, Sir James warned all judges and lawyers to ‘carefully consider’ the case and added that Mrs Justice Pauffley ‘had to deal with circumstances which I hope will never recur.’ The scandal over secret deals between judges and social workers is the latest upheaval in a year of growing controversy over the family courts, the closely-associated Court of Protection, and the way the public has been routinely prevented from knowing what goes on in them.
Last year the Daily Mail revealed that a judge at the Court of Protection had sent a woman to jail in secret after she refused to stop trying to remove her father from a care home where she believed his life was in danger. All information about the imprisonment of Wanda Maddocks was banned from publication until the Mail investigated the case.
In December the Court of Protection was discovered to have ordered behind closed doors that a pregnant Italian woman must undergo a compulsory caesarean operation. The mother, Alessandra Pacchieri, was later told by a family court judge, again in secret, that her baby would be taken for adoption in Essex.
The order to end collusion between judges and social workers was endorsed yesterday by the most senior family judge, President of the Family Division Sir James Munby
The order to end collusion between judges and social workers was endorsed yesterday by the most senior family judge, President of the Family Division Sir James Munby
The secrecy surrounding the two court systems is now being loosened on the instructions of Sir James, who has acted to prevent both clandestine imprisonment and the removal of children from foreign mothers by British judges.
The exposure of private arrangements between family judges and social workers was exposed following an appeal by a mother whose child was taken into care.
The 32-year-old mother, a longstanding drug and drink abuser with a history of domestic violence, had had seven previous children. Six are living with their two fathers and one is in the process of being adopted. When she became pregnant again, she was given a place in a unit run by a specialist family drugs and alcohol service.
Mrs Justice Pauffley said it was ‘plain’ that social workers took a decision in advance to remove her baby, who was born in October last year. They cited the mother’s bleak history.
Family judges first heard the case on 1 November. They were presented with an expert report on the mother, commissioned by social workers and prepared by chartered clinical psychologist Dr Celest Van Rooyen. The psychologist, who also gave ‘very strong and powerful’ evidence in person, said the baby was at risk of harm.
The judges declared that ‘the immediate risk of harm is such that his safety requires the continuing removal from his mother’s care. It is proportionate and in his best interests.’ At a second hearing a week later, the same judges said the baby should stay with foster parents because ‘he needs to form an attachment with his primary carers.’ Mrs Justice Pauffley criticised the handling of the case in blunt and uncompromising language.
She said the Van Rooyen report on the mother had been researched and written in a day and the psychologist had spoken neither to the mother nor the medical and psychological experts with whom she and the baby were living. Instead, Dr Van Rooyen had relied on documents and a phone call to a social worker.
Mrs Justice Pauffley said: ‘It surprises and alarms me that Dr Van Rooyen was asked, and was prepared, to provide a report during the course of a single working day, a terrifyingly tight timeframe, and on the basis of papers supplemented by a telephone conversation with a local authority professional who had never met the mother.
‘I struggle to understand how Dr Van Rooyen’s apparently firm opinions, adverse to the mother, could have been formed given the complete absence of any kind of discussion with her.’ The High court judge said the family court judges had not written their own ‘findings of fact and reasons’ – their ruling in the case. The entire document had instead been emailed to them by lawyers for the local council before the 1 November hearing.
John Hemming, the Lib Dem MP who has campaigned against secrecy in the family courts, said: ‘I am pleased that the senior judges are acting to stop stitch ups and “clandestine” fixing of decisions in the lower courts’
John Hemming, the Lib Dem MP who has campaigned against secrecy in the family courts, said: ‘I am pleased that the senior judges are acting to stop stitch ups and “clandestine” fixing of decisions in the lower courts’
A near-identical document was drawn up by the judges after the second hearing. Mrs Justice Pauffley said this was ‘the result, almost certainly of cutting and pasting.’ Mrs Justice Pauffley said this practice ‘has become the norm’ in local family courts.
She said she was ‘profoundly alarmed’ at the practice, which was widespread.
‘There was, apparently, an established but largely clandestine arrangement between the local authority and the court which, to my mind, has considerable repercussions for justice.’ Mrs Justice Pauffley added: ‘In public law proceedings the local authority is the applicant. It is not and should never be seen as the decision maker. That is the role of the court.
‘There is no room for confusion. Justice must be upheld. There is no scope for dilution of that fundamental concept.’
John Hemming, the Lib Dem MP who has campaigned against secrecy in the family courts, said: ‘I am pleased that the senior judges are acting to stop stitch ups and “clandestine” fixing of decisions in the lower courts.
‘What really matters, however, is getting independent evidence into the process rather than the opinion of local authority employees who are instructed in what to say by their management, who are instructed by government as to what outcomes they want.
A report of the hearing on April 11 2014 by someone who was present [not myself!!]
“Haringey are unbelievable having maintained today at the point where Mr Justice Holman intended determining the scope of the assessments that the CAFCASS officers were to conduct into contact continuing between the 5 older and the 2 younger Musa children that they had already had a farewell contact in the middle of December?!!!
Mr Justice Holman was furious as this meant that Haringey had unilaterally decided to breach a High Court order, having only submitted their application for a cessation of contact between the sibling groups on 16/1/14 yet their having allegedly pulled the plug on contact and according to them let the children know this would be their last contact a month earlier!! This advise came completely out of the blue since the judge had had a clear expectation and understanding from the social worker’s statement produced in February and from what was said at the last hearing on March19th that contact was proceeding and regular and that it was to be properly assessed.
Quoting from his judgement of 19/3/14 para8 he read out : ‘the formal order of CharlesJ dated 8thMay 2012..provides that:
“Until further order of the court… The applicant and any persons with whom(the youngest two children) are placed shall allow (the youngest two children) to together have reasonable direct contact with their siblings…” The five eldest children are then named.
Then in para 9: ‘since then, time has, of course, gone by. I understand that there is indeed regular, though not necessarily frequent, direct face-to-face contact involving all seven children. It appears that all the children enjoy and gain support from that contact.’
Then at para 14: ‘At paragraph44 of her second statement in support of this application, dated 10th February2014, the current social worker, Miss x, said as follows:
“The grief caused to the eldest five siblings at losing direct contact with their two younger siblings until they are at least 18 years of age will be painful. The job of the caring adults in their lives(their foster carers,social workers, therapists)is to help them cope with their pain and loss by conducting an ongoing narrative about their journey into care and providing them with a safe therapeutic space to talk about their feelings and emotions.”
It was clearly evident that for all these stated concerns in respect of potentially terminating contact between the children Haringey had brazenly gone ahead and terminated contact almost 4 months ago PRIOR to submitting an application to Court seeking authority to do so and Without putting in place Any of the therapeutic interventions which they maintained would be so vital if contact between the 2 sibling groups were to be terminated.
Mr Justice Holman referred to his ‘righteous anger’ at what had occurred and strenuously took Haringey to task over this however it appeared that he was ready to accept this unexpected advice Without checking it out or Verifying it via speaking to the children especially the elder child who is now 13. (I say this although I had to leave at 4.30pm to return home]
Very disappointingly as well the barrister for Gloria had met with the 2 CAFCASS officers/Guardians prior to the hearing commencing and was clearly ready to support the outcomes Haringey had set out to achieve by accepting that in the circumstances ie since contact had allegedly already been unlawfully terminated and the children purportedly told that they were having a farewell contact back in December (although no corroboration of this was provided or sought) the CAFCASS officers would not intend to visit and speak to the children or to witness contact between them.
The representative for one of the Guardian’s maintained that she was speaking entirely on behalf of the children despite the fact that the only assessment that she was proposing was to speak to the adoptive parents in respect of their views about the issue of the younger children’s names changing (including christian names) and in respect of sibling contact, the outcome of which is entirely easy to predict, and then went on to emphasise that it had taken Haringey Council 18 months to identify this adoptive couple and that if this placement fell through it would be ‘catastrophic’ for the younger 2 children and very difficult to find them an alternative adoptive placement. There is of course always the option of their not being adopted. Mr Justice Holman was not particularly impressed with this either and emphasised the fact that Haringey had been fully aware from the outset of the order of Mr Justice Charles emphasising the importance of the continuation of sibling contact and should therefore have been mindful of this when looking to find an appropriate placement for the children.
This represented another reason for the judge being enfuriated and challenging them about their submissions since he had fully intended ordering that they conduct a full assessment of contact.
Interestingly the judge’s attention had been drawn to the internet coverage of the case by the Local Authority barrister and she had rather shot herself in the foot in doing this as this opened Mr Justice Holman’e eyes to the outspoken concerns of many parties to the iniquities in respect of the management and conduct of this case.
This then led to his ignoring the Guardian’s legal representative when she maintained that it would not be in the children’s best interests for the judgements on bailii to display the family name Musa. Mr Justice Holman at this point delivered fairly lengthy and careful deliberations about the importance of freedom of expression and the public’s right to know about a case in which it was clearly taking a very close interest. He even referred to other very high profile cases which had been in the glare of the media citing the Jon Venables and Robert Thompson case (the killers of Jamie Bulger) and the Mary Bell case and stating that the public had a right to know about these cases.
He further referred to the Magna Carta ie the Great Charter of the Liberties of England in an endeavour to demonstrate the importance of the public’s right to know – in this case when the authorities themselves have clearly been up to no good.
He expanded on how he recognised this case to be of strong public interest by citing the number of websites and blogs devoted to coverage of it, plus the keen interest shown by Nigerian citizens based in the UK as evidenced by the attendance and advice of Francis Enya and the lawyer from the Nigeria High Commission plus he referred to the case having been discussed on the floor of the Nigerian parliament.
Mr Justice Holman was also highly critical of Haringey for having his judgement of 19/3/14 removed from bailii and did provide his detailed directions that ALL judgements pertaining to the Musa case should appear on bailii with the family name Musa clearly displayed plus Haringey Council named and ordered that any subsequent reproductions in any format be entitled to contain the names also.
Re the contempt of court issue whereby Haringey wilfully flouted and breached the order of Mr Justice Charles of 8/5/12 expressly advising that even after the 2 younger children had been placed they should continue to have contact with their older siblings Mr Justice Holman granted Haringey the right to draft a reply in defence of the accusations being made against them prior to his delivering his judgement on the matter. He stated that having looked into the matter he had regretfully discovered the fact that because the order of Mr Justice Charles of 8/5/12 had not contained a penal notice he would not be in a position to impose a fine upon Haringey Council for their serious wrongdoing nor indeed would he be legally entitled to seek to have those responsible prosecuted. He made it plain however that he would not tolerate this behaviour and that that the authority Would be Named and Shamed.
A further hearing at which Mr Justice Holman will deliver his outstanding judgement following receipt of Haringey Council’s submissions in defence of their actions is likely to have been agreed for some time shortly after Easter however since I was forced to leave around 4.30pm prior to the end of what should have been a fairly short hearing in order to catch my 5.30pm coach from Victoria back to Norwich I do not at this point know the further date that had been agreed nor in fact the specific directions Mr Justice Holman must inevitably have given in respect of assessments to be conducted and the dates by which these need to be concluded.”
April 11 2014.
The previous hearing to the above hearing on the 11 April, on the 3 April:
DAILY TELEGRAPH 3 APRIL 2014
Plan to give adopted children new identities to stop birth parents finding them
Social services ask High Court to give two young children new names and even cut links with other siblings to protect them from abusive parents
By John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor
03 Apr 2014
Two young children currently being placed for adoption should be given completely new identities to prevent their abusive parents tracking them down through an internet campaign, the High Court has been told.
Social workers also want to sever all contact between the children, aged two and three, and their five older brothers and sisters to make it more difficult for their parents, who are currently in prison, to re-establish contact.
But Mr Justice Holman urged caution over the “highly unusual” plan set out by social workers from Haringey, north London, and urged them to “pause for thought” despite a desire to prevent any further delay in the adoption process.
He said that while it is common for children to be given new surnames on adoption it was highly unusual to give children new first names, except occasionally for babies.
The change could, he said, have a profound effect on them, particularly on the older of the two children, a girl who is now almost four.
Secret adoption register opened to would-be parents
01 Mar 2014
Mother loses custody battle over ‘permissive’ parenting style
17 Feb 2014
He added that it was clear the plan to cut contact would also cause “grief, pain and loss” to the five other children who, although they don’t live with them, know their younger siblings and have a bond with them.
Adjourning the case for further expert input, he said he was “frankly astonished” that there had been an expectation he would reach a decision in a single day’s hearing, as previously planned.
Details of the Family Division case emerged in a judgment which has been published. The five older children, who range in age from six to 13 were all taken into care several years ago and are now in long-term foster placements.
The parents, who are Nigerian, are in prison for abuse and are banned from further contact.
But the younger pair were taken into care later and the adoption process begun.
As part of the plan Haringey social workers have proposed giving them new names and banning contact with the older children in case this enabled the parents eventually to intrude into their new lives.
“I understand that the essential reasoning and justification that lies behind that is that the parents of the children promoted a considerable campaign on the internet and in other places with regard to this case so that the names of their children have apparently gained some notoriety,” the judge explained.
“The local authority – and maybe also the prospective adopters – are fearful that unless the two youngest children are given completely new identities with completely new names, they will be tracked down and the placement potentially destabilised.”
He said that, although the plan was well intended: “To change now the forenames by which a child, now almost four, has been known and has known herself throughout her whole life obviously raises considerable issues with regard to her sense of identity and self-esteem.
“She is old enough to appreciate that some rather radical change is being made in relation to her identity, but nowhere near old enough to understand the reasons why that is proposed.
“It seems to me, therefore, that in relation both these children (and especially the older of the two) the application to change their names, and particularly their forenames, is one of considerable delicacy and difficulty which will require very careful consideration by the court.”
A further hearing will take place next week. [see report above dated 11 April] .
HHJ Holman’s Judgement 16 April 2014:
England and Wales High Court (Family Division) Decisions
You are here:BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Family Division) Decisions >> London Borough of Haringey v Musa  EWHC 1341 (Fam) (16 April 2014)
|Neutral Citation Number:  EWHC 1341 (Fam)|
|Case No. FD14P00069|
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
|Royal Courts of Justice|
|16th April 2014|
B e f o r e :
MR JUSTICE HOLMAN
(sitting throughout in public)
B E T W E E N :
|LONDON BOROUGH OF HARINGEY||Applicants|
|– and –|
MR R. HOWLING QC (instructed by the Legal Services Department of the London Borough of
Haringey) appeared on behalf of the applicants.
MISS J. ATKINSON (instructed by Sam Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the respondent mother.
THE RESPONDENT FATHER did not appear and was not represented.
HTML VERSION OF JUDGMENT
Crown Copyright ©
MR JUSTICE HOLMAN:
- I have heard this case throughout today in public and now give this judgment in public. It follows on from two previous recent hearings before me, also in public, on the 19th March 2014 and the 11th April 2014. The judgments that I gave on each of those dates are also fully public judgments and publicly available on the Bailii website. As a matter of identification, the judgment of the 19th March 2014 is under neutral citation number  EWHC 962 (Fam), and the judgment of the 11th April 2014 is under neutral citation number  EWHC 1200 (Fam). Each of those judgments were to some extent sequential, the one to the other, and this judgment is clearly sequential to both of them. For those reasons, I will not repeat at any length what is already set out in those two judgments. Effectively, anyone who chooses to read the present judgment needs first to read both of those judgments.
- However, the position that has now emerged since my judgment of last Friday, the 11th April 2014, is, in my view, one of great gravity, and in order to put it into context I must, as briefly as possible, summarise the facts. The case concerns a sibling group of seven children who are full siblings of each other. They now fall into two sub-groups. The five eldest range in age from 13 to nearly seven; the two youngest are aged about three-and-three-quarters and just two. There was a long hearing before a High Court judge, Charles J, in May 2012. The applicants in these proceedings and at that hearing were the local authority, the London Borough of Haringey. For reasons which are very fully explained in the judgment of Charles J of May 2012, he decided that the five eldest children should be placed in the care of the London Borough of Haringey on care plans which contemplated that they would be fostered throughout the remainder of their childhoods, but not adopted. The two youngest children were made the subject of placement orders which authorised the London Borough of Haringey to place them with a view to adoption. At that time all the children, although living in a number of different settings, had contact with each other, although the seventh and youngest child was merely a baby. The case therefore raised, in obvious and stark form, the question whether or not, and to what extent and by what means, there should be long-term contact between the various children both before and after the contemplated adoption of the two youngest.
- There was considerable evidence as to that issue, including the report and recommendation of a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist who is referred to in the judgment of Charles J as Dr A. The outcome, insofar as it concerned contact, was summarised by me in a passage between paragraphs 5 to 8 of my judgment of the 19th March 2014. At the risk of repetition, but because it is the essential backcloth to, and context of, the present judgment, I will just read out those paragraphs.
“5. During the course of the hearing before him (which related not only to the two youngest children but to all seven children – see the heading to his judgment and resulting order) Charles J gave careful consideration to whether or not there should be longer term direct contact between the five eldest children on the one hand and the two youngest children on the other hand, even after placement and ultimate adoption. As I understand it, an expert who had given advice in the case very strongly recommended that there should be ongoing long-term direct contact [that is, face-to-face contact] between all seven children in the overall best interests of them all. At paragraph 158 of his judgment Charles J said:
‘Neither the local authority, nor the guardian, sought an order for sibling contact and both invited me to make a placement order with a recital, proposed by the guardian, indicating that the local authority accepted the evidence and considerations of Dr A and the guardian that high priority be given to direct post-placement contact between all the siblings.’
6. Pausing there, it can be seen, therefore, that in the view of the guardian, then representing all seven children, there needed to be ‘high priority’ to long-term direct contact. At paragraph 159 of his judgment Charles J continued:
‘To my mind, if prospective adopters are told that high priority is being given to inter-sibling contact, and thus far it seems to me if the process is to be transparent and true to its word, the children will not be placed with them unless they are prepared to offer it, it is difficult to see why an order that provides for this would put them off.’
7. At paragraph 164 he continued:
‘So, I will make an interim contact order that, unless and until the court orders otherwise, both before and after placement the local authority and any persons with whom they are placed under the placement orders are to allow [the two youngest children] together to have reasonable direct contact with all of their full siblings.’
8. In order to give effect to that, the formal order of Charles J dated 8th May 2012 (I understand that he formally handed down his judgment a week or so later) provides that:
‘… until further of the court … the applicant and any persons with whom [the youngest two children] are placed shall allow [the youngest two children] to together have reasonable contact with their siblings …’
The five eldest children are then named.”
- I may be naïve, but it seems to me that those words of Charles J in his judgment, and the language of his formal order could not be more clear nor more straightforward. So, just to summarise this situation as this case left Charles J in May 2012: (1) All parties, including the local authority, considered that “high priority” needed to be given to direct contact between all the siblings, not only before but also after placement with a view to adoption. (2) The anticipation of Charles J clearly was that prospective adopters could and should be found who would not be “put off” by that prospect. (3) There was an order in the clearest possible terms that the local authority had to allow direct contact between all the siblings both before and also after placement. That follows from the language of the order which binds not only the local authority but also “any persons with whom [the youngest two children] are placed …” The involvement of the persons with whom the children were placed was obviously only of relevance because the judge clearly intended and ordered that direct contact should continue not only before but after placement.
- For an appreciable period of time direct contact did take place regularly between the five eldest children and the two youngest children, although the seventh and youngest of all did not always attend due to his very young age.
- During 2013 the local authority identified the present prospective adoptive family. I have learned from documents produced by the local authority today that it was in May 2013 that there was an assessment of the prospective adopters as to their suitability to adopt these particular children, and it was during May that those prospective adopters were first informed about these particular children.
- As I have explained in my first two judgments, this case proceeded in the court room until part way through the hearing last Friday morning on a clear understanding on my part, shared by the Queen’s Counsel then appearing on behalf of the local authority, Miss Sarah Morgan QC, that arrangements for direct contact between all the children were still current. As I described in my judgment of the 11th April 2014, it came as a considerable surprise and shock to me and to many other people in the court room (and, I infer, also to Miss Morgan herself) when during the course of that hearing she was passed a note to the effect that there had actually been a “goodbye” or “farewell” occasion of contact between all seven children as long ago as Saturday the 14th December 2013. It is impossible to overstate the profundity and implications of that for the future course of this case and the future lives of all seven of these children. Until that moment I personally had totally understood and assumed that the contact was continuing and that the issue for the court to decide in the present applications was whether, after thoroughly investigating and weighing all relevant factors, that contact should later be drawn to a close. The reason why the local authority say that direct contact must end is an understandable reason. They say that it is of the utmost importance for the two youngest children to preserve and protect the confidentiality of the family and whereabouts in which those children are to live. There is an obvious problem when a sibling group of children meet that things may be said, or slip out, such that one or more of the elder children learn the identity of the adoptive family or their whereabouts; and that that information might very rapidly find its way to one or both of the parents of the children or generally into the public domain, and the adoptive placement might be imperilled.
- All of that is a familiar problem and risk in cases of this kind, and one which I readily understand. But there is another side to it which requires very careful consideration also. That is the very point that had been described, and indeed ruled upon, by Charles J after that long hearing in May 2012, namely the importance of, and “high priority” which needed to be given to, maintaining an inter-sibling relationship between all seven of these children. It is my experience that social workers and others sometimes overlook in these tragic situations that relationships between siblings may be the most enduring of all relationships in many people’s lives. Put bluntly, these children are all likely to be alive long after most of us in the court room, and prospective adopters and others, are long since dead. So there is always very considerable importance in these tragic situations of fragmented families in very carefully considering whether or not, and if so, how, long-term inter-sibling contact can be maintained even after adoption.
- At all events, the application by the local authority before the court is effectively to vary the subsisting order by Charles J as to long-term direct contact so as to enable it to be terminated. However, as I said in paragraph 23 of my judgment of the 11th April 2014, “It may not be possible now to unscramble the egg”. It is not for me at this short hearing to prejudge what the final decision will be as to direct contact at the three-day hearing that has been fixed to start on the 1st July 2014. But, speaking for myself, I very clearly understand how extraordinarily difficult it may now be to resume and recreate any direct contact between the five eldest children on the one hand and the two youngest children on the other hand.
- It necessarily follows from the fact that the local authority arranged that “goodbye” or “farewell” contact on the 14th December 2013, with the intention that there should be no further direct contact at all between the five eldest children and the two youngest children, that the local authority have put themselves in a state of, frankly, flagrant breach of the order of Charles J of the 8th May 2012 from which I have quoted. It simply should not have happened that way. Last Friday Miss Morgan was not in a position to give to me and the other parties any account, description or explanation of how this frankly catastrophic situation had arisen, so I made an order last Friday that:
“The local authority must by [today] file and serve a detailed statement which is limited to, but deals in full with, when, why, and by whom the decision was made that on the 14th December 2013 a contact meeting between all seven children took place which has been described in court today as a ‘goodbye’ contact meeting and that no further direct contact would take place thereafter …”
I then arranged for this further hearing today in order that I could give consideration to that evidence once it had been assembled and filed by the local authority. I explained at the time that I regretted having to give such a relatively short period of time for the local authority in which to prepare that evidence, but today is the last day of the legal term before Easter and if this hearing had not taken place today there would have been a long and undesirable further delay. So I express my gratitude to the London Borough of Haringey and, in particular, to the two makers of statements to which I will shortly refer, for the speed with which they have indeed attempted to comply with that part of my order last week.
- In the upshot, I now have two statements. One is by Miss Annie Walker, who is the deputy head of services for the Children in Care Court Team of the London Borough of Haringey. She exhibits to her statement a volume of minutes of children in care meetings and other meetings that are described as “professionals’ meetings”. The other statement is by Ms. Elaine Redding, who is the assistant director of Children and Young People’s Services for the London Borough of Haringey. I intend to quote at a little length from those two statements for they tell the tale in their own words. At paragraph 5 of her statement Miss Walker says:
“… Although there are records referring to the issue of contact, I have not been able in this process to identify any decision making documentation which would assist me and the court in pinpointing when and who made the decision to terminate contact, prior to the matter being resorted to court and to arrange and undertake goodbye contact on the 14th December 2013.”
Pausing there, the date upon which the matter was “resorted to court” was as recently as the 16th January 2014, when the formal application for permission to terminate contact was first issued in the court. Continuing with the statement of Miss Walker:
“6. I have located looked after review records which refer to the reduction or variation of contact but they did not assist me in identifying who made and when, the decisions in respect of which the court seeks clarity. The current social work team were allocated in October 2013 and from my discussion with them they continued with what they mistakenly believed was the decision to cease contact …”
Miss Walker then describes the process of identifying prospective adopters and that the present prospective adopters were approved as adopters in July 2013. She then says at paragraph 15:
“15. A hiatus in contact between the two younger children and their older siblings took place and there was no contact in August 2013, September and October 2013. October’s contact did not take place due to severe weather conditions. I am unable to see any written material indicating either how or why the decision was made for August or September contact to be cancelled. This omission is being taken very seriously and will be incorporated into our learning.”
Miss Walker then refers to:
“A professionals’ meeting was held on the 11th December 2013. At this meeting a goodbye visit/wish you well visit was arranged for the 14th December 2013 to take place in the older siblings’ placement facilitated by the foster carers …”
She then describes how the eldest children were prepared for that meeting by their social worker and the youngest children were prepared by a psychotherapist. Still referring to the professionals’ meeting on the 11th December 2013 Miss Walker then says, at paragraph 21:
“21. The documents record the need to seek permission of the court to vary the contact order of Mr Justice Charles. This part of the document is legally privileged but this submission is made so that this court can clearly understand that the need to approach the court for a variation had been understood but it had not been married to the impending farewell visit. This is the central mistake in the case and one which the local authority both recognises and apologises for.”
It is right to say, as Mr Rex Howling QC, who appears on behalf of the London Borough of Haringey today, pointed out, that the minutes of the professionals’ meeting of the 11th December 2013 record that the legal adviser, Rosita Moise, was not present at the meeting but had sent apologies. It appears, therefore, that there was no lawyer or representative of the legal department of the London Borough of Haringey present at that critically important meeting of the 11th December 2013.
- Despite everything that Mr Howling has said, I remain frankly baffled as to how those who were present at that meeting, which included such senior staff of the local authority as the adoption team manager who was chairing the meeting, can have thought that it was right and appropriate to allow a goodbye or farewell contact to take place about three days later when they knew, as the redacted minutes of that meeting apparently record, that they needed the permission of the court to vary the contact order of Charles J, and yet did not first pause to take legal advice from their own legal department, if not counsel.
- In her statement Ms. Redding, the assistant director of children’s services, says, at paragraph 3:
“3. It is my opinion that there was well intentioned change effected around the planning for these children which incorrectly failed to take into account the legal framework. It is clear that aspects of the team’s compliance with court orders made in respect of the children fell unacceptably short of good practice.”
A little further on she says, at paragraph 5:
“5. I am satisfied that in this case there was good liaison between professionals to support the children’s welfare needs, regular direct liaison between the social work and adoption teams and that the looked after children reviews took place. It is, however, unclear to me precisely when the decision was made to both reduce contact and arrange a farewell visit.”
Ms. Redding concludes her statement by saying, at paragraph 6:
“6. This authority takes its statutory responsibility seriously and it is my intention to ensure full compliance. In light of the lessons brought to my attention as a result of this case, the authority will review internal processes to ensure that best practice is adhered to at all times. In particular, I intend to ensure that every child’s care plan for each LAC review contains details of the current contact arrangements. I am confident that my managers will share my commitment to effect appropriate change.”
- Judges should avoid cynicism, but I cannot help observing how often in recent decades one has read and heard of local authorities learning lessons and proposing to review internal processes to ensure that failures will not happen again. The essential failures in this case almost beggar belief. Over a period of several months last year this local authority seem to have got themselves into a position whereby they were proposing to act, and then did act, in direct breach of the order of the court, which, I stress, had originally been made for reasons with which the local authority themselves agreed. There seems to have been a great lack of communication between a range of different professionals such that in the end no one knew what had been decided by whom or when or why, and everyone seems completely to have overlooked, at any rate until the professionals’ meeting on the 11th December 2013, that there was in place a very clear court order in relation to these children. Mr Rex Howling QC himself has said this morning that there was in this case “systemic corporate failure”.
- It provisionally appears to me that the failure goes even further. Since amendments were made to the Children Act 1989 in 2008, local authorities have been required to appoint an “independent reviewing officer” for the case of every child whom they are looking after. By section 25B of the Children Act 1989 the first listed of the duties and functions of the independent reviewing officer are to “monitor the performance by the local authority of their functions in relation to the child’s case”. The whole point and purpose of the system and machinery of independent reviewing officers is precisely to keep the local authority (who are no doubt extraordinarily busy and overworked) on their toes and to be asking awkward questions. An independent reviewing officer clearly had been appointed in relation to all seven of these children, although I do not currently know the date when she was appointed. In all or most of the minutes of meetings throughout 2013 that are exhibited to the statement of Miss Walker dated the 15th April 2014 there are clear references to a named independent reviewing officer being present at a whole series of meetings. Specifically, the independent reviewing officer was present at a meeting on the 29th October 2013 in the minutes of which the following passage appears:
“[The sixth of the children] is one of seven children. She and her five older siblings had regular contact but a decision was made to stop this contact and she has not seen her siblings since July. It is not clear how this decision was made and it is a concern that contact should stop without adequate preparation. [The social worker] will discuss restarting contact with the siblings with her manager and the IRO will also ask that it start again. Ideally contact should take place again and then a farewell contact arranged for all the siblings at a time appropriate in terms of the adoption plan.”
So just pausing there, that is a minute of a meeting at which the independent reviewing officer was present which records that, for reasons which were “not clear”, the contact had stopped since July. It is true that the minutes then record that the IRO will ask that it start again, but they go on clearly to contemplate that contact would take place again “and then a farewell contact arranged …”. So the question inevitably arises, how was it that the independent reviewing officer, whose statutory duty was to monitor the performance by the local authority of their functions in relation to these children, was not saying loud and clear at the meeting, and subsequent to the meeting, that there could not lawfully be a farewell contact unless and until this matter had first been raised with the court? Instead, the minutes record that “The IRO is in agreement with the plan.”
- It provisionally appears that the role and involvement of the IRO in this case failed to give to all these children the protection which her role was intended to afford. However, the IRO in question (whom I have deliberately not named in this judgment) is not present and may, to date, know very little about recent events in these proceedings. I accordingly intend to make an order today that she must file and serve a detailed statement in which she: (i) states the date of her appointment as IRO in this case; (ii) identifies for which children she is IRO [although I have been told today that she is the IRO for all seven]; (iii) specifies the date and scope of every meeting attended by her since her appointment; (iv) explains in detail and in full when and how she first became aware of any decision by the local authority to terminate contact between the five eldest and the two youngest children; (v) explains in detail and in full when and how she first became aware that contact between the five eldest and the two youngest children had in fact been terminated or suspended; and (vi) describes what steps, if any, she took to ensure that the local authority did not act in breach of paragraph 3 (b) of the order of Charles J made on the 8th May 2012 with regard to inter-sibling contact. So far as that aspect of the case is concerned, one can only wait and see what emerges.
- On behalf of the London Borough of Haringey, Mr Howling, both by his written position statement dated today and also by his oral submissions today, has made the following points and submissions. First, he stresses that the local authority have taken very seriously the thrust of my order last Friday requiring them to produce a statement and all relevant minutes and records. He says, and I readily accept, that considerable resources, time and effort have been thrown into addressing the concerns which I expressed last Friday. Second, he says, however, that despite a “thorough trawl” through the minutes and records it remains the position that the local authority cannot identify when, where or by whom the fateful decision was taken, nor can they explain why it was not fully and properly minuted. He has said that the lesson for the local authority is “the need for an audit trail” and at that point said that there had been “systemic corporate failure”. Third, he submitted that the main lesson to be learned is that local authority minutes need to include with every minute the current contact arrangements and the details of any relevant court order.
- I cannot help feeling that this is, frankly, a very elementary point that one would have thought was part of the basic training of any social worker. Precisely because local authorities are under-resourced and over-stretched, and precisely because individual social workers and other staff members may come and go from a particular case (and I am very conscious that the present social worker was only first involved in this case last October), it is of the utmost and blindingly obvious importance that reliable, detailed records need to be maintained of every important decision, when it was taken, by whom it was taken, and why it was taken. I would have thought also that it was blindingly obvious that if there is a court order having ongoing impact on a case (as an order for contact does) then that should be very prominently attached to every file and, frankly, every important minute or record in a case such as this. On behalf of the local authority, Mr Howling has repeated the apology that is expressed in the statement of Miss Walker at paragraph 21 that I have read. He says that an apology is due on two levels. One is to the court, and the other is to the children concerned. I am, frankly, least bothered in this case about an apology as such to the court. But as these children grow up, and when they are adult, each of them will need a clear narrative and explanation as to events that took place in their lives and, so far as the present matter is concerned, how it came about that the five eldest lost all direct contact with the two youngest. In my view, some very clear and abject documents need to be prepared by this local authority, addressed to each of these children, explaining to them these events and how it all came about, and apologising to them.
- Apologies are also due to the parents of these children. It is perfectly true that both parents are currently serving prison sentences for, as I understand it, offences against some of these children. It is perfectly true that under the order of, I think, Charles J, neither parent is currently entitled to any direct contact with any of their children. But they remain the parents of the children and they share parental responsibility for these children with the local authority. They continue to be concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of their children. The mother, in particular, has made recent statements in which she repeatedly implores that direct contact be maintained between all seven of her children. It is unclear whether she knows even now that that contact had already been broken. I do not know her reaction to it, for her solicitors and counsel have not yet been able to obtain instructions from her because of the difficulty of access to her in prison. But she and the father knew and know that in May 2012 a High Court judge, for the reasons he gave, made the order that he did with regard to direct contact. They were entitled to assume that the London Borough of Haringey would obey the order of the court. They, too, would be justified in feeling surprise and shock, and probably much more extreme emotions, on learning that, in defiance of that order, that contact has now completely ended. So, in my view, the London Borough of Haringey owe and must convey abject apologies also to the parents of these children.
- I have already given directions for a three day hearing starting on Tuesday, 1st July 2014 both on the issue of changes of names for the two youngest children and on this issue of inter-sibling direct contact. As I have said, it may now be too late to unscramble the egg on the issue of contact, and the local authority may most probably have created a fait accompli. I am not scheduled to be the judge who hears that hearing due to other commitments. It is probable, therefore, that today is my last personal involvement in this case. I can only say that I part from it with a sense of the utmost despair that a terrible thing has happened in relation to all these children which should never, without due consideration, have been allowed to happen. _________