Child contact, non-molestation and McKenzie Friends

Non-molestation and child arrangements orders

 

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Re J (Children) [2018] EWCA Civ 115 (6 February 2018) raises at least the following issues:

 

  1. Hearing of cases of domestic violence and the period any non-molestation order;
  2. Case management and how long it takes a children case to come to trial;
  3. Litigants in person and their McKenzie friends (MFs);
  4. The fair trial of a parent’s case where he cannot obtain legal aid.

 

After nearly 20 years of marriage a couple separated in September 2014 when the father left their home. They had three children then aged around 16, 13 and 8. W obtained a not on notice non-molestation order in December 2014 (why she applied three months after the separation, the report does not say). This included that H should not communicate with W or the children; and it continued till 22 December 2016, though an earlier return date in January 2015 was fixed. H wanted contact with his children. He cross-applied for a child arrangements order and for his own non-molestation order. He alleged balancing abusive behaviour by W. A ‘finding of fact’ hearing was fixed before a judge on 2 July 2015.

 

At that hearing H had a McKenzie Friend (MF). But how much part could MF play in the proceedings? He was refused permission to address the court or to cross-examine W. It was agreed that as H was offered contact there would be no fact-finding exercise; though the injunction, with no contact by H and no findings still stood. The children remained resistant to contact. Eventually a final hearing was fixed for 12/13 July 2016 (sic).

 

The father’s appeal

 

It was the decision at that hearing against which H appealled to the Court of Appeal on the following grounds:

 

  • The non-molestation order was allowed to run without determination of facts.
  • The MF had been wrongly denied a right of audience.
  • No findings of fact had been made.
  • The full powers of the court had not been used eg where their guardian admitted they were suffering emotional harm.

 

The outcome was a Pyrrhic victory for the father. His appeals on (1) and (3) were allowed; but no order was made by the court. The objections expressed to NYAS by the children to contact made any fresh hearing on the contact application, said the court, ‘simply too late and contrary to the welfare interests of the [younger two] children’ (para [99]).

 

It will be striking in this post, that many of the legal principles applied are derived from a practice direction (eg FPR 2010 PD12J) and from ‘practice guidance’. Neither of these have the force of law in the way that, for example, a statute or the common law (judge-made law) have. It might have been possible for the father at first instance to have challenged the judge on the content of the McKenzie Friend practice guidance (considered below); but that is a discussion for another day.

 

‘Findings of fact’ hearings

 

Routinely family judges set down hearings for ‘findings of fact’. I have never understood quite what this means. It is the principal function of a judge in any case whatever the background that the court finds facts, applies any law to those facts and then, exercising any discretion vested in him or her, disposes of the case – ie makes an order. Having a ‘finding of fact’ hearing implies there is in some way a phased process, in which establishing facts is the first step. This is only rarely the case.

 

I can see that case management here might have demanded that the abuse issues between H and W needed to be resolved at one hearing. This would result in an order. A second hearing, probably before the special measure judge, might then involve further factual and welfare issues to be resolved for the boys. Any child arrangements order could then be made and the extent (if any) of the father’s contact resolved. Domestic abuse and contact might be separate issues; but each will call upon a court – as with all cases tried every day – to find facts on which a determination may be based.

 

Non-molestation order and its duration

 

The non-molestation order made for two years was not ever revisited. This was in breach of the then practice direction (re-enforced by Practice guidance 18 January 2017: Family Court – Duration of without notice orders): that without notice orders should have a return date of not more than 14 days from the first order (para 5(ii)).

 

I am not at all sure this is what the law (as distinct from a ‘practice guidance’) says. Family Law Act 1996 s 42, which enables a court to make a non-molestation order, says that an order can be ‘for a specified period or until further order’ (s 42(7)). For H in this case there is no doubt that the period should have been much shorter and the facts on which the original order was made should have been tested much sooner (as the Court of Appeal accepted).

 

Domestic violence: delay and case management

 

The courts had had what McFarlane LJ called a ‘wake-up call’ as to ‘the potential harm to children that may arise from domestic abuse within a family, whether or not the children are directly involved in any particular episode of such abuse (para [39]) Re L; Re V; Re M; Re H (Contact: Domestic Violence) [2000] 2 FLR 334. Practice directions have followed.

 

The most recent practice direction, was an amended PD12J: Child Arrangements and Contact Orders: Domestic Abuse and Harm (October 2017) by which ‘courts are required, at an early stage in proceedings, to identify whether there are issues of domestic abuse and, if so, apply the requirements of PD12J to their management of the case’ (para [40]). PD12J para 19 requires court to ensure that cases which may involve domestic abuse are resolved and emphasises the need for ‘the proceedings to be “conducted to ensure that the matters in issue are determined as soon as possible, fairly and proportionately, and within the capabilities of the parties” (emphasis added by the judge)’ (para [45]).

 

McKenzie friends

 

The role of McKenzie friends are regulated by practice guidance Practice guidance: McKenzie friends (civil and family courts): 12 July 2010 [2010] 2 FLR 962 (Lord Neuberger MR and Sir Nicholas Wall P). There is no clear law on what their role and rights of audience are. No rules or even a practice direction, still less primary legislation, explains their positon.

 

By contrast common law backed by European Convention 1950 Art 6(1) (right to a fair trial) – and, perhaps, Art 6(3) (to be explained another day) – requires that anyone coming to court should have a fair trial. This is backed by Convention jurisprudence which declares that Art 6(1) entitles parties to ‘equality of arms’; and this is echoed in the family proceedings overriding objective that requires that parties be ‘on an equal footing’ (FPR 2010 r 1.1(2)(c)).

 

The practice guidance provides a definition of what a McKenzie Friend is and what they may do. The case of Re J, said McFarlane LJ ([68]), did not provide an opportunity to set out guidance beyond what is in the 12 July 2010 practice guidance. So far as cross-examination by a McKenzie Friend is concerned, the court by implication was not prepared to consider this. The ‘stark’ choice remains (as set out in K and H (Private Law: Public Funding) [2015] EWCA Civ 543, [2016] 1 FLR 754): either the alleged abuser cross-examines; or the judge puts the questions for him or her (MFPA 1984 s 31G(6)).

 

On the McKenzie Friend ground the father’s appeal was not allowed; though his McKenzie Friend was permitted to address the Court of Appeal. However, acting as ‘counsel in a trial’ said the Court of Appeal was an ‘altogether different issue’ ([62]).

 

Fairness of an alleged abuser’s trial

 

This still leaves the question of the fairness of the way in which cases such as H’s are tried, where someone in his position does not have access to legal aid nor the means to pay for representation. This is for another day, with the current legal aid provisions and with the law – such as it is – on McKenzie Friends and Arts 6(1) and 6(3) fully in mind.

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Non-molestation and open court hearings

Is it the law that family court injunctions be heard in open court

 

In A child and the open justice principle I asked why the ‘child’ Charlie Pearce must – rightly, surely? – have his name published after his attempted murder trial (R v Pearce (Press Restrictions) Haddon-Cave J (7 December 2017); whilst, for example, the names be kept private of the parents of the unattractive stalking – and worse – mother and her cohabitant (‘Mr JM’) of 10 year-old T in Re T (A Child) [2017] EWCA Civ 1889 (23 November 2017). I continued: why are parents whose children, at their hands, protected sometimes from serious harm are not named; whereas the name of Mr Khuja (reported on BAILII as ‘PNM’), who investigated for serious crimes but not prosecuted for any offence is made public (Khuja v Times Newspapers Ltd [2017] UKSC 49.

 

Most startlingly, a man (say, ‘R’) can be brought anonymously (ie ‘in private’ or secretly) before the family courts for often dire forms of ‘molestation’ of their partner or children (Family Law Act 1996 (‘FLA 1996’) Pt 4); yet R, if prosecuted, will be dealt with in open court, on the same facts. Are the family courts, it might fairly be asked, trying to keep R’s behaviour secret? Is the ‘scourge’ (as Sir James Munby P has described it) of domestic violence and abuse to be dealt with behind closed family courts’ doors? If R breaches any injunction, this will be dealt with in public – though not in family proceedings – as a criminal offence FLA 1996 s 42A.

 

Family proceedings: hearings ‘in private’

 

The rule in family proceedings since April 2011 is said to be that all proceedings covered by Family Procedure Rules 2010 (‘FPR 2010’), save where otherwise ordered or the rules say something else, are to be in ‘private’ (r 27.10(1)). ‘In private’ means that ‘the general public has no right to be present’ (r 27.10(2)).

 

Two important common law principles are in play here:

 

  • That all hearings must be in open court (Scott & Anor v Scott [1913] UKHL 2, [1913] AC 417; affirmed in eg European Convention 1950 Art 6.1), unless administration of justice or eg the welfare of children (as now summarised in Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (‘CPR 1998’) r 39.2(3)) requires confidential (or ‘private’?) hearing. What is meant by ‘private’ was explained by the Court of Appeal in Clibbery v Allan [2002] EWCA Civ 45, [200] Fam 261, [2002] 2 WLR 1511, [2002] 1 FLR 565
  • The law cannot be changed by a rule save where statute permits: see eg Dunhill v Burgin (Nos 1 and 2) [2014] UKSC 18, [2014] 1 WLR 933 where Lady Hale said at [27]: That rules cannot ‘change the substantive law unless expressly permitted so to do by statute: see Re Grosvenor Hotel Ltd (No 2)[1965] Ch 1210’ (Senior Courts Act 1981 s 51(1) which permits rules to create substantive law on costs is an example of the exception).

 

The passage (italicised below) with which Lady Hale agreed was from Lord Denning MR where he said in Re Grosvenor Hotel, London (No 2) [1965] Ch 1210 at 1243 (of an attempt by rule-makers to change the law on public interest immunity):

 

The truth must be faced that, if this rule is within the powers of the Rule Committee to make, the hands of the judges are tied. They have no option but to act on [what] the Minister or of the permanent head of his department [says]. What then are the powers of the Rule Committee? They can make rules for regulating and prescribing the procedure and practice of the court, but they cannot alter the rules of evidence, or the ordinary law of the land. The law as to Crown privilege is not mere procedure or practice. It may perhaps be said to be a rule of evidence, but I would rank it higher. It is a principle of our constitutional law which is to be observed in the administration of justice, not only when a witness is called to give oral evidence, but also when a party is called upon to give discovery…. If this rule only states the existing law, there is no harm in it. But if it gives the government departments a veto on the production or inspection of documents — to a greater extent than that which is warranted by law — the rule is, in my opinion, bad.

 

Delegated legislation and Parliamentary will

 

At this point one judicial canard – with respect to, for example, MacDonald and Mostyn JJ – must be laid to rest. Both those judges have given judgments which suggest that Parliament have somehow ‘expressly provided’ for a change in the law from open court to private hearings for all family proceedings (save where for eg divorce hearings they are in open court) by the fact that the Lord Chancellor’s Family Procedure Rules Committee has changed the rules.

 

Such express provision of Parliament is not so. Like the majority of delegated legislation, rules are made under the negative resolution procedure (Courts Act 2003 s 79(6)). Only one set of such legislation has been queried by a member of either House in the last 37 years. Courts Act 2003 ss 75 and 76 make it clear that it is the rules committee which makes the rules, not – even under any constitutional law fiction – that Parliament has done the job.

 

Thus in HRH Louis Xavier Marie Guillaume Prince of Luxembourg, Prince of Nassau and Prince of Bourbon-Parma v HRH Tessy Princess of Luxembourg, Princess of Nassau and Princess of Bourbon-Parma & Anor [2017] EWHC 3095 (Fam), Macdonald J said of the rules on a number of occasions words to the effect of:

 

[87] … In this regard, I note again that Parliament has expressly provided in FPR r 27.11(1)(a) for the media to be excluded from hearings conducted for the purpose of judicially assisted conciliation or negotiation…

 

In Appleton & Anor v News Group Newspapers Ltd & Anor [2015] EWHC 2689 (Fam), [2016] 2 FLR 1 Mostyn J spoke of Parliament specifically maintaining proceedings in private (which seems to be in direct opposition to what Lord Denning MR said over 50 years ago: it is rule-makers not Parliament, who – in reality – make the rules):

 

[14] … Parliament when passing the rules specifically maintained these proceedings as private, and denied members of the public admission to them.

[15] … It is inconceivable that Parliament could have intended to destroy the effect of the implied undertaking when it allowed the press to observe these private proceedings as a watchdog….

 

Parliament did not even contemplate the ‘implied undertaking’. It is not mentioned in FPR 2010 at all. It is mentioned in rule form in CPR 1998 r 31.22 (intended to reverse the former rule in Harman v Secretary of State for the Home Department [1983] 1 AC 280, [1982] 2 WLR 338). Formally that rule does not apply in family proceedings. What precisely the ‘implied undertaking’, and whether Harman still applies, in family proceedings is muddled. Probably it is best described, for family proceedings, as in line with CPR 1998 r 31.22 (see discussion in Family Court Practice 2017 under FPR 2010 Pt 21).

 

Rule in Clibbery v Allan

 

Clibbery v Allan [2002] EWCA Civ 45, [200] Fam 261, [2002] 2 WLR 1511, [2002] 1 FLR 565 concerned whether Ms Clibbery could pass documents which she received from the respondent in proceedings under FLA 1996 Pt (an unsuccessful occupation order application), so far as they were not covered by the ‘implied undertaking’ not to release documents required to be produced under compulsion of (then) ‘discovery’. In a frequently cited case and agreeing in the outcome with Munby J below (Clibbery v Allan [2001] 2 FLR 819) the Court of Appeal (Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P with whom Thorpe LJ agreed) held that though the hearing was in ‘private’ documents could be released by Ms Clibbery to the press. Anonymity seems not to have been in issue.

 

Dame Elizabeth explained the term ‘private’ – as distinct from open court and ‘secret’ or ‘confidential’ – as follows:

 

[19] … I am driven to recall Humpty Dumpty: ‘When I use a word – it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

[20]   I would therefore suggest that there are three categories of case, those heard in open court, those heard in private and those heard in secret where the information disclosed to the court and the proceedings remain confidential.

 

This tri-partite division remains the common law position in family proceedings; and on the Grosvenor Hotel principle it cannot be changed by delegated legislation. It is not altered by such cases as Appleton v Gallagher and Luxembourg v Luxembourg since these do not apply in the case of Family Law Act 1996 Pt 4.

 

Family Law Act 1996 Part 4, anonymity and ‘private court’ hearings

 

Subject to the ‘implied undertaking’ (or CPR 1998 r 31.22) point, the law would seem to be as in Clibbery v Allan. That as the Court of Appeal had explained in Hodgson v Imperial Tobacco Ltd [1998] 1 WLR 1056, ‘privacy’ means that, space permitting, the public are allowed into a court held in private (after all the words of r 27.10(2) do not prevent asking for permission: that is how it works with any situation where a person has no right, but can ask to come in, all the same).

 

Thus a frightened ex-partner or spouse can invite friends or family to come to court with her. They do not need special permission and the court can be asked to make room for them. Whether the press and others – eg to see how any successor to Prison and Courts Bill cl 47 works in practice – can come into court: that awaits another day, another discussion of this absurdly complex area of law. There seems to be no logic in the same facts being dealt with in ‘private’ (if not in secret) in a family court, but in open court in criminal proceedings; but logic does not rule family law when the open justice principle may apply.

 

And anonymity: surely that cannot truly be in question? The names of mother and Mr JM – especially in the Court of Appeal – should surely be public. To that extent, at least, family courts need not afford secrecy to those who molest or otherwise abuse their partners, children or other members of their family – unless publicity of their names might be jig-saw linked back to any children concerned.