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Home > Judgments > 2015 archive

An English Local Authority v X, Y and Z (English Care Proceedings - Scottish Child) [2015] EWFC 89

Judgment revealing a lacuna in the law regarding children who are the subject of care proceedings in England or Wales but are habitually resident in another territorial unit of the United Kingdom; in this case, Scotland.

Background and issues
The judgment in this case shines light on a lacuna in the law regarding children who are the subject of care proceedings in England or Wales but are habitually resident in another territorial unit of the United Kingdom; in this case, Scotland.

X was a Scottish boy of primary school age who had been in foster care in England since July 2015. When care proceedings began, he was – as Mr Justice Peter Jackson had found in a separate judgment – habitually resident in Scotland. The English court did not, therefore, have jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter [1]-[2].

All represented parties to the proceedings agreed that the Scottish courts would be best placed to determine X's future for reasons which Peter Jackson J found "compellingly demonstrate that it is in X's best interest that his future should be decided by a Scottish Court if this can be achieved" [4].

The Scottish local authority, however, had not instigated care proceedings and had indicated that it did not consider that it had any duties towards X who, in its view, had permanently moved away from its area [2], [20]. 

The issue for the court was what, if any, power it had to transfer proceedings to Scotland.

Judgment
Peter Jackson J considered provisions of the Family Law Act 1986 and Brussels II Revised, and concluded that that the state of the law "mirrors the situation on the ground and that X is also marooned legally" [5].

His Lordship began by observing that it is settled law that the FLA 1986 only applies to private law proceedings so did not assist, and went on to find that nothing in BIIR helped either. Article 8 provides that courts of a member state have jurisdiction in matters of parental responsibility for children who are habitually resident in that state, but X was not habitually resident in England. Article 13 provides that if a child is not habitually resident in any member state then the courts of the member state in which he or she is present have jurisdiction, but that was not the case here. Article 20 (under which the court was acting) provides that in urgent cases, the provisions of the regulation shall not prevent the courts of a member state from taking provisional, including protective, measures as may be available under its law, but this did not provide a mechanism for transfer.

Peter Jackson J then turned to consider Article 15 BIIR. This provides that the courts of a member state with jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter may, if they consider that a court of another member state with which the child has a particular connection would be better placed to hear the case, and where this is in the best interests of the child, either stay the case and invite the parties to introduce  a request before that court, or make such a request itself. Although noting that Article 15 does not apply in the United Kingdom, Peter Jackson J  went on to consider whether it provides for transfer between different territorial units of one state. Counsel for the local authority had argued that Article 66 was wide enough to allow for Article 15 to apply as between constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Peter Jackson J, however, concluded that the law has now crystallised and that Article 15 only provides for transfer between member states, not between territorial units in one state. 

Peter Jackson J recognised that this left X  "in a legal no-man's land" [23]. He directed that the judgment (together with unpublished judgments on the issues of habitual residence and service of the proceedings upon X's father) should be disclosed to the local authority in Scotland, with the hope that it would encourage it to reconsider issuing proceedings.

Implications
This case highlights the legal limbo – and consequent risk of harm - faced by children in X's position. Peter Jackson J summarised the nub of the issue as follows:

"As as fairly been pointed out during these proceedings, it might be thought anomalous that there is no internal UK procedure akin to Article 15 and a priori that there is no such procedure in the more striking case such as this where the requesting territory has no general jurisdiction while the requested territory does. As a result, a child such as X is deprived of a judicial determination in the requested territory as to whether a transfer of the proceedings should be accepted" [19].

Summary by Eleanor Sibley, barrister, Field Court Chambers
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IN THE FAMILY COURT                                                
Case No: PR15C00225

[2015] EWFC 89

22 November 2015

  
Before :
THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE PETER JACKSON

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Between :

AN ENGLISH LOCAL AUTHORITY
Applicant
-and-
X (Child) Respondents
Y (Mother)
Z (Father)

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The names of counsel and solicitors acting for family members are omitted to preserve confidentiality


The Local Authority was represented by leading and junior counsel 
The Mother was represented by her solicitor
The Father had not been served with the proceedings
The Child (by his Children's Guardian)was represented by counsel
Simon Murray (instructed by Government Legal Department) as Advocate to the Court

Hearing date: 28 October 2015.  Judgment date: 22 November 2015
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

JUDGMENT:
An English Local Authority v X, Y and Z (English Care Proceedings : Scottish Child)

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IMPORTANT NOTICE : CONFIDENTIALITY
The judgment may be published in this form on the condition that parties to the proceedings must not be identified.  All persons, including representatives of the media, must comply with this direction.  Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.


Mr Justice Peter Jackson:
Introduction


1. In this case, English care proceedings have been issued in respect of X, a Scottish boy of primary school age, who has been in foster care in England since July.   When the proceedings began, X was (as I have determined in an earlier judgment) habitually resident in Scotland.  This court's jurisdiction is therefore limited to taking provisional, including protective, measures.  

2. X's circumstances are very unusual and it is not appropriate to give details that might identify him.  A decision urgently needs to be taken about his future, and in particular whether he can safely grow up within his family.  The represented parties submit that this is a decision that should be taken by the Scottish courts, but there are currently no proceedings in Scotland and the relevant Scottish local authority has not so far been willing to place matters before the Scottish court, arguing that it has no power to do so as X is in England.

Choice of jurisdiction
3. The parties to these proceedings submit that the Scottish court is best placed to determine X's future for these reasons: 

(1) This is a complex Scottish family that has been well known to Scottish social services and police for many years up to moment when X came to England earlier this year.  Those authorities have unrivalled knowledge of the family and are best placed to assess the issues of risk that are at the heart of the case.  Social workers with knowledge of local conditions are also better placed to carry out family assessments than external social workers.

(2) The child has a particularly strong connection with Scotland, having been habitually resident there all his life, or at least until March 2015.  Both his parents are habitually resident in Scotland.  His entire wider family is habitually resident in Scotland.  The starting point is that it is clearly in X's interests to grown up north of the border if possible.  

(3) X is the only member of his family in England.  He is effectively marooned here while his future is decided.

(4) The most serious example of significant harm to X occurred in Scotland and led to him coming to England for safety reasons.  The Scottish local authority was just about to take proceedings when he had to leave their area.

(5) X's placement in England is highly confidential.  There is a real risk of a breach of security if the proceedings are heard in a court near where he is located.  Likewise, the English local authority could not deploy its social workers in Scotland without giving away the child's whereabouts; consequently, it could only act through intermediaries, which is unsatisfactory. 

(6) There is a need for extensive disclosure from the Scottish police and social services.  This is a sensitive exercise that can best be directed by the Scottish court.  

(7) In accordance with my directions, these proceedings have not yet been served on X's father.  The Scottish court might take a different view on this issue, and on others of its kind.

4. I accept the validity of each of these arguments individually.  Collectively, they compellingly demonstrate that it is in X's best interests that his future should be decided by a Scottish court if this can be achieved.  There are in my view no good arguments in favour of the English court making a decision of such significance for X, even if it had the power to do so.

Legal considerations
5. What then is the state of English law in relation to the transfer of these proceedings to Scotland?  I am afraid that it mirrors the situation on the ground and that X is also marooned legally.  I reach that conclusion having heard submissions from the represented parties and read the submissions of Mr Simon Murray as the Advocate to the Court, instructed by the Solicitor General.

6. The submissions consider the provisions of the Family Law Act 1986 ('the FLA') and of the Council Regulation (EC) No. 2201/2003, known as Brussels II Revised ('BIIA").     

7. The FLA governs the jurisdiction of the courts of the three territories of the Untied Kingdom (England and Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland) in relation to private law matters.  It advisedly does not apply to care proceedings: Re M (Care Orders: Jurisdiction) [1997] Fam 67, considering Re R (Care Orders: Jurisdiction) 1995 1 FLR 711; I prefer the arguments of the parties to those of Mr Murray as to its ambit. 

8. The English court's powers in relation to care proceedings are to be exercised in accordance with BIIA: see most recently the decision of the Court of Appeal on 2 November 2015 in Re N (Children) (Adoption: Jurisdiction) [2015] EWCA Civ 1112 at paragraph 67: "It is well established by both European and domestic case-law that BIIA applies to care proceedings: see, in particular, Re C (Case C-435/06) [2008] Fam 27, [2008] 1 FLR 490."

9. Article 8 of BIIA provides that the courts of a Member State shall have general jurisdiction in matters of parental responsibility over a child who is habitually resident in that Member State at the time the court is seised.  That, as I have found, is not the case here.

10. Article 13 provides that where a child's habitual residence cannot be established, the courts of the Member State where the child is present shall have jurisdiction.  Again, this does not apply.

11. Article 20 provides that in urgent cases, the provisions of the Regulation shall not prevent the courts of a Member State from taking provisional, including protective, measures as may be available under its law, even if the courts of another Member State have jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter.  This is the basis on which this court now acts.

Article 15
12. In the light of my conclusion about this court's lack of general jurisdiction, Article 15 is not engaged, but I address it briefly in deference to the detailed arguments that I have heard.

13. Article 15 provides that the courts of a Member State having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter may, if they consider that a court of another Member State, with which the child has a particular connection, would be better placed to hear the case, and where this is in the best interests of the child: (a) stay the case or the part thereof in question and invite the parties to introduce a request before the court of that other Member State, or (b) request a court of another Member State to assume jurisdiction.  Since this court does not have "jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter", otherwise referred to as general jurisdiction, this power does not arise in X's case.

14. It is settled law that Article 15 applies to public law as well as private law proceedings: Re T (A Child)(Care Proceedings: Request to Assume Jurisdiction) [2013] EWHC (Fam) 521 per Mostyn J, and Re LM, HSE for Ireland v AM and others [2013] EWHC (Fam) 646 per Cobb J.
 
15. Leading and junior counsel for the local authority note that the received orthodoxy is that Article 15 does not apply as between territories of the United Kingdom.  They refer to observations to this effect made by the Court of Appeal in Re W-B (A Child) (Family Proceedings: Appropriate Jurisdiction within UK) [2012] EWCA Civ 592 and by Baker J in Re PC, YC and KM (Brussels IIR: Jurisdiction within the United Kingdom) [2013] EWHC 2336 (Fam) otherwise known as London Borough of Camden v Carratt and Others. 

16. Counsel also note that the preponderant view elsewhere in the UK favours the same result: Re ESJ A Minor (Residence Order Application; Jurisdiction within United Kingdom; Applicability of Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 [2008] NI Fam 6, a decision of Morgan J in the High Court in Northern Ireland.  This position has been endorsed by the Sheriff's Court in Scotland by Sheriff George Jamieson in GOT v KJK on 12 December 2012.

17. Counsel nonetheless develop the argument that the terms of Article 66 allow for Article 15 to apply as between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.  This argument has been rejected by Morgan J and by Baker J for reasons with which I respectfully agree.  As Mr Murray observes, the law has now crystallised.  Article 15 provides for transfer between Member States, not between territorial units within Member States. 

18. In any case, it would be unfortunate and lead to futile results if the Regulation was to be interpreted differently in the different parts of the UK.  That would be a situation that could only be resolved by the Supreme Court. 

19. As has fairly been pointed out during these proceedings, it might be thought anomalous that there is no internal UK procedure akin to Article 15, and a priori that there is no such procedure in the more striking case such as this where the requesting territory has no general jurisdiction while the requested territory does.  As a result, a child such as X is deprived of a judicial determination in the requested territory as to whether a transfer of the proceedings should be accepted. 

The position in Scotland
20. The Scottish local authority has expressed the view that X's move to England was a permanent move away from its area.  It points to the terms of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, the parallel legislation to the Children Act 1989, which imposes duties in relation to children "within its area".  It contends that X is not in its area and says that it will therefore not be planning for the child.  It offers its co-operation to the English local authority, in effect as an assistant, not as a principal.

21. In my judgment about habitual residence, I have respectfully rejected the assertion that X moved permanently to England or that he is habitually resident here. 

22. As to the extent of the powers and duties of the Scottish local authority, it is not of course for this court to seek to interpret Scottish legislation.  Mr Murray nonetheless draws attention to the duty of a Scottish local authority under s.22 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to "safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are in need".  This provision is functionally identical to the equivalent provision at s.17 of the Children Act 1989, which was recently considered by the Court of Appeal in R (J) v Worcestershire County Council [2014] EWCA Civ 1518.  The court rejected a local authority's assertion that it was unable to provide services to a child during periods when he was out of its area due to his family's travelling lifestyle.  The expression "within their area" was interpreted purposively to support the child welfare purposes of the legislation.     

Conclusion
23. These proceedings have now reached a hiatus.  In common with the two previous judges who have examined X's case, I consider that the Scottish court would be better placed to make the important decisions that he needs.  That being the case, this court must take such steps as it can to explore ways of achieving this.  As the Guardian submits, X is in a legal "no-man's land".  The decisions that need to be taken are difficult enough without this complication: if the situation cannot be resolved, X will be at a disadvantage that may have lifelong consequences.

24. The English local authority submits that this disadvantage may be such as to amount to a breach of X's right to a fair hearing under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  I do not think it necessary to determine that matter at this point, but it may become necessary if the situation is not urgently resolved. 

25. The English local authority has also invited the court to consider a stay of these proceedings, but that would only cause delay.  This court will continue to act as necessary in the short term until the issue of jurisdiction is resolved.  
26. I will direct that this judgment, and the unpublished judgments on the issues of habitual residence and service of the proceedings upon X's father, should be disclosed by the English local authority to the Scottish local authority.  I will send the judgments to the Office of International Family Justice so that they can be disclosed to any bodies that might in its view be able to assist.  These might include the Central Authorities in England and Scotland and the National Convener of Children's Hearings in Scotland.  I will also send a copy of the judgments to the President of the Family Division.

27. I respectfully hope that this court's conclusions on habitual residence and on X's pressing need for the best available decision about his future will assist authorities elsewhere to give further consideration to this matter, though that is, of course, entirely a matter for them.  If this court can assist by disclosing other documents from these proceedings, it will gladly do so.

28. I thank the parties and the Advocate to the Court for their assistance.  Their submissions have, in some cases at my request, ranged more widely than is apparent from this judgment.  A number of arguments were predicated on other outcomes to the habitual residence issue, and I have in the end restricted my consideration to matters that bear directly on X's actual predicament.  
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