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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

16 JUL 2014

Parker J issues guidance on case management and the Court of Protection

Jonathan Cailes

Major Works Manager

@JPFamilyLaw

Parker J issues guidance on case management and the Court of Protection
In a Court of Protection judgment handed down on 21 March 2014, Mrs Justice Parker issued guidance on case management and the Court of Protection.

In Re PB [2014] EWCOP 14, she states at [126-148]:

  1. I stress that I do not wish to criticise the advocates in this case. But I take this opportunity to offer some general guidance derived from my experience in Court of Protection cases from the point of view of the decision maker. This is not a new stance: I have raised the same points in other cases. But over the years some effective steps have been taken to control and manage family cases from which lessons have been learnt. Even more progress is being made under the impetus of the family justice reforms.
  2. Adoption of a practical approach does not detract from intellectual analysis and rigour. Lord Wilson of Culworth as a puisne judge described himself as "family lawyer of practical disposition". The reality and practicality of the subject matter of the decision can in my experience sometimes get lost in Court of Protection cases. So can the focus on effective administration of justice. The quest to address arguments of increasing subtlety can, as in this case, paralyse effective decision making by a Local Authority and hamper the ability of the court to deliver a decision. All those who practice in the Court of Protection must appreciate that those who represent the vulnerable who cannot give them capacitous instructions have a particular responsibility to ensure that the arguments addressed are proportionate and relevant to the issues, to the actual facts with which they are dealing rather than the theory, and to have regard to the public purse, court resources, and other court users. I do not accept that (i) every possible point must be put (ii) the belief of a protected party is relevant to the issue of capacity. As Lord Judge reminded the profession in R v Farooqi and Others [2013] EWCA Crim 1649, it is for counsel to decide what question to ask and not the client. The fact that a client may lack capacity is not a green light for unmeritorious or unrealistic arguments to be put forward.
  3. Everything comes at a price. And every penny spent on litigation is in reality (because it all comes out of the public budget) a penny taken away from provision for care. There were many court hearings whether attended or not, at most of which almost nothing of any materiality was achieved. One of the problems may have been lack of judicial continuity. It took many months for a fact finding hearing to take place. The Court is still not in a position to determine best interests. I had to read and reread reams of material and law reports after my return from leave to conclude this judgement.
  4. I recognise the importance of this field of litigation. I recognise the need to promote the Convention rights of as well as to protect the vulnerable and the incapacitated. But in cases under the Children Act 1989 equally important human, Convention and protective issues arise. As in the Court of Protection, the court has to have regard to the overriding objective. Experts are not routine and have to be "necessary", and the necessary expertise may come from the social worker.
  5. Baker J in CKK and KK [2012] EWHC 2136 (COP) and Butler-Sloss J in Ms BS v An NHS Hospital Trust [2002] EWHC 429 (Fam)[2002] 2 All ER 449 reminded clinicians that a close professional relationship with P might lead them to be drawn to a supportive or emotional rather than analytical approach to capacity. I do not read these comments as supporting the appointment of an "independent" expert as the first line approach before the treating clinician has even set out the reasons behind the certificate of incapacity. Second opinions must be justified: and not just ordered as a matter of routine until there is no reason to doubt the first.
  6. I am told Moor J queried the need for further evidence and the time estimate but was assured by the Official Solicitor that this was "reasonable" in order to ensure that the matter could be "properly resolved" by the Court. I cannot imagine that Moor J envisaged that there would be five reports in all, a "schedule of agreement" which was in fact not truly agreed, all of which led to considerable confusion, muddle, and prolongation of the court process. It certainly led to a prolonged examination of the witnesses, as fine distinctions in use of language and formulation of ideas were pursued and analysed.
  7. The social care evidence has been crucial. The assessment of capacity is in the end for the Judge on the basis of all the facts (see in particular Baker J in CC & KK & STCC [2012] EWHC 2136 (COP)) echoed by me in YLA & PM MZ COP 1225464. After all a single expert can be challenged by the process of cross-examination.
  8. Attempts have been made to encourage if not direct Court of Protection practitioners to comply with basic sensible rules of case management in order to assist the judge. Moor J's attempt to bring some order to the proceedings failed. The most basic of requirements, to provide a witness time estimate template, was ignored. Thus at the commencement of the hearing I was met with an assertion that there was insufficient time available: particularly for lengthy cross-examination. I had to take counsel in detail through the list of potential witnesses, and the issues which they were to address, in order to create a plan for the hearing of the case. This took up time. All this should have been done beforehand and a late return was no excuse. Specialist counsel had been on board throughout. Ms Street submitted that Dr Barker's evidence was still so unclear as to require two hours cross-examination by her alone. I managed to shorten this a little. Even so the case proceeded much more slowly than was necessary. In my view this should have been a two day case at most.
  9. Before seeking a four day listing the advocates should have provided for Moor J a precise broken down time estimate of what time was required for each witness, submissions and judgment, focused on the actual issues, or likely issues. I insist on this at directions hearings, and I find that I can usually shorten the individual times required, and the overall time estimate, very considerably in the process. Time estimates must be adhered to.
  10. A judge cannot easily understand the issues, or give an effective ex tempore judgment, without a chronology of essential dates. I asked for one at the outset. It was produced part of the way though the hearing, obviously in a hurry, and a number of important dates, particular court hearings, were not included. I had to trawl though the applications and orders in the bundle and the many lengthy statements in order to produce the analysis of the history above which I have found so essential here.
  11. Fact finding schedules should be produced in a way which makes it easy for the Judge to utilise them as a tool for delivery of judgment. The contents of the document produced were in fact useful, but difficult to use. I hope it is not churlish to complain that it was created in landscape rather than portrait, that when answered the page references were omitted, and there was no space for the judge's comments. It would have been even more useful if there had been a chronology.
  12. The evidence could have been addressed much more shortly. The actual issues raised were:
  13. i) The psychiatric evaluation of PB.
    ii) The extent to which TB's influence or pressure affected capacity: the legal issue arising from that was a matter for the judge.
    iii) The extent to which PB's beliefs may have been causative of her decision making: the interpretation of the words "because of" was for the judge and not the witnesses.
    iv) Whether any potential decisions were simply unwise: again as Dr Barker recognised this was really a matter for judicial evaluation.
  14. The joint statement should have addressed starkly:
  15. i) Is there impairment or disturbance, if so what is it and what is its effect?
    ii) What is the decision to be made?
    iii) What is the information necessary to make that decision?
    iv) Is the person able to retain, use or weigh, that information and/or communicate that decision?
    v) Is there a lack of capacity and if so why?
  16. And if the experts do not agree, they must make it clear. If they have not made it clear, they must be asked to do so. If their disagreement does not affect the outcome that is one thing. If they disagree on the fundamental issue, they must say so. The experts are not a jury considering whether they can give a unanimous verdict. There is no duty to "harmonise" views if in reality the experts do not agree. It simply makes the task of the judge more difficult.
  17. Practitioners need to ask themselves:
  18. i) What do I really need to challenge?
    ii) What does the judge need to know?
    iii) What is actually arguable and what is not?
  19. Effective steps must be taken to reduce evidence to the essential. In Farooqi Lord Judge emphasised the requirement that cross-examination should proceed by short, focussed question rather than by comment, opinion and assertion. I also note that in The Law Commission lecture given last year Lord Judge stated (as I was taught) that in principle no question should be longer than one line of transcript. In any event, the judge is interested in the answer, not the question.
  20. Advocates need to be able to control the witness by the form and structure of their questions and not permit discursive replies or to allow the witness to ramble (particularly if the witness has the tendency to be prolix) . There is no necessity for a long introduction: apart from anything else it may distract and confuse the witness and the judge.
  21. Examination must not proceed by way of "exploration" of the evidence: i.e. a debate, or by putting theory or speculation, rather than by properly directed questions which require an answer.
  22. This is all the advocates' responsibility. However hard a judge tries to speed the process, this takes up time and interrupts the flow, and often leads to a debate with the advocate. Also it can give the wrong impression to the lay client about the judge's view of them or their case.
  23. Where two parties have the same case to put, the same points must not be repeated.
  24. Finally the advocate needs, if facts are challenged, to put the client's case.
  25. I note and am glad to see that in IM v LM the Court of Appeal approved Peter Jackson J's decision to determine the issues in a 2 hour hearing. The second opinion psychiatrist was not cross–examined. I am sure that in that case it helped that there had been judicial continuity throughout.
  26. I am certainly not suggesting that this case should not have been litigated. It may have been necessary to have two experts. I really cannot tell, because of the way their instruction progressed, which may have led to their lack of precision on paper. But more focus on case management and case progression is essential.
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