Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Story Thirty Two - Article 8

I'm handing today's blog over to Justice Peter Jackson. For two reasons. Firstly, I didn't realise how upset I would get writing yesterday's blog. You see - I had forgotten about Danny. When Steve first came home, I used to think about him all the time. But it's three years on now and I'm ashamed to say, I don't think about him so much. That upsets me. The second reason is that I'm about to enter into the DoLs period, so the next few posts will all be about how the Safeguards were abused and the dreadful consequences for Steven of that abuse.

Before then though, Justice Jackson ruled that Hillingdon had breached Steven's Article 8 human rights (the right to a family life). Here's how he reached that conclusion:

"The mere fact that a local authority's view of best interests is not subsequently upheld by a court does not of course show that Article 8 rights have been infringed. However, in the present case, a number of features collectively persuade me that Steven's right to respect for his family life was breached.

(1) Hillingdon approached matters without any proper regard to the principle set out in the previous paragraph. Nowhere in their very full records of Steven's year in care is there any mention of the supposition that he should be at home, other things being equal, or the disadvantages to him of living away from his family, still less an attempt to weigh those disadvantages against the supposed advantages of care elsewhere. No acknowledgement ever appears of the unique bond between Steven and his father, or of the priceless importance to a dependent person of the personal element in care by a parent rather than a stranger, however committed. No attempt was made at the outset to carry out a genuinely balanced best interests assessment, nor was one attempted subsequently. The first best interests assessment that deserves the name is the IMCA report of 18 November 2010.

(2) Hillingdon's approach was calculated to prevent proper scrutiny of the situation it had created. In the weeks after Steven's admission, it successfully overbore Mr Neary's opposition. It did not seriously listen to his objections and the suggestion that it might withdraw its support for Steven at home was always likely to have a chilling effect. Once Mr Neary's resistance was tamed, the question of whether Steven was in the right place did not come under any balanced assessment.

(3) Between April and July 2010 Hillingdon pursued two inconsistent agendas. The professionals were opposed to Steven returning home, whether or not a final decision had been taken. The agenda so far as Steven and Mr Neary were concerned was a return home under the transition plan. It was only when the transition plan was about to lead to an actual return home that the pursuit of two agendas became unfeasible and the true view of the professionals was disclosed. The records show that the professionals were at times uneasy about this lack of frankness, but it happened nonetheless.

(4) The use of DOL authorisations from April to December 2010 as a means of controlling Steven's activities was not justified on the information available to Hillingdon. As a direct result of an incident when he had not been adequately supervised, he was deprived of activities that are important to him for weeks and in some cases months, and he was prevented from going on holiday.

(5) Even in July 2010, when the cat of Hillingdon's thinking was out of the bag, it took almost 4 months for an application to court to be issued, with Steven remaining at the support unit in the meantime.

(6) Although Hillingdon has accepted and supported Steven's placement at home since the receipt of the experts' reports in February/March of this year, the application it presented in December 2010 and pursued up to the hearing in May 2011 has contained no concessions to Mr Neary's concerns and no acceptance of any shortcomings whatever in relation to past events. Such concessions as were made emerged in cross-examination. Regrets were expressed, but no apology has so far been made to Mr Neary or to Steven.

(7) On 20 May 2011, the eve of the hearing, Hillingdon circulated a three-page media briefing note to most of the national media. The document was designed to counteract adverse publicity that Hillingdon has received, and against which it had not attempted to defend itself. Nonetheless, it is a sorry document, full of contentious and inaccurate information, and creating a particularly unfair and negative picture of Steven and his behaviour. I learned about the document by chance on the last day of the hearing, expressed dismay, and asked for an explanation. I am told that it was authorised by the Director of Social Care, the Head of Corporate Communications and the Borough Solicitor. It is now accepted "in hindsight" that an error of judgment was made in issuing the briefing note. That is indeed so, though again hindsight has nothing do with it. In addition, Hillingdon has unreservedly apologised to the court. That courtesy is appreciated, although an apology for the document is in truth not owed to the court but to Steven and his father.

I also note that Hillingdon has done its best to undo the situation by contacting every recipient informing them that I had directed that no part of it should be published in any circumstances. Again, I appreciate the intention behind this, but I should make clear that I gave no such direction. The only control that this court has exercised over reporting about Steven is in the form of the very minor restrictions on the reporting of the hearing itself, as referred to above. Other than that, the media will cover the story in whatever way it chooses, and no doubt it will continue to respect Steven's need to be left in peace, as it has done since the hearing in February."

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